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What Noan Chomsky Doesn’t Get About Government and the Coronavirus

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Via Economic Policy Journal

Noam Chomsky

Kevin emails:

Hi Bob,

I’d be interested to hear your response to Noam Chomsky’s take on the Coronavirus.  Note that I tried to transcribe it but there are parts that are hard to hear.  I tried using the YouTube subtitles feature to help out with that.

Starting at 16:47 Chomsky says:

We should think about the origins of this crisis.  Why is there a Coronavirus crisis?  It’s a colossal market failure. It goes right back to the essence of markets, exacerbated by the neo-liberal savage, neoliberal intensification of deep social, economic problems.

It was known for a long time that pandemics are very likely and it was understood – very well understood  – that they were likely to be Coronavirus pandemic, a slight modification to the SARS epidemic 15 years ago.  And it was overcome.  The viruses were identified, sequenced.  The vaccines were available.  Labs around the world could be working right then on developing protection for potential Coronavirus pandemics.  Why didn’t they do it?  The market signals were wrong.  The drug companies we have handed over our fate to private tyrannies hold corporations, which are unaccountable to the public – in this case, big pharma.  And for them, making new body creams is more profitable than of finding a vaccine that will protect people from total destruction. 

It would’ve been impossible for the government to step in.  Going back to wartime mobilization, that’s what happened.  Polio at the time, I can remember very well was a terrifying threat.  It was ended by the discovery of the Salk vaccine – by a government institution, set off by the Roosevelt administration.  No patents, available to everyone.  That could’ve been done this time.  But the neo-liberal plague has blocked that.  

We are living under an ideology for which economists have a good bit of responsibility, which comes from the corporate sector.  An ideology which is typified by that Ronald Reagan reading the script handed to him by his corporate masters with his sunny smile saying “Government is the problem.  Let’s get rid of government”.  Which means, let’s hand over decisions to private tyrannies that are unaccountable to the public.  

On the other side of the Atlantic, Thatcher was instructing us that there is [inaudible but I think he said “no”] society, just individuals thrown into the market to survive somehow.  And furthermore, there this is no alternative.  The world has been suffering under the [rich?] for years.  And it’s now at the point where things that could be done like direct government intervention on the scope of the invention of the Salk vaccine.  But that’s blocked for ideological reasons coming out of the neoliberal plague.  

And the point is that this coronavirus epidemic/pandemic could have been prevented.  The information was there to be read.  In fact, it was well known in October 2019, just before the outbreak.  There was a large scale simulation, high-level simulation in the United States.

RW response:

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Sadly, Chomsky is way off.

First, why wouldn’t a company work on potential treatments and vaccines if they knew a specific form of the coronavirus was about to emerge?

Firms are racing to find treatments and vaccines now that they know what the specifics of this virus are. Indeed, I am recommending a drug development firm in the EPJ Daily Alert that is doing some very promising work. A clinical study is about to be launched and hedge fund managers are all over the company trying to find out more about the trial.

To say there was a test run in October 2019 for a potential outbreak shows what Chomsky is missing when he says this. You can do trial runs of how to deal with an outbreak but until you know the specifics of the virus you can’t create treatments or vaccines.

The free market, hindered as it is by government regulations, is racing to solve the COVID-19 problem.

Or does Chomsky think it should all be left to central planning that would now be headed by Donald Trump?

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