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View Diary: The Next Influenza Pandemic (120 comments)

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  •  The "free"market and public health (4.00)
    For anyone to speak of letting the so-called "free market" take care of problems of public health, or even health care for individuals (which has public health impacts, obviously) is ridiculous.  The theory that "free markets" (which are a fiction which has never existed and never could exist) allocate resources efficiently is based on a number of assumptions, most of which are seldom or never true in any context, but which are particularly irrelevant to considerations of public health.

    One is the assumption of no externalities, i.e. that all of the costs and benefits to society of a transaction are captured in the exchange between the buyer and the seller.  That is never true -- think of pollution, traffic congestion, and countless other obviously observable externalities that result when people buy and sell. But infectious disease is a major externality, and right now it constitutes a grave threat to humanity for numerous reasons, many of them traceable to externalities of market transactions.

    There are many other reasons why the economists' fictitious free market cannot possibly protect the public health.  Some of these include the assumption of perfect information, the assumption of frictionless (i.e. costless) transactions, the assumption of consumer-induced demand, the assumption of willing sellers and willing buyers.

    This is too big a subject to do justice in a comment here.  Suffice it to say for now that all markets are social constructions.  They are not forces of nature, they are created by humans and they cannot exist without structure, regulation, and continual intervention by authorities.  The question is how they are regulated, and for whose benefit.  The public health perspective forces us to think about the health of populations, and how to protect and improve it.  That is a problem for the community to solve, not individuals.

    Anyone who is interested is invited to visit my blog, which focuses on these issues.  I'll keep commenting here as well.  Thanks DemfromCt for this post.  (By the way, I'm from CT too.)

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