The Creative Society: Lessons from Operation Warp Speed

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The Creative Society: Lessons from Operation Warp Speed

In 1967 Ronald Reagan delivered his first inaugural message as governor of California. The title of his remarks was “The Creative Society.” He meant to contrast his approach with the big-government methods of Lyndon Johnson’s then-current “Great Society” dystopia.

Reagan’s principles were straight-forward:

  • The path ahead is not an easy one.
  • It demands much of those chosen to govern, but also from those who did the choosing.
  • Let there be no mistake about this; we have come to a crossroad—a time of decision—and the path we follow turns away from any idea that government and those who serve it are omnipotent.
  • It is a path impossible to follow unless we have faith in the collective wisdom and genius of the people. And,
  • Along this path government will lead but not rule and listen but not a lecture.

To quote Reagan, “Government has a legitimate role, a most important role in taking the lead in mobilizing the full and voluntary resources of the people.”

Fourteen years later, Reagan would echo this sentiment in his first inaugural address as President saying, “Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it is not my intention to do away with government. It is, rather, to make it work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back.”

In 2020 we witnessed what amounts to the best illustration of Reagan’s Creative Society that we’ve seen so far in the 21st Century. It was called Operation Warp Speed and it devoted the resources of the U.S. government to aid private companies in the design, testing, and distribution of an effective vaccination for COVID-19. The deadline: one year after the virus’s appearance in Wuhan, China.

And to the surprise of bureaucrats and naysayers everywhere, it worked!

The FDA granted emergency use authorization to Pfizer in December and the first shots were administered to frontline health-care workers before New Year’s. Later in the month, the FDA voted 20-to-0 to authorize Moderna’s vaccine. At that point, the end of the pandemic came into sight and that’s probably the biggest factor that drove America’s year-end stock market surge.

Importantly, Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine showed 90 percent efficacy in preventing COVID-19. Moderna announced that theirs’s is nearly 95 percent effective. And AstraZeneca’s vaccine is somewhere between 62 percent and 90 percent effective. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration dictates that vaccines be at least 50 percent effective to earn emergency use authorization, so most observers weren’t expecting vaccine candidates to be much more than 50% effective...

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