In a Disease Panic, the Free Market Is Your Friend
People are more afraid of their governments than they are of COVID-19
By Jeffrey A. Tucker:
That hand sanitizer you are using, where did you get it? The local store or an online shop. And who made it? Private enterprise, operating based on profit and loss within a market economy. And that mask you are keeping just in case? Same thing. It came from private investment, brought to you by international trade. It cost a buck or two but it might save your life.
Those latex gloves? An amazing innovation with a remarkable history. The first ones were invented at the height of the hated Gilded Age in 1883, a result of the booming oil industry which led to countless derivative products. Disposal versions are wonderfully sanitary but they have only been available since 1964, as innovated by the private company Ansell, founded by Eric Ansell in Melbourne, Australia. Thank you international trade.
That food you are stockpiling, who is selling you that? It’s the local grocery or perhaps a big-box discount store that allows you to purchase vast quantities at a discount. The bottled water you now have, thank the merchant who eschews municipal water while knowing that people expect better.
The equipment at the hospital that will keep you breathing and medicated is manufactured by private enterprise. I can’t think of a single exception. You don’t seriously think that the Centers for Disease Control makes heart monitors and respirators, do you?
And the information you are getting on the latest virus updates, what is delivering it to you?
Most likely the world wide web, made possible by private servers, given to you on privately owned fiber-optics cables, flowing to your privately made and distributed computer or smartphone, which today is more capable than supercomputers of 20 years ago, thanks to the driving force of the market to innovate in service of the common person.
Or maybe you are watching a 72-inch television that you picked up for $1000 at Costco to deliver a home-viewing experience not even the richest person would have enjoyed 15 years ago.
And that house right now where you have decided to quarantine yourself, who built that? Who made the materials possible? You owe it all to private business operating within a market framework, real estate developers who face a daily test of their wherewithal by facing brutal competition. The home is insured by private companies who bear all the risk of disaster so that you don’t have to.
Who is innovating the home-testing kits that are now reaching people in areas most affected? It’s the Gates Foundation as funded by the hated billionaire capitalist who turned his wealth into global philanthropy to fight diseases just like this one. Here is private enterprise at work.
The truth is that the market loves you right now, more in the midst of a disease panic than ever before. It would love you even more if companies were not being browbeat by government into curbing sales of essential items. Let the prices of sanitizer and masks rise and you draw more into production and distribution. Throttle the market and you reduce supply.
The market would have loved you more had the Centers for Disease Control not failed to authorize private companies to test for the virus. It was only after the aggressive protests of the governor of New York that the CDC gave in and let people do what they wanted to do.
And what is the mighty contribution of government these days? To order quarantines but not to tell you whether you can step outside, how you will get groceries, how long it will last, who you can invite in, and when it will all end. Don’t try to call the authorities. They have better and bigger things to worry about than your sorry plight that is causing you sleepless nights and endless worry. Thank goodness for digital technology that allows you to communicate with friends and family.
How many times have you heard something of the following?
“I would take advantage of these low-priced fares and cheap hotels, but I’m afraid of getting quarantined.”
Think what this statement means. It means that people are more afraid of their own governments than they are of COVID-19. How is that making a contribution to getting through this sad stage of history?
And so, given all of this, it appalls me that the bitter-fingered pundits type up articles trashing the market as nothing but a Trumpish plot to pillage you whereas government is saving you. I waited for days and weeks for someone finally to say what so many wanted to say, which is that “there are no libertarians in an epidemic.”
On the contrary, it is human liberty operating within a market framework that saves us in times like this.
In a disease panic, we are learning, people lose their minds and stop thinking clearly about things that matter. They also reach out to authority to save them. All of this is expected. And it’s very sad. Even sadder is how the unscrupulous power mongers among us use such times to enhance the power of the state over our lives and claim it is for our own good.
We should expect more of our public intellectuals than to use this tragedy to trash market-based institutions that are working 24/7 to provide you and your loved ones what you need to survive this mess. When it’s the difference between health and sickness, life and death, government is the last institution you want to trust.
This article appeared first at AIER
Jeffrey A. Tucker is Editorial Director for the American Institute for Economic Research. He is the author of many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press and eight books in 5 languages, most recently The Market Loves You. He is also the editor of The Best of Mises. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.