Jeffrey A. Tucker
Jeffrey A. Tucker is founder and president of the Brownstone Institute and the author of many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press and 10 books in five languages, most recently Liberty or Lockdown. He is also the editor of The Best of Mises. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.
The dramatic shortage of baby formula underscores the point: a functioning economy is essential to public health. It’s the same with inflation and food shortages: if you cannot afford to eat or the shelves at the grocery are empty, that results in a diminution of public health. If products essential to life – parts to fix trucks or medical equipment – are unavailable due to supply-chain snarls caused by lockdowns, you have a public-health disaster brewing.
Similarly, if elites attempt to fix a public-health crisis without regard to economic considerations, they will create disaster. And they have, including the worst global food crisis in 70 years.
So there we have it finally, a clear demonstration that those who contrasted economics with “saving lives”, as if a functioning economy was only about Wall Street profits and nothing else, were deadly wrong.
I had to do a quick search to check my memory from early lockdowns, but, sure enough, it was everywhere: the claim that those who opposed the draconian response were merely putting economics ahead of life. Thousands of such posts were all over Twitter. It was a common putdown on all talk shows.
They wrecked social and market functioning and cannot fathom why we have a demoralised population, a mental health crisis, falling financials, soaring inflation and shortages of goods and services that are essential to life. This is what the experts recommended and yet here we are today.
Early on, an edict came out in every part of the country to shut the hospitals to everyone who didn’t have an emergency reason to be there, while prioritising Covid in the name of ending the pandemic. This happened all over the US. It was an action without precedent. And in the places without Covid of any substantial degree hospital parking lots emptied, hospital revenue collapsed and hundreds of nurses were furloughed. Healthcare spending (in a pandemic!) plummeted.
Is it not completely obvious that the medical system is part of the economy? Apparently it is not. And this is likely due to the ridiculous popular notion that economics is only about big shots flipping money back and forth and skimming along the way.
In fact, economics is the pith of life, the study and practice of our daily engagement with the material world, the delicate dance of balancing unlimited wants with nature’s scarce means while working toward the creation of more resources to be available for everyone. There is no getting rid of economics any more than we can put an end to pathogens in the air and in our bodies. It’s just part of reality and we need to learn to manage the challenge well.
The phrase public health is one I like, despite criticism I’ve endured for two years for deploying it. The phrase emerged in the late 19th century in dealing with cholera epidemics. Scientists came to learn that the source of spread was the water supply and hence found a path towards better living for everyone. So the phrase refers both to our health as individuals, but, also, crucially, the communities in which we live and the products and services we share together.
It does not necessarily mean “provided by the state”. It means literally that which impacts the public. Our longing to live in communities of healthy individuals with shared resources (air, water, roads, commercial sectors…) requires that we think and act to live better as people both from a personal point of view and also with an eye toward the well-being of others. In that sense, the phrase is perfectly suitable.
It is precisely the same with economics, and has been this way since the discipline first came to formal attention in English-speaking countries with the works of Adam Smith. It is about individual interest and it is also about the well-being of the community. The core principles of economics are very similar to the principles of public health. It is not just about one pathogen or industry but all aspects of health and the economy, and not just for the short term but for the long term too.
The policies to deal with Covid jettisoned not only economics but also traditional wisdom in public health, and we ended up sacrificing both in the long run. You cannot have a healthy society by the crushing of market functioning. That ended up ruining lives and it is still going on today.
Polls show that people say inflation is the number one problem and Covid is the least of their concerns; but this disguises the common root of both: both issues trace to the radical mismanagement of the social order by the ruling class, at the expense of everyone else.
The shortage of baby formula underscores the point: it takes a functioning economy to feed the children. If you give that up, people will starve. That the likes of Anthony Fauci and Bill Gates did not think of that – and that the mobs shouted to throw out economics to maintain health – reveals a deep and dangerous ignorance of how a good society functions.