I’d originally planned to do a “clip show” version of Capitolism this week, in which I—still technically on vacation—lazily listed some of my favorite or most popular/relevant columns (and charts!) from 2021. But the last couple weeks of holiday- and Omicron-related COVID-19 news have me thinking a lot about the question I asked back in January 2021: Would free(r) markets—i.e., minimal government regulation and subsidization, market pricing, free trade, etc.—have handled vaccine production, distribution, and uptake, and thus the pandemic, better than the U.S. government? As you’ll recall, even a hardcore free marketer like me was somewhat skeptical of a “pure” market approach, even noting some of the theoretical reasons why a top-down alternative may have been preferable. However, the last 12 months of U.S. public health bureaucracy boondoggles have increasingly radicalized (ha) me; now it seems clearer that a system with far (far) less government involvement, while surely messy and chaotic at times, would’ve produced far better results than what we’re experiencing today (which is, by the way, also quite messy and chaotic!).
Testing My Patience
Perhaps the biggest of these boondoggles still haunts us today: the continued regulatory blockade of—and executive branch errors regarding—at-home (“rapid”) COVID-19 tests. We discussed the testing situation at length back in September—noting then (1) the dearth of FDA-approved antigen tests (which are cheaper and faster than, and can be just as accurate as, lab-based “PCR” tests); (2) the numerous public health experts and economists begging the Biden administration to deregulate (lawfully) the process; and (3) the ominous-yet-obvious signs of avoidable future shortages. To be clear, I certainly wasn’t alone in making these arguments. Since then, the FDA has approved a few more rapid tests (still far fewer than European regulators, it must be noted), but—with the Omicron variant and holiday travel spiking U.S. demand—the testing situation here hasn’t improved and may have actually deteriorated.
Numerous stories of high prices and short supplies seem to have pushed President Biden last week to promise yet another round of top-down, too-late, industrial policy-style fixes (Politico counted five such promises since January), while still seemingly ignoring the solution—helpfully summarized by Harvard’s Michael Mina in the following Twitter thread—that’s been staring us all in the face for more than a year now: