Home News It will not be capitalism that will save us from covid – Mariana Mazzucato

It will not be capitalism that will save us from covid – Mariana Mazzucato

by admin

Boris Johnson attributed the success of the UK vaccination campaign to “capitalism” and “greed”. These are gut comments, but if the prime minister’s words offer any indication of how the UK will recover from the pandemic, the implications for the country’s policy choices at home and abroad are worrying. This isn’t the first time Johnson has drawn the wrong economic lessons from the covid-19 crisis. A few months ago in the same spirit he addressed “leftists, convinced that everything can be financed by taxpayers’ money”, saying that “the time comes when the state must take a step back and leave it to the private sector. to come into play “.

Johnson is not the first person to see vaccines as a private sector success. But it is worth mentioning that the AstraZeneca vaccine was created by scientists at the University of Oxford, and later developed and distributed by the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical giant. Yet only private individuals were publicly celebrated.

The truth is that an unprecedented amount of public funds have been poured into vaccine research, development and production. The top six candidates are estimated to have received $ 12 billion (around 10 billion euros) in public and taxpayer money, including $ 1.7 billion (around 1.4 billion euros) for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. and $ 2.5 billion (about € 2.1 billion) for Pfizer-Biontech. This level of investment represents a huge risk, but it is not the only one that the public sector has taken. Governments have used “upfront market commitments” to ensure that private companies that have succeeded in producing a vaccine against covid-19 will be amply rewarded with large orders.

Public funds spent on research and development are often entrepreneurial in the sense that governments invest in the first and riskiest stages of health innovation, before a market exists. This is one of the reasons companies have been able to develop a vaccine for covid-19 in record time. As a recent report by the British Industrial Strategy Council made clear, the breakthrough in vaccinations against covid-19 would have been unthinkable without the involvement of the state. Effective and “targeted” government coordination – made up of industrial scientific investment policies, strategic public procurement and public-private collaboration – was fundamental for the success of the coronavirus vaccination campaign.

The hindsight
However, there is an important clarification to be made. Although the government knows the strength of the UK in the life sciences sector, and wants to back it up with two new sector deals, the country’s ability to produce sufficient doses is not a foregone conclusion. Britain’s historic inability to sustain its national manufacturing base is evident in the recent squabbles between Brussels and London over the supply of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Before the crisis, the UK was not interested in investing in a local industrial base for the mass production of vaccines and other scientific products. If the government had proposed a plan to invest in such factories before the pandemic, it would probably have been received less than enthusiastically.

This is clear in hindsight. But hindsight also tells us how vital it is to have a long-term industrial strategy that invests in productivity and economic growth, while at the same time having more ambitious goals, such as tackling the climate crisis and future pandemics. Instead of viewing the present as the best time to come up with such a plan, Johnson is giving up on a sensible industrial strategy. The recently announced suppression of the Industrial Strategy Council, an independent consultancy body that advises the government on the industrial strategy to follow, suggests that the precious work of this institution will not be treasured. The government has pledged to double the UK’s public spending on research and development to £ 22 billion a year by 2024 or 2025, but it also proposes to cut the budget of UK research and innovation, a public department that funds research, halving the funds for international development projects.

If this undermines the infrastructure critical to vaccine success in the UK, as seems likely, then the newly created Agency for Invention and Advanced Research (Aria) by the government risks being a costly distraction. In the United States, the model of the Agency for Advanced Research Projects (ARPA), which inspired the Aria, has been a great success because it operates within a vital and decentralized infrastructure, supported by public investments in science, which the Biden administration plans to further strengthen.

The fact that UK research cuts occur during a global pandemic sends a worrying message about the prime minister’s priorities. When he talked about greed, Johnson actually identified the problem with the system, not something that deserves praise. A vaccine alone cannot be enough to cage covid-19, and the UK will not be safe from the virus until the majority of the world‘s population is vaccinated. It is very difficult to understand how greed can make the vaccine available to everyone, in all countries, and for free.

Addressing the monopoly of pharmaceutical companies on science, technical skills and technology, and sharing this mission with as many countries as possible, will be key to increasing and decentralizing vaccine production around the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) created the Covid-19 technology access pool- (C-Tap) program, to allow governments and companies to do just that. In parallel, South Africa and India sent the WHO the proposal, supported by more than one hundred countries, to temporarily renounce some restrictions on intellectual property for technologies related to Covid-19. A recent poll in the UK found that 74 per cent of respondents are in favor of these positions. In response, the government ignored the C-Tap and rejected the temporary suspension on intellectual property.

When a government is guided by the philosophy of greed, vaccine apartheid is guaranteed. 56 percent of the more than 455 million doses of the covid-19 vaccine has already gone to people in high-income countries, and only 0.1 percent has been distributed to the poorest 29 countries. It is unlikely that the WHO Covax program, which aims to vaccinate up to 27 percent of the population in 92 of the poorest countries, will suffice.

Having done well with its vaccination program, the UK should now be well placed to contribute to a global vaccination campaign. The UK government’s promise to donate surplus vaccines is a good start, but it’s not enough. We need strong leadership and hope. Instead Boris Johnson seems attached to the anachronistic and counterproductive idea that capitalism and greed will vaccinate the world and contribute to the reconstruction after the pandemic.

(Translation by Federico Ferrone)


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