At a recent meeting of the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs, Boris Johnson proudly banged the drum about the incredible success of the UK’s vaccination programme. This, the Prime Minister proclaimed, was thanks to the wonders of private enterprise.
“Greed” and “capitalism”, Boris boasted, have been instrumental to the programme's roaring success.
Shockingly, this praise for the “greed” of the capitalist class came on the anniversary of the lockdown – marking a year in which the bosses’ greed and incessant pressure to keep the economy open for the sake of their profits has led to the death of around 150,000 people in Britain.
Behind the curtain
Boris’ exact words were as follows: “The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism; because of greed, my friends.”
Boris Johnson has sparked an outcry after reportedly telling Tory MPs that "capitalism" and "greed" were behind the UK's successful coronavirus vaccine rollout.— LBC News (@LBCNews) March 24, 2021
Read more: https://t.co/bOuaLAsigO pic.twitter.com/uze7PYWKa1
The Tory leader immediately backtracked, before joking about frequent leaks from such meetings.
God forbid people start to associate “capitalism” with “greed”! After all, as every faithful servant of the ruling class knows, one must always seek to portray the capitalists’ callousness and rampant exploitation as being entirely motivated by the purest altruism.
Bumbling Boris’ blunder provides an illuminating peek behind the curtain. Scrape away all the ideological waffle about the great service that capitalism does for humankind, and there is only greed amongst the capitalist class; only an insatiable thirst for profits. And they – and their political representatives – all know it.
More importantly, Boris’ statement simply isn’t true. The success of the vaccine rollout has not been thanks to the wonders of the market and private enterprise, but because of the opposite: centralised planning and the publicly-owned NHS.
This is a point that even the Financial Times was forced to concede. In a recent article, this reliable mouthpiece of big business asserted that: “The [UK’s vaccine programme] success is because of a combination of strong planning, a willingness to spend, and the centralised structure of the NHS.”
This is the same NHS, we should add, that the Tories have been incrementally dismantling and selling off to the highest bidder over the last decade.
To see where the “greed” of the capitalist class gets us, we need look no further than the disastrous test-and-trace system. Handed over to private parasites such as Serco, this hoovered up billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money only to collapse at the first hurdle.
The failed Test and Trace is not run by the NHS, government call it that to try and deflect the blame. It is Serco, run by Dido Harding, friend of Matt Hancock and wife of Tory MP John Penrose. £32 billion that could have saved lives, wasted on crony contracts. 1% for NHS staff.— Kate Wilton (@KateWilton1) March 10, 2021
Or what about the billions more that was wasted in corruptly procuring PPE and dishing out other government contracts to Tory cronies? Where are the successes of “greed” and “capitalism” here?
The ability to rapidly develop vaccines, furthermore, were only possible because of the vast sums of public money thrown at the problem.
Last year, the government spent £6.2 billion through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on the procurement and manufacturing of vaccines. And the UK alone spent about £600 million on global efforts to find a cure.
Development of the vaccine came at a considerable cost, and success was far from assured. But private companies were only prepared to take on the challenge if the financial burden was taken on by the state.
Of course, now that the vaccine production is up-and-running, these companies are making a killing, with giant pharmaceutical firms like Pfizer and AstraZeneca set to score record profits.
This is all thanks to their monopoly ownership over these vaccines and their intellectual property rights. Yet much of the research and development was publicly-funded.
Now that viable vaccines have been developed, their implementation internationally is being held back precisely due to the greed of Big Pharma and the rest of the capitalist class.
Several pharmaceutical companies secured enormous deals with advanced capitalist countries, such as the UK, who were eager to restart the economy as quickly as possible. Now these countries have millions of surplus vaccines.
Boris Johnson’s comments that greed and capitalism led to the vaccine are not only factually wrong but dangerous.— Richard Burgon MP (@RichardBurgon) March 26, 2021
We need to share the vaccine technology so we can vaccinate everyone across the world.
My new article on why we need a People's Vaccine. https://t.co/yM3rKXH3EB
Poorer countries that were unable to strike similar deals, meanwhile, have been deprived of access to vaccines. The result is that, currently, countries accounting for 16% of the world's population have secured 60% of the supply of vaccines.
Big Pharma are using this as an opportunity to jack up prices. For example, AstraZeneca is charging twice as much for its vaccine when selling to South Africa. The company has justified this by stating that wealthier countries “have invested in the [research and development], hence the discount on the price”.
But the uneven rollout of the vaccine hugely undermines the fight against COVID-19. If people in low-income countries are not protected, the virus will continue to spread and mutate, and new variants will develop more quickly.
Whilst borders have been closed at times throughout the pandemic, this is not a permanent solution. So even countries where the virus has been relatively brought under control will be vulnerable to reinfection from new variants. And this will just mean more lockdowns in the future.
Far from Boris’ assertion that “greed” and “capitalism” are central to the success of the vaccination programme, then, the market and the profit system have in fact demonstrated their limits throughout the pandemic.
It is only thanks to planning and public investment that the vaccine was able to be developed and distributed effectively in Britain. Internationally, meanwhile, the role of private enterprise has been to hold back the fight against the virus.
If anything, this whole affair demonstrates clearly the need for socialism: for public ownership and democratic planning of the economy.
We must fight to nationalise Big Pharma, reverse the privatisation of the NHS, and fund it by expropriating the greedy capitalists.