This article originally appeared in The Edition.
The coronavirus may not have been caused by global capitalism but it did pull back the veil of a global capitalist system that has been wreaking calamity on the poor majority of humanity long before the outbreak began. The economic meltdown triggered by the virus underscored how dependent we all are now on the globally integrated production, financial, and service system controlled by global capitalists and their political agents around the world.
The ruling groups have endeavoured to shift the burden of the crisis and the sacrifice that the pandemic imposes on the working classes. Governments around the world have turned to massive new bailouts of capital with only very modest relief, if at all, for the working classes. In all, the U.S. and European governments promised private corporations at least $8 trillion in loans and subsidies, roughly equivalent to all their profits over the past two years.
The level of global inequality before the pandemic hit was already without precedent. In 2018, the richest one percent of humanity controlled more than half of the world’s wealth while the bottom 80 percent had to make do with just 4.5 percent. United Nations reported as the pandemic spread, that tens of millions were at risk of starving to death, several hundred million faced the loss of their jobs, and half a billion or more stood to be pushed into poverty.
The virus may not care about the class, ethnicity, or nationality of the human hosts it seeks to infect but it is the poor and working classes who are unable to protect themselves from the contagion. In the teeming slums of the world’s megacities, social distancing was a privilege that was out of reach. Millions faced death, not so much from the viral infection than from the lack of access to life-sustaining services and resources.
The ruling classes set about to push policies to exploit every aspect of the pandemic for private profit. The ultra-wealthy elite in the United States, for instance, saw their net worth surge by $282 billion in just three weeks of the pandemic, according to a report by the Institute for Policy Studies. As these trillions of dollars accumulate at the very top, the crisis triggered by the pandemic will leave in its wake more inequality, more political tension, more militarism, and more authoritarianism. Social upheaval, civil strife, and mass popular struggles will escalate.
The only way out of the global economic collapse will be a reversal of escalating inequalities through a redistribution of wealth and power downward. In the larger picture, our struggle must be to push for something along the lines of a global ‘Green New Deal’, a call first put out in the United States that proposes combining sweeping green policies, including an end to fossil fuels, with social welfare and pro-worker economy that would include mass employment opportunities in green energy and other technologies.
William I. Robinson’s latest book is ‘The Global Police State’ and can be purchased from Pluto Press.