Enclosure Is Still Happening
It just has a different name.
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In Solidarity — Joe
Earlier this week, I wrote about the Enclosure Movement, the multi-century transition of European land from public utility to private ownership that birthed the system of Capitalism we have today. While I suggest you read the piece if you haven’t already, what’s important to understand about the enclosures is that they were the deliberate privatization of a public utility by the ruling class. This shows us that Capitalism did not arise “naturally” but was a product of human design. And, like everything else humans create, once we understand that our socioeconomic system is artificial, we become more willing to change it for the better.
And while The Enclosure Movement ended long ago, the practice of enclosure, that is the process of turning public property into private property so that the owners may profit, is still ongoing. Not only is this immoral on its own, but unlike Miedival land enclosures that increased agriculture production, modern enclosures have no societal benefit. Privatization (the new name for enclosure) doesn’t benefit the average American. It only serves to funnel more of society’s wealth into the bank accounts of the Capitalist class, leaving less for the rest of us.
The Modern Enclosures
The most notorious case of modern enclosure can be found in the government-led development of COVID vaccines. As part of President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed, $18 billion in federal funding was given to leading pharmaceutical companies to develop vaccines to combat the pandemic. And though these vaccines are commonly referred to by the name of their private producer (“Did you get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or Moderna?”), these companies were only able to engineer, manufacture, and distribute the vaccines thanks to public funding and the aid of scientists from the National Institute of Health. In fact, prior to COVID, pharmaceutical companies had shied away from mRNA research (the basis of the vaccines), as it held little profit potential.
However, the scientific arms of the U.S. government, which is free from profit concerns, spent the last 35 years investing over $330m in research and development. It was this publicly-owned research that made Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Pfizer’s rapid creation of COVID vaccines possible. Were it not for this public utility of research, Big Pharma would not have been able to create their vaccines and accrue their massive profits. Despite the outsized role public scientists and research played in making the vaccines, many pharma companies have patented “their” versions of the COVID vaccines under the names of their employees, excluding the government scientists — and the fact that their research was publicly funded — so that they may secure future profit.
While the question of “Who owns what part of the vaccine creation process?” is still a jumbled mess, one thing is clear: the public’s property, in the form of publicly-funded research and government-employed scientists, was used to create life-saving vaccines that were immediately enclosed for private profit.
Though it garners fewer headlines than COVID-related matters, the enclosure of public education resources is far more common and equally as devastating as the privatization of vaccine technology.
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