Elanah Uretsky (IGS), an associate professor of international and global studies, published an article in The Conversation on Nov. 5 discussing the United States’s use of free market capitalism and government deregulation. According to Uretsky these two topics could be part of the reason as to why the United States was not prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this article, Uretsky discusses how public health within the United States, specifically neoliberal policies, have led to the United States’ poor preparation for the coronavirus pandemic. Uretsky defines economic neoliberal policies as an “approach aimed to make government leaner and more efficient through measures like market deregulation, privatization and reduction of government provision of public services like health and education,” further adding that the “[government] place[s] the responsibility of providing those services in the hands of private entities like health insurance companies and nongovernmental organizations.”
Uretsky cites that U.S. spending on health departments that help to avoid epidemic outbreaks has fallen by 18 percent between 2010 and 2021, claiming that these “public health cuts left the U.S with a skeletal workforce to manage the pandemic,” with workers facing daily exposure to the coronavirus.
In contrast, Uretsky claims that in many Asian nations there is a “collectivist mindset that guides these societies and encourages people and government to take responsibility for one another,” which assists these nations in handling the pandemic since they are used to protecting their communities.
However, Uretsky states that despite this mindset, China and these other collectivist countries were not always effective at handling pandemics, citing the example that “in 2003, China and much of Asia were caught off guard with the emergence of SARS. Like the U.S., China’s public health system had taken a backseat to investment in market reforms for over 20 years. As a result it couldn’t accurately track individual cases of infections.” But despite these initial setbacks the “Chinese government improved training for public health professionals and developed one of the most sophisticated disease surveillance systems in the world.”
Uretsky also argues that similar to how SARS exposed holes in public health infrastructure, COVID-19 exposed holes in American public health infrastructure. As an example, Uretsky cites that in Massachusetts, “people were left to fend for themselves. This became all the more evident as people scrambled for vaccines after their initial approval.” Uretsky even further emphasizes that Americans mostly believed that the solution to a health problem must be “technical and costly… But masking and social distancing—non-pharmaceutical interventions that have long been known to save lives during disease outbreaks—fell by the wayside.”
Uretsky concludes her article by stating that preparedness for an outbreak in the United States can only happen through organization national leadership, for which the U.S. has seen very little. Moreover, she also concludes that while “neoliberalism can be good for an economy, it’s not so good for health.”