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Wealth, Health, and Globalization

In my latest column for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review I push back against those who interpret the COVID-19 pandemic – whose severity is undoubtable – as a reason to reject free trade and globalization. A slice:

Here’s a partial list of medicines, medical treatments and public-health measures that originated outside of the United States and, thus, are made available to us Americans through our connections with non-Americans. How many of these marvels are you willing to sacrifice in order to be shielded from the possibility of the likes of covid-19?

— Antibiotics. Discovered chiefly by Alexander Fleming – a Scot working in London – with important supporting roles played by an Australian and a German.

— Immunology. Major developments originating in England, Germany, France, and Austria.

— Pasteurization. Discovered in France.

— Typhoid vaccine. Formulated in England.

— Epidemiology. Major breakthrough in England.

— Anesthesia. Major developments made in England and Scotland.

Chlorination of water. Began in Germany and England.

— Insulin. Developed for medical use with the chief contributions coming from Romania, England and Canada.

—Heart transplant. First performed in South Africa.

— Discovery of how the immune system identifies cells invaded by viruses. Major advances in Australia and Switzerland.

To the extent that we close ourselves off to foreign commerce, we close ourselves off to much more than what globalization’s opponents contemptuously dismiss as “trinkets and T-shirts.” We close ourselves off also to, among other non-trivial goods, medical and scientific advances made abroad. And we also lose foreign-produced additions to supplies of medicines produced here at home.