Curing my cold and capitalism

I recently came home from Palm Springs with a vicious cold. While I don’t hold the desert accountable for my current distress, I do blame capitalism.

You can’t watch TV without seeing endless ads for pharmaceuticals, usually for some dire condition. “Ask your doctor if Utrexa ™ (auxilimab) is right for you. Studies show you may live 53 days longer if you have small cell lung cancer that hasn’t responded to conventional chemotherapy. Side effects include swelling of the gums, incontinence, flatus, vomiting, coma and death.”

Obviously the networks know their demographics; nobody under the age of senescence watches the tube anymore.

Now, it’s the last thing on my mind to ridicule anyone unfortunate enough to have a life-threatening condition. But really, all of us only die once.

But in the seven plus decades from your birth to your final resting place, you will suffer dozens of colds. And each will make you miserable for a solid week, minimum.

And what have the nation’s drug companies done about that? Basically nothing, the same dizzying decongestants, vile-tasting cough syrups, and other random remedies that were available when I was born are still on the shelves today. And they work about as well, which means not much.

But anything to actually shorten, minimize, or even prevent colds in the first place, not a damned thing. This is a monumental failure. Invent a cure for the common cold and you could hire Mark Zuckerberg as your personal assistant. You’d be curing an affliction that afflicts everyone, including you.

So, the pharmaceutical companies have failed, thus far, but we don’t think it’s wrong of them to try. We expect drug companies to interfere with the workings of nature. We expect, even demand them to plan.

What has all this to do with capitalism? Only everything. When it comes to disease, we don’t rely on the inevitable workings of nature to cure what ails us. We research, study, experiment and plan, until we get results.

Not even the most Ayn Rand intoxicated ideologue thinks it’s wrong to plan, to use our intelligence and hard-earned knowledge to cure disease. Because sometimes nature tries to kill us.

When it comes to health, human intelligence, science, planning, and modifying the natural order of nature is not only accepted, it’s expected. And, with the egregious exception of the common cold, mine especially, we’ve had pretty good success. Smallpox, Bubonic plague, AIDS, many cancers, polio, mostly cured, usually survivable, through research, the application of human intelligence and planning.

Yet when it comes to that other vital, universal human experience, the economy, planning is a dirty word. Any “interference” in the natural order of things, any attempt to control the workings of the “invisible hand” is considered unnatural, unwise and doomed.

The arguments used against planning in an economy are nonsense. They’re the equivalent of saying, “Don’t cure typhus, because if we do we’ll never cleanse the gene pool. Curing a disease is fooling with nature, and that never works.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against free enterprise. I’m not against profit, I’m not even violently opposed to greed, though I’m not fond of it, either.

I know that the basic workings of what we call capitalism are inherent in our species. It’s how we’ve done exchange, long before it became an ideology.

But I also know we’ve learned some things in the meantime. And, while the academic study of Economics is universally known as “the dismal science,” it’s still a science. Which means we can still learn how it works, how it fails and how to plan to make it work better.

There are as many possible variants of capitalism as the flu. And like the flu, any economic virus can do serious damage if we don’t treat it properly.

I don’t mean overregulation that stifles innovation, though I think that’s far less common than under-regulation that fouls the air, scars the landscape, pollutes the water and cheats helpless workers.

I mean that the economy is a perfectly proper object for democratic control, for planning, and insuring, to the best of our abilities, that it works well for all the people.

Thankfully, my cold is getting better. My immune system still seems to be in good working order. Which is more than I can say for our democracy and our control of capitalism at the moment.

Meanwhile, since you can’t hear me when I sneeze, allow me to do the honors. “Bless you all.”

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