By Dr. John Ikerd
A crisis is a point in time when unforeseen circumstances force us to make decisions that will fundamentally affect our future, for either better or worse. We are in a time of crisis. I was shocked when I heard that governors confronted with the COVID-19 pandemic were being forced to bid against other governors, and against the federal government, for ventilators and personal protective equipment to prepare hospitals for projected peaks in healthcare demands. How can anyone think it somehow makes sense in a time of crisis for the health and life of anyone to depend on the willingness and ability of their governor to win an economic competition? Only recently has the U.S. government been forced by public pressure to quit relying solely on economic incentives for U.S. corporations to ramp up production of essential medical equipment and supplies. On the question of shutting down the economy, one state public official recently suggested that old people should ask if they would rather risk dying than to and jeopardize the economic future of their grandchildren. Why don’t they ask the grandchildren if they want to risk the lives of their grandparents for an opportunity to make more money—someday? Most kids have enough common sense to know that such questions involve values far more important than the value of money.
A public health crisis is a stark revelation of a “market failure,” or more accurately a “non-market” responsibility. Markets will not ensure access to adequate health care, and individual health cannot be isolated from public health or societal health. There will always be people in any society who are not capable of producing enough “economic value” to earning enough money to afford adequate health care, including the preventative health care necessary to prevent an epidemic or pandemic. MORE