Wednesday, April 1, 2020

What Noam Chomsky Doesn't Get About the Free Market and the Coronavirus

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:

Sadly, Chomsky is way off.

First, why wouldn't pharmaceutical companies 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.

This is really an example of  very obvious faulty thinking by Chomsky.


  1. What is Govt good for? Encouraging and funding irresponsible risk taking.


  2. There are multiple ways that he is off. The one that sticks out to me first is that he seems to think that the Salk vaccine was a government intervention. It was not. The entire thing was done on a voluntary basis, according to what I have read. Roosevelt's connection to the Salk vaccine was more or less a private one--it was not his administration that initiated or funded the vaccine. It got no money from the government. Probably he makes this mistake because, as is entailed in one of his statements, he attributes to free market advocates the the denial of the existence of society. Chomsky seems to think that the government is society or that the existence of government is a necessary condition for society to exist--yet he calims to be an anarchist. Second, if he is going to complain about the market allgedly diverting resources from possible pandemics to body cream production, why ignore the failures of the NHS in the U.K.? When has it ever been controlled by 'neo-liberalism'? The same criteria that allegedly make this a market failure also make this a government failure, it seems to me (I am ignoring the fact that we do not have a true free market, but just going along with Chomsky). Finally, his attitude reeks of the arrogance of someone inflated with hindsight bias and ill will toward anybody with whom he disagrees. Reagan, he says, more or less, was either too stupid or too servile to have thoughts of his own. He just read what the corporations told him to say. One need not be a fan of Reagan (or any other person) to refrain from engaging in this sort of ad hominem garbage.

  3. Chomsky is referring to Event201 that was held in October. He’s a very smart person who knows that while the pandemic gamed was a corona virus they did not know the exact variant.

    For big med to have known months ago that what we now call COVID-19 was to be a pandemic (real or hyped) the only reason they wouldn’t have developed a vaccine (effective or not, safe or not) and been distributing it by now would be nefarious such as more centralized power.

  4. Chomsky isn't "off" about anything. No. He's lying. Deliberately misrepresenting reality because that's what Leftists do. It's a religion, and they will twist facts to make their "prophecies" come true. Every time. Guaranteed. Leftist is a theory that explains everything.