Capitalism or socialism – are those our only choices?

Do we really have to choose between capitalism and socialism? If you listened to American political debates (before “the virus”) you’d probably think so – if you can call all that sloganeering and name-calling a debate. What are these terms supposed to mean, and why all this acrimony?

The term capitalism is defined as an economic system driven by profit, in which trade and industry are controlled by private owners rather than by the state. This pretty well describes the economies of today’s industrialized nations. Conveniently, this definition doesn’t say anything about ethics, about what capitalists can and cannot do to make a profit; it practically sanctions profiteering and exploitation.

The term socialism once meant ownership and control of industry by the state. Today the word has largely become a meaningless slogan, a dirty word smacking of communism (U.S.S.R. = Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). If it has lost all meaning, why is this term still around? Because any demand for economic reforms can be dismissed as socialism, and equating socialism with communism is a very effective tool for deflecting any criticism of capitalist abuses. Add to this a general distrust of governments, and even people struggling economically will fall for this trick.

What is wrong with our beliefs?

Obviously all wasn’t well with our economic system even before the current pandemic, or we wouldn’t have had these arguments. There is unprecedented and unjustifiable inequality in capitalist societies. There is ever greater unearned wealth at the top, while the middle and working classes are struggling. Many full-time jobs are disappearing, and workers have less and less job security, fewer benefits and inadequate wages. There is inexcusable scarcity in the midst of plenty.

Too many people are fooled into attributing today’s (very unevenly distributed) wealth to the capitalist system’s drive for profit and to a fictional free market. Of course, the drive for profit will maximize the Gross Domestic Product – companies will want to sell as much stuff as possible – but the GDP is hardly an indicator of societal wellbeing. It simply measures economic activity, whether it is useful and fairly compensated or not.

The dramatic rise in material wealth isn’t due to the drive for profit. It is the result of (largely publicly funded) scientific advances and to the powerful new technologies based on this knowledge – provided that those technologies are used responsibly and for society’s benefit. Technologically advanced societies should be able to provide a decent living standard for all.

What we got instead was an unheard-of level of inequality. Technology gave rise to wealthy and powerful corporations. Money and power attract the greedy and unscrupulous who grab as much of that wealth as they can get. Money is power, and that power can be used to hijack the political system and further entrench wealth and power. Instead of a decent living standard for all we ended up with an economic system that brought us to the brink of ecological disaster.

So what is it to be – capitalism or socialism?

Rather than arguing over the pros and cons of “socialism vs capitalism” we need to ask what is wrong with our existing economic system, and how we can fix it. Like it or not, these changes require government interventions in the economy. It is governments’ role to outlaw economic activities that are harmful, and only governments can enforce those laws and regulations. If you don’t trust governments – an understandable sentiment – remember that we elect our leaders. It is up to us to participate in public affairs, to choose our representatives wisely and to send the incompetent and/or corrupt ones packing. We need to be informed and politically engaged citizens. Only a functioning democracy can have a fair economic system.

Capitalism isn’t an economic system that optimizes the common good. It is a system in which the most determined and the most ruthless have hijacked the political system and are plundering the world. Why would profit seeking, an inherently selfish motive, maximize the common good? As the economist John Maynard Keynes supposedly put it: “Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all.”

A new coronavirus – what a start to the new decade

What a start to the new decade! In a mere matter of weeks a new virus, the so-called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), spread across the globe. The most common symptoms of infection are fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. Most people develop only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. In others it can lead to severe respiratory distress, an illness designated Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19). There is obviously no vaccine yet against this new virus, nor have any existing antiviral medications proven effective against it in randomized controlled trials. Right now we depend on our immune systems to save us if we catch the virus. Of course, our best defence is to avoid becoming infected in the first place.

How dangerous is the virus?

Covid-19 has already claimed more than 200,000 lives worldwide. Since we do not know how many people have become infected – we simply haven’t been able to conduct the necessary tests – we don’t know yet what percentage of infected people died or how many got seriously ill but recovered. What we do know is that people with preexistng medical conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, or chronic respiratory disease are at increased risk.

Sensible preventive measures

The virus is mainly transmitted through aerosol droplets spread by sneezing, coughing, or even just talking. These virus-carrying droplets can remain airborne for several hours and be inhaled by others. They can also land on surfaces like door knobs, railings, or shopping carts where the virus can survive several days and can be picked up when we touch them. If you then touch your face the virus can enter your system through your eyes, nose or mouth. From there the virus can pass through the windpipe into the lungs. If you were out and about it is therefore important to thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water or with an alcohol-based disinfectant as soon as you can.

The best way to avoid becoming infected is to avoid crowds. This has of course become mandatory in many places where people are told to stay home if at all possible, where schools are closed, all but essential businesses are shuttered, and sporting events and concerts are cancelled.

Wearing masks in public has also become mandatory in many places, but your mask isn’t meant to protect you; it is meant to protect others from you. If you become infected you can shed high concentrations of the virus from your nasal cavities well before symptoms develop, i.e. well before you yourself know that you are a carrier. Your mask is meant to prevent or minimize the spread of the virus you may not even know you are carrying.

Strenghtening your immune system

Since we depend on our immune system to fight the virus it makes sense to try and strengthen it as best as we can. The non-profit Orthomolecular Medicine News Service, an organization focusing on safe and effective nutritional therapies to fight illness, recommends the following supplement regimen for supporting your immune system:

  • 3,000 mg vitamin C per day in divided doses
  • 2,000 to 5,000 IU vitamin D3 per day
  • 20 mg Zinc per day
  • 400 mg Magnesium per day
  • 100 mcg Selenium per day

Of course we are told that we can get all the micronutrients we need from a healthy diet. But if a healthy diet were the norm we wouldn’t have a thriving junk food industry. Supplementation isn’t meant to be a quick fix. Supplements are meant for the long haul to support your health, and they are affordable and safe. A healthy immune system is the best defense against any invader.

What happens if you do become infected?

As the acronym SARS in SARS-CoV-2 implies, the virus can wreak havoc if it gets into the windpipe and down into the lungs. The wind pipe (the trachea) splits into two branches (the bronchi), one for each lung. The bronchi divide into smaller and smaller branches, ending in tiny air sacs. These air sacs are surrounded by very tiny blood vessels called capillaries. When we inhale the air fills the sacs and oxygen is transferred to the capillaries. Bound to hemoglobin in red blood cells, the oxygen then gets distributed throughout the body.

If the lungs become infected and inflamed, these air sacs fill up with liquid and eventually can no longer transfer oxygen to the capillaries. At this stage you will have difficulty breathing and need to seek immediate medical attention. While medicine has no proven cure yet, hospitals can support the lungs and in extreme cases provide mechanical breathing with ventilators to keep the patient alive until the immune system (hopefully) gets the better of the virus.

What is being done now?

Literally dozens of research groups are in the race to develop a vaccine against this virus. In fact, the first small-scale trials with volunteers have already begun. Still, it is difficult to foresee if and when a working vaccine will become available or if it will provide long-term immunity. The more rapidly a virus can mutate, the more often a new vaccine may be required.

Since antiviral drugs are also needed and time is of the essence, attempts are made to repurpose drugs that were proven safe and effective for other diseases. At the beginning of May the FDA announced that the Ebola drug remdesivir can be administered to critically ill hospitalised Covid-19 patients. Preliminary results from a government-sponsored study showed that remdesivir shortens the time to recovery. The drug will still have to undergo the usual randomized controlled trials before final approval for this virus.

Another candidate is the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine. It has a 50 year safety record, has already been shown to kill the Covid-19 virus in vitro (in the test tube), and in small tests in France more than half of Covid-19-infected patients tested negative six days after treatment. The drug works by lowering inflammation, but it too will require randomized controlled trials before final approval for this disease.

The use of convalescent plasma is another avenue that is being explored. The blood of people who recovered from Covid-19 should contain antibodies against the virus. Injecting their blood plasma into seriously ill Covid-19 patients should help them fight the disease. Preliminary results are promising, but proper clinical trials are still needed to be certain of success.

Intravenous vitamin C therapy, possibly in conjunction with medications like corticosteroids, is another promising approach. Vitamin C has antiinflammatory, antioxidant and antiviral properties. It is known to be effective against acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). The therapy has already been successfully applied against Covid-19 in China as well as in some Americal hospitals. Vitamin C dampens inflammatory immune system overreactions. The advantage of this approach is that it would be useful against any virus.

Where can you find credible information on the subject?

You can find reliable and regularly updated information about the coronavirus on websites of public health organizations or medical journals like:

Articles dealing with the cornavirus are freely accessible in these publications.

Take care and stay safe!

Is there an alternative to Capitalism?

I happened to come across an interesting blog by George Monbiot. The post that caught my attention was titled “The problem is capitalism” and the subtitle was “It is a weapon pointed at the living world. We urgently need to develop a new system.” (1). Of course, I share the writer’s concern. If we don’t change our ways, this ‘weapon pointed at the living world’ will sooner or later bring on an ecological catastrophe and threaten our very existence. The question is how to change course before it is too late.

What does the term ‘capitalism’ mean? It can simply be defined as ‘an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state‘. For all practical purposes the term is a label for the economies of the industrialized world.

What is the problem with capitalism?

Capitalism isn’t a planned economic system. It is the kind of economy that naturally develops in free and technologically advanced societies. People can use their ambitions, knowledge and entrepreneurial talents to build companies, and technological developments have led to the creation of large and powerful corporations. We can thank this combination of entrepreneurship and technology for our high standard of living. Unfortunately, technology can also be misused for power and profit, leading to the serious problems we face today.

The larger a corporation becomes, the richer and more powerful the people owning or controlling that corporation will be. Money and economic power buy political clout, which in turn can be used to further increase economic power and wealth. Big corporations can get favourable laws and regulations, tax breaks, and subsidies. They can influence the very agencies that are supposed to regulate their industries. Corporations that are successfully sued for criminal activities may pay hefty fines, but the people running those corporations typically get away scot-free. There is no effective deterrent against corporate irresponsibility and crime.

What new system could we devise to replace capitalism?

Any new economic system would surely also have to be part of a lawful democratic society. We would still need to outlaw harmful and unacceptable business practices and be able to enforce those laws. Yet, that new system wouldn’t change human nature. We would still have corrupt and incompetent politicians and irresponsible business leaders. So, how could we expect different results from any new economic system?

What is missing from this picture? We are missing – the citizens, the electorate. Politicians – our representatives – are supposed to govern. We – the electorate – are supposed to choose our representatives wisely and vote the corrupt and incompetent out of office. This is how democracy is supposed to work.

Of course, it isn’t enough to just go and vote. We have to be informed voters. That’s easier said than done in this age of fake news, misinformation, and manipulation. And here is the opportunity – in fact the need – for a new system, a system that provides the voters with objective and unbiased information on issues that matter. We need public discussions led by experts free from conflicts of interest, public meetings where people can get together to debate the issues, and other ways to inform, encourage and engage the electorate. Of course, not every potential voter can be reached, but it only takes a small number of informed and engaged citizens to make a positive difference (2).

The cure for capitalism isn’t a new economic system. It is an invigorated democracy.


(1) The problem is capitalism, George Monbiot The Guardian April 25th 2019

(2) The ‘3.5%’ rule: How a small minority can change the world, David Robson, BBC Future 14 May 2019,

On our responsibility to future generations

I just read an article titled “Why we need to reinvent democracy for the long-term” (1). The piece is part of the BBC Future series on “what really matters in the broader arc of human history and what it means for us and our descendants”. The author of the article is rightly concerned about our growing global ecological crisis and the threat this poses to future generations. His idea of avoiding a catastrophe – his proposed reinvention of democracy – is to create a political office dedicated to representing the needs of the yet unborn.

The author’s concerns are well founded, but I don’t think much of his proposed solution. We are well past the point of only worrying about the future. The ecological crisis is already here, harming us and our children and grandchildren. Yet we keep adding to the problem, and today’s politicians seem powerless to put a stop to it. How likely is it then that the creation of a political office dedicated to the welfare of future generations would make any difference?

The ecological crisis was largely brought on by irresponsible corporate behaviour. Inconvenient scientific findings were dismissed as scaremongering, and industry regulations were fought tooth and nail. The people controlling huge companies are powerful enough to manipulate the governments that are supposed to regulate them.

We do need change, but tinkering with the system –” reinventing democracy” – won’t help. We all need to participate in public affairs. We need to recognize what is important, be able to tell fact from nonsense, and know when we are being manipulated by vested interests. We need to vote, and turf corrupt and incompetent politicians out of office. This is how democracy is supposed to work.

I think that creating an informed and politically engaged citizenry would be the most useful and necessary political “reinvention” for our own sake, and the best legacy we can leave to future generations.


  1. Roman Krznaric, Why we need to reinvent democracy for the long-term, BBC Future Series 19 March 2019

On the future of our food supply

I just read “Food in the anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems” (1). The article deals of course with the exact opposite – our lousy diets and unsustainable food systems. That our diets are unhealthy should be no secret. That our food systems are in danger of collapse, and that there is a pressing need for action, may not be so obvious – for most of us the closest contact to our food sources is the grocery store.

The EAT-Lancet Commission, an independent body of experts from a number of countries and different scientific disciplines, was formed to come up with scientifically sound solutions to these problems. This Lancet article (1) summarizes the committee’s findings and recommendations.

Their dietary recommendations should be familiar from food guides. Their model diet mainly consists of a variety of plant-based foods, uses unsaturated rather than saturated fats, allows modest amounts of seafood and poultry, and limits the consumption of red and processed meat, sugar, and refined grains.

To ensure viable and sustainable future food production systems the committee determined safe upper-limits for agricultural greenhouse gas release, biodiversity loss, land-system use, freshwater use, and nitrogen and phosphorus use in fertilizers. These safety limits must not be exceeded if we want to have a viable future.

The EAT-Lancet Commission considers these measures necessary, doable and effective. The question now is how to implement them – how to accomplish the “21st century great food transformation”, as an accompanying editorial (2) puts it.

The dietary recommendations are realistic and flexible enough to be compatible with various tasty cuisines, including the highly regarded Mediterranean diet.  Of course, we have our ingrained eating habits, fast food is convenient, or we may lack the necessary cooking skills. Still, health concerns should be motive enough to take these dietary recommendations seriously. Our health is our responsibility, and nutrition must be a prime concern.

Making changes to the food production systems, on the other hand, can be expected to be more difficult. Current food business practices weren’t the results of a lack of knowledge; they were adopted because they were profitable. Corporations have no incentive to change; in fact, we can expect them to fight any measure that would cut into their profit, damn the consequences. Think of the “tobacco wars”.

Unhealthy diets are bad enough, but continuing harmful agricultural practices would sooner or later have catastrophic consequences for all of humanity. How would we grow any food at all if we used up all the groundwater, or if irresponsible insecticide use killed off all the pollinators? Let’s hope the people responsible for the damage realize that they would perish with the rest of us, and change their act before it’s too late.


  1. Willett W, Rockström J, Loken B, et al, Food in the anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems, The Lancet, Vol. 393, No. 10170, p 447-492
  2. Lucas T and Horton R, The 21st century great food transformation, The Lancet, Vol. 393, No. 10170, p 386-387

Finally a chink in Monsanto’s armour?

A few months ago a U.S. court ruled that Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup had caused a plaintiff’s Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (1). Thousands of similar cases are still awaiting trial. Glyphosate, Roundup’s active ingredient, had been declared “probably carcinogenic in humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO) (2).

Some background on glyphosate

 Glyphosate is a herbicide, i.e. it is capable of killing all vegetation, weeds and food crops alike. However, recent advances in gene editing techniques have led to the development of so-called Roundup-ready crops – canola, corn, cotton, soybeans and sugar beets – that are unharmed by glyphosate. These Roundup-ready crops can therefore be sprayed directly throughout the growing season to keep the fields weed-free.

Farmers also use glyphosate as desiccant. Even Non-GMO cereals like wheat, oats and barley are now sprayed once they are ripe, to hasten harvesting before the wet weather arrives.

Roundup is thus used in enormous quantities. Workers applying this stuff, and people in rural communities living near sprayed fields, are especially heavily exposed. The rest of us get it in our diet.

Monsanto’s reaction to criticism of glyphosate

Of course, Monsanto denies any link between Roundup and cancer, and plans to appeal the court’s decision. In fact, Monsanto denies that glyphosate poses any health hazard at all. They point out that human DNA does not have the genes that glyphosate targets in plants. Besides, they claim, the amounts of glyphosate found in human subjects are simply too small to pose a health risk.

However, internal Monsanto documents obtained during other ongoing litigation clearly show that the company was well aware of glyphosate’s toxicity, but covered it up and went to great length to fend off any evidence of adverse health effects from glyphosate (3).

Monsanto used third-party experts to plant positive news about glyphosate. They paid academic scientists to pose as authors of articles proclaiming the safety of glyphosate, articles that were actually written by Monsanto employees. The company used front groups – organizations that give the appearance of scientific impartiality but are actually industry mouthpieces – to spread misinformation and to counter unfavourable scientific findings. They tried to intimidate and silence scientists critical of their product, and to undermine the credibility of organizations like IARC.

Scientific evidence of harm from glyphosate

The successful lawsuit against Monsanto was about cancer, but cancer shouldn’t be our only health concern.

The claim that glyphosate should pose no risk, because humans don’t have the metabolic pathway that its herbicide targets, is misleading to say the least. That absence doesn’t mean that glyphosate is harmless (4).

First, while human DNA doesn’t encode the pathway in question, our gut bacteria do. Given their importance to our mental and physical health, disrupting the gut microbiome has to have serious consequences.

Secondly,  glyphosate has been shown to be genotoxic, i.e. it messes with the genes that we do have. Interference in the synthesis of detoxifying enzymes is one important consequence. This means that our bodies don’t just have difficulty detoxifying and eliminating glyphosate itself, but other environmental toxins as well. Put differently, glyphosate even increases the health risks posed by other poisons.

What is more, other ingredients in Roundup have been shown to be even more hazardous than glyphosate by itself.

Given its known physiological effects, and our long-term exposure to it in our food and in the environment, glyphosate likely contributes to a number of modern lifestyle diseases, a contribution that short-term trials are unlikely to detect.

The bottom line

Since Roundup-ready crops are staple foods, and since even non-Roundup-ready crops are sprayed before harvesting, it is virtually impossible to avoid getting that poison in the food we eat. Even organically grown produce may become poisoned by wind-borne glyphosate and by contaminated water. To claim that even a lifetime exposure to that stuff could pose no threat to our health insults our intelligence. And lifetime exposure is what we will get if that stuff isn’t going to be banned.

Who decides what we can or cannot eat – we, or the food industry? Will we get to eat what is good for us, or what maximizes corporate profits, even if it sickens and kills us?

Yes, the people who were harmed by Monsanto should be compensated, but what we really need is to ban the use of the chemical altogether to prevent further harm. Interestingly, another court recently ordered the ban of chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to children’s health problems (5).


  1. Monsanto ordered to pay $289 million in Roundup cancer trial. The New York Times Aug. 10, 2018
  2. IARC Monographs Volume 112: evaluation of five organophosphate insecticides and herbicides
  3. Spinning science & silencing scientists: A case study in how the chemical industry attempts to influence science. Minority staff report prepared for members of the Committee on Science, Space & Technology U.S. House of Representatives February 2018
  4. Samsel A, Seneff S, Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases, Entropy 2013;15(4):1416-1463.
  5. Court orders EPA to ban chlorpyrifos, pesticide tied to children’s health problems, The New York Times Aug, 9, 2018

Is curing patients a sustainable business model for the pharmaceutical industry?

A recent CNBC piece (1) commented on a note by a Goldman Sachs analyst to clients in the pharmaceutical industry. In a report titled “The Genome Model” the analyst asks “Is curing patients a sustainable business model?” Cures, the analyst opined, might be good for patients but bad for business. What the pharmaceutical industry needs are therapies for chronic incurable – or intentionally uncured – diseases.

I somehow don’t think that this piece was meant to be seen by the general public. After all, we are expected to rely on the pharmaceutical industry, the supposed bastions of evidence-based medicine, to cure us when we are sick. Healing us should be the very purpose of their existence.

I also don’t think that Big Pharma needed that advice – they have long ago figured this out themselves and made it their business model. If you don’t believe that the “health” industry – and that is what the pharmaceutical industry insists it is – would actually harm us for the sake of power and profit, then have a look at a 2012 article in the New England Journal of Medicine titled Punishing health care fraud – is the GSK settlement sufficient? (2).

That article was prompted by the 3 billion dollar fine levied against GlaxoSmithKline for various criminal offenses. It was then a record settlement, but it was just the latest in a string of drug company indictments. Fines in the previous three years had totaled $11 billion in the U.S. for offenses like

  • kickbacks,
  • off-label promotion,
  • failure to provide information about side effects, and
  • false and misleading statements about safety

The failure to provide information about drug safety and side effects has caused, and continues to cause, the deaths of thousands of patients!

How could this happen again and again? For the very simple reason that, so far at least, no Big Pharma executive has ever been held responsible for these crimes; no matter what they do, they get away scot-free. I wasn’t their fault, you see. The company did it!

Corporate fines are no major problems either, since they are typically less than company profits from their illegal activities. Corporate crime is simply good business practice.

One has to wonder if it ever occurred to our brilliant Goldman Sachs analyst that he or a family member might someday be saved by medications that, he now thinks, should not be developed. Or is he willing to sacrifice himself and his loved ones for a greater cause – Big Pharma profits?



  1. Tae Kim, Goldman Sachs asks in biotech research report: ‘Is curing patients a sustainable business model?’|facebook&par=sharebar (link works)
  2. Outterson K, Punishing health care fraud – is the GSK settlement sufficient?N Engl J Med 2012; 367:1082-1085

Why write about economics?

Practically everything we need and do is in some way connected to the economy. We buy goods and services provided by others, and we earn the money to pay for them by serving others in turn. All economic activity is the result of human decisions and actions, and all that activity should surely serve a purpose – it should benefit us all.

The dominant factor in today’s economy, and the foundation of our material wealth, is of course technology. Many of the things we take for granted today, things we wouldn’t want to do without, only exist as the result of scientific progress and the technology it spawned. By any economic measure we’ve never had it so good. But economic indices don’t tell the whole story.

Statistics like the Gross Domestic Product simply measure economic activity, whether that activity is beneficial or not. A high level of economic activity does not automatically indicate a high living standard. The GDP cares nothing about our very skewed wealth distribution, or about the quality of the goods and services offered. It doesn’t take into account pollution or the depletion of our natural resources. It doesn’t care if our current level of consumption is even sustainable.

The technology that has given us our modern conveniences has also led to the creation of huge corporations. The people in control of those corporations are enormously wealthy and powerful, and that power buys political influence. These are the new “elite”, and like the “elites” of old they are in it for themselves, damn the rest of society.

Politics and economics cannot be separated. Whatever we may think of politicians, only governments can rein in large corporations. It is up to us in turn to choose our elected representatives wisely and to hold them accountable. If we want to live in a functioning democratic society we need to be informed and engaged voters, and that includes thinking about economic matters. The mythical “free market” isn’t going optimize the common good – it got us to where we are today.