Capitalism and Free Markets Will Help Us Through Pandemics | Citizens Against Government Waste

Capitalism and Free Markets Will Help Us Through Pandemics

The WasteWatcher

As the United States faces its biggest health crisis in 100 years, Americans anxiously await effective treatments and a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus.  Looking to scientists and researchers for help is not new; just ask a patient with heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, or cancer.  Millions of people work every day to find a treatment or a cure for some of the toughest diseases in the world.  It takes billions of dollars, thousands of failed compounds, and time to come up with a pharmaceutical that is successful.

These researchers and scientists work at pharmaceutical companies and university labs that partner with them.  The drug companies have been excoriated by politicians and special interest groups for years that paint a picture of a bunch of people in expensive business suits sitting around a boardroom table.  And even worse, the companies make a profit - horrors!

Writers like Kimberly Strassel of the The Wall Street Journal and Rich Lowry of National Review have rightfully criticized those that continue to argue that government is the answer, pointing out that private companies, capitalism, and profits make the U.S. the world leader in biopharmaceutical research and development.

Strassel writes how “Socialist Bernie Sanders” led the charge in his March 15 audience-free debate with Joe Biden.  He “rolled out his usual themes, this time through the virus lens.  The pandemic ‘exposes the incredible weakness and dysfunctionality’ of the U.S. health system, he said; the cure is centralized, socialized care.  Americans can’t get the drugs they need because ‘a bunch of crooks’ run drug companies, ‘ripping us off every single day.’  The virus exposes the ‘cruelty and unjustness’ of an economy that allows ‘big-money interests’ and ‘multimillionaires’ to profiteer off ‘working families.’”

She asks, “Government will save us? How’s that working out for Italy?  Even Mr. Biden made this point during the Sunday debate, reminding Mr. Sanders that ‘you have a single-payer system in Italy.’”

Strassel reminds us that it was a government agency, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), that held up the process to get a coronavirus test kit to the public.  She writes, “The feds maintained exclusive control over early test development – and blew it.”  The CDC’s failure “delayed an effective U.S. response, and the private sector is now riding to the rescue.  The ‘crooks’ at drug company Roche had started on their own high-volume test in January and were finally able to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration.”

Rich Lowry wrote that profit is the reason why the U.S. introduces more therapies in the world.  He said, “When faced with what’s been called a once-in-generation pathogen, would we rather have a robust commercial drug industry or not?  Brilliant, creative people scattered throughout companies and universities working to be the first to a solution or not?  Investors looking to back promising research, or not?  If your answer to any of these questions is ‘no,’ you are probably a socialist, a populist firing at the wrong targets, or someone incapable of doing basic cost-benefit calculations.  As Chris Pope of the Manhattan Institute notes, if a new drug – even an expensive one – obviates hospital stays and physician care, it can reduce health care costs over time.”

Lowry pointed out that we are using “medieval methods” to control the current crisis by shutting down the economy, laying off millions of employees, disrupting air travel and freedom of movement.  He argues that there is too much focus on expensive treatments that usually involve a rare disease that affects a small population, requiring a higher cost to pay for the research and development.  But a vaccine would be directed at a “vast pool” of people that will want the drug, as well encouraging competition.

He discusses the importance of patents, written in our Constitution “to promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts,” because it will “ensure that companies get the benefit of research that is expensive, time consuming and risky.  Success is never guaranteed, and failure more common.”

And what are pharmaceutical companies doing?  They are manufacturing investigational compounds and previously approved medicines that could be used in clinical trials to test whether they are effective in treating the novel coronavirus.  Examples of companies leading is this area are Gilead, Johnson and Johnson, and Sanofi Pasteur, all of which have drugs in clinical trials, have begun research since the virus’s gene sequence became publicly available, or are looking at prior research to provide a vaccine.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) provides lots of information on what their member companies are doing.  PhRMA states it may take 12 to 18 months before a vaccine is available and that assumes the first few that have entered development will be successful.  Usually, only one in 10 experimental vaccines that enter development make it to the market.  Therefore, it is important that numerous companies enter the process to ensure multiple approaches and a better chance of finding a vaccine that will work.

Kimberly Strassel put it bluntly, “Anyone who thinks this would be happening in a socialist America is smoking something.  Government doesn’t have anywhere near the money, the speed or the creativity to stay ahead of a crisis like this – and the Trump administration deserves credit for embracing its private-sector partners.  The business altruism on display is partly the usual American spirit, but it has been encouraged by free-market policies that have underwritten three years of economic boom and put companies on a better footing to confront hard times.  And the profit motive and competition liberals detest remain the beating heart of the resourcefulness U.S. companies are now bringing to bear.”

It is unfortunate that it is taking a tragedy of such disastrous proportions to demonstrate the value of America’s biopharmaceutical industry.  It would be even more tragic for future pandemics if the lessons learned do not have lasting value and the attacks on the industry start all over again once the healthcare and economic impact of the virus has passed.

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