Dear Unbridled, Free Market, Libertarian…Ebola. Your Argument Is Invalid.


ebola virus
Eeeek! Ebola!

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.

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8 Comments

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  1. I have always considered myself a libertarian, but I have come to realize that as I age, the world apparently becomes more complex and, well, smaller to me. While I always value personal freedom, I have come to realize that our survival, let alone our prosperity, as a species absolutely requires an interdependency that must sometimes be selfless.

    Your article reminded me of why so many grown ups in my youth have told me the reason we didn’t have solar power, recycling programs, or mass-produced electric cars; “if it were really profitable, someone would be doing it already”. I understand that businesses cannot go broke trying to save the world, but by picking the right battles, they not only could help humanity at large, but the short term sacrifice could mean a huge gain for them later on.

    I still prefer the imperfect free market to the alternatives, impersonal and sometimes greedy as it may be. But, like you said, when it puts profit over principle, it shows a major weakness by treating life-saving medicine like just another widget for sale.

  2. There’s also a related problem with drug companies and the free market: it’s much more profitable to create drugs to “manage” the disease than a drug to cure it.

  3. Phillip Churelington October 9, 2014 — 10:07

    We currently do not have a free market in this country. And we haven’t, arguably, for ever. For sure, the government has been in control for longer than anyone reading this has been alive.

    Since the government is in charge and has been for some time now and “[t]his is one of those few things governments can do well,” where’s our government funded Ebola virus? Oh, right. It’s Africa. Apparently, that’s a big F.U. from the US Government (USG) to Africa. Too bad, Africa.

    Okay, forget about Africa. But what about the rest of us? What about the children? For sure, the USG has an Ebola cure AND a safe, effective vaccine by now for all American citizens. When are they going to release this cure and vaccine? What’s that? They DON’T have either?!!! But how can that BE? They’re SO GOOD at that! WHY don’t they have a cure and a vaccine?

    The truth is: the USG is terrible at prevention. Instead of preventing problems from occurring, (for which they would get no credit), they like to let a problem become a tsunami so they can come in and spend 1000X what prevention would have cost to half-way help any survivors.

    Check it: if the USG is so good at this medical research thing, then MUST already they have BOTH a cure AND a vaccine. Since they have them both and haven’t released them to the public or even acknowledged the existence of their cure and vaccine, they must be keeping it for the elite, who’ve all been secretly immunized by now. The next step is to just wait for the USG to bring over a few more carriers to hurry along the culling of the rest of the herd via planned epidemic. If you believe the USG is good at this kind of thing, then they must be keeping their cure and vaccine hidden until the end…and YOU are a wacky conspiracy theorist.

    Otherwise you agree that the USG is horrible at timely medical research and is motivated to let this become a huge, HUGE problem that they can swoop in and ‘save’ whomever is left by allowing (i.e. passively encouraging through inaction) many deaths and terror. (Kind of makes the USG terrorists, doesn’t it?) THEN, after enough people have died, the USG can come in to save day with millions of gallons of of bleach, thousands of too-frequently-used flame throwers, quarantines at gunpoint, and random pet executions.

    While we’re waiting for the USG to announce the cure and vaccine they must have had for years by now, let’s review how they’re doing in other areas of protecting Americans from Ebola, like prevention. How’s the USG doing keeping infected Africans out of the USA…you know, border control and quarantining the infected? Ooh, not so good. One death on U.S. soil so far. If Duncan didn’t happen to accidently infect anyone while the USG’s system of hospitals and CDC and border control allowed him to recklessly run around, they’ll let some more ‘visitors’ from West Africa accidently slip past ‘security’ to get the party really started!

    If the USG would get out of the way and let a free market get started, Libertarian solutions would be the best way to protect us!

    Will that happen? Will the US Government give up power for the good of the country? Would Rahm Emanuel “…let a serious crisis go to waste[?]”

  4. A lot of incorrect thinking in this post and the comments. You call yourselves libertarians but you don’t even take the time to come up with solutions in a libertarian way. If it’s a tough one, you just say, government should do it. Who do you think is footing the bill that the government is producing for finding a cure out of the goodness of their hearts? Having ebola and exposing people to it would be considered aggression. Private police would be right to quarantine them. Private health companies and charities would exist. If you’re a libertarian, I don’t need to explain how much better private is than government. There’s a lot else that needs correcting but this is already a longer comment than I wanted to leave. You need to read more rothbard and hoppe to think critically about private solutions. Government is never necessary.

  5. clearly. but after starting with ” i like a lot of things about libertarianism” and then to not even bother to check what the libertarian solution would be, is lazy. If the author is not a libertarian, then why think that you can think like a libertarian and if you cannot come up with a solution, declare their argument invalid. Anyways, that’s my criticism but don’t think I’m not grateful for the author even acknowledging libertarianism. It’s difficult to write a blog and it was well structured. Good luck to the author and keep posting on interesting topics.

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