A pandemic is a thing that no one could ever predict. A pandemic, regardless of place or time, can wreak serious havoc. The human cost of COVID-19 is something that cannot be overstated.
However, one must not overlook the effect of capitalism in amplifying the effects of crises such as this. Poorer nations and communities struggle to control the contagion. Small businesses crumble and workers lose their jobs. Countries and pharmaceutical companies clash to be the first to release a vaccine. All these consequences and more are a direct result of a free-market economy, and this is the case with all crises under in capitalism.
Capitalism has long been associated with an ever-switching cycle of boom and bust, growth and recession. When faced with a crisis, as seen in the current COVID-19 pandemic, capitalism tends to crumble behind a mask of capability. Writers such as Keynes promoted the use of loans and government investment to aid people during such a recession- these are now implemented somewhat differently today alongside sweeping government cuts.
Yet still, governments fail to adequately provide for their population both during crises and on a regular basis, and national debt continues to stack up. Small businesses fold and large businesses lay off their workers, yet the gears of capitalism painfully grind on. In 2018, UK national debt was at £1.78 trillion, an incomprehensibly large figure. During the pandemic, the UK borrowed a record £128 billion pounds in just 3 months. And still, the economic effects of Coronavirus are visible in the closure of many small businesses and increase in unemployment.
As always with capitalism, no matter what country it is, the poor bear the brunt of the consequences. The United Nations estimate that 1.7 million people could die in the world’s poorest countries if G20 continues to fail to take significant action. We’ve already seen the UK slashing its foreign aid budget in order to deal with the domestic consequences of the virus.
All of this is an inevitable consequence of the free market economy.
Under a socialist economy, whilst productivity may decrease, this current surge of borrowing would be unnecessary. By using the state as a central hub for distribution, all necessary resources can be provided for those in and out of work. The uneven distribution of wealth worldwide, and often concentrated in the hands of the 1%, means the impact of COVID-19 is felt significantly harder in poorer areas, which can often even have higher population densities. In this way, a capitalist economy inevitably leads to crises being most damaging for the poorer masses.
In the race to discover a viable vaccine, the inherent greed and exploitation of capitalism is unmasked. The pharmaceutical industry has a long history of prioritising profit over finding solutions.It is important to remember that we have had similar virus outbreaks before in the SARS family. A vaccine was never developed due to the lack of profit in it.
The race for a vaccine has become an arms war between corporations and nations. Russian hackers target data on vaccine research. China and Russia race to human testing without sufficient evidence of safety. Competition is rife for the elusive prize, leading many groups to cut corners in the pursuit of material fortune.
This is the capitalist profit motive on display to the world. In capitalism, money is seen as a motivation and a reward- a way of displaying value and promoting competition. However, such competition is ultimately counterintuitive as it rejects the socialist philosophy of cooperation and leads to conflict as evidenced here. In the current climate, this is especially poignant. The rewarding of the ‘all-for-one’ dogma of capitalism makes this kind of race unfortunately inevitable.
In my opinion, the COVID-19 pandemic has evidently highlighted the weaknesses in our economic system. The principles of capitalism- the materialistic approach of corporations and governments, the selfishness of uneven distribution and the pointless conflict for wealth displayed in pharmaceutical research are at odds with human virtue and kindness.
No one should profit off misfortune. No one should lose their job, be refused aid, or die a preventable death due to capitalist shortcomings.
Marx viewed a surge of class consciousness as essential to a proletarian revolution. Perhaps, in this dark hour, the failures of capitalism stand out harsher than ever.