Reading Time: 5 minutes The Prime Minister Boris Johnson Portrait
Reading Time: 5 minutes

The utter rank hypocrisy of the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has been on show over the last few days. Let me walk you through it.

Johnson, in a private meeting of Tory MPs, let the true Tory cat out of the bag:

The prime minister’s full remarks, which first appeared in the Sun newspaper, were reported to be: “The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed, my friends.”

This was met with a flurry of denials, of claiming it was a joke, and then attacking the leaker. The reality is that this is exactly the sort of comment we should expect from modern Tory politicians. The PM is under not nearly enough pressure at the moment considering he is embroiled in his own corruption case, considering Jennifer Arcuri has recently admitted to having an affair with him when he was Mayor of London, and then procuring her £126,000 worth of taxpayers’ money.

Good old capitalism and greed.

There are two things going on here: (1) incorrect claims, and (2) rank hypocrisy.

Incorrect Claims

I could detail the successes of socialist states like Cube, China and India’s Kerala, but there is more obvious fault in seeing the vaccine success in terms of free-market economics. The UK government literally went to vaccine pharmaceutical companies and said, “What can we do for you to get these vaccines sorted?” such that this was a private-public partnership. Let me refer you to “COVID-19 vaccines are a victory for public research, not ‘greed’ and ‘capitalism’“:

Before COVID-19, the vaccine market was notoriously sluggish, taking between five and 15 years to develop a viable candidate. It is for this reason the current effort looks so remarkable.

For pharmaceutical companies, the incentives are poor. In April 2018, long before coronavirus emerged, a report by Goldman Sachs analysts proposed that providing a “one shot” cure for diseases could never be a “sustainable business model”.

That’s because, as Johnson rightly implies, pharmaceutical companies follow the money. In 2019, the global vaccines market size was US$47bn. Meanwhile sales of just four treatment drugs matched this volume of sales (Humira, used to treat rheumatoid arthritis; Keytruda, the cancer treatment; Revlimid, used to treat multiple myeloma; and Imbruvica, also a cancer drug).

Earlier coronavirus diseases, Sars and Mers, had no vaccine. Both had candidates initially tested on animals that did not make it to human trials. The Ebola vaccine was finally approved in 2019, 16 years after it was first patented and a full six years after the start of the epidemic in West Africa.

There can be little doubt that racial capitalism and global economics has shaped our response to this virus. Previous viruses did not threaten the economy of the developed countries to the same extent. The costs of Ebola to west African countries is estimated at more than US$50b. The cost of Sars was significant for the Asian economy, amounting to between 0.5 and 2.0% of GDP. The economic fallout of Mers was largely limited to the South Korean economy.

Most advanced economies stand to lose at least 4.5% of GDP as a result of this pandemic. So we needed COVID-19 vaccines to save these economies. Does that count as a success for greed and capitalism?

Treatments aren’t produced for the public good by private pharmaceuticals, first and foremost; they are produced for profits for the shareholders (I have detailed first-hand experience of this). If you want to plan for the future, you need strategic planning, and this requires governments and non-market organisations to work out.

But it’s not just about planning, it’s also about funding:

The reason the COVID-19 vaccines arrived at such warp speed is that the risk model changed overnight and the normal risks associated with vaccine development were almost completely removed from investors. Before this pandemic, capitalism was not very good at delivering vaccines for infectious diseases.

Research and development, combined with direct subsidies were mobilised on an enormous scale for this pandemic. Governments used public funds to place huge advance orders for vaccines that removed all market risk from future sales.

It is those two things that prompted an unprecedented single-purpose investment in the sector. This investment will, of course, be followed by unprecedented profits.

The development of the COVID-19 vaccines is, therefore, part of a vast system of public subsidy that can deceive people into thinking that it is private capital that is saving us from the virus, thanks to its capacity for “innovation”.

Yet there is another subsidy to those companies that remains hidden – universities.

Universities provide trained scientists and a foundation of knowledge that emerges over hundreds of years. It is in universities that the rules for clinical research are developed, and it is university researchers who publish results in academic journals which provide that knowledge foundation.

Universities make the largest social contribution to verifying and disseminating scientific breakthroughs. It is knowledge that we hold in common. In economic terms, this knowledge production counts as an “externality” in the business model: an invisible subsidy that never shows up on a corporate balance sheet, because corporations never have to pay for them.

The infrastructure that produced the COVID-19 vaccines was nurtured in publicly funded universities, in public institutes and in heavily subsidised private labs. A process that looks like it is driven by private ingenuity and naked competition in reality is driven by the scientific knowledge that is part of the “commons” and for this reason should be owned by everyone on the planet. [This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.]

Which is to say that some of this funding isn’t prima facie obvious. The mobilisation of logistics capabilities, along with centralised planning and suchlike, has been vital in the vaccine development, production, distribution and usage. Johnson is simply wrong.

Rank Hypocrisy and Football

You may or may not know that, as the national sport in the UK, football (soccer) is undergoing a massive shock to the system. Twelve clubs across Europe, with six from England – the big six – are forming a breakaway European super-league. Why? Money. Capitalism. Greed.

There is no other reason, really. This is about money. FIFA, UEFA, the Premier League and every national FA and league in Europe have been apoplectic, with threats to the clubs and players that they will not be able to do X, Y and Z, including playing for their national teams, or in any other competitions. Football punditry is having a field day, attacking the greed of these big football clubs businesses. Why is this relevant?

Well, the PM, Boris Johnson, along with all number of government politicians, have angrily slammed this move from these clubs. As The Independent states:

Boris Johnson has said he will “make sure” that the breakaway European Super League “doesn’t go ahead in the way that it’s currently being proposed”.

The prime minister was speaking the morning after the shock announcement that six English Premier League sides – Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs – had signed up to a new tournament involving some of the continent’s biggest clubs.

The proposal has sparked outrage among fans, football authorities and other clubs, as the proposed Super League would be “closed”, meaning that the founding members could not be relegated from the lucrative contest.

Mr Johnson said the European Super League was not “good news for fans” and promised to work with the football authorities “to make sure this doesn’t go ahead in the way that it’s currently being proposed”.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden is due to make a statement in the Commons on the European Super League plans on Monday afternoon.

This is capitalism and greed in all its free-market glory. And now Johnson has a problem?

Yup, rank hypocrisy.

Not only is Boris Johnson plain wrong – spreading disinformation – but he is also hypocritical.

I have no time for this Grade-A dolt.


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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...