COVID-19 has exposed the toxicity of capitalism

by A Law

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the best and the worst in society. And on the latter, that’s undoubtedly fuelled by capitalism.

Like many human tragedies, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided an opportunity to show the best and the worst in society. Compassion. Benevolence. Resilience. Generosity and consideration of those less fortunate than ourselves. They’ve all been qualities seen amidst the pandemic as a reminder of the good that exists.

Conversely, it’s amplified the toxic side of humankind. Price gouging and panic buying where we fail to think about anyone but ourselves has been seen in shops across the world. Brazen nonchalance from governments and businesses towards the disease claiming the lives of the vulnerable continues to be evident as they first and foremost seek to protect the economy. This is evident in some of the most developed nations on earth. 

This is something that we should all lament. And at the root of it is a system that has underpinned the human greed and abject failures that have accompanied this crisis.

That’s right, it’s capitalism.

The pandemic has revealed much about society and governments around the world. But capitalism, and riding its coattails the legacy of imperialism and colonialism, has irrefutably shown itself in its true colours. On the latter, just consider the capacity of less developed nations in dealing with this crisis. 

Against a backdrop of the coronavirus, those who have unashamedly championed capitalism now surely now need to examine the alleged merits of the system, and indeed their conscience.

It may not seem like it, but it wasn’t long ago that our media and lives were free of the impact of the coronavirus. In the UK, Brexiters and Tories were revelling in their hollow victories of Brexit and a solid majority, respectively. The socialist policies put forward by Jeremy Corybyn had sadly failed to garner sufficient support amongst the electorate and the elite, the city and Boris Johnson’s Etonian chums were rubbing their paws with glee as it was about to be windfall season with their man in Number 10. 

It was full steam ahead on The Capitalist Express locomotive. Ready to plough its way through the most vulnerable in society with the Prime Minister in the driver’s cab. It didn’t hurt that the xenophobia and ignorance that had propelled Brexit was now helping to bulldoze anyone and anything in its way. This was under the guise of the asinine absurdity of “get Brexit done” and the MAGA-esque, “unleash Britain’s potential”.

High skilled vs. essential workers

Only months earlier, Priti Patel announced a points based immigration system to attract “high skilled workers” and there would be a minimum salary threshold of £25,600 for most workers. Patel was essentially telling us anyone earning less than that, and not meeting the further points requirements, was therefore ‘low skilled’ and not valued by the UK. EU citizens aside, what message did that send to British workers earning below the threshold? They were being told that they didn’t matter and the government was saying it with its chest. 

The government wanted staff working in care homes, cleaners, ancillary staff at hospitals, low paid staff working in retail or those in the catering and hospitality industries to know they weren’t valued. This wasn’t new; the Tories had long pushed a narrative where traditionally working class roles, and roles in the public sector, were deemed second tier. They willfully demonised these groups, vilifying them in the media. 

It was capitalist indoctrination at its finest. The more money you make, the more important you are. And if you don’t make much money, well, you don’t really matter around these parts.

COVID-19 exposed who was really essential

Yet fast forward a couple of months and those so-called ‘low skilled workers’, long castigated by the elite and the government for lack of ambition that bordered on being workshy, were now the essential ones. They were the people keeping the country running amidst a crisis unlike anything seen in our lifetimes. No bankers. No hedge fund managers. Or anyone from the financial sector who we had long been expected to genuflect before in deference to our capitalist saviours.

Instead, they were NHS workers on the frontline. Supermarket and takeaway staff keeping the country fed. Transit workers, delivery drivers and teachers and school support staff keeping schools open for vulnerable children and the children of key workers. 

This wasn’t what we had been led to believe but again, this was the narrative of capitalism. Throughout contemporary history and beyond, its acolytes have continued to feed us with a self-serving lie and a propaganda campaign that Joseph Goebbels would have been proud of.

Even with the onset of COVID-19 providing an epiphany as to who the ‘essential’ workers really are, it became clear that capitalism would continue to claim it was too legit to quit with a simple and consistent message from its loudest cheerleaders. The economy and wealth was more important than people’s health and saving lives. 

It’s the economy, stupid.

In the UK, the government’s resistance to a lockdown was evident from the outset. Why? It’s the economy, stupid. 

A forced closure of businesses, albeit the most prudent and effective approach to stall the spread of the virus, would give the green light for insurance claims against loss of earnings and bring about negative growth in the economy. It didn’t matter that ‘business as usual’ was going to allow the coronavirus to kill people. The government’s view was that this was actually a good idea and it would keep the economy going. Well, more fool them because the UK economy, like most economies around the world, is going to take an absolute shellacking after this.

The high stakes ‘herd immunity’ approach (more commonly used to refer to a population becoming immune to a virus via a vaccination) of allowing the virus to spread to enough people who would then become immune, has been a favoured approach by the UK government. It was even reported in The Sunday Times that Dominic Cummings, the Steve Bannon to Boris Johnson’s Donald Trump, had argued against strict measures to contain coronavirus. That’s right, against. His view was paraphrased as “herd immunity, protect the economy, and if that means some pensioners die, too bad.” Did I mention he’s effectively running the country?

It was the same with schools. As countries around the world began to shut their schools to stop the spread of coronavirus, the Prime Minister refused to follow suit. Rather, the government’s disregard for teachers and support staff was evident in their inaction. 

The message from the government was to continue going to school and interacting at close proximity with hundreds of potential carriers of the virus on a daily basis. Because as teachers and public sector workers, we don’t care about you so we’d rather pursue herd immunity by stealth. Oh, and by the way, closing schools for four weeks could cut 3% from the UK’s GDP (so we definitely think the spread of coronavirus is a preferable option to that).

Who will pay for COVID-19 costs?

In the UK, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has seen many workers furloughed with up to 80% of their pay being met by the government; an approach not dissimilar to the idea of universal basic income. The security this provides for workers is necessary and welcome. But should companies owned by individuals with deep pockets, and just as deep as the vacuum in their ethics in many cases, need state funds if their capitalist doctrine is as dandy as they say it is?

Richard Branson, a billionaire whose company sued the NHS, had the chutzpah to seek a bailout for his airline. Billionaire Philip Green has also sought government support for his Arcadia group. Is capitalism only here for the good times, exploitation and gargantuan profits until it screws up and literally needs socialism to bail it out?

In America, Republican Senators Richard Burr, head of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, and Kelly Loeffler dumped millions of dollars in stock after a closed door briefing on the likely impact of the coronavirus on the markets. Wouldn’t that information have been in the public interest to inform a strategy that could prepare America in the face of a pandemic? Secure the nation’s health? Nope, they just wanted to secure the bag.

COVID-19 exposes the face of capitalism

This is the face of capitalism. Void of compassion and an ever fertile land for further inequality and suffering amongst the vulnerable.

When you consider the response to COVID-19 in America, arguably the bastion of capitalism, much can be attributed to the lack of universal healthcare for fear that it’d be too socialist a concept. The institutionalised scorn of universal healthcare, and the stronghold of the insurance companies, has undoubtedly exacerbated the soaring number of cases and deaths in the country. The health of Americans has simply been deemed by successive governments as secondary to profits. This is the callousness of capitalism at its lowest.

In the UK, where the NHS does provide universal healthcare, austerity, fueled by capitalist ideals, has firmly kept its foot on the neck of the service. Consequently, we’re faced with a situation where the NHS doesn’t even have sufficient PPE. Embarrassingly, at the peak of the pandemic, it will receive a paltry 30 ventilators rather than the 30,000 it needs. It is in no way hyperbole to suggest that austerity and capitalism has been responsible for deaths and an abject lack of preparedness throughout this crisis.

It beggars belief that in the sixth largest economy in the world, schools in the UK are currently donating science goggles to hospitals while schools with 3D printers are making PPE for the NHS. This is today’s Britain and in all its capitalist glory.

Is Capitalism the only way?

For years, we’ve been told capitalism is the only way. The right have pontificated about the virtues of capitalism, the need for austerity and the repudiation of socialism. Socialist ideals weren’t suitable for grown up politics, they told us. It’s ironic that however they sugarcoat it, we’re now seeing an awful lot of socialism from a government that lambasted any principles remotely on the left.

The government has suspended rail franchise agreements for six months in what is essentially nationalisation. When Labour was derided for its proposed spending plans in an proudly socialist manifesto, we were told it was a laughable and imprudent plan. Yet the magic money tree, once thought to be barren, has now miraculously blossomed.

COVID-19 will provide time for reflection of the status quo

Lo and behold, Rishi Sunak has found £330bn for a bailout package; more may be necessary. I’m not bemoaning that as it’s necessary and right that we support people during this time. Although it seems the socialist approach isn’t so bad after all as I don’t see the hedge fund mangers altruistically doing a whip around to generate that cash. Socialism is providing the support people need because capitalism isn’t our saviour right now and it never has been.

When this is over, there will be the mother of all inquiries where this Conservative government will be exposed for a campaign of lies, gross incompetence and flagrant neglect of its citizens that led to avoidable deaths. It will also provide a period for reflection on the status quo. Within that, we must concede that capitalism is broken and the COVID-19 pandemic has irrefutably exposed its toxicity.

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