The Firewall Against Ebola—It’s the Government


2014-10-02 – No you don’t have Ebola. And you’re not going to get it either—unless you go to West Africa. Not in the United States. Why? Because we have effective government here and they don’t in the countries of West Africa where Ebola is found.

Right-wing politicians are fond of disparaging government. According to them, government is like Ebola: touch it and you are infected.

It is true, of course, that government has limits. But the one thing that it is fairly effective at is maintaining the public health. We hear about lapses and think that’s all there is. The great success stories are invisible. But they keep us alive.

The reason you won’t get Ebola in the United States is that I trust that you will refrain from touching the bodily fluids of anyone with active Ebola. That’s how you get it.

In some poor countries, lack of sanitation makes it difficult to avoid touching the bodily fluids–pee, poop, puke, blood, or sweat–of your neighbors, whether they have Ebola or not. Sanitation is a huge infrastructure that is mostly invisible. It’s under your house. It’s under the streets. It is maintained by the government. It is one of the things that our taxes pay for. Quarantines are also functions of the government.

Ebola is not the only disease spread through bodily fluids. Cholera, for example, rarely occurs in the United States because of our public sanitation systems. It kills in parts of the world that don’t have that.

Right-wing politician like to foster a distrust of government. Sure some governmental action is bad. But I’m not giving this up. If you want to live free of government interference, you can find places in the world to go, but I don’t see the right-wing purists in much of a hurry to go there. This is why. Ebola.

Life expectancy in the United States was only 38 years in 1850. By 1930, life expectancy had risen to 59. If you think this was due to advances in medical science, think again. Penicillin wasn’t discovered until 1928. Most of the gain was due to sanitation. And sanitation was brought to you by the government. Plumbers, not doctors.

I don’t mean to disparage doctors, of course. They’ve had their impact between 1930 and now. By 2010, life expectancy had risen to 76 in the United State, mostly due to antibotics, vaccines, and treatment for cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

Free enterprise surely had a role in that. But so did the government. It’s been a partnership and the result has been a huge growth in public health.

For some.

The widespread distrust of government—all government, not just the inefficient and corrupt parts—puts these gains in jeopardy. Some countries have better health than we just because the government can play a positive role.

The sanitation system that has made such a stunning contribution to our health is made up of two systems: the water supply and the waste systems.

Free enterprise has found a way to privatize the first part of the system by selling bottled water. It’s expensive and it pollutes. Maybe someday free enterprise will privatize the waste system, having us peeing and pooping and puking in bottles as well.

You think that’s going to safeguard your health? I have my doubts.

Just remember this. For a buck, our free enterprise system has taken the antibiotics that cure us from dread diseases and made them part of the feed for cattle and chickens, just to fatten them up. Over time, this destroys the efficacy of the antibiotics. And the residue of these antibiotics that end up in our food are suspected of fattening us up as well.

Free enterprise can do many things well. But not everything. The same is true of government.

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