Covid-19 – capitalism on trial

18 Mar

… wealth is increasingly concentrated among a privileged few while millions are barely subsisting. Women are dying for lack of decent maternity care and children are denied an education that could be their route out of poverty.

It doesn’t have to be this way – there is enough wealth in the world to give all a fair chance in life. Governments should ensure taxes on wealth, and businesses paying their fair share, fund free, good-quality public services to transform people’s lives.

Matthew Spencer, Director of Campaigns & Policy, Oxfam

With all due respect, Matthew Spencer is a well paid idiot. Sorry, but as the Bard of Minnesota put it: let us not speak falsely now, the hour is getting late. Mr Spencer may know a great deal about poverty but his words here tell me he knows nothing of capitalism and, like a child for whom mince pie crumbs in the hearth on Xmas Morning prove the existence of Santa, takes Western democracy at face value.

What caused covid-19’s emergence may become clear in the fullness of time. I neither rule out nor in that its origins lie in biological warfare. Certainly, my suspicions were kindled when the two countries hardest hit were China and Iran, long demonised by our opinion manufacturers in the name of reasons that have nothing to do with the real ones.

Right now I’m not in the business of second guessing, and anyway the question of the virus’s orgins is secondary to that of its impact. On which, being neither clinician nor epidemiologist, I’m reliant on the expertise of others, triangulated as best I can through multiple sources. On my reading list today is the 23 page report from the Imperial College Covid-19 Response Team, published on March 16 and entitled Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID-19 mortality and healthcare demand.

Lucky me.

Meanwhile, my thoughts so far on our state of preparedness for a coronavirus less virulent than others but, because faster spreading, posing a greater threat. Yesterday a friend wrote to me with the view that the whole thing has been cooked up and overblown as a trojan horse for introducing draconian steps whose effect will further erode hard won liberties, and further tilt the balance of class forces in the favour of those who rule us.

I wouldn’t argue with the likelihood – OK, inevitability – that our rulers will want to go down this road. I see a parallel in the 2008 crash, which I don’t believe the billionaires wanted. They sure did turn it to their advantage though, and will try to do the same with covid-19. But if this is a trojan horse to that end, it gets a grade-F fail . As I said to my friend in reply:

Covid-19 has exposed dramatically the moral and practical bankruptcy of capitalism as nothing in my lifetime has done. At every level – big pharma, inadequate health and social services care, the west’s booming precariat, the demonstrably superior response of nations hitherto demonised (China, Russia, Cuba) – it seems to me that Covid-19 as hoax, trojan horse for further ruling class devilry, fails the cui bono test.

For now I’m sticking with that assessment. The consequences of being wrong strike me as less dangerous than those of wrongly assuming the whole thing a machiavellian slice of fear porn.

On that note, in particular my view of covid-19 as having “exposed dramatically the moral and practical bankruptcy of capitalism”, let’s take stock of a few basics. Starting with this from an Oxfam assessment on the eve of the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos:

  • In the 10 years since the financial crisis, the number of billionaires has nearly doubled.
  • Between 2017 and 2018 a new billionaire was created every two days.
  • Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon, saw his fortune increase to $112bn. 1% of that equals the entire health budget for Ethiopia, population 105 million people.
  • The poorest 10% of Britons pay a higher effective tax rate than the richest 10% (49% to 34%) once taxes like VAT are taken into account.

Should the corona crisis be half as bad as worst case scenarios anticipate, are the survival prospects of Britain’s – and the world’s – poorest equal to those of the super rich? Sorry, scratch that. I kick self for asking stupid question …


Moving on, before the December election in the UK I reviewed John Pilger’s film, Dirty War on the NHS. If you haven’t seen it, do. The NHS – like the world at large1 – is being privatised and this important film documents the how and why of it.

Why haven’t the 8,000 beds, in a privatised sector parasitic in more ways than one on the NHS, been offered up to – or commandeered by – the British state?


Tens of millions of workers and their families, even in the West, live in conditions of Dickensian insecurity. On that front I don’t claim to have plumbed the depths vividly depicted in the recent Ken Loach film, Sorry We Missed You. But as one of Sheffield Hallam University’s hundreds of zero hours academics – and still fighting an eight year old battle as a consequence – I do have some appreciation of the calculations the precariat will be obliged to make, should they fall ill.

Boris Johnson: will you back platitudes that ‘no one should suffer for doing the right thing’ with action to ensure that, whether through self isolation or firms going under, the poor and dispossessed don’t lose a penny through inability to continue their gig economy jobs?


“Pharmaceutical companies view Covid-19 as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Gerald Posner, author of “Pharma: Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America.” For the new coronavirus outbreak we need treatments and vaccines and, in the U.S., tests. Dozens of companies are now vying to make them.

“They’re all in that race,” said Posner. The crisis “will potentially be a blockbuster for the industry in terms of sales and profits,” he said, adding that “the worse the pandemic gets, the higher their eventual profit.”2

Let me close – I could go on, really I could – by bundling a few different but related issues into one summary assessment of why capitalism is failing all but a tiny minority. The privileges of big pharma, the murderous and dishonestly sold sanctions on such as Iran and Venezuela, and the vilification of Russia and (especially) China have been shown by covid-19 for the self serving lies some of us have for a very long time been declaring them to be.

People of the world: this is a global crisis for which global capitalism has proved woefully inadequate. Will you watch as millions die, or seize this opportunity to demand an end to a system which on so many fronts – war and peace, rule of law, responsible custodianship of the planet, an end to poverty and needlessly lethal diseases – is an existential threat?

* * *

  1. I’ve long argued that the world is being privatised, with even its opponents taking too parochial a view. Many did vigorously and rightly challenge the UK fire sales of gas, electricity, water etc. A few have been alert to privatisations by stealth of the NHS and (via student loans) higher education. But too few grasp that dismantling the USSR, and wars on the middle east, are/were also (among other things) privatisations. I’m to the left of Canadian journalist, Naomi Klein – see her here on the corona crisis – but Shock Doctrine remains the go-to source on this truth.
  2. For a swift peek at the difference between pharma for profit, and pharma for the good of humankind, see this piece on Cuba’s contribution.

6 Replies to “Covid-19 – capitalism on trial

  1. The contrasts displayed in this video demonstrate the concept of Ingsoc on turbocharge and would probably make Orwell dizzy.

    Just got back from some necessary business in Sheffield bemoaning the increase in senior moments one experiences with age.

    This business took me past a local outlet at the top of Fargate owned by one of the parasites (featured in a video recently posted on this site) which infect our society. A billionaire who lives on a private island with interests in money, private health care, telecommunications, entertainment, rail and airlines, who is demanding taxpayer money to tide him over in these difficult times.

    I had fully intended to visit WH Smith’s a few doors down on my way back from the High Street to purchase a thick permanent marker pen to festoon the window with some pithy comment. But by the time I had concluded my business I had forgotten and took a different route back to my vehicle.

    The only uplifting experience of what is looking likely to be a rare excursion over the coming period was the stunning voice of an opera singer at the bottom of Fargate. Beautiful and inspiring.

    The locusts, having emptied the supermarkets of all tinned produce, sauces, pasta and toilet rolls are now returning to devour more perishable goods.

    Morrisons at Hillsborough Barracks (where I stopped to fill up the car – to witness one man remove a 20 litre Jerry can from his boot to stock up on petrol and a women in front of me at the check out with two five litre plastic cans just purchased seeking permission to fill them up) is devoid of potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and, for some unknown to the Gods reason, bananas and blueberries (yeah! I’ve no idea about that latter one either).

    With the bananas we are taking about a shelf space area capable of holding 27 two by one plastic baskets. Perhaps someone’s forgotten to let on the football season has been effectively cancelled?

    Who the hell knows?

    The only silver lining (and bear with me here) was the front page of today’s Sun newspaper which has a picture of Churchill doing his V for Victory sign with the headline something along the lines of ‘ Shove it up your Virus.’

    This biggng up the so called “bulldog spirit’ will surely spur on a good proportion of the populace to take unnecessary risks resulting in the now private wager I have with the proprietor of this blog site regarding who is going to ace the Darwin Awards (UK or US of A) tilting heavily in my favour.

    • Much appreciated, this, Dave. I can hear that opera singer – and visualise her (diva or divus?) at the junction of Fargate and Church Street. Incidentally, I like this short video of the spirit of Rome residents in lockdown and hearing from their balcones a morale raising concert. We hear Nessun Dorma, then the Italian and Chinese national anthems. (That week the ‘internationalist’ EU had refused aid to Italy in its crisis, while a team of Chinese medics had arrived the day before.)

      All Branson outlets are targets for marker penned sardonics!

  2. I have had my suspicions about this virus but there is one thing I could add to your “cui bono” comment I.e. even if it is a “set up”, it could backfire in true dialectical fashion (I.e. that every movement has contradictory aspects). Surely there must be a large number of people who have noted the obscene disconnect between Boris’s “wartime economy” rhetoric and Rishi Sunak’s “good news” that businesses will be offered loans “at attractive rates”.

    • Keeping with your theme George; watching the press conference on Monday evening it was difficult to imagine Churchill politely and meekly asking private companies if they might possibly see their way to maybe, if its not too much trouble, switching production to a few Spitfires the way Johnson did with ventilators (because having privatised and cut everything to the bone we don’t have anywhere near enough).

      Some example of this “wartime spirit” guff which is being projected.

      Nearest thing I heard was late afternoon in the local Co-op yesterday as one exasperated store assistant blurted out to another “you’d think they’d have run out of ‘effing money by now!”

      I’ve yet to be convinced about whether or not a sufficiently large number of people have noticed the disconnect mentioned. They are too busy emptying the supermarket shelves. There seems to be a run on alcohol in the latest wave.

      Though there did seem to be some light at the end of the tunnel in Aldi this lunch time. There are some tinned goods back on the shelves and I saw my first pasta for ten days (albeit not that many of both.

      Oh, and meat is starting to disappear off the shelves.

      There’s probably a list circulating from the interweb which categorises food items by priority and the locusts are working their way through the categories. I fully anticipate tins of carrots, potatoes etc to be offered at 1p a tin at car boot sales by June.

      This encouraging sign was punctured on visiting the toilet facility which has two spanking new signs featuring instructional diagrams on how to effectively wash your hands but no sodding soap.

      The unfortunate staff member I caught on his own on the way out confirmed my suspicions that this was down to the fact that they had none and were unable to obtain any supplies at present. Probably because there are tons of the stuff sitting idly unused in cupboards and shelves throughout the land.

      Meaning that at a time when people need to be washing their hands properly in public spaces to prevent the spread of ordinary germs never mind a bleedin’ virus its not possible due to the selfish individualism of the herd mentality – currently infecting the airwaves of local BBC radio with tales of how public spirited they are.

      Yeah! Reet!

      I had been getting a tad concerned to be honest, after seeing that video of Americans in Los Angeles queuing round the block to buy more guns (they’d be better off buying disinfectant). However, I needn’t have worried too much about the wager – as the above example demonstrated the denizens of the UK are a lot more subtle in the pursuit of the available awards being handed out by Mr Darwin.

      The Dutch, by the way, have no chance. Any people who queue round the block to access the local cafe for their weed supply are not only going to survive they are surly going to inherit what remains.

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