Wednesday, January 5, 2022

#5 / Limitations Of A Market Mentality

The image shows immunofluorescence staining of omicron infected cells.

Shortly after the omicron version of the Covid-19 virus appeared in the United States (the first case identified was in San Francisco), the San Francisco Chronicle published an editorial statement by Priti Krishtel.
Krishtel is the co-founder of a nonprofit (I-MAK) that is urging that lifesaving medicines be made available to all those who need them - and I-MAK says that this must be accomplished on a worldwide basis. Such medicines, says I-MAK, need to be available "without excessive individual or social cost." That is not, of course, the current situation. The headline on Krishtel's editorial read, "Let omicron drive medical equity." 

The point of Krishtel's editorial is pretty easy to grasp: EVERYONE benefits when medicines - vaccines are a great example - are easily available to everyone, even those who don't have the money necessary to pay the kind of prices that are currently being charged for such medicines. If people aren't sick, it isn't just the people who might have been sick, but who aren't sick, who find that advantageous. Everyone is better off when people aren't sick!
Particularly when contagious diseases are at issue, it is obvious that preventative medical assistance for everyone benefits all of us. Nothing could be clearer than the example provided by the world's failure to make it possible for everyone in the world to be vaccinated against Covid-19. The arrival of the omicron virus in the United States is a pretty convincing illustration of the principle. Vaccination rates in wealthy countries, like the United States, are high, but only 6% of people living in low-income countries have received even a single dose of the protective vaccine. As Krishtel notes, "our current approach isn't just grossly inequitable, it's self-destructive."
Here's the line in the Chronicle editorial statement that most powerfully caught my attention: 

We need to recognize the limitations of a market mentality....
Let me emphasize the fact, in case you hadn't noticed, that our tendency is almost always to suppose that "markets" are the best way to decide who gets what, and when. That may be our tendency, but that is not always the best strategy. It's not the best strategy where vaccine protection is at issue, and it's not the best strategy when we think about how to provide housing for the thousands of people now homeless on the sidewalks of American cities. 
The omicron virus could be the impetus, Krishtel is arguing, for shifting medicines from being a commodity to a public good. I hope it will be!

But let's think even more broadly than that. The essentials of life - those things needed by individuals to survive - are essential for EVERYONE, and that makes them a "public good," and not a "commodity" to be allocated according to a "market mentality."

The "Golden Rule" of the market is that those who have the gold get to rule. It's time to rethink that where the essentials of human life are at stake!
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