It’s said that all things are good in moderation. It turns out that’s even true with capitalism. I’ve written a lot lately about the need for regulation to contain the natural desire of business to abuse consumers and workers when competition and worker mobility are inadequate. But this is yet another way in which capitalism has its limits, and government intervention is needed.
The short story is that there is a looming anti-venom shortage. Specifically, the antidote to coral snake venom is going out of production. Pfizer has produced the anti-venom for 40 years, but it turns out the coral snake, while terribly deadly, just doesn’t bite all that many people. The expense of manufacturing the small amount of medicine required in the country is cost prohibitive. From a business perspective, the correct decision is to stop making coral snake anti-venom. There’s no money in it.
Yet that would be little comfort if my son were to be bitten by a coral snake. He could die, or in the best case spend weeks in intensive care on a ventilator, all for want of a simple medicine that is not profitable for anyone to make.
This is exactly the sort of situation where the government needs to provide subsidies to keep this medicine in production for the greater good of the people. This is not a huge issue. It’s not big dollars. It’s not thousands of people. But for the 100 or so people bitten each year and their families, it’s pretty damned important.
There are simply very few positions that make sense as an absolute doctrine. Add capitalism to the list (again).