Central Planning Epidemic Killing Thousands

Monday, December 14, 2020

There is an article in The Hill titled, "Don't Allow 'Vaccine Politics' to Delay Saving Lives."

I'll admit to rolling my eyes and thinking Too late! (And I didn't need to read "We Had the Vaccine the Whole Time" to reach that conclusion.)

Nevertheless, I read the piece and found this paragraph noteworthy:

Image by Markus Spiske, via Unsplash, license.
After Pfizer delayed its announcement and waited to review the results, the FDA pushed back its clock to prepare for a massive public meeting complete with slides and presentations mandated in its memo. Maybe this seemed like a great idea when the virus was on the wane but, with nearly 3,000 Americans dying daily now, this public-relations exercise no longer makes sense. They know the data, they know the risks, they know the hazards -- but every day of delay is thousands of lives in the hands of regulators, in the absence of compelling new adverse information.
Pfizer and the FDA delayed review because they wanted to avoid the appearance of being bullied by Donald Trump who, if he were truly a pro-capitalist President, would have been more proactive with a strategy of testing, tracing, and isolation of the contagious from the get-go.

Trump also might have used his bully pulpit to argue for more freedom in the pharmaceutical industry. We know what he did instead, and making a case for the abolishment of the FDA was not it. (Indeed, he didn't even argue for the FDA to get out of the way of making contagiousness testing widely available. That could have stopped the pandemic in its tracks.)

But that isn't what the article in the Hill is about: It's focusing on the question of who will get the vaccine first. As if the results of mandating that the government vet a vaccine weren't enough of an incentive to look for alternative schemes to the putting the government in charge, the Hill is hoping to take politics out of a process made political by the very fact that the government is (improperly) doing it.

Indeed, as far as I can tell, economist John Cochrane is one of the few to have proposed that the vaccine should be distributed first to the highest bidder. His proposal is far from perfect -- It dodges the issues of morality and rights, in favor of cost-benefit analysis. -- but it does make it clear that a freer market is a humane alternative:
The case is stronger than usual, for there is a second way to avoid infection: Stay home. Social distance. Wear protective gear. So the question is not, really, "Who should be protected from the virus?" The question is, really, "Who should get a treatment that allows them to be out and about, risking contact with the virus, rather than protect themselves by traditional means?" It is really mainly an economic benefit, avoidance of the cost of other measures to stay healthy. There is an economic answer: people should be out and about first who generate the most economic benefit from being out. And, therefore, are willing to pay the most to get the vaccine.
Despite the limits of Cochrane's analysis, it shows us just how badly the government is handling things: The currently proposed method of distribution is both badly targeted (e.g., many medical workers don't even get exposed to the virus through work) and will cause overall economic harm (e.g., by slowing the recovery).

And if the modicum of freedom Cochrane proposes is so much better, why not at least consider what things could be like with even more?

The days when capitalism is wrongly associated with throwing orphans and widows into the streets have passed, if only because the term is unknown or unfamiliar to so many people. But the days of central planning leading to impoverishment, and killing thousands a day, are upon us. We should be very interested in finding an alternative.

-- CAV

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