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How Global Capitalism Boosted Immunities

Investor's Notebook

From the beginning of this virus, political elites have used the language of war. The invisible enemy would be contained, suppressed, and beaten into submission. Then….it would go away. 

The tactics would be travel bans, shutdowns, closures, mandatory human separation, and restrictions on breathing. The computer models proved it would work so surely it would – liberty, human rights, and freedom of association be damned. 

We have all been used as non-player characters in a social experiment, untried in the whole history of humanity, and in ways that conflict with all values in which we previously believed as free societies. 

No one in charge asks your opinion or mine. We are here merely to play our role in an agent-based model. It’s the gamification of despotism. 

The dogma has kept unfolding in ever stranger ways, such as with utterly contemptible restrictions on bars and restaurants, and even the claim that choirs, wind instruments, and the pipe organ itself spreads disease. The American Guild of Organists has been forced to provide a long document justifying the existence of church music. The devastation in the arts community is palpable. The carnage is truly unfathomable. And getting worse: regulations on elevators will make America’s mighty skyscrapers unusable and pointless. 

What if the entire paradigm is wrong? No book on cell and molecular biology that I’ve found mentions lockdowns and hiding as ways to beat a virus. “For most viruses that attack humans,” says Cell and Molecular Biology for Dummies, “your only defenses are prevention and your own immune systems.” 

Strange isn’t it? Nothing about the awesome power of politicians to crush a virus. It should come as no surprise that the most comprehensive and global statistical analysis yet conducted concludes that “rapid border closures, full lockdowns, and wide-spread testing were not associated with COVID-19 mortality per million people” – which to say there is no evidence that any of this ghastly destruction saved lives.

A strikingly odd feature of media rhetoric during these terrible months has been the silencing of voices that speak of immunity as the way to defeat a virus of this sort. AIER has reported them when they appear but, as a seriously disgruntled reader of the New York Times, I can tell you that immunities via antibodies have not made their coverage much at all. 

In a way that stuns me, this has suddenly changed with a coherent write up that appeared yesterday: Can You Get Covid-19 Again? It’s Very Unlikely, Experts Say. This accurate piece amounts to a refutation of one of thousands of ridiculous popular articles claiming that this virus is so unprecedented, so lethal, so mysterious, that the only option is to throw out all morality and treat people like animals. 

Says the Times: 

While little is definitively known about the coronavirus, just seven months into the pandemic, the new virus is behaving like most others… It may be possible for the coronavirus to strike the same person twice, but it’s highly unlikely that it would do so in such a short window or to make people sicker the second time, they said….People infected with the coronavirus typically produce immune molecules called antibodies. Several teams have recently reported that the levels of these antibodies decline in two to three months, causing some consternation. But a drop in antibodies is perfectly normal after an acute infection subsides, said Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard University. Many clinicians are “scratching their heads saying, ‘What an extraordinarily odd virus that it’s not leading to robust immunity,’ but they’re totally wrong,’” Dr. Mina said. “It doesn’t get more textbook than this.”

Imagine that: “immune molecules called antibodies.” The Times writes as if it is introducing a new vocabulary word here, even though George Washington’s troops understood the point and dangerously pursued inoculation techniques against smallpox. 

So let us think about this. You get the C-19 virus, you get over it (as 99.8% do, especially healthy people) and then you gain protection against that virus and possible other similar viruses for a time. Your immune system improves. The million-year coevolution of humans and viruses takes another step in the direction of progress. The implication: rather than run and hide, maybe a bit of scientifically informed bravery is in order here. 

Yes, but if true, wouldn’t competent and credentialled epidemiologists be saying this? It turns out that many are. They just aren’t getting a hearing because the media and politicians ignore them. 

One of the brave and intelligent voices here is Sunetra Gupta, the professor of theoretical epidemiology who leads a full team of experts at Oxford University. 

Her understanding is so profound that she has, in an interview, offered up a fascinating thesis concerning why the flu pandemic of 1918 was the last truly catastrophic plague we’ve seen in the modern world. 

Gupta’s claim is that when we live in isolated tribes that are sheltered from exposure, those people gradually become weaker and more vulnerable. The wrong pathogen arrives at the wrong time and the people have not been biologically prepared for it. It wipes them out in shocking ways. But with modern capitalism came the end of such sterile isolation. It gave us new methods of travelling, mixing, associating, moving, and hence led to more exposure to disease and the resulting antibodies. Hence, it is not just better therapeutics and vaccines that helped us conquer some plagues but immunities themselves. Our biological toolkit for fighting disease became improved simply through travel, trade, and global commerce. 

I quote Gupta at length, beginning with her tutorial on virus immunity 101 gained over the course of last century and oddly forgotten in this century: 

The other interesting issue that I’ve suddenly realised with this particular threat, is that people are treating it like an external disaster, like a hurricane or a tsunami, as if you can batten down the hatches and it will be gone eventually. That is simply not correct. The epidemic is an ecological relationship that we have to manage between ourselves and the virus. But instead, people are looking at it as a completely external thing…. That’s the axis of disease, but then there’s the socioeconomic axis, which has been ignored. But there’s a third, aesthetic access, which is about how we want to live our lives. We are closing ourselves off not just to the disease, but to other aspects of being human…

I think the trade-off is very extreme. Obviously the most extreme manifestation of that trade-off is the 23 million people who will be pushed below the poverty line as a result of this sledgehammer approach. The costs to the arts is I think also incredibly profound – the theatres and all other forms of performing art. But also the inherent art of living, which I think is being compromised.

Acts of kindness are being eschewed. Someone was telling me yesterday that their mother said to them “please don’t come home, you’re going to kill us”….

Now I see young people being terrified, even though they realise the risk to themselves is low, that they might infect a friend who will then give it to their grandparents. This chain of guilt is somehow located to the individual rather than being distributed and shared.

Investor's Notebook

About Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey A. Tucker is Editorial Director for the American Institute for Economic Research. He is the author of many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press and eight books in 5 languages, most recently The Market Loves You. He is also the editor of The Best of Mises. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.

Articles by Jeffrey A. Tucker

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