Pandemic: a mirror of the human condition


COVID- 19 pandemic is not simply a medical problem


At heart, it is about the way we organize society. This crisis is a mirror of society, and our reflection on the human condition will help us establish the hierarchy of values and objectives that guide our future.
The colossal mobilization of manpower and materials to overcome this pandemic resembles the actions of a world at war. And war is the mother of revolution: it draws nations into collective struggle; strains the sinews and minds of the people; and tests out the strengths and weaknesses of the entire social system. Just as military victory is the organizing principle of war, the health of humanity is the primary organizing principle of our battle with the pandemic. As we seek to minimize its impact, collective action fundamentally transforms everyday normality and encroaches on the private sphere.
In the three decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall, capitalist individualism flourished and became anchored in mass psychology. But the Great Recession of 2008-9 brought sluggish growth and a series of economic shocks, which hit the living standards and future prospects of the middle classes and the workers in many of the most developed capitalist countries. Spain, Iceland, Ireland, Greece and Portugal were battered. In other advanced economies this entailed increasing hardship and uncertainty for the middle classes, the workers and the youth.
This all-pervasive sense of economic insecurity stood in stark contrast to a hitherto unimaginable concentration of individual wealth, acquired through capitalist accumulation - a process accelerated by the ubiquitous expansion of Internet connectivity. In turn, this gave birth to a geeky breed of billionaires and a mass global culture revolving around dreams and spectacles of celebrity, personal identity and individual enrichment.

Networked interconnectivity transformed mass psychology, as well as the character of production processes in manufacturing and services of all kinds. The boundaries between people, technology, ideas, traditions, cultures, nations, work and leisure, acquired a new plasticity and diffuseness that simultaneously gave rise to a reaction against this very ‘globalization’ process. This appeared as sharp and sudden clashes, conflicts, and upheavals. Thus, new forms of isolationism, nationalism, and religious fanaticism, gelled into reactionary political movements. These forces gained political power in diverse settings, e.g. the USA, Brazil, and India.
The rise of the New Right cannot be attributed to the invention of a coherent ideology; rather this ideology expresses the incoherent and contradictory nature of the dynamics of capitalism. Today, everyone is linked together with all of humanity, and thereby to the total knowledge, technology, production, consumption and distribution capacity, and also to common disasters. Yet this objective trend conflicts with the dominance of the nation state, in which the pressure to pacify the anger of those who want to conserve, preserve or reestablish ‘national sovereignty’ inevitably produces “anti-globalist” nationalism in all its forms.
Under capitalism, economic activity interlinks the workers of all countries through social production, organized through the world division of labor. But the objective of production remains individual consumption, i.e., profit maximization designed to serve a tiny minority. Thus, the mass of capital available for investment is constrained by the driving force of capitalist production itself.
Capitalism remains a system in which dynamic progress in technology, production and innovation is driven by the competition between private enterprises in pursuit of profit. This competition forces them to invest ever more of their capital in machinery and technology (which Karl Marx called dead labor) viz-a-viz living labor. This reduces the proportion of living labor in total investment.
 As Marx explained, this inevitably produces investment cycles driven by increasing profits, followed by cycles of economic contraction and retrenchment driven by falling profits. He called this “the long term tendency for the rate of profit to fall’. 
It was the acclaimed Hungarian economist Janos Kornai who developed the most important and influential critiques of socialism in his 1992 book “The Socialist System”. His basic argument is that socialism inevitably produces a sclerotic bureaucratic machine that stifles innovation and gives rise to a shortage economy.
 However, China’s experience, reiterated during the Covid-19 pandemic, reveals why this theory is flawed. Rather, the pandemic exposes how the healthcare systems in many of the richest capitalist countries can break down because of shortages of intensive care capacity, ventilators, masks etc. And then, as a result, the interconnected socio-economic system may simultaneously experience a meltdown.
Capitalist states are generally subservient to powerful private interests. This leaves wider society exposed at times of real crisis. And now, when the state bureaucracy tries to intervene decisively to overcome the crisis, its means and mechanisms to attain social objectives in health care are exposed as tenuous. This problem is amplified because health provision has been systematically run down and undermined by the doctrine promoted by capitalist ideologues: “private good, public bad!”
Necessity expresses itself through accidents. In the past week many capitalist countries have adopted colossal Keynesian fiscal stimulus measures. They are designed to overcome the crisis and revive their economies - these measures institute a kind of “war capitalism” - including temporary socialist policies. It seems that the battle to contain the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the need for a social system based on public ownership of the decisive sectors of the economy, scientific planning, and international cooperation.
                                                     Heiko Khoo 
(Heiko is a leading progressive political and economic analysts-he writes for different international media outlets)  



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