If the USA were more substantially libertarian in construction and demeanor, how would we respond to the arrival of an epidemic or pandemic of some nasty pathogen like swine flu? If the USA were decentralized into quanta of individual market units, each responsible for his/her own well being, how could the spread of contagion be averted?

Would a libertarian republic be philosophically opposed to collectivist activity like combining resources to marshal a defense against a virus. Or, would the Austrian-school economists brush off the event as nothing more than a Malthusian disturbance in the direction of a much needed equilibrium between resources and population? If you cannot afford to protect yourself, then you are lazy or sadly unlucky. In any case, you’re on your own.

Would a Libertarian system first act to protect property and guns? Would libertarian economists issue a statement condemning collectivism and promoting the rights of individuals to buy as much Lysol, duct tape, plastic drop cloths, and surgical masks as the market will allow? Perhaps a Libertarian President (whatever that means) would put a team of economists on a pandemic, or better yet, the lowest bidding epidemiologists available from Craigs list?

Libertarians make a good deal of noise about the horrors of taxation and their unflinching admiration for the genius of the marketplace, property, and the right to stockpile guns and ammo.  I agree, we’re paying too much in taxes. Government is way too big. And the dynamics of the market do provide lots of cool stuff for better living. True enough.

But the market is like a stomach (I had a better analogy, but it was rather unwholesome). It only knows that it is hungry. The stomach has no brain. The stomach only wants more. The stomach did not invent antibiotics, polyethylene, Buicks, antacid, jet engines, or bikinis. But the stomach did facilitate the invention of each of these items. We need a market mentality, but we also need an overarching sense of direction. We need a market that can sense and avoid driving off a Malthusian cliff.

Civilization is about infrastructure. And part of the infrastructure that the country as a whole can provide is biotechnology.  Biotechnology was not developed by Warren Buffett or Ronald Reagan or the legions of celebrated MBA’s. It was slowly developed by publically financed university institutions over many years of apparently irrelevant research projects. University educated scientists were hired by private and public corporations who began to find ways of marketing biomedical technology.  It evolved into molecular biology and medicine and eventually commercialized as a result of front funding by millions of skeptical and myopic taxpayers over several generations. Yes, the market has a big part in this in terms of the rational distribution of goods.

As a result of all of the initial “collectivism” through publically funded science, we have a first class infrastructure (the CDC) that is capable of monitoring the onset and progress of contagious diseases. This system funded originally by the public is able to mobilize vaccines and small molecule medicines to prevent suffering and the spread of disease.  It is able to coordinate efforts and resources to benefit even the chronically irritable Libertarians.