The Cost of This Pandemic Must Not Bankrupt the People

Photograph Source: David Shankbone – CC BY 2.0

The global pandemic of COVID-19 has spread to almost every country on the planet earth. The virus will take many lives, disrupt communities and institutions, and leave behind trauma and a devastated world economy. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that by the end of 2020, global income will collapse by between $1 trillion and $2 trillion; the latter figure is a worst-case scenario, with falling oil prices making the problem even more acute for oil-exporting countries.

Tumble of Finance

Already over-inflated stock markets are now seeing deep drops. Central banks are using all their monetary resources to shore up the financial markets and to try to bail out as many sectors of the economy as possible. Even the generally stable central bank in Norway, advantaged by its massive energy sector, has cut its interest rate and has promised to intervene to prevent a wholesale collapse of its economy.

There is no easy way to measure the eventual outcome of this crisis. But if we look at the example of previous crises—such as the Financial Crisis of 2008-09—then we know that the costs of these crises are rarely borne by the very rich; it is those who have little power in the system, the majority of the people, who end up with the bill for a crisis that they did not provoke. It was the very rich, with disproportionate power over politics and policies, who imposed upon states austerity regimens that sliced away public health systems and allowed deregulation to run rampant through the financial markets. When a public health crisis arrives, these states are not prepared, and their lack of preparation is what sets off the financial market—now deregulated—into chaos. Those who destroyed the public health system and who deregulated the financial system should be the ones who pay the price for the disaster; but this is not how power works.

Efficient States

One of the key achievements of the very rich was to delegitimize the idea of state institutions. In the West, the typical attitude has been to attack the government as an enemy of progress; to shrink government institutions—except the military—has been the goal. Any country with a robust government and state structure has been characterized as “authoritarian.” But this crisis has shaken that view. Countries with intact state institutions that have been able to handle the pandemic—such as China—cannot be easily dismissed as authoritarian; a general understanding has come that these governments and their state institutions are instead efficient.

Meanwhile, the states of the West that have been eaten into by austerity policies are now fumbling to deal with the crisis. Most of them privatized substantial parts of health care and of education, closing down precious public health institutions and dismantling the surge capacity of their hospitals in case of an emergency. Just-in-time medicine for private gain became the formula. The failure of the austerity health care system is now clearly visible. It is impossible to make the case any longer that this is more efficient than a system of state institutions that are made efficient by the process of trial and error.

A Socialist Plan

As part of the ongoing global debate over how to understand this crisis and how to move forward, the International Peoples Assembly and Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research have developed a 16-point plan: “In Light of the Global Pandemic, Focus Attention on the People.” This plan emerges out of a discussion with political movements in every continent of the planet. This is a living document, one that encourages dialogue, and that should be advanced further as we learn more about how to move forward. Please read the points below:

1) Immediate suspension of all work, except essential medical and logistical personnel and those required to produce and distribute food and necessities, without any loss of wages. The state must assume the cost of the wages for the period of the quarantine.

2) Health, food supply, and public safety must be maintained in an organized manner. Emergency grain stocks must be immediately released for distribution amongst the poor.

3) Schools must all be suspended.

4) Immediate socialization of hospitals and medical centers so that they do not worry about the profit motive as the crisis unfolds. These medical centers must be under the control of the government’s health campaign.

5) Immediate nationalization of pharmaceutical companies, and immediate international cooperation amongst them to find a vaccine and easier testing devices. Abolishment of intellectual property in the medical field.

6) Immediate testing of all people. Immediate mobilization of tests and support for medical personnel who are at the frontlines of this pandemic.

7) Immediate speed-up of production for materials necessary to deal with the crisis (testing kits, masks, respirators).

8) Immediate closure of global financial markets.

9) Immediate gathering of the finances to prevent the bankruptcy of governments.

10) Immediate cancellation of all non-corporate debts.

11) Immediate end to all rent and mortgage payments, as well as an end to evictions; this includes the immediate provision of adequate housing as a basic human right. Decent housing must be a right for all citizens guaranteed by the state.

12) Immediate absorption of all utility payments by the state—water, electricity, and internet provided as part of a human right; where these utilities are not universally accessible, we call for them to be provided with immediate effect.

13) Immediate end to the unilateral, criminal sanctions regimes and economic blockades that impact countries such as Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela and prevent them from importing necessary medical supplies.

14) Urgent support for the peasantry to increase the production of healthy food and supply it to the government for direct distribution.

15) Suspension of the dollar as an international currency and request that the United Nations urgently call a new international conference to propose a common international currency.

16) Ensure a universal minimum income in every country. This makes it possible to guarantee support from the state for millions of families who are out of work, working in extremely precarious conditions or self-employed. The current capitalist system excludes millions of people from formal jobs. The state should provide employment and a dignified life for the population. The cost of the Universal Basic Income can be covered by defense budgets, in particular the expense of arms and ammunition.

The crisis has truly shaken the system. There is no doubt about that. A consequence of the failure of the austerity politics is that ideas that had been unthinkable just a few months ago—such as nationalization of hospitals and provision of substantial income support to unemployed workers—is on the agenda. We hope that this conversation develops into a popular global movement for a total reconstruction of the system. It is easier to imagine socialism in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, than it is to continue to live under the heartless regime of capitalism.

This article was produced by Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He has written more than twenty books, including The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (The New Press, 2007), The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (Verso, 2013), The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution (University of California Press, 2016) and Red Star Over the Third World (LeftWord, 2017). Manuel Bertoldi is a leader at Front Patria Grande (Argentina) and Alba Movimientos. He is a coordinator of the International Peoples Assembly.

Weekend Edition
August 14, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Lights! Camera! Kill! Hollywood, the Pentagon and Imperial Ambitions.
Joseph Grosso
Bloody Chicken: Inside the American Poultry Industry During the Time of COVID
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: It Had to be You
H. Bruce Franklin
August 12-22, 1945: Washington Starts the Korean and Vietnam Wars
Pete Dolack
Business as Usual Equals Many Extra Deaths from Global Warming
Paul Street
Whispers in the Asylum (Seven Days in August)
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Predatory Capitalism and the Nuclear Threat in the Age of Trump
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
‘Magical Thinking’ has Always Guided the US Role in Afghanistan
Ramzy Baroud
The Politics of War: What is Israel’s Endgame in Lebanon and Syria?
Ron Jacobs
It’s a Sick Country
Eve Ottenberg
Trump’s Plan: Gut Social Security, Bankrupt the States
Richard C. Gross
Trump’s Fake News
Jonathan Cook
How the Guardian Betrayed Not Only Corbyn But the Last Vestiges of British Democracy
Joseph Natoli
What Trump and the Republican Party Teach Us
Robert Fisk
Can Lebanon be Saved?
Brian Cloughley
Will Biden be Less Belligerent Than Trump?
Kenn Orphan
We Do Not Live in the World of Before
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Compromise & the Status Quo
Andrew Bacevich
Biden Wins, Then What?
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
The Criminology of Global Warming
Michael Welton
Toppled Monuments and the Struggle For Symbolic Space
Prabir Purkayastha
Why 5G is the First Stage of a Tech War Between the U.S. and China
Daniel Beaumont
The Reign of Error
Adrian Treves – John Laundré
Science Does Not Support the Claims About Grizzly Hunting, Lethal Removal
David Rosen
A Moment of Social Crisis: Recalling the 1970s
Maximilian Werner
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf: Textual Manipulations in Anti-wolf Rhetoric
Pritha Chandra
Online Education and the Struggle over Disposable Time
Robert Koehler
Learning from the Hibakushas
Seth Sandronsky
Teaching in a Pandemic: an Interview With Mercedes K. Schneider
Dean Baker
Financing Drug Development: What the Pandemic Has Taught Us
Greta Anderson
Blaming Mexican Wolves for Livestock Kills
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Meaning of the Battle of Salamis
Mel Gurtov
The World Bank’s Poverty Illusion
Paul Gilk
The Great Question
Rev. Susan K. Williams Smith
Trump Doesn’t Want Law and Order
Martin Cherniack
Neo-conservatism: The Seductive Lure of Lying About History
Nicky Reid
Pick a Cold War, Any Cold War!
George Wuerthner
Zombie Legislation: the Latest Misguided Wildfire Bill
Lee Camp
The Execution of Elephants and Americans
Christopher Brauchli
I Read the News Today, Oh Boy…
Tony McKenna
The Truth About Prince Philip
Louis Proyect
MarxMail 2.0
Sidney Miralao
Get Military Recruiters Out of Our High Schools
Jon Hochschartner
Okra of Time
David Yearsley
Bringing Landscapes to Life: the Music of Johann Christian Bach