The Free Market is a god-like powerful force that we can rely on to solve our problems, especially those of supply and demand. So if, as the WHO estimates, about 2% of the population is going to be covered by H1N1 Swine Flu vaccine then … shall we assume that the other 98% of the world’s population did something wrong and angered the Free Market?

Everyone has seen this [shortage] coming. But everyone also decided that we would have to rely on the “market” and the private sector to solve it. Well, not everyone. We have been calling for years for ten or a dozen international regional vaccine institutes to manufacture flu vaccine for their regions, using open licensing and the best technologies. This should be extended to antiretroviral HIV drugs and malaria drugs.

Go read this sobering blog post by Revere. Then the next time you have the urge to say something religious about the Free Market, grab the nearest sharp object and stab yourself with it. Please.


  1. #1 katydid13
    November 23, 2009

    I’m generally a fan of the free market. However, the free market fundamentalists seem to have forgotten that even their god Adam Smith warned about these things called “market failures” where markets don’t work for a wide variety of reasons. That’s generally a sign that government intervention might be called for.

  2. #2 Esa Riihonen
    November 23, 2009

    The old proverb about fire can be adjusted for the occasion:
    ‘Free market is an excellent servant but a bad master.’

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    November 23, 2009

    Katydid: I would suggest a revision. Reading what you said at face value, it would appear that the default is to rely on the free market, then in a given circumstance in which it is tried but fails, intervene. What about understanding what the free market is good for and not good for, and then not even trying to rely on it for what it is good for? The free market is not a magic wand you can wave at some problem a few times to see if it works. For the most part we can understand in advance, as suggested in Revere’s post, when it simply will not work.

    There is no way to intervene in the fact that the free market has failed 98 percent of humanity on this particular health crisis.

  4. #4 Leo Martins
    November 23, 2009

    I’m afraid I didn’t understand your argument: are you saying that the free market has failed on most countries where it is present? In other terms, that 98% of people with access to a free market cannot benefit from it (regarding the vaccine, at least)?

    I believe that we have only fragments of a free market economy: in certain countries, at certain times, and/or in some sectors. The pharmaceutical industry, with its oligopoly sponsored by the state (through patents, for instance), is hardly an example. Blaming free markets for the misery in North Korea or Congo is a stretch, isn’t it?

    What evidence would convince you that markets provide better solutions than the government [1]?

    [1] in the cases where they can be assumed to do so, since I tend to agree with katydid13.

  5. #5 Rob Monkey
    November 23, 2009

    Just to throw in my $0.02, I’d say that the free market is good for the extravagances in life, but the necessities need to be covered by govt. As I always tell free-market worshipers, I want bookstores AND libraries.

  6. #6 llewelly
    November 23, 2009

    Thank you, Leo, for providing our daily dose of the No True Free Market argument. I am sure it will be as helpful as 5,000 milligram doses of vitamin C.

  7. #7 Keith Harwood
    November 24, 2009

    No vaccine shortage here. No `women and children first’. When I asked my Doctor for it, he said he’d run out and went out of the room. Two minutes later he was back with an armful from the practice’s main store.

    Market forces? The vaccine supplier is a private company wholely owned by the Australian government. The government is the market. The government demands enough for everyone, the government pays for enough for everyone. the government gets enough for everyone. And everyone can get it.

  8. #8 xxx
    June 10, 2014

    Who would want a vaccine for the flu, anyone?