Vaccine Apartheid and Intellectual Property

Introduction

In recent weeks there has been a growing clamor with regard to addressing the issue of vaccine ‘apartheid’, or the inequity in access to vaccines (as of April 2021, the more affluent countries, which account for less than 20% of the global population, had bought 60% of confirmed orders – well over 4.6 billion doses).

African leaders have red-flagged the issue of lack of access to vaccinations and also how, due to poor access, rate of vaccination is slow. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has commented

…no one is safe until everyone is safe, so all of us must be treated equally across the world and vaccines must be treated as a public good, available at affordable prices right across the board.

The rise in daily cases (more than 20 million Indians have been infected) and mortalities (in the month of April itself, there have been an estimated 40,000 casualties) as a result of COVID-19 in recent weeks in India has further brought this issue to center stage. Apart from the government being ill-prepared for the second wave, and the virtual collapse of the health system (even in the national capital there has been a shortage of beds and oxygen), the third wave is being attributed to the slow rate of vaccination: only 2% of the population has been fully inoculated with both doses, while less than 10% has received one dose. One of the reasons cited for the slow rate of vaccination has been India’s inability to ramp up its vaccine production which could be eased out if the World Trade Organization (WTO) provides an intellectual property waiver.  

During an online address, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai underscored the point that addressing the issue of vaccine inequity is important not just from the point of public health but also from an economic standpoint.

One of the ways for increasing vaccination, as discussed earlier, is increasing the production and for this an Intellectual Property (IP) Waiver is essential. Both the Chief of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom, as well as former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, have repeatedly made this point. Both Brown and Tedros said that removing a waiver during an emergency situation was essential and this should be on the agenda of the G7 Summit to be held in June in the UK.

South Africa and India have, since October 2020, been seeking a waiver on certain provisions of the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).   

Pressure on the US to provide Intellectual Property waivers

There has been growing pressure on the Biden administration to address the issue of vaccine apartheid and this has grown in recent days and weeks. 

More than 170 heads of state and several Nobel Laureates wrote to US President Biden in favour of removing US IP rules for production of vaccines. This includes former French President Francois Hollande, Former British PM Gordon Brown, and Nobel Laureates Professor Joseph Stiglitz and Professor Francoise Barre-Sinoussi.

10 Democratic Senators have also written to Biden to support the temporary TRIPS waiver.

Biden administration assistance to India and possibility of intellectual property waiver 

In recent weeks, with the increasing number of cases in India, the Biden administration has unequivocally stated that it will assist India in dealing with the COVID-19 threat. Apart from President Biden and other senior officials from his administration who have assured all necessary help, Anthony Fauci, the Chief Medical Advisor to the President, has asked pharmaceutical companies to help out either by ramping up their production or by transferring their technologies. Said Fauci:

You can’t have people throughout the world dying because they don’t have access to a product that rich people have access to.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, in a media interview, also stated:  

We believe that the pharmaceutical companies should be supplying at scale and at cost to the entire world so that there is no barrier to everyone getting vaccinated.

On Wednesday, May 6, 2021, the Biden administration announced that it supported the waiver on Intellectual Property protections for COVID-19 vaccines. US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, in a statement, said:

This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures. The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines.

Why this announcement is important 

The announcement is a significant development, given the pressure from numerous quarters, especially pharmaceutical lobbies. Founder of Microsoft and philanthropist Bill Gates, in a media interview, spoke against waiving patents. Said Gates:

It’s not like there’s some idle vaccine factory, with regulatory approval, that makes magically safe vaccines.

Gates, through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has sponsored Gavi: the Vaccine Alliance, a public-private global health partnership which seeks to increase low-income countries’ access to immunization. Gavi, alongside WHO, runs the COVAX to improve access to vaccines in low- and middle-income countries.

A trade group, PhRMA, has also warned against an IP waiver, and a number of Republicans have argued against such a step and wrote a letter to US Trade Representative Katherine Tai.

Conclusion 

In conclusion, the Biden administration’s decision on May 6, 2021, needs to be hailed; it is important to address all issues which are obstructing the ramping up of global manufacturing of vaccines and preventing a faster rate of vaccination in less affluent countries. All stakeholders need to act fast to prevent the pandemic from spreading and taking more lives. Globalization, multilateralism, and talk of liberal values are of no use if the issue of vaccine apartheid is not addressed on a war footing.

Nightcap

  1. India’s constitution is way too long Bhatia & Modi, Pragati
  2. Pakistan’s proxies Adnan Naseemullah, Duck of Minerva
  3. Is Bernie Sanders the Ronald Reagan of socialism? Ross Douthat, New York Times
  4. How the Gupta brothers hoodwinked South Africa Karan Mahajan, Vanity Fair

Nightcap

  1. The costs of hospital protectionism Chris Pope, National Affairs
  2. Parasitic SETI and parasitic space science Nick Nielsen, Grand Strategy Annex
  3. Between two empires (Armenia) Peter Brown, New York Review of Books
  4. The transition from socialism to capitalism Branko Milanovic, globalinequality

Nightcap

  1. The Market Police (Neoliberalism) JW Mason, Boston Review
  2. Libertarians should stop focusing on rent capture Henry Farrell, Cato Unbound
  3. Libertarians should *really* stop focusing on rent capture Mike Konczal, RortyBomb
  4. Nationalism is an essential bulwark against imperialism Sumantra Maitra, Claremont Review of Books

Pot smoking and freedom: ‘Murica!

My latest Tuesday column over at RealClearHistory takes aim at the history of marijuana in the United States. I’ve got a 600 word limit, but hopefully I packed in plenty of info. Here’s an excerpt:

During the much-loathed Prohibition era (1920-33), marijuana was targeted along with alcohol and other substances deemed immoral by bootleggers and Baptists. Unlike alcohol, which was re-legalized in 1933, marijuana ended up in a legal limbo that continues to this day. The legal, political, economic, and cultural battles surrounding marijuana use in the United States have helped shape three generations of lawyers, businesspeople, activists, academics, and medical professionals. Thanks to the questions posed by marijuana prohibition, rigorous and creative arguments in favor of the drug’s legalization have contributed to a better understanding of our federal system of government, of Judeo-Christian morality, and non-Western ethical systems (pot-smoking “Buddhists” are practically cliche today), of the human body and especially the brain, of global trading networks throughout history, and of intercultural exchange and communication. Freedom still defines us as a society. Freedom binds Americans together. Freedom drives our conversations and our institutional actors. This may be difficult to remember as the news cycle grows ever more sensational, but this quiet, humble truth still remains.

Please, read the rest.

Libertarian police officers

When I graduate Chico State in two years, I’ll have Bachelors in both Philosophy and Criminal Justice and a certificate in teaching Critical Thinking and Logic. The political science degree is largely a buffer for the barren philosophy job market, with the benefit of avoiding comments about wasting my time and money. The free market rewards talent; I am learning multiple skill sets.

The reality of working with a criminal justice degree is that I will probably be in procedural justice at some point. I could study pre-law right now and go for administration or argumentation, but the degrees are sufficiently similar in preparing for law school (philosophy majors do better on the LSAT than law majors, anyway), and the criminological aspect of criminal justice is more interesting than mundane memorization of legal case studies.

At some point, I’ll want to become a detective – it seems like an unmatched intellectual exercise and the work is rewarding. However, to make detective, years of patrol is expected. Almost all detectives and high-ranking officers in police departments begin as beat cops. Here the question arises: how could I possibly enforce laws to which I am strictly morally opposed?

I’ve written elsewhere about the disastrous path of American law enforcement. It’s not a great thing to have on my resume when applying for departments. A simple fact is that outsider thinking is discouraged for patrol.

The criminal justice system relies on tremendous obedience. Alternative thinking just has no place in the enforcement aspect of law enforcement. In war, soldiers follow orders, generals project them, politicians fund them. The police department operates microcosmically similar. (With many veterans returning to the states and serving as officers, this similarity becomes even more prevalent. Much of the ideological militarization of departments has its roots here.) The police are (supposed to be, ideally) the enforcers of democratically conceived legislation. Their role is contingent on society’s and they are not expected to reflect or speculate on the law. My own minor-in-possession infraction a couple years ago is illustrative: having a conversation with my detaining officers, they unanimously agreed that the drinking age should not be lowered. This in a culture with one of the highest alcoholism and binge-drinking rates – not shared by all of the other developed countries with lower minimum drinking ages (the United States is one of very few with over 18 legislation, another notable country is Japan). So, do police officers suffer unashamed ignorance about the discordance of law and order, or dysfunctional faith in the creed of criminal justice, or are they just doing their democratic job and avoiding an opinion?

I don’t think my detaining officers believed that twenty-one is somehow an optimal age to begin legally consuming alcohol. Working in Chico and citing students daily for pulic intoxication (not to mention responding to emergency calls for poisoning) is enough for a reasonable officer to think, hey, maybe this law isn’t doing its job right. So it’s a matter of opinion discretion. Alternative thinking is not appreciated by law enforcement, and reasonably so. Intellectualism has a place in administration and jurisprudence and Constitutional law, but not patrol. Patriotism and firm belief in contemporary majoritarian values are crucial in officers to keep the apparatus functioning and maintain trust between the shared culture in the department and on the street.

Were I to take up the shield – which is probable if departments don’t reject me on behalf of all my anti-authoritarian articles over the past few years – it would seem difficult to reconcile enforcement with my libertarian instincts. Detaining a student for underage drinking, say, would run very counter-intuitive to all my political reasoning thus far. Indeed, I would be the one with an expensive fine were criminal justice not always about the wrong place and the wrong time. (I wonder how communities like Law Enforcement Against Prohibition proceed – you can’t just not do your job on the job. It seems that any conspicuous libertarian ideals would be rooted out from a department.)

And yet the police force, with its declining reputation among citizens, serves a vital role beneath all the of the mala prohibita legislation, tradition and pot busts: public safety. There is the central function of police, beyond their democratic institution, to protect property and life. Liberty is fought for in courtrooms and, ever increasingly, online; not within the police department. In this stance I find myself aligning with R. P. Wolff’s distinction of philosophical opinions and political opinions… he found himself a philosophical anarchist and political liberal, and here I find myself philosophically libertarian and politically democratic.

I don’t think that change begins behind the badge, and so it seems reasonable to continue the supposedly democratically-conceived enforcement as public servant while background processes shape liberty. In fact it’s one of the few ways to be a “public servant” and actually fulfill this function meaningfully.

Also, here’s an article parodying libertarian law that, though ripe with misunderstanding, is hysterical: http://www.newyorker.com/humor/daily-shouts/l-p-d-libertarian-police-department

What’s the difference between Saudi Arabia and Islamic State?

One has captured the rent associated with being a state in the post-World War II world order. This means that one of these polities gets to build embassies in other states. It gets to participate in congresses. It gets to fly its flag at the United Nations and has access to the World Bank, military hardware markets (“for defense”), and FIFA tournaments.

Rent capture isn’t all good, of course. There are still costs. When Saudi Arabia beheads people, for example, it gets condemned internationally. Its reputation suffers. It has to repair relationships and launch rigorous public relations campaigns. Saudi Arabia has to do these things because if it looks intransigent to enough of its fellow states, there might be official repercussions for its actions. Saudi Arabia can’t just go around killing and looting and raping at will. It has to formalize its killing, looting, and raping through the international order by coming up with a national interest. (A national interest is also important for shoring up domestic support for such activities.)

But incorporating Islamic State into the international order is unfathomable. It’s an immoral action rewarding an immoral pseudo-polity. Besides, the sovereignty of the states of Iraq and Syria would be violated and their borders destroyed. It’s better to just keep bombing the region Islamic State claims to govern and arming the factions that claim to be its enemies. That’s been our policy towards the post-colonial world since 1945 and, while imperfect, it’s been working out well so far…

Another example of double-speak: This is what happens when Time Warner Cable is forced to compete

This is what happens when Time Warner Cable is forced to compete

Such a laughable headline when government regulations are what caused the cable/telecom monopolies in the first place.

“This report admits that in the days when cable was challenging airwave broadcasters, regulators “did not hesitate to grant exclusive franchises to cable operators”4. It speaks specifically of a long history of successful regulatory lobbying by the cable industry. This report claims that lobbying of regulators resulted in a variety of tactics to deter competition (p. 35). It claims that regulators protected and favored cable incumbents for years. Licensing policies have directly or effectively barred competition in many local markets (p. 44). Such practices are no longer official, but cable companies still succeed in enlisting the help of regulators to bar direct competition (p. 44). Incumbent cable companies have also gotten regulators to use “level playing field laws” to increase the costs of entering the cable market (p. 45). Cable companies have also saddled new competitors with disproportionate shares of subsidies for public education and government programming (p. 45). The cable industry has also succeeded in getting the FCC to quash new competitors with prices for leased access no competitor “could pay and remain commercially viable” (p. 47).”

Much like the drug law argument I talked about last week this is another example of people lauding governments for solving problems that the government itself is responsible for.  We need to look beyond the double-speak and identify the underlying issues at hand.  In this case government privilege granted to favored corporations.

Occupy Wall Street; Don’t Attack Grandma: The New Class Struggle

Behind the verbal incoherence, behind the posturing, behind the bad children’s tantrum, behind the trash, behind the grotesque self-regard of those who would borrow $120,000 to earn a degree in “German Studies,” there may be legitimate resentment in the “Occupy” movement. It’s true that it’s difficult to get from the demonstrators an answer to a straight question that does not make you laugh or cry, or both. However, you may not have to await their answer to understand.

To the extent that you can trust television cameras at all, they seem to show largely demonstrators between their mid-twenties and their mid-thirties. That would be people born between 1975 and 1985. Those cohorts had only known ease and prosperity until 2008. They were brought up by easy-going parents who sent them, or allowed them to attend schools that nurtured self-indulgence more than intellectual curiosity. I have two children near the younger edge of these age groups. I am guilty too. When they were playing soccer, they never heard anything from coaches except “Good try.” I remember clearly one little kid ( not one of mine, God forbid!) garnering this very accolade after he had marked a goal against his own team. (Would I make this up?) These American cohorts were not in any way prepared for a world where jobs are difficult to get because companies are not hiring and where the jobs you get don’t pay well because companies don’t have to pay well since they won’t invest in you for the long-term because there is no long-term they can see. Continue reading

Chicago, Vienna and San Francisco

Co-editor Fred Foldvary has a great essay up on three schools of economic thought that deserves to be read by all.  An excerpt:

The Vienna school emphasizes the dynamics of the economy, while the Chicago method is to apply self-interest and economizing in an equilibrium analysis.  The San Francisco school uses both equilibrium and dynamics.  The dynamic approach of change over time is used to show the advance of rent and lowering of wages as the margin of production moves to less productive land and as land speculation moves the margin out even further.  Equilibrium shows that since market rent is based on the fixed supply of land and the demand to rent space, the tax on land not affecting the rent.

The San Francisco school agrees with the Vienna school that the spontaneous order of the free market best allocates goods to human desires.  But the San Francisco school points out that if the ground rent is not tapped for public revenue, when taxes on other things finance civic works, then there is in effect a subsidy to land owners, which distorts the market.

The San Francisco school has a theory of the business cycle based on land values, which rise during a boom, when speculation carries land prices so high that investment gets choked off, resulting in a recession.  But San Francisco has lacked a consensus on the role of central banking and money.

Check out the rest here.

I tend to pay attention whenever Dr. Foldvary writes, because he is the guy who wrote a book in 2007 accurately predicting the economic collapse of 2008.  You can access the book for free here.