With the great news that the new J&J vaccine has earned approval, here is a deliberately provocative thought experiment for your Sunday morning coffee: should all those who proclaim their desire to “abolish capitalism” with snazzy raised fist logos be made to wait for their own and loved ones’ vaccines to arrive from a Socialist economy?
Should they at least be asked to ponder whether they’d take the Socialist-economy-developed vaccines (Sinovac or Sputnik) if offered a choice? Or even, if they lived in a Marxist society, whether they WOULD have a choice?
[Update, April 21st 2021 — The Economist reports that Sinovac has an efficacy of just 50.7%.]
I ask this, because we’ve endured a summer and a few years prior of this kind of stuff:
Literally today, the “tear it all down” crew is still smashing the windows of Portland Chipotle, driven by this ideology.
I often wonder what those who make these signs take for granted. There are parts of capitalism that aren’t working, for sure, but there are also many parts which are. Are we mature enough to have that discussion, in classrooms, media and social media? When will we be? Will parents ask their teens to discuss what’s flowing through their Instagram feeds and filling their minds with nothing but downsides of market economies, and have a thoughtful conversation?
Capitalism and market economies often get characterized as uncompassionate. Are they always, in action? Which system lifts more from poverty? Which is helping to end this pandemic? Which is more aligned with freedom?
There will very likely be well over 1 billion effective vaccines produced by July 1st, across all suppliers, just 18 months after the outbreak began. To adopt the snarky meme: What stage capitalism is that?
Of course, this is all just a thought experiment. I don’t think any of this prioritization or filtering demands for neo-Marxists should happen. I’ve advocated previously here that simplicity is a force multiplier, that we ought to primarily go by age with local exceptions being allowable by physicians — and still believe that.
Subsidy is not Socialism
I am also very pleased that the COVID vaccine was subsidized by smart governmental and visionary philanthropic action. That’s subsidy, not Socialism, since the means of production still stay in private hands. It bears noting that this subsidy, through preorder and loans, was also done by one of the most free-market-thinking administrations (or certainly at least portrayed that way) in modern American history. So even “free-market” zealots aren’t averse to smart subsidy when emergencies are present.
And of course I am ecstatic that the vaccine will not require any expense for Americans to take it. So consider this simply a provocative thought-experiment.
But those who want Marxism, who want to “abolish capitalism” and tear it all down, and even schoolchildren, and teachers, and this summer’s protestors and more doing ever-more indoctrination and romanticizing — should ponder the fact that this pandemic got its start in a command economy with robust Socialist elements, and will likely meet its end because of regulated capitalist economies, largely our own, but also that of the UK, Germany and France.
All this brings to mind the 1973 interaction of Milton Friedman and Phil Donahue:
Is it all a coincidence?
Is this all a coincidence? Was it ever in much doubt? Why are we vastly better at this?
What are we taking for granted?
It’s remarkable that we now have three viable vaccines, being produced and distributed at (currently) 2.4 million per day. 700 million doses of the J&J vaccine will be produced by July, according to that private manufacturer.
Irrespective of who is President at the time, production is set to ramp dramatically, and the pandemic will end. And that’s largely due to an existing R&D infrastructure, manufacturing prowess, smart investments in science and technology, DNA/RNA sequencing, distribution logistics, data science and far more. Even the dreaded profit motive played a huge role in building it all out, and where we are today.
The end of the COVID-19 pandemic will not be primarily due to the actions of command economies, even though the biggest one in the world had a pretty good head start.
And the end will of course arrive with smart governmental action, subsidies and preorders, and loans. That’s perfectly fine in a capitalist/market economy.
Did anyone think vaccines would come at scale first from China, Russia, Vietnam, North Korea, Cuba or Venezuela? What might that tell us?
Should we maybe tone down our political rhetoric and say we’d like to see more subsidy, smart welfare programs like Canada and Sweden and elsewhere and not “abolish capitalism” or adopt Socialism? It’s a deliberately provocative question, but there’s been a bunch of provocation by those who would be happy to tear it all down. (What say you, Ms. Sawant?)
It’s not fashionable to be a defender of capitalism on social media. I get it. The logos aren’t as cool and it makes you sound uncompassionate.
But would a neo-Marxist solution to this pandemic be more compassionate? Who is prepared to justify that argument? How long would effective vaccines take to develop, how many more would die, what freedoms would you have, how many vaccines would there be, and… would you trust it or them? Would you have a choice to take it? Which is more compassionate? I think those neo-Marxists who wish to destroy capitalism and private ownership of the means of production (and I’m referring to the extreme ones, not those who simply want a more generous welfare state) are taking a whole lot for granted.
Something they should maybe chat about as they drive in their electric vehicles to the next “tear it all down” protest.
Taking the other side of the table, just so you don’t misinterpret what I’m saying: last night I blitzed through “The Pharmacist” on Netflix, a terrific documentary about the heroic actions of a New Orleans pharmacist and the OxyContin opioid crisis.
Much as smarty-pants types might wish to assume I’m being pollyanna here, I’m not oblivious to the many downsides of pure profit motive in healthcare and toxic waste and autos and private prisons and Silkwood and cigarettes and asbestos and hedge funds and yada yada far more. I grew up watching 60 Minutes takedowns, cleanup of the Exxon Valdez and far more. Lord knows, Hollywood presents the ugly downsides of corporate America on the regular.
Suffice it to say: I am a big fan of smart, compassionate regulation. I’m a huge fan of smartly run and measured public welfare investments and guardrails. I’m half Canadian, and I think they have a lot of ideas and compassion we could adopt and move closer to.
But that’s not Socialism, and let’s not “abolish” the golden goose economic engine which makes such public welfare investments possible. Smart reforms are fine and always needed.
But teach the children facts, not bumper stickers.
Steve’s an entrepreneur and software leader. Steve’s worked on consumer apps, online travel, games, relational databases, management consulting and telecom. He launched Alignvote in 2019, which helped Seattle voters find their best-match political candidates by indexing their existing on-the-record stances, matching them with voter’s own answers to those exact same questions. Alignvote also offered politicians the chance to elaborate on those views. Alignvote is on hiatus for now, but might return in a future election.
Politically, Steve is an independent, and has not registered for any political party. He believes in outcome-based transparent governance; he is a moderate who believes that progressive approaches can be great if truly outcome-focused and evidence-driven, but also that unaccountable spending is a recipe for corruption and little progress. He believes that Seattle’s municipal government must work well for all 724,000+ Seattleites.
Steve’s founded multiple companies. In the early 2000’s, he founded BigOven, the first recipe app for iPhone, with more than 15 million downloads, which was purchased in 2018. Steve served as Chairman of Escapia Inc., the leading SaaS solution for the US vacation rental industry, sold to Homeaway, now part of Expedia. In 1997, Steve was cofounder, President, CEO and Chairman of VacationSpot, a pioneer in the online reservation of vacation rentals, bought by Expedia in January 2000. At Expedia, Steve was Vice President of Vacation Packages, leading the vacation package and destination services teams, helping to create two patents on the first-ever dynamic vacation packaging system on the Internet, which now represents billions in annual transactions for Expedia.
He has keynoted on several occasions at the Vacation Rental Managers Association (VRMA), and taught a graduate level course on the strategic management of innovation at the University of Washington Foster Business School in Seattle, Washington.
Steve worked for Microsoft from 1991 to 1997 in a variety of senior marketing and executive positions, and led the creation of the internet games group, helping develop several products and patents related to online multiplayer gaming. He helped launch Microsoft Access and was involved in the acquisition of Fox Software by Microsoft in 1993. He’s worked for IBM, Booz-Allen Hamilton and Bell Communications Research.
He holds an MS in Computer Science from Stanford University in Symbolic and Heuristic Computation (AI), an MBA from Harvard Business School, where he was named a George F. Baker Scholar (awarded to top 5% of graduating class), and a dual BS in Applied Mathematics / Computer Science and Industrial Management from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) with University Honors. Steve volunteers when time allows with Habitat for Humanity, University District Food Bank, YMCA Seattle, Technology Access Foundation (TAF) and other organizations in Seattle.