The Political Economy of the Pandemic

coronavirus 1
Image Courtesy: Graffiti on a wall in Toronto. | C.J. Atkins / PW

The world wide covid19 outbreak has once again exposed the hopelessness of Western capitalist economies.  While the socialist one prioritizes public health and social welfare, the other seeks profit even in the time of pandemic. The magnitude of the repercussions of this greed for profit is yet to be understood. Why is there such a drastic difference in responding to the catastrophe?

The crumbling capitalist order

USA, the citadel of capitalism along with the other European developed economies clearly corroborates that their health system collapsed like a house of cards in face of the “corona shock”. On the contrary, China alone has left behind the so called developed countries hundreds of miles behind in terms of covid-19 tests per week (1.6 million), as per WHO report. What is making such difference?  While the one reliant only on Private profit making (even in the time of pandemic), the other, since the outbreak of the virus, has been delivering inclusive public health service completely free of cost. The US health service is exceedingly dependent on private insurance companies. Hence, the Covid-19 test even if done free of cost, the treatment cannot be made free. It is noteworthy to mention that more than 30 million of the total population does not come under the coverage of this highly expensive health insurance system. According to the medical situation report of WHO, 90% of the total population of developed economies bears the health expenditure from their own pocket. The US public health insurance schemes do not include outdoor medicines. As a result, people have to rely upon the private insurance agencies. According to a World Bank data 79% of the health related costs across the globe is being borne by 46 developed nations. This is 16% of the world population as opposed to 11% of the total health expenditure spent by the developing, under developed nations. This is 71% of the world population. US considers health to be a commodity. Those who have money will avail it and those who don’t, will not. As a result a slogan ‘Medicare for all’ is rapidly gaining popularity in the US.

Profit over health care

In 1995 WTO had placed some important trade agreements. One among many was- Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).  With TRIPS put in place, global pharmaceutical corporations which acquired patent monopoly had the liberty to fix the drug prices across the world.  The neo liberal pursuit of austerity includes constriction of employment in health sector, number of beds,  muffling local health centres, increasing healthcare costs, medicine prices, compression in health infrastructure and medical equipment budget, privatisation of health system, reduction in public health, medical researches to pave the way for private capital.

Now, the worshipers of neo liberal economy will persuade with their ideals of ‘unrehearsed crises’. They will try to denote that the pandemic has ruined a potential economy. Which itself is a blatant lie! Materially the neo liberal economy has a propensity to boom and bust . The pandemic has just caused a spark. The bubbles had to explode.

Socialism shows the path

On the other hand, socialist China, since the outbreak, not only provided free testing, treatment but also built multi-storeyed hospitals with international standard facilities that too at a record pace. Furthermore, they appointed adequate numbers of doctor, nurse and other healthcare staffs. In addition, the Chinese government provided free electricity, internet, room heaters- the list goes on.  Paid leave was declared as a government policy. They declared their policy on the matter. All the factories in China were directed to produce essential commodities along with medical equipments. It is not that China’s battle against Covid-19 remained confined within its own territory. It also extended its medical aid to the other nations battling with the deadly virus.

Socialist Cuba has sent 1,455 medical staffs, doctors, nurses in 22 countries. In spite of facing 60 years of economic embargo by the US. Cuba has an inclusive public health system that guarantees health care to all with impressive medical innovations. A Cuban anti viral drug (Interferon Alfa-2B) has been used to combat the Covid-19 both inside and outside the country. Cuba also boasts 8.2 doctors per capita which is three times more the rate in the United States (2.6). Furthermore, the nationalised factories  that normally churn out school uniforms and other non-medical items have been directed to produce masks. French organization Cuba Linda advocated for awarding  the Nobel Peace Prize 2020  to the Cuban Henry Reeves medical brigades. The organisation created the public Face book group “Prix Nobel pour les brigades medicales cubaines”(Nobel Prize for Cuban Medical Brigades) in order to gather public support. Another socialist country combating the deadly virus is Vietnam. The number of the covid-19 affected did not cross 300. With 0 death. Vietnam sent 4 lakh masks and ppe kits to the US. Vietnam enforced relentless quarantine policies to trace all people affected with the virus. They also thoroughly documented anyone who came in contact with the virus. Vietnam has a stringent public surveillance system.  Vietnam also provided 5,50,000 anti-bacterial mask, ppe kit, test kit to France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain, China free of cost.

Another small mountainous socialist country in south Asia is Laos. Since the induction of people’s democratic republic in 1975 Laos is being ruled by Marxist-Leninist People’s Revolutionary Party. Laos has a socialist model of public health system like China and Cuba. 19 cases of covid-19 affected till April with death toll 0. Laos had faced the highest rate of bombing by the US in the world till date- Which is equivalent to the bombing rate of 2nd world war. Amongst them, countless numbers have not been exploded still now. There are so many instances where death processions begun when the children kicked a bomb thinking it to be a ball. The war has stopped, not the explosions. The shadow of death looms large at the tip of the peasants’ plough. Still now. Brazil’s Maranhao province too has created an exceptional instance. The only communist ruled province under the right wing central government. Like India has Kerala and Pinarayi Vijayan. Brazil has Maranhao and Flávio Dino. Dino is the elected governor of the province and topmost leader of the Communist Party of Brazil. After Bolsonaro blocked a shipment of 68 ventilators from a factory in Santa Catarina to Maranhão, Dino smuggled 2,00,000 mask and 107 ventilators from China into the state via Ethiopia. There was also fear of ‘hijacking’ or confiscation by its own Federal government or the US. in the mid-way.  Dino reserved 252 beds for Covid patients, at the time of covid outbreak, in the state hospital system. Now they have over 600 and are continuing to expand.

Kerala, the small coastal state at south India is governed by a coalition of communist parties. Kerala has been held around the world as a model for preventing the spread of COVID-19. After WHO’s alert, and lessons from Wuhan, Kerala made 28 days of quarantine policy mandatory instead of 14. Furthermore, the state’s proactive covid response and stringent measures helped in preventing the spread of the disease. They also imposed strong controls that required all passengers arriving from foreign countries to quarantine. These efforts were backed by an impressive healthcare system and a highly literate population. While the Modi government failed to combat the pandemic, instead asked people to come out on their balconies to clap, blow conches, bang utensils, ring bells, light torches and candles as if the country was celebrating a festival. The Kerala government was agile enough to respond swiftly to the demands wrought by the crisis. Stringent lockdown, shutting education institutes, banning gatherings and visiting religious places.  Daily media briefings by the Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and health minister K.K Shailaja, internet service were boosted to meet the demands of those now working from home, stepped up production of hand sanitizer and face masks, had food delivered to school children dependent on free meals, and set up a mental health help line, installing ‘walk in kiosks’, giving migrant labourers the status of ‘guest workers’. All these actions assuaged the public’s fears and built trust. The migrant workers further provided with food grains. Even the stray dogs, vagabonds were fed. 44,000 community kitchens were run across the state.  All These success of the socialist countries and states comes from background institutions designed along a well knit socialist ideology and an efficient communist government.

Lessons we take

The present economic crisis, fostered by the pandemic, is fundamentally different than those previous. The worldwide economic downturn has once again pushed  the relevance of ‘Class’ to the forefront.  The economic crisis has pushed the lives of the million on the edge of the ditch.  In India, a group of migrant workers were walking home along the railway tracks from Maharashtra to Madhya Pradesh. They were carrying the rotis for the road, and that was perhaps all the food they had. They were sleeping on the tracks when a train ran them over early one morning, killing 16. This perhaps is the greatest indictment of Indian Independence since the Jalianwalabag Massacre happened. The insanity and the gratuitous cruelty of India’s Covid-19 lockdown was laid bare for all to see. It has already pushed 114 million into unemployment, and is set to push millions more into absolute destitution. This, in a country that cannot stop bragging about being a $3 trillion “world power.”

The government’s financial package of $22 billion is not even 1% of India’s GDP. Contrast to the US’s turbo-charged stimulus package close to 10% of their much larger GDP, that too under an extremely hard-right conservative government. One can only shake one’s head in utter dismay.

On the contrary, the ‘foreign babus’ were getting cushion comfort by the government. This sets in stark contrast with the situation of the toiling people of the country.  Since political economy of capitalism relies on private profit making, social synthesis to administer social needs to unravel common problem is not possible.  Capitalism didn’t really need the virus to devastate the economy.  It was doing quite a decent job all by itself

Sourav Goswami is a political activist and a junior journalist in a leading Marxist daily Ganashakti (Peoples Power) News Paper in West Bengal. Email: [email protected]



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