Capitalism: The Real American Pandemiccsudhbulletin April 9, 2020 1 COMMENT
“The people need to flowers not corporations.” Photo by Dignidad Rebelde.
By Brenda Verano, Staff Reporter
Since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 infection in the United States, was announced Jan. 20, we have seen the true face of the American government, and no, I’m not talking about democracy. I’m talking about capitalism.
We have seen this ten letter word unfold and take real-life form during the last few months in ways we couldn’t even imagine.
Most Americans wake up every day with anxiety levels off the roof, frightened of a virus that’s killed millions of people: rich, poor, famous, old, and young, not realizing that the real American pandemic is (and has been for a long time) capitalism.
Webster’s Dictionary defines capitalism as “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decisions, and by prices, production.” But you can boil the cold impersonal language down to one word that gets people of a certain type all hot and bothered: profit. There are two ways owners can increase that profit: raising the cost of their product or keeping or lowering their costs of producing it as low as possible.
And our current economic situation, as terrible as it is, shows their hunger for profits. Those who benefit most from our capitalist system are far more lethal than the coronavirus.
Consider Texas Lt. Governor, Dan Patrick, who told Fox News that he would rather die than see public health measures damage the economy and that he believed “lots of grandparents” would agree.
“Let’s get back to work, let’s get back to living, let’s be smart about it, and those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves, but don’t sacrifice the country,” he said, adding that to protect the “America that all Americans love… that’s the exchange I’m all in, that doesn’t make me noble or brave or anything like that.”
He’s right, it doesn’t. It makes him ignorant.
What part of the “America that all Americans love” is the one we all have to do our part in to “get back to?” The one with non-existent national health care? The one that wants to cut funding for SNAP, or food stamps, by $15 billion? The one where its federal employees have no guaranteed sick pay or vacation pay?
“But the best government is that which governs the least,” say the free market devotees who believe the invisible hand of that market will regulate itself to the greatest common good. Right. Left to their devices, corporations have no reason not to continue pursuing their profit-over-people practices.
Even everybody’s favorite delivery service, the lifeline in this period of isolation: Amazon is subject to this. The multi-billion, future-thinking baby of Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos last week fired the organizer of a strike at a Staten Island distribution center in which “employees walked out to demand more protective measures and that Amazon close and sanitize the warehouse after multiple co-workers tested positive for COVID-19.”
Choosing to not lose a couple days worth of business over safeguarding their worker’s well-being is a perfect example of how neoliberalism remains at full-throttle in the engine of capitalism. Neoliberalism is an ideology that masquerades as a positive, even progressive force promoting democracy and individual freedom–privatize everything! Yeah, that’s really worked out well for one for-profit industry that deals with the elderly.
The freedom of neoliberalism is really that corporations are free of any bothersome government regulation so wealth and power are distributed upward, while health risks, cheap pay and undervalued labor are dumped on the working class.
That’s why I hope that when things return to some resemblance of normalcy, that the way workers in this country are treated doesn’t revert back to normal; that the slight pay bumps and concessions that companies like Starbucks and Trader Joe’s have given their employees aren’t temporary; that one of the side effects of catching the virus is actually positive. And that those annoying phrases apologists of capitalism constantly use will finally be eradicated:
“Well it’s their money, they don’t have to give it away.”
“They obviously need that much money because that’s how they are creating all these jobs for all of us.”
“They’ve earned it, so they can do with their money what they want.”
How much should anyone really earn when they are capitalizing on the labor of other people? Sure, they should receive a great deal for assuming the risk, assembling the capital, and their entrepreneurial spirit. But should the rate of what they receive be increasing 100 times faster than their workers?
Amazingly, many of us still think so, because we have become conditioned to protect the rich simply because we think that we might eventually be rich ourselves. I’m sorry to have to pop your imaginative bubble, but thats not happening. But hey– at least you have a great imagination, something no one can take away from you. Until they can.
We may be heading toward the closest thing possible to a Great Depression. But don’t cry for Capitalism. It lives stronger than ever in our society because we all internalize its principles and it builds a home within us.
Just like a virus.