How has the COVID-19 pandemic exposed inherent flaws in the capitalist system?

One Question: COVID-19 and Capitalism

One Question is a regular series in which we ask leading thinkers to give a brief answer to a single question. This time, in the midst of economic and healthcare crises triggered by coronavirus, we ask:

How has the COVID-19 pandemic exposed inherent flaws in the capitalist system?

By Cihan Aksan And Jon Bailes

Dario Azzellini: The COVID-19 pandemic has not only exposed inherent flaws in the capitalist system, it is clearly showing that the question is capitalism or life.

In the first place, the food system and industrial agriculture are helping to unleash new diseases. The increasing global inequality due to neoliberal capitalism (but also inherent to capitalism in general) promotes the spread of the virus and condemns to death poor people generally and especially people in the global South. The pressure of companies to keep any production going has contributed to the further spread of the virus through workplaces and the (often insufficient) public transport systems people use to get to work.

The death toll of the COVID-19 pandemic is not natural, it is due to the cuts in health care systems and health care facilities over the past two decades, that left many countries with insufficient health care infrastructure. Doctors, medical staff and hospitals cannot cope with the increased need for medical attention.

The question of capitalism or life does not stop there. We have to add the insane and unjustified costs of health care equipment, test kits, medicine etc., and the insanity of patents that makes labs and researchers in the pharma industry compete with each other instead of collaborating in the search for cures and vaccines.

In Italy a group of volunteers started to 3D print valves for life-saving coronavirus treatments the supplier was not able to deliver in time. The original valve costs about US$ 11,000, the 3D replica US$1. The valve manufacturer not only refused to hand out the blueprints, it also threatened to sue for patent infringement. The volunteers produced the valves anyway and they are saving lives. This is Italy, one of the richest countries in the world. Now think about the global South.

Nevertheless, the pandemic is also clearly showing who is doing the really relevant work for society, and it’s not the bankers and managers. We can see that the market is not able to solve anything and that it is once again society that has to bail out capitalist companies. We can also observe how industrial conversion is apparently no problem if car manufacturers such as Volkswagen, FIAT-Chrysler, Rolls-Royce and Jaguar can suddenly switch to the production of ventilators and sophisticated medical equipment

We have to keep all that in mind and make a decision: capitalism or life.

With responses from: Cinzia Arruzza; Neel Ahuja; Neil Faulkner; Seiji Yamada; Helen Yaffe; Michael Roberts; Sandro Mezzadra; Lindsey German; Dario Azzellini; Jodi Dean.

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