Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Fighting the Flu

First our government was fighting terror, now it's fighting the flu.

People tend to fear the unknown and unlikely, often neglecting to prepare for the known and likely threats. Unfortunately, politicians have done just that in deciding, with my money and yours, that we need to prepare for the event of a flu pandemic.

How likely it is to occur? Were I the manufacturer of a flu remedy, I'd be the first to know. You can bet that I'd be putting my energy into research & development if I believed a flu pandemic was on the horizon. For the producer, providing flu remedies during a pandemic translates to profits. For the consumer, living in a free market where producers are not discouraged by high taxes and regulations ensures that flu remedies are available when they are most needed. The higher the likelihood and severity of the threat, the more the producers will spend preparing for it. I, as the consumer, don't have to do anything. I can sit at home and type out a new post for my blog. I don't have to worry at all.

But government's recent involvement gives me reason to worry. Perhaps one part of my worry stems from the mixed signals. Take these quotes, from the same article, "There is no evidence that a human pandemic, of H5N1 or any other super-strain, is about to start, Bush said repeatedly," followed by, "'Our country has been given fair warning of this danger to our homeland, and time to prepare,' Bush said."

This "danger," of which there is "no evidence" is reason to take $7.1 billion from your wallets. However, even and especially when the danger is evident, severe and likely, there is no reason for the government to delve deeper into your pockets. As long as the government sticks to its job, the free market and profit seeking firms will find those threats and combat them -- all in the name of making money. Those firms bear the risk when the threats do not occur and when they do. Our wallets only become involved when we decide to purchase their products or invest in their stock.

With the $7.1 billion plan, taxpayers are forced to bear the risk but earn no profit. To be sure, if the government is in charge of flu remedies, they will not be rationed on price, but on a first-come, first-serve basis or on government's assessment of 'need.' If government is providing subsidies for manufacturers, we can be sure that more of the flu remedies will be produced than the intitial expected return warranted.

The flu, even avian flu, is not a new phenomenon. It has existed for centuries at minimum. To suddenly deem it a major threat and claim that companies need the government's help in preparing for an outbreak should cause suspicion.

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