By: George Kurzom
Long decades of neoliberal politics destroyed the middle class, the economy, and democracy
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons (Afaq magazine):
The Corona virus is a global happening, one that is not easily comprehended; not only because of its global dimensions and its rapid spread, but also because institutions and countries whose massive strength has never been questioned surrendered and bled within a few weeks. The primitive world of deadly epidemics is rampant in "advanced" industrialized countries with supposedly sophisticated and advanced medical systems —those countries that are indeed known for the development of nuclear power, laser surgery, and virtual technology. Even in times of war, cinemas and bars continued to operate; however, suddenly the bustling European, American, and Canadian cities turned into ghost towns whose inhabitants had disappeared.
In his book "Discipline and Punish", Michel Foucault considers that controlling people's health is the focus of contemporary political systems. By controlling medicine and mental health, the state manages, supervises, and controls the population. Additionally, the unwritten contract between the modern state and its citizens is based on the extent of the former’s ability to guarantee security and health for citizens. The current crisis has highlighted two opposite things. The first is that this contract, in many parts of the world, was violated by the state long ago. The state’s goal has been to increase the scope of economic activity (through the "growth" scale), reduce labor costs, outsource and transfer production lines to other countries (including vital medical products), eliminate supervision on banks and financial centers, and support monopolistic companies. The result, whether planned or resulted, is a massive erosion of the public sector. The second: only the state is able to manage and overcome a crisis of this magnitude.
Dennis Carroll, the leading American expert in epidemiology, considers the outbreak of the Corona virus to be one of many diseases that have actually occurred, and are expected to occur with more recurrent frequency in the future. The reason for this, according to Carroll, is "zoonosis", i.e. the increased contact between animal pathogens and humans. This crossing resulted from the increasing human penetration of ecological spaces that had been so far beyond our reach. These invasions of ecological spaces are caused by the growing exploitation of population settlement and extensive land use. Regimes and governments have not listened to this, and the irony is that, in 2018, President Trump shut down the body responsible for dealing with epidemics. Hence, it is not surprising that the number of corona virus cases patients in the United States, not to mention the number of deaths, has become the highest in the world. Last March, Trump announced that if the number of deaths (in America) reaches only one hundred thousand, it would be encouraging news! But the United States is not alone heading in that direction. Indeed, in recent decades, most countries have been extremely preoccupied with the endless greedy quest to achieve the largest possible amount of profits, depleting land and workforce whenever and wherever possible.
Capital Gets Tremendous Surplus Value, Workers Get Crumbs
Ironically, the financial world, which is often characterized by arrogance and irresponsibility, was the first to collapse; thus proving that illusory global financial cycles depend on a resource that we have long taken for granted: citizen health.
Undervaluing the Health of Citizens
On the whole, many politicians around the world have treated citizens’ health with intolerable indifference, without realizing what is self-evident: without health there is no economy; for the relationship between our health and the market has become plainly clear. Capitalism, set loose as we have known it for long, dictated the rules of the game on the state, which in turn acted generously with the rich and capitalists, and deepened social and class differences and gaps terribly. Presently, human reasoning says that capitalism must change the logic of its work, given that the pandemic caused huge losses and damages globally, mainly represented by widespread unemployment and very slow or negative economic "growth".
Banks, corporations, and big financial companies, along with the state, will have to bear the burden of getting out of the crisis and contribute to citizens’ health care. They will also have to contribute to scientific and medical research, prepare for national emergencies, and absorb the vast unemployment at the end of the crisis. Moreover, they are also supposed to bear the burden of the collective effort to rebuild the economy, even if the consequence is profit ebb.
New Forms of Solidarity
Eventually, we will get out of this crisis, thanks to the heroic work of doctors, medical staff, and citizens' immunity. However, people will have to ask tough questions and demand impeachment and accountability and draw the right conclusions: the state, time and again, has emerged as the only entity capable of managing crises of such a magnitude; therefore, the hoax of neo-liberalism must be exposed. The era in which the only justification for the capitalists’ existence is to “shovel” gold into their pockets, must end. The broad popular segments and classes of the society can no more accept the jeopardy of their health, as it is being dilapidated and undervalued by capitalists’ interests that pose a real threat to the national popular interest, and who are only good in accumulating surpluses and phenomenal profits at the expense of the health of the workforce that is depleted physically and mentally until death. Capital and its companies must contribute in a clear, palpable, and influential way to the national public interest, if they want the market to continue to act as a framework for human activity.
We will need new type of international coordination and cooperation: international control over zoonosis, and joint international health investigations and research. International bodies with the aim of promoting innovations in medical equipment, treatments, and epidemic prevention are supposed to be established. More importantly, there should be a redistribution of the massive wealth, by withdrawing high proportions of capital and huge profits accumulated by individuals and private entities, and reinvesting them in public structures, systems, and products that are mainly in favor of the service and benefit of the popular segments that make up the overwhelming majority of the global population. That is indeed the proviso for the continued existence of human society.
Translated by: Carol Khoury