The Pathfinders Column from the February 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
Not many people can be unaware that there is an antibiotic crisis looming, caused by big pharma moving out of antibiotic research into more profitable fields of enquiry, like hair restoring or erectile dysfunction. Ask most people why this is happening and they will probably tell you it's because drug companies are run by greedy psychopathic bastards who couldn't care less about public health.
Back in October 2012 this column pointed to the fact that, for a number of very good reasons, drug companies simply couldn't make any money out of antibiotic research and that this amounted to the human race being failed by its own market system.
Confirmation of this has been provided by pharmaceutical companies themselves. At the recent Economic Forum in Davos, 85 drug companies signed a joint declaration promising to invest in antibiotic research if governments would agree to develop 'transformational commercial models' (BBC Online, 21 January).
The document, signed by Pfizer, Merck, Glaxo-Smith-Kline and Johnson & Johnson among others, stated that the current economic development model had 'largely failed' and that the 'formidable' (i.e. expensive) challenges of antibiotic research were the reason most companies had pulled out of the field.
What they mean is, they're not charities and they're not going to run at a loss, and if governments won't help meet the costs, new antibiotics aren't going to be made, even if we die of bubonic plague as a result.
This is as direct from the horse's mouth as it gets. Now even capitalist companies are frustrated at the operations of the market system. Will governments work out a deal with the drug companies? Maybe.
What speaks volumes is that they have to have this discussion at all. If capitalism really worked the way its promoters and propagandists like to claim, we wouldn't need all these special fixes and deals and arrangements and restructurings and 'transformational commercial models'. It would just work. Trains would run. Houses would get built. People would get fed. Antibiotics would get made.
The fact that it doesn't work is attested by, among other things, these desperate Davos conferences. Instead of an economic powerhouse, capitalism looks more like a patient under 24 hour supervision in an intensive care unit, kept alive only by the greatest of collective will and effort.
This isn't the first time capitalism's economic logic has failed the entire human race. In 2006 the Stern Review described climate change as the 'greatest market failure the world has seen'. Well, so far, but a sudden outbreak of death by gonorrhoea, laryngitis, TB or tetanus from a minor cut might very well change people's minds about that.
One wonders what it will take to make people realise that abolishing capitalism isn't just one of several viable options, it's already an urgent survival imperative.
Either capitalism goes, or homo sapiens might. This planet isn't big enough for the both of us.