Corporate Action against Disease Points Way to Resiliency Strategy for Developing World

In a piece at The Freeman today, I examine how corporations in the developing world have reacted to the threat to their workers from diseases such as Ebola, AIDS, and malaria, for example:

Firestone, one of the world’s leading tire producers, needs vast amounts of rubber and owns a huge rubber plantation in Liberia. The property encompasses 185 square miles, employs 8,000 people directly, and indirectly supports 72,000 more people who live either on the property or in surrounding communities.

When the first case of Ebola appeared on the property, the company initially attempted to place the victim in a hospital in the country’s capital, Monrovia. Company officials quickly realized that the facilities there were inadequate, so Firestone set up its own Ebola ward in the company hospital. By mid-September, the facility was full. But through careful management, the disease was contained. A few weeks later, the facility was almost empty.

Firestone was able to do this because it had wealth, valued its employees and their families, and recognized the importance of stopping the disease. This is not an isolated example of a private company acting this way.

Drawing from these lessons, I sketch out the bare bones of a development strategy aimed at promoting resiliency in the poorest nations. This would be a true “no regrets” strategy aimed at improving the lives of the poorest in the world whatever may happen with environmental change. The basic elements would be:

  • Promote true free trade by tearing down tariff and nontariff barriers with the developing world, such as the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.
  • Promote affordable energy and distribution networks for it in the developing world.
  • Reduce regulatory burdens that divert talent toward developing accounting tricks or derivative products, rather than dreaming up genuine innovations.
  • End America’s extraterritorial tax system, which discourages private investment abroad.
  • Liberalize global payment systems to allow the free movement of remittances from immigrants to their home countries.

I note, however, that global salvationists will attempt to block any such a move as being different from their preferred courses of action, and therefore conclude: “In the meantime, people in poor countries like Liberia will have to continue to hope that companies like Firestone can be encouraged to invest there. They can best do this by establishing the rule of law and secure property rights. A true resiliency strategy begins at home.”