Coronavirus rips veil off failing capitalism

Scanning electron microscope image of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab.
Scanning electron microscope image of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. Photo: NIAID
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The United States, the richest and arguably most technologically advanced nation in world history, has been dismal at responding to COVID-19. Virtual absence of testing during the first months of the disease is just one example. The World Health Organization offered free tests to countries, but the U.S. insisted on developing its own (which proved initially to be flawed). There were profits to be made, after all.

Waste no pity on the poor millionaires and billionaires whose fictitious capital, not tied to anything of value in the real material world, is crashing on the stock market. But the worth of many workers’ pensions and retirement funds is disappearing too. Workers who are being forced to stay home are exhausting their paid sick leave, if they have any to begin with. Fully 69 percent of U.S. employees making less than $10.80 an hour do not.

Why such ineptitude and needless suffering? Because we live under capitalism, whose engine is the pursuit of profits rather than the meeting of human needs.

In our time, that basic drive has become more deadly as the right-wing ideology of neoliberalism has taken over here, there, and everywhere. Privatization has won the day; the public sector, government services, and government itself are scorned and attacked. This means that the working class and poor are unprotected from whatever the chaotic and competitive profit system has in store for them.

The COVID-19 pandemic, like the climate crisis, shows how desperately the opposite orientation is needed, one that prioritizes organization, international collaboration, and democratic decision-making.

That approach would make it a given to provide free, universal tests and treatment for the virus; to compensate workers for lost wages, parents for childcare, and closed schools for delivering food to students; and to help Asian and other small businesses hit hard by loss of customers. These are demands that working people can raise and organize for.

Establishment politicians and economists will say that there’s not enough money to take crucial steps like these. Oh yes there is! Redirect the trillions of public tax dollars wasted on border walls and a gigantic military machine that is the scourge of whole populations abroad!

It’s the politics of privatization that prevents the U.S. from having the kind of medical system that would best serve people both in times of crisis and every day: free, universal, nonprofit, fully funded public healthcare run by workers and patients.

The virus is impacting all our lives, and not in good ways. But this is not a time to panic and fear one another. It is a time to organize together and fight.

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