COVID-19, Capitalism, and Socialism
— Two Brief Observations
1. The public health response to this virus around the world did not break down as capitalism versus socialism. Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, and Vietnam achieved outstanding results, while hundreds of millions of people who live in other capitalist countries suffered disasters. Most outrageous are the United States and the United Kingdom, followed by Italy, Spain, and others.
Some of the countries near China learned from its 2003 cover-up of the SARS virus and prepared for next time. Taiwan health officials heard unofficially, through travelers and online chats, of a new strain of coronavirus on December 31st of last year. They didn’t know exactly what it was, but they took immediate action. From that moment, health officials went onto every airplane arriving from Wuhan and assessed every passenger before the plane was allowed to unload.
The United States, having filed away scientific warnings of pandemics raised years ago, ignored coronavirus reports at the start of 2020.
2. Workers in the U.S. and many other “developed” countries have lived the pain of a vicious dilemma. Either you stay healthy but you suffer economic ruin – or you go back to work and the pandemic keeps killing. Here there is a dividing line between capitalism and socialism.
A socialist country can go back to work with rigorous safety measures and without taking the cost out of workers’ pockets. Social distancing requires more space, so you can only use offices, schools, etc. at partial capacity. You can’t bring all the workers back to their original jobs right away. But you can put people on work that needs doing: parks cleanup and trimming, blanket testing for the virus up and down every street, and so on.
The pandemic exacts a price in this. Real needs must be put above profit calculations. Some consumption items and services like restaurants must be curtailed for the duration – and their workers employed in the work that now needs to be done. This is something socialism can do, and capitalism cannot.
Charles Andrews, May 18, 2020