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Monday, August 8, 2022

Free markets and the pandemic

By: Keith Miles

One of the most interesting things about the pandemic is the way free markets and free enterprise have performed better than the state sector.

The most obvious example is the way the Astra Zeneca vaccines was developed. This was achieved very quickly, and speed saved lives, because the United Kingdom could move ahead without the dead hand of Brussels, and despite the politically motivated and disgraceful behaviour by some it was the largest production in the world by March 2021and at a price that is very favourable to poorer countries. The fact that some EU countries had to make their own procurement arrangements outside the Brussels centralised bureaucracy also proves the point.

The way the free market jumped into action with plastic protection screens and sanitation stations in every small and large shop and office is a startling example to the public sector. Suddenly as almost from nowhere hundreds and thousands of small traders, fitters, craftsmen and suppliers produced the products. Can you imagine if this had been centralised by Brussels or even national governments? We would still be waiting!

Then of course we have the over caution of the state sector resulting in often unnecessary restrictions. The state of Florida in the USA had noticeably fewer and gentled restrictions that other states and outcomes were not very different with the main exception that the cost to the economy was much less and collateral deaths from other reasons clearly reduced. Of course it takes a brave politician to not go for overkill.

Health is naturally seen by the vast majority as a critical issue so people accepted the restrictions. However it is interesting to contrast the way the food industry responded. Can any need be more basic that food? Apart from minor disruptions to supply, the industry not only carried on as usual but also managed the problems of quick development of expanded home deliveries, reorganisation of traffic in stores, new protection facilities, staff sickness and so on. The older generation will remember the very bad supply management that occurred under communism with regular shortages.

The heroes of the pandemic were not just the scientists and health workers but also all those in the distributive industries – shop assistants, truck drivers, and postmen, and not forgetting the police. Contrast that with the state sector which slipped in its delivery performance in matters such as passports and other documentation, and general service. Also admirable was the way many private manufacturing businesses got to grip with managing production and distribution by reorganising systems and so keeping the engine of the economy going.

The one sector of the state that stepped up was the military which is used to a can-do attitude and not the bureaucratic stay-at-home ways of many in the state sector, often encouraged by irresponsible trades union political militants.

As for public behaviour and discipline it was noticeable that those countries and communities that had inherited attitudes of mistrust of governments were the least well behaved regarding rules designed for protection. In some countries a large proportion of ethnic minorities were reluctant to be vaccinated and it is to be noted that not one of the former communist countries is in the top half of the table of vaccination rates in Europe. Also it has appears that private and personal self control and discipline was less in states from former totalitarian systems although some with a history of libertarianism exhibited similar trends.

We can notice how free markets have been adaptable and the public sector more rigid which reaffirms our experience that the most successful economies and democracies are those where free markets prevail.

Keith Miles is an academic, retired financier, and publicist. He is the honorary president of the Slovenian-British Friendship Association. He holds a bachelor’s degree in finance, a master’s degree in philosophy (MA) and has worked for more than 40 years as a financial and auditor in both the public and private sectors, particularly in the UK.

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