Humanities and Social Sciences
Brine Leas Sixth Form
To “start from scratch” is to begin from a point at which nothing has been done yet(1) , without using anything that already exists. The figurative conception of “scratch” recalls sporting events in the past, when a starting line was physically scratched into the ground, marking the point at which all competitors were to begin. Hence, to “start from scratch” conveys a sense of starting at the beginning, without prior advantage. To make food from scratch is to use only the most basic ingredients; to build from scratch is to use only raw materials. Even if it could be conclusively proven that cooking and building from scratch produce better outcomes, it would be grossly deductive to apply a similar logic to government and declare that governments built from scratch are better than those which are not. Such a fragile syllogism does not adequately reflect the complexity of the conditions which lead to the construction of new political realities. A successful rethinking of power relations between the ruler(s) and the ruled - the government and the governed – depends on far more than simply starting anew. The question of whether we would build a better government if we started from scratch is irremovable from questions of evolutionary and revolutionary change. The notion of starting a government from scratch and the process of revolutionary change can both be broadly understood as acts of political creation, a relatively rapid period of upheaval in which the government is either overthrown or fundamentally altered. A categorical judgement on whether such radical means would produce a better government can arguably never be reached, but it may be tentatively ventured that whether starting from scratch would produce a better government depends on the context of the existing government, the coherence and strength of revolutionary action, and on the very criteria by which “better government” is measured. Political discourse is not the natural habitat of clear binaries between ideas, least of all between what is good and what is bad. This fact makes it exceedingly difficult to quantify what constitutes “better government”. For some, government is but a “necessary evil”(2) , for others, it is the tool with which peace is preserved and rights protected, and therefore must possess absolute authority. (3) For those with the aim of making the state obsolete, the question of creating a “better” government is perhaps redundant.(4) In 2008, the Council of Europe of the European Union produced ‘12 Principles of Good Governance’, (5) which clearly define by what criteria local and national European governments can be judged to be “good”. They encapsulate a common vision for modern democratic governance, such as fair conduct of elections, transparency, competence, and representation. Evidently, the ‘12 Principles’ are a eurocentric conception of good governance; it would therefore be problematic to use them as a general criteria for judging the circumstances when a better government would be made from scratch. Few would logically dispute that for a better government to be built by starting from scratch, the government which it replaces must be comparatively worse. The comparative adjective “better” suggests an improvement from a previous system of governance, subtly highlighting the importance of context when determining whether a better government would be built by starting anew. The very existence of a desire to start a new government is surely a reflection of potent dissatisfaction with the current government. Pierre Jacques Proudhon’s observation that “It is against the nature of the masses to revolt, except against what hurts them, physically or morally” highlights the role played by ideology in justifying and accommodating political change. Therefore, it can be asserted that the success of a government built from scratch is contingent upon the government which it replaces. In 1776, Thomas Paine’s ‘Common Sense’, a 47-page pamphlet argued for the creation of an Independent America with a democratic republic as its government. ‘Common Sense’ provided a substantial intellectual impetus to the secession of the thirteen American colonies from Britain. Permeating Paine’s lucid and persuasive prose was a palpable sense of hatred towards the perceived tyranny of the British government, which he urged his readers to reject in favour of fighting for a new government which truly represented American citizens. Through his opposition to building on the “rotten foundations” of the British system of governance, which denied American colonists representation in the legislature, Paine communicated his belief that it is acceptable to start a new government when the current government is not devoted to the rights of its subjects: “make government what it ought to be and it will support itself.” (6) Clearly, the possibility for a better government to be built from scratch is heightened when the existing government evades the desires of the masses. The disparity between old and new government enables the perception of one as better. However, the mere action of starting from scratch does not ensure a better government, nor is the revolutionary progression from an oppressive or incompetent government to one which is “what it ought to be” a neatly prescribed path. The usurpation of colonial power through revolutionary action clearly juxtaposes the oppressive colonial government against an autonomous, post-colonial government typically founded on a struggle for freedom and resistance. Haiti’s “struggle from slavery, to freedom and to statehood” (7) following the successful revolution by self-liberated slaves in 1791, demonstrated the power of revolutionary action to produce radically different governments: the change from an enslaved French colony to the world’s first black republic could only have been a product of revolution, marking a break with the past rather than a return to a different version of it. Such a change could arguably never have been achieved through passive or evolutionary means. It is intuitive to reason that a government which usurps colonial oppression is a better government, but starting from scratch can only create a better government if revolutionary action pursues a clearly prescribed goal. While the endless subjectivity of “better government” is difficult to quantify within any context, without a focused intention to do so, starting from scratch in and of itself will fail to produce a better government. Written at the height of the Algerian war for independence, Frantz Fanon’s psychoanalytical exploration of how colonial oppression emaciates indigenous cultures and identities could be interpreted to imply that the fight for freedom from colonial power is more a reclamation of statehood than it is starting from scratch. By declaring that “sooner or later a people gets the government it deserves”(8) , Fanon alludes to a sense of reciprocity, where the desires and actions of a people are reflected in their government. However, in urging Algerian revolutionaries to pursue a clearly-defined vision for postcolonisation and to involve themselves in the process of formulating a new political system, he evoked the possibility of revolutionary action replicating the very same power relations of violence and oppression that necessitated revolt against colonial power in the first place. A very real obstacle to building a better government from scratch - rather than creating a better government, the enduring influence of past power structures can cause revolutionary action to simply replicate old hegemonies. This supports the view that “where there is progress, there can also be regression...if some evolutions tend toward the growth of life, there are others that incline toward death”(9) . The potential for revolutionary upheaval to generate a new ruling class, that merely sustains and reaffirms the power dynamics of the same governmental institutions it once sought to transform, shows that starting from scratch is not always enough to ensure the construction of a better government. The perception of the eternal and incorrigible malevolence of the ruling class has often been assigned culpability for the failure of revolutionary action to effect fundamental transformation of government. However, it is more convincing to highlight the role played by precedent and tradition in determining future courses of action; those who aspire to conquer state power must obviously use the means that seem to lead most surely to their goal.(10) Starting a government from scratch would require that society divorce itself form historical precedent and tradition. The pursuit of a new political reality entails a departure from the ways of the past. However, the abandonment of the historical foundations of society does not assist in the creation of a better government; indeed, the impossibility of being truly unencumbered by historical precedent makes it foolish to attempt to do so. An attempt to build a government from scratch itself rests on an awareness of the deficiency of past governments. Both judicial and political precedent form a vital basis for political constitutions; the British constitution in particular is derived in large part from precedent. In order for starting from scratch to produce a better government, it would be necessary to perceive historical precedent not as a vital organ of government, but as a heavy accumulation of anachronisms which ought to be disposed of. Thomas Paine’s conviction in both the possibility and the necessity of starting government anew was centred on the perception of America as the ‘new world’, entirely unburdened by the centuries of history and tradition underpinning British political life. The radical view of precedent as an inhibiting weight, the facilitator of “rotten foundations” is contrasted against the conservative view of the sanctity of historical foundations, as espoused by Edmund Burke in his ‘Reflections on the Revolution in France’. Burke’s condemnation of the French Revolution as an “atrocious spectacle” highlights his disdain for revolutionary change, namely the shattering of religion, culture and state that had taken place in France. Interestingly, Burke agreed that tyrannical rulers ought to be punished, but didn’t identify tyranny as a feature of the prerevolutionary French monarchy, once more highlighting the subjectivity of the perception of good governance. Paine attacked Burke’s lamentation of the events of the French Revolution in characteristically illustrative prose: “He pities the plumage but forgets the dying bird.”(11) Burke’s reverence of the notion of the hereditary wisdom of the ruling classes formed part of what he termed “the pattern of nature”, in which systems of government are generationally transmitted from “our forefathers” on to the next generation, in the same way property is bequeathed to future generations under the system of primogeniture. The elitism of a perspective that defends the position of the ruling class as the “natural order of civil life” did not go unnoticed, least of all by Mary - “hyena in a petticoat”(12) - Wollstonecraft, who considered his arguments to be “sound reasoning...in the mouth of the rich and short-sighted."(13) An ignorance of the guiding influence that history continues to have on the present impedes the creation of a better government, thus, while the perspective from which Burke scorns revolutionary change may be arrogant, it does serve to emphasise the importance of historical precedent in shaping governmental structures. Historical precedent is indeed integral to the building of a better government; without an awareness of historical context, how can a government be comparatively described as better than another? For example, the United States Constitution of 1787 was shaped by the collective intention of the Founding Fathers to deviate from certain features Britain’s constitution. This exemplifies the impossibility of disregarding historical precedent when constructing a new government. The argument starting from scratch leads to the creation of a better government does not survive the objection that building a government from scratch demands a desertion of historical precedent and tradition that is simply not possible when making political decisions. The complementary relationship between evolutionary and revolutionary change also casts doubt over whether starting from scratch would produce a better government. As opined by revolutionary socialist Rosa Luxemburg, “reform and revolution are not different methods of historic development that can be picked out at pleasure from the counter of history, just as one chooses hot or cold sausages.”(14) A “better government” is not the clear product of “starting from scratch”. The nebulous parameters by which “better government” can be defined require that a government started from scratch be measured against the government which it is preceded by. Today, perhaps a better government would be one that doesn’t secretly spend excessive amounts of taxpayer money on soft furnishings. (15)
Paine, T (1776) Common Sense.
Burke, E (1790) Reflections on the Revolution in France.
Douglas, F ‘Speech on Haiti’ World Columbian Exposition. Jackson Park, Chicago. 2 nd January, 1893.
Luxemburg, R (1900) Social Reform or Revolution. Rosa Luxemburg Internet Archive. See: https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1900/reform-revolution/index.htm
Reclus, J, E. (1898) Evolution, Revolution and the Anarchist Ideal. Excerpt from ‘L’Evolution, la révolution et l’idéal anarchique’ in Anarchy, Geography, Modernity: Selected Writings of Elisée Reclus. (Paris: Stock, 1898; Montréal: Lux Editions, 2004), see: https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/elisee-reclus-evolution-revolution-and-theanarchist-ideal
Paine, T (1791) Rights of Man
Proudhon, P, J (1851) The General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century.
Wollstonecraft, M (1790) A Vindication of the Rights of Man, in a Letter to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke; Occasioned by his Reflections on the Revolution in France.
Ball, A. R (1988) ‘Ideologies and Change’ in Modern Politics and Government. Macmillan. Page 234.
Council of Europe (2008) 12 Principles of Good Governance
Kropotkin, P (1892) Revolutionary Government. See: https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/petr-kropotkin-revolutionary-government
Fanon, F. (1963). The Wretched of the Earth. New York, Grove Press.
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Start from scratch. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved May 1, 2021, from https://www.merriamwebster.com/dictionary/start%20from%20scratch
Pallas, J. (2016) Fanon – Revolution. Critical Legal Thinking. 22nd January 2016. See: https://criticallegalthinking.com/2016/01/22/fanon-revolution/
Weede, E. and Muller, E. N. (1997) ‘CONSEQUENCES OF REVOLUTIONS’, Rationality and Society, 9(3), pp. 327–350. See: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/104346397009003004
Allegretti, A and Elgot, J (2021) ‘Electoral Commission launches inquiry into Boris Johnson flat refurb’. The Guardian. see: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/apr/28/electoral-commission-launchesinquiry-into-boris-johnson-flat-refur
1 Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Start from scratch. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved May 1, 2021, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/start%20from%20scratch
2 Paine, T (1776) Common Sense.
3 Hobbes’ “essential rights of sovereignty”
4 “Away with governments; make room for the people, and anarchy!” - Kropotkin, P (1892) Revolutionary Government. See: https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/petr-kropotkin-revolutionary-government
6 Paine, T (1791) Rights of Man
7 Douglas, F ‘Speech on Haiti’ World Columbian Exposition. Jackson Park, Chicago. 2nd January, 1893.
"Would we build a better government if we started from scratch?"
"Discuss the relationship between content, on the one hand, and literary style and form, on the other, in Abolition writing"
Abolitionist literature is often depicted as intertwined with the rise of sentimentality within the Romantic period, the sympathetic understanding of slaves likened to a kind of cosmopolitan consideration. The appeal to nationalist and imperialist discourse resides comfortably within the enslaved African’s torment being the set up for their role as a sentimental hero. Despite their subjugation, literacy also empowers the slave through their acknowledgement from the shift in power being associated with the written word from their previous experience with oral culture, thereby seizing the opportunity to convey an authentic recollection of events against historical amnesia. Abolitionist literature is said to have a profound effect in the demolishing of the institution of slavery, being distributed through a variety of literary forms such as poetry, personal narrative, treatises and newspapers.
The individual form of Equiano’s autobiography serves as a literary enigma, a question of his complicity towards institutional racism. Thus, Tate (1998, cited in Corley, 2002) introduces a Lacanian psychoanalytic perspective to expose the “surplus”, which corresponds to the Lacanian idea of extracting full speech in order to pursue the tributaries of unintended meaning extracted from the unconscious. Within the form of an autobiography, this may take the shape of “narrative contingencies that might be evoked by the irregular effects of memory or the aporias of desire are briefly countenanced but never explored” (Corley: 2002, p. 142). The personal form of an autobiography is therefore exploited to examine the impacts of apologist ideas in formulating a perpetual racist framework, such as Mills’ (1997) proposed Racial Contract, in which non-whites do not reach the state of being civilised due to authority figures echoing racist epistemic norms which enable ideological submission. Corley contends that through the acknowledgement of Equiano as a subject rather than an object, achieved by emancipation, he is allowed to desire a sense of self-fulfilment, and thus the King is promoted to the psychoanalytical position of the ‘Subject Who is Supposed to Know’ (Lacan, cited in Corley, 2002), extensively assuming false superiority. This may hinder Equiano’s attempt to extricate himself from racial hierarchical constraints by precipitating his feeling of obedience towards the King (representative of his master), despite their equal status. It may have also been instigated through a sense of guilt and burden, feeling as if he is to prove his value as a freed man, and thus completes this task in the form of stimulating the economy and his financial gain. Although Equiano’s autobiography could be said to subtly undercut his explicit antislavery position through unwavering obligation, I think that Equiano’s integration into the capitalist slave trade may aid to gradually decay its unjust principles. Perhaps inspired by the Enlightenment emphasis on rationality, his participation in trade may help to develop further understanding of the slave’s oppression to subvert and critique the framework, and his use of ‘reverse acculturation’ (Leask 1992, cited in Gunn, 2008) compliments, or rather, contrasts the moral stance of the abolitionists.
Another prevalent feature within abolitionist literature is the use of religion. Equiano’s autobiography humanises him through demonstrating a nuanced understanding of the ‘other’ through the integration of Christian principles. He therefore disfigures the “binary distinctions between epistemological categories such as black and white, or civilisation and savagery” (Corley: 2002, p.139) by weaving himself into an integral part of the social fabric, religion. He elaborates this potential intersection between racial difference to extend to the province of Eboe, by drawing parallels “in the manners and customs of my countrymen, and those of the Jews, before they reached the Land of Promise”. Elrod (2001) states that this compels the reader to visualise Biblical stories that they cherish within an African context, resisting their perception of the barbaric. As well as using Christianity as a bridge to African culture, Equiano further exploits it as a means to advocate for the education of slaves. He contends that “it is necessary to keep [slaves] in a state of ignorance; and yet you assert that they are incapable of learning”. One may deem the lack of illumination a result of slaves being unable to access spiritual enlightenment directly from engaging with religious literature and thus Equiano succeeds in indirectly proposing a correspondence between the slaves’ intellectual faculty and the slave master’s neglect of their Christian schooling, reversing the responsibility for the slave’s inadequacy. However, although religion can be used as a way of unification, it can also help to reinforce barriers through anti-Catholic sentiment frequently evident in abolitionist literature. Tomko (2007) notes this within More’s poetry, as she speculates the slave trade of being a Catholic innovation in order for “an inquisitor” to indulge in “ingenious cruelty”. It seems as if abolitionist literature is utilising the divide of Protestantism and Catholicism to reconcile racial prejudice, thereby maintaining discordant relations rather than the complete unification pledged by the sentimental notion of universal humanity. Conflict and strife are thus illustrated as being inevitable, a perpetual cycle of marginalisation and oppression.
Another crucial aspect of abolitionist literature is sentimentality, emerging as an aesthetic form of social status, as engaging in philanthropy implied an excess amount of spare time, as well as a heightened sense of moral duty. Carey (2005) asserts that sentimental arguments were credited as logos, as opposed to pathos, replacing facts with human intuition and extensively, validating universal human feeling. This deviates the focus from the system to the subjective experience of the individual, treating slaves as “objects of analysis, pathos and amelioration” (Kitson et al., cited in Marriott, 2001) as opposed to recognising their humanity, which maintains the racist framework. Lee insists that displaying compassion towards others undermines imperialist subjugation. However, it could be said that observing the ‘other’ through a sympathetic lens does not subvert imperialist oppression, as Sudan promulgates that being interested in the ‘other’ is a prerequisite to being able to form a clear distinction between whites and non-whites, thereby working as a ‘xenophobic-xenodochial economy’ (cited in Wiley, 2002). Sentimentality does not then naturally interweave itself into the antislavery cause.
Carey (2005) also comprehensively details how sentimentality is also evident within abolitionist poetry but is more intense due to the greater economy of language. Thus, motifs of sentimentality are established quickly and appear frequently to maximise the emotional response, and the narrative is simplistic in order to fixate on the feeling of the individual, effectively subtracting the wider context of the slave and the institution of slavery. Furthermore, the use of a rhyming scheme can be exploited, such as the heroic couplets within More’s ‘Slavery, a poem’ which alleviate the intensity of the subject matter. The conventional image depicting the slave weeping “tears that must water” endorses the conception of slaves benevolently subjecting themselves to torment for the benefit of humanity, serving as a kind of sentimental hero rather than a victim of a formal institution of oppression, providing aesthetic value in contrast to instigating political debate. This is explored within Day’s poem entitled, ‘The Dying Negro’, which was inspired by a news report about an African slave who had escaped, hoping for freedom and marriage, but was recaptured by his master before the ceremony. In an act of defiance and despair, he commits suicide, refusing to return to the plantations and to leave Britain. His status as being a sentimental hero is emphasised through how he lyrically professes that his love overrides his desire for liberty (“Thy sacred smiles could every pang remove, / And liberty became less dear than love.”), implicitly limiting slaves within the confines of being mere objects at fault for the readership’s “broken hearts”.
Additionally, abolitionist literature could be said to have promoted a measure of gender inclusivity within a historical context of stifling social and political restraints regarding women, as sentimentality and sensibility are historically perceived as “conventional feminine skills” (Campbell, 2015). Within the realm of femininity, it could be said that More attempts to infringe upon the political domain through her instruction to salvage the British spirit, as a sort of moral crusade to “Redeem OUR fame, and consecrate OUR age”. The emphasis on the pronoun “OUR” through its capitalisation and repetition reiterates the imperialism from which the poem stems. However, the political engagement could be argued to be ambiguous and conservative, as although she feminises liberty through the opening metaphor (Thy light, O LIBERTY! to shine on all”), she also demonstrates the helplessness of nature in the face of suffering. Campbell furthers this idea by stating that she preserves gender norms through the depiction of “Nature” as perturbed by human commodification, and yet is rendered ineffective against the brutality of their oppressors. The literary compromise between transcending yet abiding by feminine ideals introduces abolitionist literature as a medium to further the agenda of additional socio-political causes.
However, Jacobs presents an atypical case of sentimentality within her autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. As opposed to depending on the empathy of middle-class white women to be her mouthpiece, her narrative liberty as both a slave and women considerably distorts literary and social conventions. In particular, it is abnormal how she exposes her sexual impurity as it alienates her from the typical antebellum ideal of femininity, which is equated to chastity (Nudelman: 1992, pg. 940). In this way, it is at odds with the sentimentality which urges one to purge their emotions, thereby demonstrating how it is difficult for a female slave to navigate through the contradicting norms and literary style in order to effectively convey their experience. The vacillation between her self-presentation as a woman who is fated to tragedy, and an individual using their agency, is reminiscent of Equiano’s levitating status between emancipation and submission through a feeling of guilt. Their uncertain characterisation within difficult circumstances serves not to evoke pathos, but rather humanise them to their readership as they traverse through their psychological complexities in the form of a personal narrative. It is revealed through the struggle Jacobs faces to discuss her sexual assault that sentimentality is effectively employed through a third-person perspective, as it serves to temper the experience through its impersonal approach. One may conclude that the paradox of sentimentality is that the more detached one is from the misfortune at hand, the more vividly one can depict the anguish.
To conclude, abolitionist literature typically objectifies rather than humanises the slaves through its aestheticised lens of suffering and tragedy. However, by politically advocating for the ‘other’, marginalised groups such as females are given a voice within previously forbidden realms, such as political activity. Furthermore, through the ambiguity and noticeable lack of unequivocal condemnation of slavery conveyed within autobiographical narratives written by slaves, one may infer that even the abstract form of writing is still subject to hierarchical social relations, permeating all aspects of the socio-political context. This raises the question about the strength required to dismantle hegemony and its long-term impact on the modern framework of the world.
Campbell, K., 2015. "Bid Us Rise from Slavery and Live": Abolitionist Poetry and the Shared Language of Transatlantic Abolition, 1770s- 1830s.
Carey, B., 2005. The Rhetoric of Sensibility in British Abolitionism and the Rhetoric of Sensibility. 1st ed. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Corley, Í., 2002. The Subject of Abolitionist Rhetoric: Freedom and Trauma in "The Life of Olaudah Equiano". Modern Language Studies, 32(2), pp. 139-156.
Day, T., 1773. The Dying Negro. 3rd ed. London: W Flexney.
Elrod, E., 2001. Moses and the Egyptian: Religious Authority in Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative. African American Review, 35(3), pp. 409-425.
Equiano, O., 1789. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African. 1st ed. London: s.n.
Gunn, J., 2008. Literacy and the Humanizing Project in Olaudah Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative and Ottobah Cugoano’s Thoughts and Sentiments. eSharp, Issue 10.
Marriott, J., 2001. Reviews in History. [Online]
Available at: https://reviews.history.ac.uk/review/247#f1
[Accessed 1 May 2021].
Mills, C., 1997. The Racial Contract. Cornell University Press.
More, H., 1788. Slavery, a Poem.
Nudelman, F., 1992. Harriet Jacobs and the Sentimental Politics of Female Suffering. ELH, 59(4), pp. 939-964.
Tomko, M., 2007. Abolition Poetry, National Identity, and Religion: The Case of Peter Newby's "The Wrongs of Almoona". The Eighteenth Century, 48(1), pp. 25-43.
Wiley, M., 2002. Slavery & the Romantic Imagination by Debbie Lee; Fair Exotics:Xenophobic Subjects in English Literature, 1720-1850 by Rajani Sudan. The Wordsworth Circle, 33(4), pp. 147-149.
Ashton Sixth Form College
"People can pay more to airlines to be allowed to board a plane ahead of other passengers.
Should the same idea be applied to getting a COVID-19 vaccine?"
Those with the financial means to do so sometimes choose the option of services such as “speedy boarding” for flights and private health care, rather than endure the protracted waiting times that most must endure. They are quite simply paying for better and quicker treatment, ahead of those who do not or cannot choose this option. We can see therefore that in health, paying more to jump the queue is already an established fact. However, this essay will argue that with regards to the Covid vaccination, this should not and must not be the case. Wealth should not equal preferential treatment. We will do this by looking at issues such as morality, economic efficiency and the role of the common worker, production of goods in low-income countries, herd immunity and also the common rights of every person.
Although it might not prove a convincing argument to a hard headed pragmatist, we will first object to the proposal of paying to jump the queue from a purely moral and ethical perspective. Egalitarian thinkers and humanistic philosophers would argue that a civilised society can only be deemed such if it purports to look after everyone in it. As Hubert Humphrey once declared, “the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” (Knight: 2016, online). Clearly, a society is quite simply failing in its moral duty of it fails to do this. Aneurin Bevan stated when he founded the NHS in 1948, that healthcare should meet the needs of everyone and be based on clinical need and not the ability to pay. The vaccine is a very different matter to paying for the “speedy boarding” of a flight. It is essential health care, whilst air travel is a luxury. The only prioritising that should be done, is that which is being carried out at the moment in this country, which is to treat the older and more vulnerable first.
If the wealthier were allowed to receive the vaccination first, it would send a profoundly negative message to society and could easily have a detrimental effect on social cohesion. Alan Levine, writing in STAT argues the opposite, believing that the wealthier class could even be a role model as well as providing the programme with extra financial capital. He states, “Nothing reinforces the idea that getting a vaccine is a good idea like someone paying big money to move up in line.” (Levine: 2020, online). This essay however completely rejects this claim. The UK is often criticised for its enduring class distinctions. A privileged class already enjoy a better education, health and employment prospects. If they were to simply jump the queue, there would no doubt be considerable resentment from those left behind. The message would be clear, money matters and those who have it are more important than those who do not. It is not such a great stretch to imagine this spilling over into protests and possibly civil disorder and social unrest.
However, even if one put aside the issues of moral ethics or the potential detrimental effects on social cohesion, we can still make a case against queue jumping from an economic and logical standpoint. Let’s first take the case of production. Factory workers, and by that we mean the man or woman on the work floor, often belong to the lower paid section of society. These are in many respects the engine that drives production, creating and assembling consumer products which are sold all over the world. If one considers countries such as China and India where factory workers are on very low wages indeed, they are barely above the poverty line. It is not the wealthier class who often do the physical work, it is the poorer. If “blue collar workers” are pushed back in line and if these workers fall ill or die in large numbers due to not receiving the vaccination, whole national economies would suffer greatly.
When considering this issue from an economic standpoint, we should also include the masses of small shops and various small businesses, many of which are modest, family run concerns. Many of these have already been greatly hit by lockdown and are struggling financially. If the vaccine is not distributed fairly, then many of these areas may go out of business permanently. If this does happen, tax revenue will decrease and unemployment rates will rise, leading to a larger budget deficit and a lower GDP (Gross Domestic Product). The army of the self-employed, especially the small, family-owned shops and businesses when taken together is a considerable section of the economy. In an article entitled “Which small businesses are most vulnerable to COVID-19—and when”, Dua, Ellingrud, Mahajan and & Silberg point to even more industries being brought to bankruptcy, “private-sector educational services, childhood-education centres, sports classes, and art schools.” (Dua, Ellingrud, Mahajan, and Silberg: 2020, online). We might also include here the countless minimum or lower wage workers employed in the hospitality industry, that is hotels and restaurants. If they were to fall ill, these industries would suffer very badly indeed.
So far, we have looked almost exclusively at our own nation and at the individuals and social classes within it. Yet when considering the issue of money and access to the vaccine, it would be useful to perhaps widen the scope of this essay and look at this issue from a global perspective. A brief glance at a map of the world, coloured to show which countries are suffering the most from the pandemic and which ones have the best access to vaccines shows quite clearly the privileged status the more developed nations enjoy. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus states that it is not fair for the richer countries to buy up all the available stocks, leaving the poorer countries “empty handed” (BBC: 2021, online). Healthy, young people in the developed countries are getting the vaccination before the old and sick in the developing ones. Ghebreyesus gives the statistics that over 39 million vaccine doses had been given in 49 richer states - but one poor nation had only 25 doses. There is clear inequality here and much of it is to do with money, with the less wealthy countries lacking the resources to take care of its citizens. Ghebreyesus comments, "the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure - and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world's poorest countries.” He also warns “a me-first" approach would be self-defeating because it would push up prices and encourage hoarding” (BBC: 2021, online) The result, he says will be to only prolong the pandemic and the economic suffering involved. This makes it clear that not only should individuals not jump the cue, but countries also should not do so.
Danny Bahar, writing in Brookings, believes that richer nations have an obligation to help the poorer ones. He states, “as long as the virus is here, trade flows and global supply chains will be severely disrupted. Prolonging the life of the virus might result in even more poverty, destabilizing even more the already fragile livelihoods of millions of poor people in developing countries” (Bahar: 2021, online). Yet for those less than receptive to his objection to this “global inequality” he goes on to give two very convincing, further reasons. The first is to do with the global economy. “As long as the virus is here, trade flows and global supply chains will be severely disrupted ...if the vaccination doesn’t reach the developing world fast enough, these disruptions can cost up the exorbitant sum of $9 trillion to the global economy, and most of that cost will be borne by the advanced economies. The second is to do with world health. Here he warns, “the longer it takes to globally eradicate the virus, the more it will mutate, possibly reducing the effectiveness of the vaccines” (Bahar: 2021, online). So, in effect, if the world allows the virus to go unchecked anywhere on the planet, the greater the risk of a much worse virus emerging from it, and as we know, in the modern age, it will not take long for it to spread across the entire world.
In conclusion, this essay has looked at the issue of vaccine queue jumping from both an ethical, moral perspective and also from an economic one. We have seen that it is possible to argue a case for allowing the wealthier members of society to pay to get the vaccine first, as this might provide an initial financial boost to the vaccination program as well as acting as a role model to the other members of society. This however, as we have already said, is a weak argument and would do nothing but cause social unrest. Also, the top few percent would hardly provide enough financial input to make much of a difference. The only thing which can work effectively is the financial backing of government.
Allowing some to jump the queue is not only immoral and blatantly elitist, but also a bad idea for many other reasons than the moral one. The greatest number of people need to be vaccinated in the shortest possible time. The longer the virus is allowed to continue and mutate the more chance there is of different, dangerous strains appearing which we might not be protected from. Also, the worst hit will be the lower end of the pay scale, people in factories, small businesses and in the leisure and hospitality industries. If they are not vaccinated, these sections of the economy may be seriously, even fatally damaged.
Finally, we have also stated that this is an issue which should not just be considered at merely a national level. At present it is the poorer countries who are suffering the most. One need only look at catastrophic effects in India at the time of writing this essay. In effect the richer countries have already paid to jump the queue, purchasing the majority of the vaccines first. Yet as we have stated, helping everyone, countries as well as people, is the only way to prevent further, dangerous mutations of the virus. No-one should be allowed to jump the queue. What is needed is a global effort to protect everyone as quickly and efficiently as possible. Anything less than this, in my opinion, would be irresponsible and only be inviting more deaths, suffering and financial hardships in the future.
Bahar, D. (2021). ‘Rich countries have a moral obligation to help poor countries get vaccines, but catastrophic scenarios are overrated’. Brookings. Available at: < https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2021/02/11/rich-countries-have-a-moral-obligation-to-help-poor-countries-get-vaccines-but-catastrophic-scenarios-are-overrated/ > (21/04/21)
BBC. (2021). ‘Covid vaccine: WHO warns of 'catastrophic moral failure'’. Available at: < https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-55709428 > (15/04/21)
Dua, A. Ellingrud, K. Mahajan, E. and Silberg, J. (2020). ‘Which small businesses are most vulnerable to COVID-19—and when’. McKinsey & Company. Available at: < https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/americas/which-small-businesses-are-most-vulnerable-to-covid-19-and-when# > (27/04/21)
Knight, P. (2016). ‘Letter: Quote from Humphrey, not Gandhi’. The Columbian. Available at: < https://www.columbian.com/news/2016/nov/11/letter-quote-from-humphrey-not-gandhi/ > (27/04/21)
Levine, A. (2020). ‘Let the ultra-rich and influential skip the line for Covid-19 vaccines? Hear me out’. STAT. Available at: < https://www.statnews.com/2020/12/22/let-the-ultra-rich-and-influential-skip-the-line-for-covid-19-vaccines-hear-me-out/ > (27/04/21)