However grave the calamity, someone will see it as a way to make a buck. COVID-19, which the World Health Organization declared as a global pandemic on March 11, is no exception. Forget about human misery. The private sector and the Trump Administration see the coronavirus as an opportunity. Because under capitalism, every plague has a silver lining.
Have We Got a Cure for You!
Sometimes, the lining is literal silver. The televangelist James Bakker has been hawking a quack nostrum called Optivida Silver Solution containing tiny particles of the precious metal as a cure for the coronavirus. Bakker will sell you a 16 ounce bottle of the stuff for the low, low price of $24.95.
The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control, however, stress that the coronavirus has no cure at this time. When a cure is found, you can bet silver won’t be it. The National Institutes of Health warn that colloidal silver “can cause serious side effects.” These include (I kid you not) turning a long-term user’s skin blue.
Missouri has already brought a lawsuit against Bakker for fraud. The New York State Attorney General, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Food and Drug Administration also have told Bakker to stop selling Silver Solution. Bakker spent five years in prison for fraud from 1989-1994. Doubtless, Bakker does not want to repeat the experience, because when I checked his website I couldn’t find Silver Solution for sale.
Alex Jones, gravel-voiced whackmobile of the far right is also under fire. Jones is perhaps worst known for claiming that the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School which left 26 students and staff dead was a “hoax.” Jones has long peddled nutritional supplements of questionable health value. On March 13, under the headline “Alex Jones Is Told to Stop Selling Sham Anti-Coronavirus Toothpaste,” the New York Times reported that the New York State Attorney General has ordered that Jones stop promoting products which Jones claims “kill,” “prevent,” or “cure” COVID-19. The products include DNA Force Plus supplements, Silversol products (another purveyor of colloidal silver), and Superblue toothpaste.
Jones endorses a fringe claim that the coronavirus is “man-made” and was “developed in a laboratory setting,” possibly as a bioweapon. Jones has even speculated that President Donald Trump may have created the virus. To which I say: don’t try to make friends with me, Alex.
In addition to Bakker and Jones’ wares, there are teas, essential oils, herbal products, and tinctures claimed to cure or prevent infection with COVID-19. The New York Times‘ March 13 story on Alex Jones said that “So far, a federal task force has helped remove more than three dozen listings of at least 19 products [from the Internet].” In Russia, Israel, and Iran, authorities have gone after vendors of magic amulets claimed to ward off the virus.
Just like James Baker and Alex Jones, the eyes of the ruling class look at the coronavirus pandemic and see opportunity. Trump Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, a Goldman Sachs alum, heralds the coronavirus as “a great investment opportunity.” Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross told the Fox Business Network that the outbreak of COVID-19 in China would “help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America.” (It is more likely that manufacturing that leaves China will head to other countries in Asia.)
The two men’s chipper remarks come not just during a pandemic, but as the stock market is tanking. As of March 16, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has plunged 30% from its February 12 high, entering bear market territory, and no one thinks that the worst—either in the economy or hospital beds—is over. Working from four different scenarios, the Centers for Disease Control project that anywhere from 160 to 214 people in the US could become infected with the coronavirus. As many as 21 million people in the US may require hospitalization, whereas the New York Times cites data from the American Hospital Association that the US “has only about 925,000 staffed hospital beds.”
Public health authorities are telling people to stay home and avoid work and public places. For millions of Americans who cannot afford to lose a paycheck this is impossible. Unlike other developed nations, the US does not guarantee a right to paid sick leave. Mnuchin and Ross, however, don’t have to worry. According to Forbes magazine, Mnuchin and Ross have a net worth of $400 million and $600 million dollars respectively.
The elderly are the most likely to die from COVID-19. Even this has an upside. In his March 13 “Roaming Charges” column, Jeffrey St. Clair, co-editor of CounterPunch, quotes Jeremy Warner, “business” writer for the UK Telegraph: “From an entirely disinterested economic perspective, COVID-19 might even prove mildly BENEFICIAL in the long term by disproportionately CULLING elderly dependents.” This is heartless, but under capitalism, absolutely true. The Marxist economist Michael Roberts calls Warner a “Modern Malthus.” The Reverend Thomas Malthus, author of An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), “argued that there were too many ‘unproductive’ poor people in the world and regular plagues and disease were necessary and inevitable to make economies more productive.” That was capitalism then, and it’s capitalism now. Capitalism believes the used-up, “unproductive” elderly should drop dead. Thanks to COVID-19, they are.