Zika is Coming
Posted on August 16, 2016
There are a small number of economic principles that every voter really, really needs to understand, principles that most voters and politicians either do not get quite right, or else engage in outright libertarian denial. Public health illustrates one of those principles perfectly. The underlying principle is what economist call “public goods.”
The specific application is epidemics. It is in quite literally in EVERYONE’S interest to stamp out epidemics as quickly as possible. Not even the 1% are immune.
However controlling epidemics utterly depends on surveillance and action carried out by specialized public health authorities. These agencies need to be global not national. We need (and do not have) a central world public health authority with the power to take action. We currently limp along with incomplete international cooperation of underfunded national and NGO agencies, coordinated by the WHO.
Currently we are grappling with ebola and zika. Many more communicable diseases are on their way as a result of global warming and globalization and population growth, spurred on by the ordinary Darwinian adaptation of all germs. We need a better surveillance and early warning system. Meanwhile lots of old diseases could and should be eradicated but aren’t.
Leaving idiotic libertarian and anti-science vaxer ideology aside, what prevents action is the classic public goods problem: no one wants to pay for it, or to give up national sovereignty to enforce it. This is known as the free rider problem. If a person or a country avoids paying a fair share of costs, while other countries do the right thing, then the shirker gets the full benefit of (for example) disease eradication without paying for it.
Which helps explains why the many in Congress voted down funding for the zika campaign. Although libertarian idiocy was also responsible.