Oil And Capitalism Can Stop Ebola 

October 1st, 2014 | R. Rados 


The rising threat of Ebola has brought two things into perspective: capitalism and oil. Money and fossil fuels have reminded us that Ebola would have spread beyond Africa decades ago without them. As the virus spreads further than it ever has because of sociological and economic changes in Africa, we're quickly learning to appreciate the advancements that wouldn't have been possible without oil and capitalism.

West Africa is more densely populated now than it was during the first Ebola outbreak in 1976. Roads, economic advancements and sprawling communities have changed the region significantly and contributed to the spread of Ebola. To top it off, cynicism and paranoia have fuelled dangerous incidents in which infected family members have been kidnapped and some have fled treatment over fears of a conspiracy. In one case, armed men raided an Ebola treatment centre in Liberia. While all of this was taking place, researchers in North America and Europe were working on experimental vaccines and cures.

Two valuable resources were making their research possible: oil and money.


When American aide worker, Kent Brantly was transported back to the US after becoming infected with Ebola, there was some concerns of an outbreak on American soil. Those concerns quickly faded after a second and a third infected American were returned to the US without incident. Within weeks, two were cured and released from the Emory hospital in Atlanta. All three were flown back to the United States in a medical transport plane. While inside the plane, each patient was contained inside of a portable room and a protective gurney encased in plastic. The portable plastic room was sealed and kept under negative air pressure. The plastic-encased gurney held the patients in an air tight environment. For a better visual description, take a look at this USA Today diagram.

The plane and the containment gear are all dependent on petroleum. Not to mention the IV bags, syringes, hazmat suits and countless other medical supplies. Transporting the three infected Americans back home was an unquestionable and progressive step forward in the effort to fight Ebola. Much of these petroleum dependent medical supplies play a role in Ebola research, making up a majority of the gear and pharmacological supplies found in medical research labs and containment facilities.

The US National Institute Of Health notes the detrimental affects the “peak oil” phenomenon would have on public health if oil were to ever run out. In doing so, they reveal the crucial role of petroleum in the medical industry.

Many pharmaceuticals are developed from petroleum feedstocks. For example, Aspirin is produced from phenol, a petroleum-based molecule, through the Kolbe-Schmidt reaction. Some antibiotics are produced through fermentation of esters and alcohols, and nitrogen mustard is made from propylene glycol, all of which derive from petroleum...

In addition, celluloses and polymers –some from petroleum– are needed for both tablet binders and pill coatings, and petroleum-based molecules are used to make the plastic bottles and safety caps in which medicines are packaged.”  

             - Dr. Howard Frumkin, Jeremy Hess, and Stephen Vindigni, “Energy And Public Health: The Challenge Of Peak Petroleum

Without oil, humanity would still be in the dark ages. Viruses and diseases would be rampant and more difficult to contain, restricting doctors to using the supplies they used in the 1800s and earlier. Oil has opened the door to our evolution, also making it possible to research and produce alternative energy sources, like solar. Most solar panels still require petroleum based polymers.


Without the promise of recognition and wealth, humanity would still be in the dark ages. Like oil, capital and profit also play an important role in the production of renewable energy, pharmaceuticals and smartphones. Even if we found a way to replace the proletariat with machines and robots, money would still be mandatory in the development of new technologies and medicines. Just as labourers don't labour for free, thinkers won't ever think for free.

Whether we like to admit it or not, money and competition drive us to be successful producers and innovators. Even if we're not doing it for money, we're doing it for recognition. We're always doing it for something or someone. Human beings have a natural desire to compete. We all have a desire to outwit, out-play and outlast each other. We all have a desire to be better and more successful than someone else. Putting unnatural limits on our own success for the sake of equality and fairness is antithetical and anti-productive. It goes against everything that has brought us here.

Of course, most egalitarians and environmentalists will tell us that “here” isn't something to be proud of. We have smartphones that put the people we love in the palms of our hands. We have vaccines and treatments that save lives and have increased life expectancies to historic highs. We've been to the moon and sent robots to Mars. We continue to accomplish so much, yet there is always a new fly-by-night movement trying to peel back our progress. Every decade a new and more regressive ideology emerges with the goal of making us feel guilty for being successful. 

No innovations or advancements can continue to happen without energy and money. The very process of moving beyond petroleum will require energy, money and more petroleum. Curing diseases like Ebola, AIDS and cancer will require energy, money and new ideas. All the things that have brought us here are the things that will take us beyond here.

Jedd and Rachel Nunno wrote a list of benefits provided to society by capitalism. Published at Listversetheir list opens with a caveat warning readers that such a list might be viewed as “controversial”.

It might seem at first glance that everyone is selfishly working for their own money, but dig a little deeper and it becomes apparent that every job has a benefit for someone else. Factory workers produce the products that we can't live without...”  

                                                     -  Jedd and Rachel Nunno, “Top 10 Greatest Benefits Of Capitalism”

Applying this obvious benefit to medicine gives us the same result. In the fight against Ebola, a little company called Mapp Biopharmaceutical has been developing an effective Ebola vaccine. Their serum, called Zmapp, made headlines when it was given to Kent Brantley. Although doctors have been wary about crediting the serum for Brantley's recovery due to it being in an experimental phase, there can't be much doubt that it aided Brantley's immune system. Ebola's fatality rate is between 60-90%.

Until Zmapp was used to help American aid workers, Mapp Biopharmaceutical's Ebola research was mostly funded by the US government. Since Brantley's recovery, interest has increased and Mapp Biopharmaceutical was eventually given the resources to speed up development of more Zmapp. However, this didn't happen quickly. Because Zmapp had only limited testing with successful results and not much of it was done on humans, the US government restricted the use and distribution of the serum. This delay in production was caused by government bureaucracy, not capitalism. In fact, unmitigated capitalism probably would have allowed the flow and production of Zmapp immediately.

The biggest fact from this story that anti-capitalists will use is that most of this funding has come from governments. Because of this fact, they'll say that we can't credit capitalism. They're wrong.

Although Zmapp is the product of government funding, since the serum made headlines, private organizations and activists have taken notice and called on governments and donors to act. Unfortunately, before this recent outbreak, not a lot of private donors and charitable foundations had much interest in curing a rare disease like Ebola. AIDS is a good example of a disease that now receives significant private funding for its research. Before AIDS became an epidemic in the 1980s, few private donors, like Bill Gates, showed interest in curing the disease. Today, that's no longer the case.

Bill Gates is a product of capitalism. His wealth is made possible by capitalism. In fact, many major donors to causes like AIDS research are wealthy. Most wealthy citizens of North America have become wealthy because of capitalism. As we all know, it was money that helped develop Zmapp from the beginning, just as it was capitalism that developed the riches of all wealthy donors with high income taxes. As we also know, most of the money in government treasuries comes from the pockets of taxpayers. The more we earn, the more we pay.

Capitalism produces wealth. If we were to convert to socialism, where all of us would have equal salaries with no ability to earn more than our neighbours, we'd have no reason to produce anything unique. There would be no reason to compete if all we had to gain was a punishment. The only method in finding a cure for any disease would be force. Bureaucrats would have to resort to guns and violence to make us do anything. As we've learned from history, that never lasts.

The researchers and directors at Mapp Biopharmaceutical have the promise of wealth. Regardless of where the money comes from, it's the money that allows them and drives them to work harder. Their hard work won't just increase their potential for wealth, it will increase the chances of finding a cure for Ebola. In turn, other companies like Vancouver's Tekmira have been in a competitive race to develop their own Ebola treatment called TKM-Ebola. They, too, have received the greenlight and funding from the US government to fast-track their development.

The financial rewards and fame that would come with an Ebola cure are paramount. A breakthrough would put any individual or company into history books and secure their financial futures. That's not something that would come easily – or at all – with the mandated equality that defines socialism.

Not a single capitalist would deride government unless it's because of unnecessary meddling, which is increasingly becoming the case. The bureaucracy that hindered Zmapp development is just one example. Most capitalists understand the need for government and rules. The idea that capitalism can exist without government is a fallacy. However, unlike socialism, capitalism would be the more natural outcome from a reduction in government. Unlike socialism, capitalism can survive with less government. Socialism requires more government and more complex rules, making it difficult and costly to enforce. Capitalism requires less rules and less enforcement.

Most opponents of capitalism prefer to distort the truth rather than accept it. Most anti-capitalists like to pretend that capitalism is about monopolies and corruption. Little do they know that what they're describing isn't capitalism, it's corporatism. It's actually because of governments that corporations are allowed to exist as individuals under the law and monopolize large segments of a market. Corporatism is the satanic spawn of government and was born from wealthy bureaucrats bending the principles of capitalism to favour themselves. As a result, corporations were given special privileges over small, sole proprietors and entrepreneurs. But if you want to know more about that, read this.


As Ebola makes history by landing in the United States, we can be assured that petroleum products and money will be what keep us safe. The faster Ebola spreads, the faster researchers and donors will be willing to go to find a cure. Money talks just as loudly as our instincts for self preservation. From hazmat suits and vaccines to air tight plastic containment units, our money and oil have already said a lot.