Pandemic or The Unexpected Benefit of Capitalism
By Siddharth Arora
We have heard from the news sources that COVID-19 is the worst pandemic since the 1918 Spanish Flu. Little known facts are this 3rd Plague Pandemic killed millions in Asia since the 1900s to the 1950s. That includes an estimated 10 million deaths in India only. Why is this fact forgotten when we talk about it today? This Plague was almost restricted to the colonized world back then, leaving the colonialists content with their beliefs of conquering diseases which affected only marginalized societies. So who has forgotten about diseases of this impact? It’s not the people because more than half of the world’s population lives under the fear of contracting them. It’s the well-off countries that believed these diseases of this kind of magnitude didn’t bother them anymore. In other words, we can say they were forgotten by the wealthy, as they believed they have eradicated such diseases from their countries. This kind of activity is seen as a response to the 1918 Spanish Flu. The current COVID-19 pandemic has proved that diseases can strike back and we are only one step away from a new infectious disease. Such pandemics have stressed the interlinked ecological, social and economic weakness exposed by capitalism. Starting from government policies in the face of pandemic aimed at keeping the economy alive via common economical tool – monetary policy, with the absence of a prevention plan. Territorial health inequalities have been witnessed, with all leading to an unexpected scenario similar to the Great Depression. All these could be the subject of analysis to show ties with capitalism. 1. Public Health and Inequality This pandemic has raised questions towards the capitalist world in the health domain. Does ill-health provide profits but a healthy population doesn’t? Moreover, this pandemic has occurred in the background of a global administration based on monopoly-finance capital which has imposed strictness worldwide, including public health. Hospitals have driven the system of capitalist principle of maximum efficiency, which makes public health important as long as infectious diseases are identified as threat. This system has led to either private profit for private hospitals or the introduction of a capitalist criteria “efficiency” in public hospitals. This type of system in the public health industry is visible everywhere, even in rich countries too. The principle of maximizing efficiency in hospitals is to maximize bed occupancy, to reduce inventories and cost. Reducing beds, equipment and medical staff in capital terms, is like rationalizing producing and increasing efficiency. In general, money is to be made from a disease for these market players. What’s surprising even more, is the collapse of health systems in the advanced capitalist countries. At the beginning of the year, Forbes ranked countries that are “best and worst prepared” an epidemic. The irony here is the two countries on top of their list were the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Today, the United States has the highest number of COVID positive cases and the United Kingdom has registered the highest number of deaths in Europe. Almost all the countries which were on the top of the list have the worst numbers today! In the flu season, COVID-19 epidemic hit those advanced capitalist country – patient loads were already cresting. These countries ran into a huge shortage of intensive-care beds, equipment and staff. I am not taking into account of the collapse of the global supply chain for personal protective equipment(PPEs) and medicines. It may be safe to assume why this pandemic has struck these countries hard: they were prepared to handle normal health issues but completely unprepared in their preparations for a new infectious disease. The impacts of SARS in 2003 has made East and South-East Asia adoption to the mask efficiently, the advanced countries have no such experience. The novel virus has brought back the old challenge of disease to the existential challenges that human face. It’s not an accident noticing the deaths in advanced capitalist countries are concentrated among the poor, ethnic minorities and migrant communities. In the United States of America, the Indigenous, Latin and African American populations are seeing a disproportionately high number of deaths. These diseases have made the poor and minorities suffer more, but it has not spared the rich. 2. Globalization Since the twentieth century, capitalism has taken its form under Globalization, which has been increasingly accepted worldwide. From the production zones in Global South to climax of world consumption and finance in Global North. This radical change made a complex circuit of capital in today’s economy which associated itself with the rise of a generalized monopoly-finance capital. So can Karl Marx’s theory help us interpret the current crisis? In his view, a capitalist’s greed for more capital eventually deprives the working class. This could lead to social conditions (like Revolution) which would overthrow the touch bearers of capitalism.
Daniel Gaucin in his article, has entitled coronavirus as a boomerang which reminds us of the essentials. For every action done in the past by us, we are witnessing consequences of those actions which is spreading the pandemic further. Let’s take a stance by taking the environment side which is a victim to capitalism. It can be summarized by saying that deforestation and plantation of industrial crops have hampered ecosystems and abetted the spread of the virus to human communities. Drawing on the similarity of agricultural industrial phase, urbanization has also participated in this same deforestation process to fulfil their demands thus disrupting the environment chain. This globalization of exchanges came at the expense of nature. However, despite being polarized by world megapolis, they have rapidly transformed a regional epidemic into a global pandemic. We can see today in real- time on the map reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) below.
The map clearly shows a strong correlation between the number of COVID-19 +ve cases and places which dominate the capitalist world system: North America, Eastern Asia and Western Europe. It’s clear that this pandemic has demonstrated that the production on the world scale has become a force of destruction. At this time, rich countries, who thought they left their infectious past behind are beginning to realize that in a globalized world – it’s difficult to escape it!
3. The End
On an ending note, pandemics have not only spread destruction and death, they have changed societies. The world will not be the same once the COVID 19 pandemic is over with a mass immunity, maybe vaccination. But this event will lead the society to confront capital’s greed against a common man life : this is how history will judge us.
1 Centre for Disease Control and Prevention , https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-pandemic-h1n1.html. Web.
2 Verma A. et al. ,https://www.counterview.net/2020/05/will-govt-of-india-icmr-end-perverse.html , Counterview, 2020. Web.
3 Gaffney A. , https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/21/medicare-for-all-coronavirus-covid-19-single- payer , The Guardian. 2020. Web.
4 Forbes , https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2020/01/27/the-countries-best-and-worst-prepared-for-an- epidemic-infographic/#7e5ea3ad5799. 2020. Web.
5 Centre for Disease Control and Prevention , https://www.cdc.gov/sars/index.html . Web.
6 APM Research Lab , https://www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race . Web.
7 Global South and Global North Definition explained in Appendix 1.
8 Marx, K. “Capital”. 1867.
9 Gaucin, D. https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2020/04/16/coronavirus-one-of-the-boomerang-effects-of-globalization/ . Modern Diplomacy. Web.
10 Union of Concerned Scientists USA, https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/hidden-costs-industrial-agriculture .Web.
Siddharth Arora is a student at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University. His academic interests are in Banking, Developmental Economics and Public Policy.