I like a lot of things about Libertarianism. In philosophical terms, it’s about as close as I can get to being political, but I have practical reservations. As an example, I give you Ebola. (Well, that didn’t sound right at all.) As an example, allow me to use Ebola. I could just as easily choose HIV-AIDS, but Ebola is on everyone’s minds right now. We’re all wondering why we don’t have a cure or vaccine for Ebola. Libertarians would tell us it’s because the free market hasn’t provided one and they would be correct. Here’s where the practical side of things really kicks Libertarianism in the butt. Sometimes, we can’t wait for the free market.
First, you have to realize what a horror Ebola is. I’m not going to post pictures or even draw them with words. Just know that Ebola is probably one of the top five worst ways to die. Until now, Ebola has only killed a few thousand people. I say, “only,” because in the free-market, grand-scheme of things, that’s no one. Also, these few thousand people were poor, very poor. They also live on the other side of the world from the free-market pharmaceutical companies in a mysterious land called Africa. In other words, Ebola hasn’t threatened the free-market and there is no profit in curing it.
It’s the same with HIV. When it first appeared, it was “the gay disease.” No one wanted to treat or cure it because if you didn’t want to catch it, you just didn’t have gay sex. Besides, curing gay people in the 1980s or 1990s would have been PR-suicide for a drug company. But then, straight people started getting HIV, but most of them were in, you guessed it, Africa. So no need to cure it, yet. Not until some very vocal, very fiscally well-off people got AIDS, did drug companies finally decide it was worth the investment to come up with something…anything…that might make them a profit…er…cure…er…prolong the life of an AIDS victim. And those drugs have done wonders to prolong the lives of paying AIDS patients in the Western world. Still there’s Africa, but fuck you, Africa. No expensive AIDS medicine for you and don’t hold your breath waiting on that HIV vaccine, either.
But back to Ebola. The latest outbreak is centered in West Africa. It’s the worst outbreak in history and it has the rest of the world taking notice. Now that there is a chance that it could spread to the Western world, people are asking, “Why is there no vaccine or cure for this horrible disease.” What they really mean is, “Why is there nothing to protect me and my family if that horrible virus leaves the shores of Africa.” Did I mention, fuck you, Africa? There is really very little chance that Ebola will become a world-wide pandemic, but can we wait? Libertarians tell us the market will find a cure when the market is threatened or there is profit in it, but can we wait?
No. When it comes to diseases, pandemics, and horrible deaths, we really can’t wait on the free market and we shouldn’t have to. This is one of those few things governments can do well. They can collect data, recognize threats, and allocate money to abate those threats. Sadly, this often comes in the form of guns for war, but in this case it is in the form of medical research and experiments. No for-profit company would dare spend the millions of dollars needed to develop a vaccine or cure for Ebola. They’d never sell enough to make their money back. Any sane person would hope there was no way they’d make their money back because that would involve an epidemic. If some company did develop a cure that coincidentally came on the heels of a huge outbreak of Ebola, there would be that tiny, dark part of everyone’s brain that would be thinking, “Did the company start the epidemic just to sell their drugs?” Shame on you for thinking a company would profit from the suffering of others…cough child labor, cough black lung, cough big tobacco, no seriously cough, big tobacco. A company just couldn’t sell enough of their cure to be profitable, especially to those poor African countries who are mired in Ebola because they’re poor, oh, and fuck you, Africa.
On the practical side of the house, sometimes we have to act altruistically even if it is for our own preservation.
Keep chasing the odd, little happy.