Coronavirus Pandemic: A Crisis that Capitalism Birthed

Italy, so far the country worst hit by COVID19, has an unimpressive healthcare system to blame.

A health crisis of gargantuan proportions has gripped the world and, along with it, an equally grave economic crisis. The pandemic and the consequential free fall in markets hints at an imminent global recession. While corporates and world superpowers were seen fretting over low GDP predictions and through it a repetition of 2008, the slaves of the neoliberal order, the labourers, have already turned out to be the ones that are worst hit by the crisis.The nearly unprecedented health crisis has impacted many major industries, wreaking havoc to the entire supply chains. A minor setback had already shaken our current economic structures; markets had started to come crashing down in the first few weeks of the pandemic. In the particular case of India, a neoliberal economy already in the process of suffering a slump, the crisis has only worsened things.

Capitalism, a system that warrants a recession or a depression every 10-15 years is once again laying bare its many vulnerabilities. The world is looking up to a non-existent saviour, an economic system, which by its very nature thrives on exploitation and in Marx's [1] own words, 'crippling of the body and mind'. A system that, in addition to exacerbating the pandemic, is of a nature that prevents it from doing the bare minimum to help avert the catastrophe.

A profit-minded regime can hardly be expected to introduce people-friendly policies, much lesser at an exigent time such as this. Invocation of Emergency powers by the US government, one of the only major measures taken by it in response to the crisis at first, experts say, is primarily aimed at trade regulations.

Experts have, however, pointed out that given the over dependence on monetary policies in capitalist settings, cutting interest rates could only do the bare minimum as markets crashed caught in a speculative frenzy. As described by eminent economist C.P. Chandrasekhar in his latest column in Frontline [2], the effects of asymmetric globalization of world production birthed by the neoliberal era is becoming all the more clearer.

As the world enters into 20th day of the pandemic, tests are taking place on around 40 different candidate vaccines, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The time is prime to look at the way different countries are fighting the Corona scare.

Denialism, characteristic of capitalist bureaucracy, had for the initial period kept the reported infections low in many countries. In the USA, for instance, no tests were being carried out unless the patient had severe symptoms. Even otherwise, the unholy cost of these tests in the US, which reportedly comes to be around US Dollars 3000, has kept a large population from getting themselves tested. Similar stories were also emerging from countries where healthcare is more or less the monopoly of profit-generating corporations.

Given the low mortality rate of the viral infection increased tests could mean a lower death rate. This will go a long way in suffusing anxiety among the general public and in addition to that would help in imposing isolation on those who otherwise would not have tested positive.

Italy, so far the country worst hit by COVID19, has an unimpressive healthcare system to blame. The European nation, it is being reported, had taken only weak measures [3] to contain the disease when the first cases broke out. Additionally, in spite of announcing country wide lockdowns, unlike China, the factories continued to function, putting lives of its labourers in high risk.

Within weeks of the outbreak at Wuhan, the epicenter of the disease, the casualties had already reached huge numbers in China. The Chinese governments set remarkable precedents by building two hospitals in under two weeks to tackle the crisis. The 14 days long incubation period during which the disease may remain asymptomatic, led to the novel Coronavirus quickly crossing international boundaries without it being detected. After reporting it's first case to WHO in December 2019, by January 2020, the genetic sequence of the virus was shared and research for a vaccine had begun in China.

Ever since the virus broke out in Wuhan, only very few governments across the globe could be said to have swung into action. Among them, the Government of Kerala, with an experience of containing a more lethal Nipah virus the year before, fared better than many 'developed economies'. In addition to the pragmatic approach the government undertook within economic constraints, the government's communist ethos was in full visibility in various actions implemented.

The state had gone into a partial shut down in the beginning weeks, but different from similar shutdowns enforced in the US, Italy, Spain, or France. The Government has been catering to the needs of its citizens, and laudably so. Pinarayi Vijayan led government in Kerala is setting heart warming examples through its many measures. Some of these are:

  1. Take-home rations for poor students

  2. Government's own undertaking, Kerala State Drugs and Pharamceuticals (KSDP) manufactured affordable sanitisers

  3. Large-scale manufacture of reusable cloth masks in jails

  4. Isolation wards in jails and several other locations.

These primary measures should be viewed in contrast with petty and inadequate measures taken by countries like the USA, where healthcare is in itself an unaffordable luxury for the common man. Interestingly, this comes at a time when Presidential Candidate hopeful, Bernie Sanders whose campaign largely surrounded around 'free health care for all', was seen coming to a far second to Joe Biden, a status-quoist Democrat. Most measures taken by the US government have been taken in a bid to save the toppling markets while only perfunctory measures were being taken to help the general public initially. It is to be remembered that this slack in initial measures was what cost Italy a huge chunk of their population.

In addition to the above mentioned primary measures, the Kerala Government has in the last week announced a social welfare package of Rs 20,000 crore, much to the awe of the rest of the country. The Government hopes to meet these expenses through front loading, wherein the state government shall request the centre to allow it to borrow via bonds roughly half of what it is entitled to for this financial year, in April 2020 itself. So far the government at the centre has remained a mute spectator of the global showdown, in terms of monetary help offered. The package is planned to cater to the following requirements - 2 months welfare pensions to be paid in advance, Rs 1320 crore to provide assistance to families, loans worth Rs 2000 crore to be distributed through Kudumbasree units (Women's SHG), Rs 14000 crore to clear all arrears of the state till April 2020.

A broken public health care system in Brazil motivated a widespread protest last week. Since the regime change in 2017, the performance of most social sectors have been abysmal[4]. The Cuban doctors who helped avert the HIV crisis in 2003 have been ousted and a spending cap on healthcare has been enforced.

By the last week however, most affected countries have announced financial packages to cope with the economic slowdown. There have been reports of wide nationalisation of hospitals, cash transfer schemes, raised unemployment benefits, guaranteed full salary to laid off workers etc. Economist R. Ramakumar[5] explains in an interview to the Wire that the total extra fiscal stimulus announced by all countries is now already 2% of the GDP, considerably higher than what was dished out during 2008 Global Financial Crisis.

Post the contagion, he explains, the participation of the state in economies is expected to rise considerably, against the espousals of the neoliberal system.

Their mantra goes 'As much market as possible, as much state as necessary'.

One other aspect that has come out in the backdrop of the contagion is the fact that corporate funded research in the avenue of tropical diseases have been minimal even on a global scale. This can be attributed to the non-lucrativeness of the said field, exposing another evil side of capitalism.

WHO's and the various health ministries’ recommendations advising quarantine, isolations, and social distancing are hardly viable options for daily-wage labourers and other members of the working class. Unaffordable healthcare coupled with state imposed quarantine has already started to put the working classes' livelihoods into peril in these countries, eating into their already meagre incomes.

The role capitalism has played to further the miseries the virus produced is much bigger than the corporate media is letting on. Characteristic of the capitalist setting is it's inability to cure infirmities such as the current crisis. Irrespective of whether you believe billionaires deserve their ' hard earned' wealth or not, the fact that socialist governments are faring better than capitalist ones in containing the virus is beyond doubt.

References

  1. The Path to Human Development: Capitalism or Socialism?
  2. Virus vulnerability
  3. How Italy became the ground zero of Europe’s coronavirus crisis
  4. Brazil bangs pots and pans to protest
  5. 'India Should Have Already Announced an Economic Package for Coronavirus'