Perspective: pandemic highlights a fundamental flaw of capitalism

The pandemic offers people an unfair choice between physical health and economic safety.

by Jean Abrahams

American politics, as always, are divided. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the debate is over “reopening” the economy. The mainstream Republican camp advocates for “reopening,” meaning easing public health restrictions to open non-essential establishments like restaurants. The Democratic establishment argues the opposite, that non-essential businesses need to stay closed to stop the spread of the virus.

However, these two camps are both advocating for the same thing; the suffering of the American masses.

It is obvious that the COVID-19 virus is dangerous. As of December 17, 2020, the mortality rate among those who tested positive for the Coronavirus in the United States is 1.8%. The actual mortality rate is hard to analyze, because many people who contract the virus are asymptomatic, and there are other confounding factors such as access to medical care. However, even if the actual mortality rate is as low as 0.6%, and every American contracted it, about 2 million of them would die. Additionally, many people who have beaten the virus are left with loss of senses such as smell or taste, brain damage, decreased lung capacity, and mobility issues.

These numbers make it obvious that opening businesses that are not essential to consumers’ survival is facilitating the spread of a disease that could have massive casualties. The most common viewpoint from Republican leadership on this issue is that all businesses need to reopen to boost the economy, even at the expense of contracting Coronavirus.

The Democratic establishment understands that people need to stay home to stop the virus. However, they seem to neglect the fact that most Americans are not in a financial situation to quit working for months. According to census data, up to 40 million Americans are at risk of eviction in the coming months.

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House and congressional leader of the Democratic Party, backed a bill that only ensures $600 checks to Americans and a moratorium on evictions until the end of January. Americans have only been given a total of $1,800 dollars by the government in the nine months of this pandemic, which would not be enough to pay for rent on a studio apartment in Silver Spring for two months.

However, this bill also allocated about $1.4 billion to building a border wall, tax breaks for race tracks, liquor companies, and corporate lunches, and $696 billion to the military. This means that well over four times the amount of money is being spent on the military than providing direct financial aid to the American citizens who pay the taxes that fund these programs. American citizens are being swindled by the government.

Rashida Tlaib was the only Democrat to vote against the woeful stimulus package.

While this failure of government to ensure its citizens health, safety, and financial security highlights the inefficacy of the United States’ two major parties, it reveals something deeper; the ultimate inability of the government to keep its citizens safe and secure in a capitalist system. In this system, a choice must be taken between going to work to make money, or to stay home to stop the pandemic while being unable to pay rent or buy food.

And since the pandemic has started, America’s 614 billionaires have increased their wealth by a collective $931 billion. The problem isn’t a lack of money to go around, it is that we live in a system where increasing amounts of money are sucked from the working class into the hands of the rich and powerful.

Crisis cannot be solved with laissez faire, free market capitalism. That is what causes crises in the first place. The Great Depression was caused by unregulated overspeculation in the stock market. Pharmaceutical executives looking to get rich, ignorant of consumers’ addiction and death, started the opioid epidemic. The looming eviction crisis is caused by the leaders of the wealthiest country in the world and multi-billion dollar companies who refuse to give any meaningful amount of relief to the people who put in the work that creates their revenue.

Funnily enough, the Great Depression, the largest financial crisis in American history (which was caused by free market capitalism), was only solved through extensive government spending on social programs, public work programs, and financial regulations.

Americans are in a situation where they must make the choice between having a house and not contracting a debilitating, and potentially deadly, disease, all while the rich fill their pockets. There are no individuals to lay all of the blame on; the entire American system is failing its citizens, and the only way out is to change it completely.