I just had a long argument about central planning of the Covid vaccine.
The occasion for this argument is that I drove someone to the other side of Phoenix for a 5:30am appointment. Why 5:30? Because the government is doling out doses ‘round the clock.
I marshalled all the facts. We’re nearly three months in to this exercise in central planning. And even people classified in the first priority group, due to age or medical condition, must wait a month or longer and take whatever time slot may be open such as 5:30. Oh yeah be there 15 minutes ahead of time. Did I mention it’s nearly an hour drive even without traffic at Oh Dark Thirty?
I showed him that we don’t have this problem with flu vaccines. I described how companies like Nintendo can manufacture and distribute tens of millions of units in a short time window for Christmas.
He said that Israel has given the vaccine to over 90% of its population. I said it’s absolutely true that central planners can deliver great outcomes, if you look only at the “seen”. What you must overlook is the “unseen”—the obscene cost. Government bureaucracies can deliver what appears to be the outcome of a free market. But the cost is a hundred times higher. They can squander the wealth that would be enriching the Israel people in 99 other ways—in order to deliver vaccines.
He said now that Biden is in charge, of course it’s not efficient. I said government cannot do what he wants, no matter who is in charge. This is because government does not have any of the incentives, systems, processes, management culture, or other characteristics that make it possible for Pfizer or Nintendo to distribute something quickly and inexpensively.
In Glendale, the government has quite an operation going. There were hundreds of people (maybe more) waving flashlights to each car to direct them to their respective lanes. Then when one lane would move a bit faster, they directed some cars to switch lanes. This was repeated in between each stage, where workers would ask for the appointment-card-holder’s name, date of birth, etc. They’d write something on the windshield, but who knows why because the next station would ask the same questions. With more flashlight wavers directing cars to switch lanes.
I asked if I could get a shot. For a while, people in the same car with an appointment-card-holder were getting vaccinated. But the Coalition of the Concerned or whatever this group calls itself, was outraged—Outraged—that anyone could get vaccinated prior to being assigned a number. So no joy.
The waste of everyone’s time, not to mention the labor of what must be thousands of people working 5 shifts a week, was staggering. Stupefying. But no worries, it’s all free.
I explained to this vaccine-card-holder that the purpose of central planning of vaccine distribution is not efficiency. He could not disagree, having seen a small bit of the inefficiency for himself. I said the purpose is to keep Pfizer from making too much money, and to keep the rich from getting vaccinated too quickly.
After he got his shot, there was more zigzagging in lanes, like the line for Immigration Control at an airport, only with cars and trucks. And more flashlight-waving workers. We then were told that this was intentional, because after the shot they want to make sure the newly-vaccinated have 15 minutes to verify there is no anaphylactic shock. Snaking back and forth in cars, because waiting for shock! A solution only a government planner could concoct.
After that, another worker washed off the numbers on the windshield. And we were free to go.
The newly-vaccinated person in the passenger seat said he was sorry I couldn’t get it too. I said no bread today, comrade. Government rationing turns everyone into supplicants, begging for their supper (and resenting those ahead of them in line, especially when the store runs out).
He saw all of this. And agreed. So it his next reaction was particularly disappointing.
I said we should have a free market in vaccines, and Pfizer (and Moderna and Johnson and Johnson) could produce and sell as much as they want, set their own prices, distribute through whatever channels they want. He reacted to this, “I don’t know about that. We have to make sure that everyone, even the poor, get vaccinated or else this public health problem will persist. If the drug companies made it very expensive, then the poor couldn’t afford it…”
The issue here is not economic. No one thinks that the free market in food has made food so expensive that the poor starve. This guy pointed out that drugs are expensive. But he did not want to hear that the government makes them expensive by its licensing and regulation. He defended that by saying, “well, we have to prevent pharmaceutical companies from selling bad drugs.”
The government controls everyone in the Covid vaccine game. From Pfizer to the medical professionals to the people, everyone is acting under government orders. Pfizer is commanded how much to produce, and when and where to ship how many doses. Providers are directed who to vaccinate (if they get any doses at all, which many aren’t, which is why everyone drives to Glendale to a stadium parking lot to get vaccinates—those lucky few who get a number). People are eventually given a number, a permission slip to get vaccinated, and everyone else is not allowed to get it, even if they could pay. Pfizer is not allowed to sell it to them.
I am told that Pfizer is being allowed to make some money. I don’t know if $20 a dose makes or loses money for them. Maybe. I do know that the rich, the middle class, and the poor are being kept from being vaccinated. Which I am told is to ensure that everyone gets vaccinated.
I just could not get him to question his idea that, well, the government has to step in to ensure the right outcome. At least in certain important things, like the Covid vaccine. Sure, we could risk something unimportant like Mario Bros. to the capabilities of free people in a free market. But not something important like a vaccine!
The issue is not efficiency or economics. It’s not for the sake of convenience or cost. He could see that the government was making a dog’s dinner out of it.
It was just an ineffable feeling, a pre-moral sense that this is Right. And besides, there is a genuine shortage of vaccines, so how else could we get it to those who most need it?