Corona Capitalism and its Coming Collapse

In its rapid and ruthless rise from early laissez-faire stages, capitalism appears to have inadvertently reached its last hurrah with the COVID-19 pandemic. Corona capitalism carries with it a host of chronic social diseases accumulated over many decades of brutal exploitation, but also adds a fatal one not previously experienced or expected. Well over 22 million Americans are now suddenly unemployed, and the swollen ranks of the jobless here and abroad grow with each passing day due to the pandemic. This imposed mass unemployment is increasingly sucking the life blood, surplus value, out of capital in general and threatens to collapse the whole house of cards constructed by private profit maximization. Without labor creating more wealth through enhanced productivity at the workplace than needed for its own survival, there are diminishing or no profits for most private owners and corporate investors. Hence, the current rush to prematurely “open America” despite the enormous risks to public health. Private wealth has always trumped public health in the capitalist game book. Yet the enormity of the crisis and explosive potential for transformation contained within it are changing the rules and views for the common good. The collapse of capitalism, at least as we know it, is on the horizon.

The material basis for such needed qualitative change has been developing over decades of decline and despair; the pandemic merely greatly accelerated and gruesomely exposed the depravity and fragility confronting us. Whatever safety net there once was, inhumane wealth concentration and misanthropic policies have all but evaporated it. After some 50 years of steadily increasing inequality, the 400 richest Americans now own more wealth than the bottom 150 million of us; 22% of all wealth generated by American labor ends up in the portfolios of the richest one-tenth of 1%, while nearly 60% of American households lack sufficient savings to cover a $1,000 emergency room visit or car repair. Such obscene concentrations of wealth and glaring gaps of inequality have not been experienced since 1928, right before the Great Depression. Yet the march towards the abyss continues.

Public policy favoring the rich along with social darwinist ideology condemning the poor drive this disparity, and have done so for decades. But there is something new and sinister about the current depravity. For anyone aware of the dynamics of political economy it is clear that the state is an organ of the ruling class, but it was not until the advent of the Trump regime and the coronavirus pandemic that this organ revealed itself as the rectum. The prevailing public policies of this misanthropic regime stink to high heaven. Cutting all funding to the WHO directly undermines worldwide efforts to contain and overcome the pandemic. As gun sales in America soar, Trump implicitly called for armed insurrection to “liberate” select states from pandemic containment practices. With the 2017 statutory corporate tax rate cut from 35% to 21% pushed by the Trump regime, over $1 trillion was lost to the US treasury but added to corporate executive portfolios for lucrative stock buybacks. The 2020 gargantuan gift to America’s super-rich, which carries the misnomer of the CARES Act, greatly exasperates the legal theft of public funds. Some $500 billion in so-called loans are handed outright to America’s largest corporations with no meaningful oversight or accountability. Because of a tax loophole an additional $1.2 million are given on average to some 43,000 millionaires while struggling Americans may receive a one-time payment of $1200. There is little doubt the Trump regime will direct much of this largesse to his rabid supporters and loyal business associates. Crony capitalism is nothing new for Trump, especially when it come to his drug of choice to combat COVID-19, hydroxychloroquine. Several US pharmaceutical companies owned by Trump loyalists anticipate favorable FDA treatment in their efforts to mass produce this unapproved and potentially dangerous drug. Sanofi, the French company that produces HCQ under the brand name Plaquenli, has also attracted loyalists, including three members of the Trump family who own some of its stock as well as billionaire and staunch Trump ally, Ken Fischer, Sanofi’s largest shareholder. Trump’s Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, also owns Sanofi stock. Given FDA approval, all are in line for windfall profits.

As the world’s more prominent cheerleader for and pusher of HCQ, Trump shows his contempt for scientific warnings and irrational allegiance to social darwinist practices. Under his direction the Bureau of Prisons purchased $60,000 worth of HCQ tablets, undoubtedly intended for experimental use on select federal prisoners. Similarly, Trump’s mad search for a miracle solution to the pandemic most likely also influenced the Indian government to potentially test the drug, as a prophylaxis, on thousands of poverty-stricken residents in Mumbai slums. Once again, vulnerable humans are to be used as guinea pigs.

While pushing unproven drugs is a top priority for this regime, a push for proven policies to overcome rapidly growing food and financial insecurity is not. The New Poor People’s Campaign estimates that 140 million Americans are poor; an astounding 52% of US children are impoverished or low-income; one-half of renters spend one-third of their modest income on housing; and some 49 million families carry a collective debt of $1.5 trillion in student loans. Yet nothing is done to alleviate any of these pressing social problems. Even before the pandemic, about 27 million Americans lacked health insurance; over 66% of all family bankruptcies were due to an inability to pay medical bills; and over 250 thousand GoFundMe medical campaigns were launched by distressed families in 2018 alone. During the last two weeks of March 2020, 3.5 million Americans lost employer-based health insurance and millions more have no paid sick or family leave. No other country battling the pandemic faces these additional challenges of survival. Hunger is beginning to rear its ugly head in America like never before in modern times; 11 million children live in food insecure households; Feeding America, a national organization of 200 Food Banks, estimates 17 million more Americans could face hunger soon. Yet the Trump regime proposes cuts in Food Stamps and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. A “let them eat cake” mentality has taken hold and is taking its toll.

As wildlife increasingly roams some deserted American streets and food lines of cars miles long pack others, there are those who have not only escaped the deleterious impact of the pandemic, but handsomely enhanced their wealth during it. Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man with some $138 billion in net worth, recently gained another $24 billion extracted from the surplus value created by endangered Amazon workers. Several other American billionaires (Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett, Elton Musk, Larry Ellison, Larry Page, Bill Gates) saw their enormous wealth grow by a total of $20 billion within early April. In the same time period, over 5 million US workers applied for unemployment compensation, most of them losing their health insurance coverage along with their jobs. Millions of Americans who once lived from paycheck to paycheck are now living from day to day to just survive. Many have not. As of mid-April over 34,000 Americans and 110,00 others have died from COVID-19. The fatalities worldwide are projected into the millions by this summer, and US unemployment rates may reach an unprecedented 30%. An unprecedented outrage requires an unprecedented response.

If billionaires and the system that produced them ever lost their raison d’être, it is now. Share the wealth. Enhance public health. End the nightmare. Dona Nobis Pacem.

Werner Lange is a retired professor of sociology and a lifelong peace activist.