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Vaccine rollout highlights the benefits of globalisation


What events show us since is how interdependence, in fact, makes us more resilient. Most countries, at various stages, have suffered acute domestic problems, arising often from bad government planning, failures of regulation, damaging spikes in transmission of the virus, or petty protectionism.

But international supply chains have proven adaptive and robust, while it is ultimately the vaccine — the manifestation of pan-national integration, arising from slowly accumulated networks of people, capital, and ideas — that will save the day.

As we turn the tide on this crisis, we should not forget or downplay this. The UK Vaccine Taskforce can applaud itself for helping grease the wheels for this week’s achievement. But it is mistaken to see the vaccine moment as an opportunity to push for reshoring the whole swathe of vaccination capabilities, from trials to distribution, on the basis of the supposed downside of “dependence” on foreigners.

As shown by Britain leading the way in the distribution of this vaccine, a lack of domestic production capacity is no barrier for reaping the benefits of these technologies in the modern world. The deep global market in biotechnologies and pharmaceuticals has been a strength for us, not a weakness that requires activist industrial policy to overcome.

Matt Hancock and US vice president Mike Pence, who said this week “only in America could you see the innovation that resulted in a vaccine in less than one year,” are correct in one sense — the vaccine owes much to British and American innovation.

But the key innovation responsible is the globalised economic market our countries used to champion. That is a concept, these days, often denigrated by politicians and for which the public seems perennially ungrateful.

Ryan Bourne holds the R Evan Scharf chair for the public understanding of economics at the Cato Institute


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