How a Laissez-faire Capitalist Society Deals with a Vaccine

Under real capitalism, there is no government policy at all regarding how people are to conduct themselves in a pandemic. With no barriers to innovation, production, and distribution, the pharmaceutical industry would be rocketing us into an almost disease-free future.

Before we start taking for granted the statist perspective on the vaccine and its delivery, let’s look at how a free, rights-respecting government and society would be behaving right now.

Prices of anything in short supply (where I am it’s Bounty paper towels) rise until supply meets demand. The supermarket shelves remain full. The businesses producing and selling these items reap windfall profits, which draws capital to ramp up production, so that in a few weeks prices fall back to where they were.

The same is true of medical services: in a free society doctors are not licensed; consequently, their supply can be expanded; hospitals are not regulated, so they can handle surges in demand as they wish. No fire marshals, building inspectors, environmental impact assessors can interfere with any temporary build-out a hospital decides to make. In fact, no one would dream of even asking to be informed of any decision a hospital makes regarding how to use its own property on its own land.

Tests and vaccines are developed by pharmaceutical companies, in their labs, and get whatever private voluntary certification they choose to get (probably none—why do Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson need any stamp of outside approval?).

As they develop these new tests and vaccines, they distribute early versions of them to their own network of forward-looking individuals, including doctors, medical staff, and researchers, willing to take a little extra risk to get innovative products sooner.

The new tests and vaccines are sold for “all the market can bear.” That means: high prices to early-adopters; then, as safety and efficacy become established by tracking the experience of the early-adopters, the items are sold at progressively lower prices to wider and wider segments of the general population.

Since a free society’s government never compels anyone to get a doctor’s prescription, there are no such things as pharmacies in the traditional sense. Rather, CVS, Walmart, Walgreens have a pharmaceutical area, perhaps staffed by specially knowledgeable people (who don’t require a government license) to advise you. If you don’t need this kind of service, and just want pills to swallow, you can just grab a bottle off the shelf and go to the cash register. Or you can go on Amazon or other sites and buy them just the way you do books, T-shirts, and canned peas.

The “delivery system” for the new vaccines and tests is the same profit-making firms that already deliver everything in a capitalist society. Think: UPS, Amazon, FedEx—but even better, because they are not regulated.

To get products, new or old, we don’t need four-star generals to be in charge of “logistics.” Even today, under semi-capitalism, the task is handled by purchasing managers, inventory managers, buyers, and vendors—and no shortage ever develops, except where government holds prices below market.

Under pure capitalism, there is no such question as: “Who is going to get the vaccine first?” If it were asked, the answer would be the same as for “Who is going to get the new C8 model Corvette first?” Whoever shows up with the money. If there’s a rush, the price goes up to where demand matches supply. Then supply is expanded to reap the resulting high-profit rate.

And there is no such question as: “What if a segment of the population is afraid to take the vaccine?” People are thinking, not of collective outcomes, but of individual ones. It would never occur to them to worry about people who don’t take the vaccine, because they know that by choosing to get vaccinated, they themselves will be protected.

Under real capitalism, there is no government policy at all regarding how people are to conduct themselves in a pandemic. Not only are there no lockdowns, no curfews, no group quarantines (on the basis of group statistics), but also no thought of government having any role to play. “Public health” is no more connected in people’s minds to government than is “public entertainment.” Health is understood to be a personal matter—just as entertainment is.

Even where there are “social problems,” free citizens of a free society regard it as widespread individual problems, not as problems justifying government coercion.

Take the rising divorce rate, which is widely regarded as a “social problem.” Even today, no one thinks divorce is something to be combatted by government directives. The prospect of government getting involved in marital problems would fill us with horror. For the citizens of a laissez-faire society, the idea of government dictating people’s behavior in a pandemic would be equally as horrifying.

In practice, the laissez-faire utopia I’m envisioning would be tremendously healthier than the regulatory state we live under in America today. Without the dead hand of the FDA, medical experimentation and data-collection from ordinary citizens (via their smartphones, perhaps) would produce vastly more data for AI to use in discovering what works and what doesn’t. With no barriers to innovation, production, and distribution, the pharmaceutical industry would be rocketing us into an almost disease-free future.

Harry Binswanger, Capitalism Magazine

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