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Will the State Save Us From Ebola?

July 29, 2014 in Economics

By Ryan McMaken


The Drudge Report and other media outlets have  done their best to create a panic over the spread of Ebola in western Africa. It’s a safe bet that, if it hasn’t happened already, some devoted interventionists will point to disease epidemics as proof of the indispensable role of states in halting the spread of the disease.  While television and movies have trained people to believe that one person on an airplane can start off a virulent epidemic, the reality appears to be rather different. Ebola is transmitted through direct contact with blood and bodily fluids. Moreover, debilitating Ebola symptoms show up quickly, before the infected can unknowingly  infect large numbers of others, and the conditions in western Africa, where Ebola is most successful, could hardly be more unlike those in Europe and North America where, thanks to relatively free markets, there is easy access to clean water and health care services.

Not surprisingly, we also find that the governments of region where Ebola thrives have paved the way themselves for the spread of the disease, with endless wars and the destruction of capital:

As Dionne notes, all three countries have poor health infrastructure, due in part to years of civil war in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Liberia has just .014 doctors per 1,000 people, and a common joke is that JFK Medical Center, Monrovia’s main hospital, has long had the unflattering nickname “Just For Killing.”

In addition, we can be sure that if any political stability is achieved in Liberia or Sierra Leone, that the local regime would loot any moderately successful private health-care operation. The lack of restrained political systems and private property all but ensure a lack of access to the very things that making disease prevention successful.

Global epidemics have occurred before and the track record of states have not been exemplary.

Perhaps the textbook illustration of this  is the influenza epidemic of 1918. Not only did the First World War generate conditions more favorable to the spread of the disease (by destroying the infrastructure and hygiene, quality food, and good health in general) but the governments of the time ensured worldwide transmission by crowding infected WWI troops with the uninfected, and then shipping them on boats to various cities.

Government incompetence is most certainly not confined to the days of yore, of course. In recent years, there’s been news of another flu epidemic every few years. Predictably, the federal plans for mass …read more


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