isIn times of desperation, take what you can: in this case, a glimmer of self-awareness from Boris Johnson. After boasting to his MPs that “the reason we have vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed, my friends,” a voice in his head – or maybe an alarmed WhatsApp message from an assistant – demanded a quick U-turn as he attempted to remove comments.
While his retirement talks about image management concerns, his instinctive advocacy of greed represents a core belief. He is a man, after all, who bragged that no one “cared for the bankers as much as I” when he won the Conservative leadership, and who once said that inequality was essential to nurture ” the spirit of envy ”and this greed was a“ valuable stimulus to economic activity ”.
However, attributing the triumph of Britain’s mass vaccination to “greed” and “capitalism” is simply incorrect. As the British Medical Journal notes, the AstraZeneca vaccine “was originally discovered by the Jenner Institute in Oxford and received over £ 1 billion in public money.” AstraZeneca was involved in testing and manufacturing, but took no financial risk: as it said last year, “the expense to advance the vaccine should be matched with government funding.”
The immunization program is being successfully implemented through our state-run national health service, while the country’s testing and traceability system has had “no clear impact”, despite private consultants charging up to to £ 6,250 a day and Serco profits soar thanks to the £ 37 billion program.
Indeed, greed and capitalism enter the equation as obstacles to global immunization. Countries like India and South Africa, as well as the World Health Organization, advocate the lifting of patents on vaccine intellectual property rights to ensure immunization is extended to low-income countries or intermediate. This is not just for the good of the people of the South – whose lives are as sacred as ours – but for humanity as a whole. As we have learned at a considerable cost, allowing the virus to circulate increases the risk of dangerous mutations with resistance to existing vaccines. Our own government is among those preventing the poorest countries from making their own versions. Here is greed in action.
Johnson’s comments, while botched on their own, serve to highlight a common myth about capitalism. Cheerleaders in an economic system driven primarily by short-term profit – whatever the social or environmental cost – revere it as a driver of innovation and entrepreneurial flair. This does not mean that capitalism has played an often ingenious historical role: as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels noted in the Communist Manifesto, the capitalist class – having shattered a feudal system which represented a dead weight on human progress – had accomplished wonders far surpassing the Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts and Gothic cathedrals ”. But the great achievements of today are often the ideas of the state and the public sector. Our NHS is often forced to pay exorbitant prices for drugs developed at enormous public cost: in 2017, it spent £ 1 billion on drugs developed with the help of public investment.
It goes way beyond the big pharmaceutical companies. The iPhone is a striking case study of the ingenuity of the public sector: its touchscreen technology, GPS, battery, voice recognition – and even the Internet as a whole have been developed through state research.
Given the industrial scale tax evasion by so many large corporations, here is an argument that needs to be reiterated time and time again. Without a lot of demonized state largesse, no business could profit from it. The state provides them with roads and other basic infrastructure and protects their property. It educates their workforce and, through public health care, prevents them from becoming so sick that they cannot work. When the financial sector imploded – the biggest private sector failure of our time – the state bailed it out, while the general population had to pay the costs by cutting public services and social security payments . Other market failures add to state generosity as well: such as a desperately fragmented privatized rail system that receives more state subsidies than in its nationalized days.
As greed and capitalism pose a devastating threat to human life and the future of the planet – with private companies pushing against clean air regulations to alleviate the consequences of pollution, which kills millions of people. people every year, as well as critical environmental protections – surely Johnson was right to stumble. The British vaccination program is to be applauded for it saves lives and paves the way for the restoration of our freedoms. But this is not a justification neither for greed nor for capitalism: quite the contrary.