Because the coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented black swan event, we’ve seen many mistakes and delayed responses that were more reactive than proactive. There will certainly be no shortage of lessons to be learned.
Despite these missteps, there are national efforts underway to “flatten the curve” and contain the spread of the virus, as well as significant signs of positive developments for treatments and even a potential vaccine. Human ingenuity is at work.
While it is easy to imagine a doomsday scenario, we cannot become oblivious to the many instances of people, companies and entire industries showing they are ready to tackle the public health crisis. This crisis will undoubtedly spark an enduring debate about trust in our institutions — from the government to our scientific community. But that should not overshadow our trust in human ingenuity — our innate capacity to come together and solve big problems through entrepreneurship, innovation and progress. As economist Julian Simon has pointed out, our ultimate resource is human ingenuity and this should be no different in the fight against the coronavirus.
That potential treatments and vaccines are already being tested and developed is a testament to human ingenuity at its best. One of the first clinical trials for a vaccine was started by Moderna Therapeutics, and there is now a global competition under way, with numerous countries participating to develop a vaccine. There are also several drugs being tested as potential treatments for the virus, several of which have shown promise — including, just to name a few, Chlorquine, Remdisivir, Kevzara and Actemra. Many are already in clinical trials.
Even though we’ve seen problems with testing availability, the capacity to develop tests has also expanded in recent weeks and is already ramping up significantly in the United States, with corporate giants Quest and Labcorp joining an expanding field of testing facilities. With advances in biotechnology, companies like Mammoth Biosciences are using CRISPR technology that can make tests cheaper and faster to produce.
Another major testament to human ingenuity is the ongoing adaptation of the business community, which continues to provide immense social value to their own employees and others. Businesses large and small have been implementing a sort of “conscious capitalism,” as first defined by Whole Foods founder and CEO John Mackey. From Walmart and Costco providing groceries and Amazon enhancing its distribution centers to deliver medical supplies to Skype and Zoom’s wide-ranging teleworking options, Americans’ favorite brands are stepping up for the greater good.
Although big businesses are leading the charge, even small businesses – many of which face closures, layoffs and other threats – are trying to do right by their customers and communities. Local restaurants, for example, have been offering new discounts and waiving delivery fees to serve those in quarantine. Restaurants like Washington, D.C.'s Seven Reasons have been even more creative, starting an “Employee Wellness Fund” for affected workers and opening its kitchen to entrepreneurs who hope to develop their own venture.
Other efforts are more philanthropic in nature, but still go a long way in containing the spread of the virus. These include Bill and Melinda Gates donating millions in search of short-term treatment and longer-term pandemic preparedness. Economist Tyler Cowen, through his “Emergent Ventures" grant program, has launched a prize competition offering over $1 million to address various developments concerning COVID-19.
Human ingenuity is even keeping our spirits high in the face of anxiety and paranoia, with many people in Italy and Spain sharing videos about impromptu concerts, work-out sessions and even dancing the "Macarena." Younger people, meanwhile, are volunteering to get supplies and groceries for the elderly and others who are at higher risk.
Remember: Eventually, human ingenuity will prevail. Progress will prevail. Trust the private sector, and its millions of innovators. While the government has a major role to play in containing the pandemic's spread, it is innovation that will play the most significant role in advancing public health over the coming months, years and decades.
Of course, trust in human ingenuity requires that many delays and unnecessary barriers from government agencies are either removed or processes are further accelerated to permit quicker and more responsive coordination. Now more than ever, the government should not be erecting barriers to innovation.
Whether scientists are standing on the shoulders of giants by developing a vaccine or everyday Americans are helping their neighbors, we can all reach the light at the end of the tunnel by leaning on our individual agency and entrepreneurial spirit. And we must never stop cheering on the brave men and women in the health care community who are on the front lines of this pandemic. We all owe them a great debt.
The world will change after this pandemic, but human ingenuity can change it for the better. Trust in that. Trust is us.
Gonzalo Schwarz is president and CEO of the Archbridge Institute in Washington, D.C.