The arrival of Martin Shkreli into the discourse of 2015 has had all the hallmarks of a super-moon or some other semi-rare phenomenon requiring the perfect alignment of nature’s forces.
Shkreli, duly dubbed “Pharma Bro” by the media, is the perfect and very hateable combination of arrogance, youth, and avarice. He has our attention because his work as a pharmaceutical executive holds in contrast against his clients—people who are often sick, poor, and vulnerable.
In September, Shkreli raised the price of a life-saving drug from $13.50 to $750 and spent $2 million to buy the only copy of a Wu-Tang Clan album. Writing in The Atlantic in September, James Hamblin called him “the face of unapologetic profiteering from the suffering of humans.”
Shkreli was arrested on Thursday on securities-fraud charges. Earlier this week, Daisy Hernández wrote in The Atlantic that Shkreli had a new gambit that would raise the price of a drug used to a treat Chagas, a disease mostly affecting Latin American immigrants. “Chagas is a disease of the poor,” said an adviser for Doctors Without Borders, “so it’s not a disease where people have access if prices are high.”
This latest scheme seems revelatory given the biography of this 32-year-old executive. According to Bloomberg, he's from a working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn and the son of Albanian and Croatian immigrants who worked as janitors. “He dropped out of high school and cut his teeth as an intern on Jim Cramer’s CNBC show Mad Money,” wrote Victor Luckerson at Time. “Later, he started a pair of hedge funds, Elea Capital and MSMB Capital.”
Elea met its demise when, as The New York Times reported, Shkreli wagered $2.6 million that the stock market would decline in 2007. He was ultimately right, but it spiraled too late.
“I learned a lot about using leverage, the perils of leverage,” Shkreli, a chess and guitar fanatic, said at the time. “Back then, this was almost 10 years ago, I was rushing to succeed. I made a monster bet that the market would crash, and I was wrong.”
When hedge funds didn’t make him wealthy, he entered the world of pharmaceutical drugs, where his practices made him a well-known public figure whose name now rings out from congressional hearings and beyond.
Shkreli seems to relish the spotlight. On Wednesday, just hours before he was arrested, he made more headlines by offering to bail out jailed rapper Bobby Shmurda, said he would let Taylor Swift listen to his Wu-Tang album in exchange for a sexual favor, and has aspirations to take over the hip-hop world. He didn’t stop there:
That’s my real life. I fucking travel around [Las Vegas] with fucking $2 million or $3 million in cash like Floyd Mayweather. It’s real. Whether you think I’m a herb or whatever, fine. But I’m the dude. I’m the guy. I’m not made up. Take it for what it’s worth. If you think that’s not going to do anything... 80 guys have tried to turn DMX’s career around. It’s never gonna happen, but I love that dude.