COVID-19 catastrophe, capitalism and policy alternatives for the future world

Md Nazmul Arefin | Published: 00:00, Apr 26,2020 | Updated: 15:43, Apr 26,2020


Brain Stauffer

The COVID-19 is giving us a chance to rethink the future world. It teaches us that the future cannot be always reliably calculated by science and we need to reconfigure our economic structure which is too fragile to confront any uncertainty fuelled by itself. We need to cut the monopoly of Big Pharma and democratise the healthcare system, bury the old energy sources and invest in the renewable energy sector and implement policies to empower the people instead of corporations, writes Md Nazmul Arefin

THE COVID-19 epidemic confronts us with numerous new forms of uncertainties around the world. These uncertainties have brought about a competition between different systems of governments. Is the Chinese authoritarian system model superior to democratic models? This question is getting more and more attention as we find the US model of health system absolutely dysfunctional in dealing with such a crisis. After a successful domestic dealing, now China is gaining ‘soft power’ through providing assistance in affected countries.

To reclaim China’s global greatness Xi Jinping wants to restore its image as the Good Samaritan by portraying optimism and participating in the global fight against the virus. On the other hand, Donald Trump has received wide criticisms for not only cutting funding from essential health services and research before the crisis and downplaying the effect of the virus, but also regarding his reluctant, reckless and ‘criminally incompetent’ policy implementations. Furthermore, the US image as a superpower is critically questioned as the Trump administration spectacularly failed to even coordinate an international response.

However, the problem does not lie within the USA alone. The deep-rooted dysfunctional public health care systems and ineffective handling of the pandemic have unmasked a number of structural flaws in the political-economic arrangements of the whole western world. The capitalist states could not become radical enough to take decisions for its people superseding the neo-liberal values. They are more guarantors of ‘free enterprise’ rather than being the guarantors of citizen lives. In the light of the situation, many neoliberal-sceptics are speculating that this crisis could finally herald the long-awaited end of neoliberal ideology.

The question then arises, what can the COVID-19 tell us about socialism in 2020? Let’s take Fidel Castro’s Cuba as a case study. Despite Cuba’s lack of resources unlike the rich western countries, it has ensured an incredibly benign pro-people health care system. Based on the socialist concept that everyone should have the same opportunities in life, the country strongly maintains free universal healthcare, one of the world’s highest ratio of doctors to population and positive health indicators such as high life expectancy and low infant mortality. Besides that, as a token of medical diplomacy and in solidarity with those in need, Cuba is sending medical teams around the world to help with the coronavirus response.

It is true that the centrally planned, state-controlled economy like China and Cuba are setting extremely good examples in domestic and international response to the pandemic. Whereas, the capitalist system has proved itself impotent, incoherent and incomprehensible to save public lives.

Globalisation has collapsed. The antibiotic revolution of the Big Pharma has been proved unsustainable. Class division in global health care is profoundly exposed. But does that mean the post-COVID-19 world would be a new one in terms of dropping dependency on neo-liberal credos?

Well, at a time when the global economy is already proceeding towards a deep recession, we can only imagine how far its repercussions shall reach. But we have to be bold enough to state that to start building a more inclusive and sustainable political-economy, the world must learn lessons from this crisis and consider developing policy alternatives to the faulty existing ones.

Rethinking monopoly of the Big Pharma: social ownership of a vaccine and healthcare
FOR the left-wing American historian and sociologist Mike Davis, this pandemic provides the world a wonderful opportunity for the nation states to learn from the failure and to rethink the monopoly of the large pharmaceutical companies and profit driven healthcare industry. He further believes that this is high time we bring in consideration ‘social ownership and the democratisation of economic power.’ Without having a vaccine, the fight against COVID-19 reaches nowhere.

But who are the main in-charge of discovering vaccine of this disease? Of course the answer is big corporations. States are increasingly doing less to have authority over the discovery. But why? According to the US linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky, the neoliberal bodies have snatched away that authority from the states. Or in other words, states have created room for the free markets to take over; even though in the 1950s we witnessed that in response to Polio epidemic, Salk vaccine was discovered by the government institution and was made available to everyone without patent. That was a wonderful demonstration of social ownership of a vaccine which is absent now. The coronavirus pandemic definitely illustrates that this pro-people measures should be re-introduced now, by any means.

Green New Deal: patronising the clean industries
BASED on the earlier experiences of great global crises, the Canadian author, activist Naomi Klein anticipates that the COVID-19 crisis can bring a transformative change in the world by showering aid on the greater interests in society. It could be a catalyst for a kind of ‘evolutionary leap’ which she calls Green New Deal.

She advocates that the post-Corona world should patronise the clean industries that will lead us into safety in the coming century, instead of rescuing the dirty, old, abusive industries that have damaged the planet, relied on massive public subsidies and worsened economic inequality. The goal of the Green New Deal is to ensure clean air, clean water and healthy food as basic human rights, reduce racial injustice and end all forms of oppression.

According to the chief of the International Labour Organisation, COVID-19 could cause 195 million job losses in the next three months alone and the full or partial lockdown affecting almost 2.7 billion workers around the world. In face of that, a stark revolution will be needed in the global economic order. And as the transformative policy measure, the Global Green New Deal can be a solution to the coronavirus recession that might allow workers around the world to prosper. 

Coordination in a guardian-less galaxy: empowering WHO and other organisations
TODAY we reside in a ‘leaderless global village’. COVID-19 has exposed that nakedly. Despite being desperately needed, a global integrated plan to combat the crisis is absolutely missing. Gradually this pandemic is turning into a global food and humanitarian crisis but there is no guardian to hit a plan and pool resources. The world needs a coordinator. But who can play the due role?

For Slovenian political philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek, the World Health Organisation can be a primary model of such a global coordination. But for making the WHO and other UN organisations free from producing only bureaucratic gibberish and panic-loaded warnings, they need to be empowered with more executive power and be not governed by the major donor nations.

There is no doubt that the coronavirus crisis has brought about unprecedented sufferings and uncertainties in the modern world. But the pandemic also has its advantages. It has exposed the hollows of the capitalist system. It has delivered a powerful global message that in midst of a crisis, the invincible global capitalist market is not ready to save its workers for even one month without the state support.

The current crisis expands the argument about the need for new societal and economic systems all across the world. We believe that the world must adopt new policy alternatives wiping out the old faulty ones. The coronavirus is giving us a chance to rethink the future world. It teaches us that the future cannot be always reliably calculated by science and we need to reconfigure our economic structure which is too fragile to confront any uncertainty fuelled by itself.

Md Nazmul Arefin is an independent researcher.

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