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 a Seattle-based entrepreneur and software leader, husband and father of three. He’s half Canadian, and east-coast born and raised. Steve has made the Pacific Northwest his home since 1991, when he moved here to work for Microsoft. He’s started and sold multiple Internet companies. Politically independent, he writes on occasion about city politics and national issues, and created Alignvote in the 2019 election cycle. He holds a BS in Applied Math (Computer Science) and Business from Carnegie Mellon University, a Masters in Computer Science from Stanford University, and an MBA from the Harvard Business School, where he graduated a George F. Baker Scholar. Steve volunteers when time allows with Habitat for Humanity, University District Food Bank, Technology Access Foundation (TAF) and other organizations in Seattle.