I certainly hope and pray that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic does not end up having the kind of global impact – and especially, is not as damaging and deadly here in the US, and in other Western countries, where cases have so far been few in number – as some doomsayers seem to take perverse pleasure in predicting.
But if nothing else, I hope it does point out the weakness and danger of globalism: both open borders, and the off-shoring of major chunks of our economy, especially manufacturing. Cheap consumer goods (and cheap – not to say exploited – labor) are not the only things that can circulate freely, in such an environment.
Perhaps most sobering is the fact that we are reliant on China – China, the source of the outbreak, and the country hardest-hit by it – for many of our drugs!
As this article from last month points out,
“Everything from antibiotics to chemotherapy drugs, from antidepressants to Alzheimer’s medications to treatments for HIV/AIDS, are frequently produced by Chinese manufacturers. What’s more, the most effective breathing masks and the bulk of other personal protective equipment — key to containing the spread of coronavirus and protecting health care workers — and even the basic syringe are largely made in China.”
Another article notes that “the Food and Drug Administration estimates that at least 80 percent of the active ingredients found in all of America’s medicines come from abroad – primarily China,” and asks us to “imagine if China turned off that spigot.” Or if we are forced to turn it off ourselves, due to issues like coronavirus! A third article points out the hazards of contamination of generic drugs manufactured abroad:
“What’s responsible for the repeated drug safety lapses? The offshoring of the American drug supply to China and, to a lesser extent, India during the past couple of decades.”
“China and India now manufacture about 80% of the drugs consumed in the U.S. This figure understates China’s dominance because many of the active ingredients in the Indian manufactured drugs come from China. The U.S. doesn’t even manufacture vital drugs like antibiotics anymore [emphasis added], with the last penicillin factory closing in 2004.”
That is chilling, or should be.
Particularly in the face of the current situation, in which reliable supplies of drugs are critical! But unfortunately, as USA Today notes,
“The coronavirus outbreak is sparking fears of drug shortages in the U.S., largely due to its disruption of pharmaceutical supplies from China and India. The Food and Drug Administration has warned of shortages in one drug due to the coronavirus, while penicillin shipments to the U.S. from China have dried up [again, emphasis added]. The FDA said it expects the outbreak of COVID-19 to cause ‘potential disruptions to supply or shortages of critical medical products in the U.S.'”
And to make matters worse, as yet another article points out, “the U.S. is woefully unprepared to address even minor disruptions in the supply of these drugs.” This article continues,
“Medicines can be used as a weapon of war against the United States,” Rosemary Gibson, a senior adviser on health care issues at the bioethics-focused Hastings Center and co-author of China Rx: Exposing the Risks of America’s Dependence on China for Medicine, told lawmakers last month. “Supplies can be withheld. Medicines can be made with lethal contaminants or sold without any real medicine in them, rendering them ineffective.”
Then there is the whole issue of “just in time” logistics, a primary feature of the modern economy. This may have cost and efficiency advantages when everything’s working smoothly, but it leaves us highly vulnerable to disruptions in overseas sources of manufacture and supply, whether these originate in pandemics like coronavirus, international conflicts, other forms of social or political disruption, rising fuel prices, or other causes.
While the issue is obviously most vital in the fields of pharmaceuticals and medical technology, the reality is that we need to seriously rethink our entire approach to the so-called global economy, starting with a clear-eyed understanding that independence and sovereignty begin with being able to supply our own needs from our own resources and manufacturing capability, here at home.
Anything less leaves us dangerously vulnerable to disruptions abroad.