Coronavirus: the Straw that Broke the (Capitalist) Camel’s Back?

Global industrial capitalism was put to the ultimate test, and it failed admirably.

The Pando Aspen colony in Richfield, Utah.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” -John Muir

I. Interdependence and the Global Industrial Capitalist World-System

The U.S. global industrial capitalist system — the fabric that underpins every institution in our society, in all sorts of insidious ways — is ill-equipped to handle the most important systemic shock of the decade.

Covid-19 marks the largest public health crisis in the era of globalization and the Internet. In an era when world leaders are more connected than ever before, with an inexhaustible trove of reliable information from public health experts at their fingertips, it would seem as if a crisis of this scale could be easily subverted. At the very least, world leaders could be expected to heed guidance from their disease-ridden peers, or learn from similar outbreaks in the past. Instead, our inextricably globalized reality makes itself felt in the rapid, exponential spread of the disease to every corner of the globe.

As the virus spreads, so too do concerns that our socioeconomic system was not designed to handle suffering on such a large scale.

Suddenly, the fundamental ideology underlying our world-system is called into question. Suddenly, a privatized multi-payer healthcare system in which the right to live hinges on wealth seems cruel and insensible. When millions are forcibly deprived of work, universal paid sick leave doesn’t seem so radical after all.

Tragedy is not novel to the novel Coronavirus.

American’s poor has endured economic or medical hardships such as these for centuries. Economic safety nets should be the status quo, not exceptions made for extenuating circumstances.

Coronavirus comic by Joel Pett of Tribune Content agency.

Vulnerability reproduces itself, inexorably. This is especially true in a system that deems monetary wealth the basis for good health, clean water, education, reliable electricity, a decent home, and freedom from incarceration.

The current sociopolitical moment is but a mere glimpse into the tragedies that have befallen lower-middle class America since the Industrial Revolution, forgotten casualties in a system that disproportionately threatens the already vulnerable. Today’s tragedies are a symptom — not a bug — of a system designed to prioritize profit over human lives.

The Covid-19 crisis offers important lessons on how our economic system has shifted — from Adam Smith’s classical supply/demand capitalism to the late capitalism of the twentieth century, which thrives off of 1) incessant need-creation and 2) corporate money recirculation.

Issues with the need-creation economy

Today, we notice that Graeber’s “productive” blue collar jobs map directly on to those deemed “key workers” in the Covid-19 crisis. We realize the importance of our custodians, cashiers, shelf-stackers, healthcare workers, delivery drivers, farmers, garbage collectors, and bus drivers, while all sorts of white collar employees can work from home.

A cartoon by Joel Pett of Tribune Content Agengcy.

Aspiring human.

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