Don’t Fall For It: A Pre-Emptive Warning

Very soon now, if it hasn’t already started, you’re going to be hearing a certain story over and over again from politicians. As the Covid-19 vaccines roll out across the world, and hopefully make their presence felt sooner rather than later, the drumbeat of this certain story will get louder and louder.

And that story is that the creation and rollout of the vaccine represents a triumph of capitalism, of free enterprise, of the free market. That it’s a shining example of what the market can deliver, when government gets out of the way.
Scott Morrison will be saying this.
Boris Johnson will be saying this.
Joe Biden will be saying this.

It is a lie.

Not a misunderstanding, not a half-truth, not an accidental misinterpretation of the facts. A lie.

To start with, of the six vaccines approved at the time of writing, one of them was produced by a state-owned company (the BBIBP-CorV by Sinopharm, which is wholly owned by the Chinese government) and another was produced by a collaboration between a private company and a publically-funded university (the AZD1222 vaccine by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford). So to start with, that’s already a quarter of them produced by decidedly unfree enterprises.

But even more importantly, none of these vaccines would be being made at all – with the possibly exception of the two I’ve mentioned above – were it not for the fact that there’s a lot of government money being spent to support this research. In fact, there are literally no buyers for the vaccines which are not governments. The market, such as it is, for these products is one entirely created by governments (which, remember, aren’t supposed to interfere in the operation of the market, because otherwise the market tends to sulk).

Furthermore, the actual rollout of the vaccines is being handled, in most cases, by a mixture of privately-owned and publicly-owned medical services. (Arrangements vary depending on that nation in question.) So it’s not like good old free enterprise gets to claim a whole credit for that either.

So, again, the story that the vaccine represents a triumph of the free market is a lie.

Now, the spread of the Covid-19 virus, well, that the free market can take quite a bit of credit for. Whether it’s the insecure work practices of cruise liners, the ‘flexibility’ of casualisation in nursing homes and other industries, the reflexive out-sourcing to private security firms, the fly by night operators allegedly cleaning public transport rolling stock, and so on. The list goes on and on, and all of these are just Australian examples. Each of them is an example of the market failing to deliver the greatest good for the greatest number, and almost all of them are examples of the market’s regular operation leading to preventable deaths.

Just a little something to keep in mind when the propaganda starts up.

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