Friday, May 01, 2009

Capitalism in a time of pig flu

There was never an outbreak of contagious virus featured in Atlas Shrugged. More's the pity. I would liked to have read how objectivist theory saved the world from pig flu. Or, better yet, an outbreak of avian flu from Ayn Rand Battery Farms, leaving John Galt dying by the invisible hand of H5N1. Alas, these things never happen in utopias. Atlas Shrugged does away with the unworthy with all the logic of a train wreck.

The real world is more random and unknowable. The Black Death afflicted the peasants, the gentry and the clergy with disregard for material disposition or alleged divine protection. Fear and misinformation led to cats being slaughtered, trade barriers erected and minority persecution legitimised. All of which led to the plague becoming all the worse.

Although some centuries wiser than the Dark Ages, human nature hasn't changed one bit. In Egypt, they are killing all the pigs. Never mind that these animals are raised almost entirely by the Christian minority in this Muslim country. Many other countries are blocking food exports from affected countries. Mexico has handed out paper face masks willy-nilly, creating the illusion of action with very little actual gain.

The masks are all but useless at preventing contagion. If you can smell farts through it, you can expect a determined (or is that random?) droplet to get through too. The better quality masks should be saved for those who actually have confirmed pig flu, to minimise spread of infection. And the really good quality ones, with micro mesh that prevents exhalation and inhalation of droplets, are sold out at

You've got chaos in Mexico and out-of-order capitalism in the US. In NZ from today, the almighty dollar will determine who gets to buy Tamiflu, now it has come off prescription and be sold to any middle class hypochondriac with a runny nose. NO OTHER COUNTRY DOES THIS.

Screw the flu, won't somebody think of the economic implications? The allocation of scarce resources, whether masks, Tamiflu, or medicine men and women, clearly has to balance need with supply and demand. And what place has copyright in this pandemonium? What would have to happen before Roche open sourced Tamiflu to its competitors for the greater good? And why the big fuss over the marketable name of this thing? It's not Mexican flu. It's not swine flu. It's... H1N1. Even that's a misnomer, but I digress.

It's not that I'm cheering for the tinpot dictatorships. It is no coincidence that, apart from the Mexican source, the incidence of pig flu so far has appeared only in the developed nations. Wherefore art thou, Guatemala?

The political implications in Mexico could well see the return to power of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, thereby replacing a corrupt, ineffectual government with a despotic, corrupt, ineffectual government.

Anyway, enough of the pig flu from me. There's a good panel discussing everything fluvian on this week's Media 7.