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Indybay Feature
Capitalism and COVID-19
by Alex Stephanovich
Thursday Mar 19th, 2020 8:26 PM
It's easy to demonstrate that capitalists don't care whether people die. Why then such drastic response to COVID-19? It is because they care about profit and preservation of their prestige and power.
Times of crises are revealing and can be enlightening if we choose to pay attention.

COVID-19 pandemic has an ever-increasing number of governments locking down entire populations. China, Italy, Spain, and Canada have already done so, with the same likely in the USA and others soon. Why would this be strange when the virus is expected to infect 60-80% of the global population? After all, governments are doing what they are, supposedly, there to do – protect their citizens. This is quite true in the coronavirus case, but it’s incidental to another, more important goal – their own, and the survival of the publicly-insured casino capitalism. They don’t care how many people die.

COVID-19 kills between 2.3% - 3.4%. Thus far, 8,232 died. While we can’t know what the eventual number will be we can put the numbers in perspective (numbers of dead will likely be in the millions eventually). Globally, 8 million people perish each year from tobacco. 9 million die of hunger. All the while 3% of US military budget could eradicate world hunger. Conflict and gun deaths are at 550,000. That’s way below the average numbers historically, when we include major wars like WWI and WWII. Half of the world population doesn’t have access to basic healthcare (with dire consequences for spreading diseases like COVID-19), that’s 3.9 billion people, resulting in 10 million children dead each year. World governments choose to tolerate the high risk of nuclear annihilation, with US spending $1.2 trillion on upgrading the arsenal alone, and inaction on climate change (in 2014 250,000 died due to climate change), while governments subsidize fossil fuel industry to the tune of $5.3 trillion annually. Factor in that these numbers hold for decades and it should be enough to conclude that they can’t plausibly be assumed to care for the security and well-being of citizens or even the survival of the species.

In the US, the weak social security net, and abysmal worker precariousness are further exacerbating things. No paid sick leave for great majority, no universal health coverage, 568,000 folks living in the streets, 63% can’t meet a $500 emergency and therefore must keep working, etc., etc.

Though casino capitalism isn’t responsible for the coronavirus’ existence, it is to blame to a great degree for its spread. Likely source of the virus are bats on whose habitat human civilization is encroaching due to capitalist need for perpetual growth. The more contact with wildlife, the higher the chance viruses “jump” to humans. Further, on top of despicable lack of health protection for the majority of world’s population, we have smart moves like economic sanctions for hard-hit places like Iran. Trump administration just announced tightening of the economic warfare which is guaranteed to increase the number of cases. But who cares about that when the boss needs to teach insubordinates a lesson?

What, then, is precipitating this unprecedented response?

Two main reasons.

Almost always primary concern of capitalists is profit. The main vehicle for profit generation are financial markets, or what’s, in the mainstream discourse, called “the economy”. This “economy” has nothing, or very little, to do with the average person or economy in the classic sense of actual production of goods and services. It is a casino that produces nothing, and risks everything, where gains are private, and losses insured by the public via bailouts. Top 1% on the income scale own more than 50% of all stocks. With the same percentage owning more than 80% of the value of all stock. Resulting in the top 0.1% owning more wealth than the bottom 90% on the income scale. No wonder then that Trump started responding to the pandemic only after the stock market began tanking.

Second reason is the inadequacy of health systems everywhere, but particularly in the US (as compared to other developed nations), to deal with a pandemic-level numbers of the sick. If we knew the real numbers, our healthcare system wouldn’t be able to handle the influx of the infected. Hospitals would be full, treatment unaffordable and/or inaccessible, people coping unattended at home or in the streets as there are, again, 568,000 homeless folks. It would make clear to all the insanity of capitalism and its for-profit healthcare system, and extreme ineptitude of politicians, at the very least. Riots aren’t a stretch of the imagination, likely to be followed by the loss in 2020 elections. Now that’s a serious concern for the administration.

Taken together, these two reasons precipitated the drastic measures of almost total lockdown. One, to show the markets the pandemic is under control (Together with bailout measures already taken or announced. Such as $1.5 trillion injection in the money market, FED rate reduced to near zero, buying commercial paper, etc.). And to hopefully restore the normal functioning of the casino. And two, to slow down the spread of the disease so the healthcare system doesn’t break down. It helps to not test for coronavirus so as not to have people overrun the hospitals. That is perhaps why the US only tested 5 people per 1 million of population. Compare that with 3,700 in South Korea. That’s 740 times less.

Keeping everyone scared plays another key role. It allows Trump to justify the government’s, once again, bail out of private corporations and financial markets and the top 1% who own it. There’s talk of some help to ordinary folks, like the $1,000 cash handout. Though this will undoubtedly help the most vulnerable, it is an indirect bailout to the corporations who will not skip sending bills to be paid with this money. Corporations like Comcast, or Exxon, or PG&E. To be sure, this and other forms of aid are necessary. But in a more democratic economy where the workers own the companies they labor in, or at least are part-owners, they would get the cash, and also pay the same to themselves, not the big corporations and their Wall Street owners.

From what past instances teach us, we can expect a massive economic stimulus, and one that reflects societal power-relations. Great majority will go to the top 1%, crumbs to the 99%. Mitch McConnells of the world will push through legislation that further impoverishes the population, while enriching the wealthiest.

Taken all together, we can clearly see why governments all over pretend to all of a sudden care for their citizens. As it was the case throughout history, those in power only care for preservation of power and prestige, all else is incidental.

Capitalism, as it regularly happens, is on its knees and needs the public to bail out the profiteers of 1%. Now, what happens next is an opportunity to address the many crises, some of which are existential, and build a better world. From the stand point of curbing climate change, nuclear annihilation, worker precariousness, pollution, hunger, universal healthcare access, perpetual war, and other side-effects of profit maximization, we first needed it there, down and crippled, before creating another way of life without these cruel outcomes. Capitalists are already gearing up to rebuild the same exact system. This can only be done, as it necessarily has been, with our consent. We should be clear that if we consent once again, we consent to continued misery for the majority, undeserved opulence for the tiny sliver of the population, and the end of decent existence.
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