The Covid-19 Pandemic Lays Bare The Pitfalls of Capitalism

In a reference to the old adage “there are no atheists in fox holes,” Pete Nichols at The Atlantic proclaimed, “there are no libertarians in a pandemic.” There are also, it seems, no capitalists

In a reference to the old adage “there are no atheists in fox holes,” Pete Nichols at The Atlantic proclaimed, “there are no libertarians in a pandemic.” There are also, it seems, no capitalists, at least not during this pandemic, which has lurched the United States to the brink of economic apocalypse.

The word apocalypse, derived from the Greek word apokalypsis, translates to disclosure, something laid bare and brought to light. Just as we marked the dawn of the century’s second decade, the American public was dealt their third financial crash in the form of the Coronavirus pandemic, this one even more devastating than the two that preceded it. While the Republican Party lobbies for America to turn back the clock, and the Democratic Party appeals to stacis, the country is in dire need of a third option. 

Now, the COVID-19 epidemic ravages an already cleaned out working class, many of whom have largely already lost their homes and retirement savings to this century’s previous economic crises of 2000 and 2008. The reality facing Americans every day is that what little action being taken by the government is woefully inadequate, as more than 20 million people were forced out of work in the last month as a result of the pandemic alone.  

With every economic or environmental crisis that strikes, more of the few remaining small businesses are forced to shutter their doors.. So when local governments began ordering a halt to all “non-essential” business operations, it sent the country’s economy into a total whirlwind.A Goldman Sachs survey of more than 1,500 small business owners found more than half reported they would close permanently if the mandated closures lasted more than 3 months. Corporations lurk in waiting like hungry vultures ready to gobble up their market share and redirect the profit towards their bottom line. This ever-expanding power bubble is inflated by corporate conglomerates, wielding their enormous amount of influence in both the public and private spheres and using that power to continue expanding their influence and profits.

Capitalism relies on constant growth in order to sustain functionality; it cannot exist in stacis. The free market orthodoxy, often parroted by the grifter class and their pundit stooges, is exactly what led our nation to the production crisis we are experiencing now–it was more profitable in the short term to outsource the manufacturing of critical medicine and other healthcare necessities like N95 masks and ventilators.

Even a soulless machine programmed to look at people as numbers on a spreadsheet would see that the way the United States has responded to this pandemic has been a model for inefficiency. As economist Richard Wolff argues, “It was inefficient not to produce the medical supplies, it was inefficient not to stockpile. Capitalism was efficient in producing profit and inefficient at protecting public health, therefore the claim that is contained in 99% in textbooks of economics that profit maximizations is the royal road to efficiency, is now definitively proved wrong.”

Capitalism will always prioritize profit over people, even in the midst of a pandemic. However, even the most devout champions of the free market clamored obnoxiously for handouts, as multi billion dollar airline companies like Boeing made off with billions in government aid after the recent passing of the CARES act after spending 74% of its free cash flow on buybacks over the last decade, and the trend continues throughout the industry. The major US airlines devoted a whopping 96% of their cash flow to stock buybacks.  

It’s not just the airline industry that has crippled themselves with stock buybacks–the financial equivalent of breaking your neck in an effort to suck your own dick. According to research by the Roosevelt Institute, in the two years between 2015 and 2017, the restaurant industry shelled out 140% of its profits on stock buybacks, followed by the retail industry which spent 80% of its profits on stock buybacks, and the food manufacturing industry that spent 60%. This leads to the normalization of Fortune 500 companies saddled with historic levels of debt-garnering record high evaluations on the NY Stock Exchange. Our financial systems have prepared us to collapse economically, as opposed to preparing for a potential economic collapse.

Government intervention in the market in any capacity is a direct ideological break with capitalist dogmatism that is heralded by the right as not only the most just economic system, but also the most efficient. The Covid-19 pandemic exposed the deceit in both of those assertions. 

Congress, far from an instrument of a democratic, self-ruling society, serves instead as a kleptocratic institution with a single mind bent on tending to the whims of the opulent and the oligarchic class. Instead of serving the interest of the public writ large, it serves the interest of the highest bidding contractors: often those who pillage the resources of our planet and of its communities not for the greater utilitarian good, but for their own short-term profits. Overtaken by private special interests, our public representatives will continue to manifest their will irrespective of their devastating implications for the country and climate.

In the United States, we are bearing witness to a total failure to protect our front line, physicians and medical staff. In countries that have successfully contained their virus and mitigated its devastation, they have equipped their front lines with hazmat suits and access to testing, in America however we’ve required our doctors and nurses to reuse their N95 masks against regulation guidelines and don trash bags as their only protection from the virus they could be exposed to at any moment. A consequence of both the tremendous lack of government oversight imposed on the private health care industry, and the decades of offshoring our production of critical supplies, leaving us unable to produce these necessities ourselves. 

In the midst of a public health crisis, like the Covid-19 pandemic, it becomes evident that unless every individual is assured access to healthcare within the nation’s borders, a virus cannot be contained. Which is why South Korea, a country that has had universal health coverage since 1981, announced that the government would be shouldering all of the costs for citizens and foreigners alike for Covid-19 testing and treatment. The ability to test people throughout their country, without being inhibited by medical profiteers and middle men, is paramount to containing a virus. 

In America however, a very different approach was taken by the government. Instead of ensuring that all Americans would receive no cost for any testing or treatment, the executive branch continuously waffled on the matter. In a public address, President Trump erroneously claimed that private insurance companies had “agreed to waive all co-payments for coronavirus treatments, extend insurance coverage to these treatments, and to prevent surprise medical billing.” This statement is loaded with partial truths as well as flat out lies. While it is true that the Families First Coronavirus Response Act guarantees free testing for Covid-19, it makes no such mandates for follow-up treatment, and includes no provisions to address surprise billing, which means seeking treatment of any kind could mean financial catastrophe for millions of Americans. 

It is utterly insufficient to have a hierarchical society that hoards healthcare as a privilege for the opulent. In a country like the United States, not only are there 30 million individuals who simply have no health insurance at all, more than 100 million Americans are reluctant or fearful of seeking medical attention out of fear of high copayments and premium costs to receive care. The Democrats have been paying lip service to the principal that healthcare is a human right throughout the entire 2020 cycle, both in and out of the progressive faction, but when the rubber hit the road, Congress proposed expanding COBRA insurance subsidies for unemployed workers–a program notorious for its bureaucracy and unaffordability. 

America is desperate for innovation and change, for a breath of fresh thought, and for vanguard solutions to lead us into a new era of humanistic politics. The inadequate action taken to defend Americans against present and future dangers like climate change represents an extreme abdication of duty by our elected officials to protect all within our borders, not just physically but financially.

It is too tempting to ignore how the Red Scare propaganda that once proffered scenes of panic-stricken shoppers arriving at the supermarket only to the find the shelves barren, is eerily similar to the one unfolding now in America, as people find themselves unable to purchase staples like flour, eggs and pampers for their children. The people of this country have found themselves living in the situation that was supposed to have been brought on by the Boogeyman of Communism; in reality, it was the hands of capital that subdued our government into inaction. It will not be capitalism that frees them.

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