Capitalism Updates

Capitalism/neoliberalism make it impossible to control disease

Elanah Uretsky, Associate Professor of International and Global Studies, Brandeis University, 11-5, 21, The Converesation, The US was not prepared for a pandemic – free market capitalism and government deregulation may be to blame, https://theconversation.com/the-us-was-not-prepared-for-a-pandemic-free-market-capitalism-and-government-deregulation-may-be-to-blame-165295

It’s unclear when the pandemic will come to an end. What may be an even more important question is whether the U.S. will be prepared for the next one. The past year and a half suggests that the answer may be no. As a medical anthropologist who has spent the past 20 years studying how the Chinese government reacts to infectious disease, my research can provide insight into how countries, including the U.S., can better prepare for disease outbreaks. Researchers agree that a good response starts with a strong public health system. But this is something that has been sidelined by the United States’ neoliberal system, which places more value on free markets and deregulation than public welfare. Neoliberalism promotes a free market accessible to the wealthy few, making essential services less free for everyone else. As US neoliberalism evolved, public health devolved Neoliberal economic policies became popular in the 1980s during the Reagan and Thatcher eras. This new approach aimed to make government leaner and more efficient through measures like market deregulation, privatization and reduction of government provision of public services like health and education – resources that do not necessarily lend themselves to market production. The Conversation brings you analysis from scientists and medical doctors. While neoliberal governments still work to promote the health, welfare and security of their citizens, they place the responsibility of providing those services in the hands of private entities like health insurance companies and nongovernmental organizations. This gives the government space to focus on economic performance. But placing responsibility for a public good into the hands of a private corporation turns that good into a commodity that people need to buy, rather than a service publicly available to all. Spending on health care in the U.S., including on hospitals, medications and private insurance, has more than tripled in the past 60 years. But the public health system that helps the nation prepare for the unexpected has been neglected. U.S. spending on the local health departments that help to avert epidemic outbreaks and protect the health of populations fell by 18% between 2010 and 2021. Two and a half cents of every medical dollar goes toward public health, a figure that has fallen from 1930 levels of 3.3 cents of every dollar. This has allowed the U.S. to manage health risks like chronic diseases that threaten individual’s health. But it leaves the nation inadequately prepared for population-level major health threats that have a much bigger effect on the economy and society. Public health cuts left the U.S with a skeletal workforce to manage the pandemic. Because of this, responsibility fell to individuals. For example, without mandatory workplace COVID-19 safety guidelines, essential workers faced daily exposure to the coronavirus with insufficient to no protective gear and sanitizing supplies. They had to protect both their own health and the health of their families when they returned home, a difficult task without proper resources and support. And this was not unique to the U.S. There were similar COVID-19 outcomes in other neoliberal countries like the U.K. and India that had shifted priorities away from public health. How Asian nations learned their lessons The story was different in many Asian nations where people enjoy the same types of individual liberties as those who live in neoliberal societies. The difference is a collectivist type of mindset that guides these societies and encourages people and government to take responsibility for one another. In her book Flexible Citizenship, anthropologist Aihwa Ong argues that this leads to a societal model where citizens can be independent and self-reliant while also able to rely on a state that supports the collective. Countries like Taiwan and South Korea may have been better prepared to respond to the pandemic because most people are accustomed to protecting themselves and their communities. Like China, these countries also learned from their recent experience with a pandemic. In 2003, China and much of Asia were caught off guard with the emergence of SARS. Like the U.S., China’s public health system had taken a backseat to investment in market reforms for over 20 years. As a result, it couldn’t accurately track individual cases of infections. Following the end of the SARS outbreak, however, the Chinese government improved training for public health professionals and developed one of the most sophisticated disease surveillance systems in the world. This allowed China to respond more quickly to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic and late 2019 COVID-19 outbreaks, once it was able to get past the initial bureaucratic and political hurdles that prevented local doctors and government officials from sounding the alarm. Some have attributed this swift action to China’s authoritarian form of government that allows for greater control over individual lives. But prioritizing public health is not new to China. This became official practice as early as 1910 when it adopted the methods of quarantine, surveillance and masking to respond to an outbreak of pneumonic plague. Could this work in the US? Much like SARS did with China, COVID-19 has exposed huge holes in the American public health infrastructure. Take for example contact tracing. SARS taught China and other affected countries the importance of a robust system to identify and track people who may have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus. The Chinese government sent more than 1,800 teams of scientific investigators to Wuhan to trace the virus, which helped their efforts to quickly bring the virus under control. In the U.S., on the other hand, poorly funded and thinly staffed public health departments struggled to test and notify people who had been in direct contact with infected individuals. This crippled the U.S.‘s ability to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Person scans phone app used for contact tracing and has temperature checked by guard before entering a shopping area A widely adopted contact tracing system in China helped control the spread of COVID-19. Kevin Frayer/Stringer via Getty Images News In my home state of Massachusetts, the local government teamed up with the global health organization Partners in Health to start a contact tracing operation. But even then, people were left to fend for themselves. This became all the more evident as people scrambled for vaccines after their initial approval, through Facebook groups and informal volunteer networks that worked to help people secure appointments. Those who had resources learned how to take advantage of the system while others were overlooked. This is typical of a U.S. health care system that is consumer-oriented and market-based. Americans are often convinced that the solution to a health problem must be technical and costly. The focus was placed on developing vaccines and therapeutics, which are essential for ending the pandemic, while ignoring lower-cost solutions. But masking and social distancing – non-pharmaceutical interventions that have long been known to save lives during disease outbreaks – fell by the wayside. Uptake of these simple interventions is dependent on strong and coordinated public health messaging. As seen in several Asian nations like Taiwan and South Korea, a well-thought-out plan for public health communication is key to a unified response. Without clear, coordinated directions from a public health system, it becomes difficult to prevent the spread of an outbreak. What it takes to be prepared Anthropologist Andrew Lakoff describes preparedness as more than just having the tools. It’s also about knowing how and when to use them, and keeping the public properly informed. Such preparedness can only happen in a coordinated fashion organized by national leadership. But the U.S. has seen little of this over the past year and a half, leaving pandemic response up to individuals. In an era where emergent viruses are an increasing threat to health and welfare, the individualism of neoliberal policies is not enough. While neoliberalism can be good for an economy, it’s not so good for health.

Capitalism robs the earth of life sustaining functionality, socialism needed to solve

Foster, 11-1, 2021, , https://monthlyreview.org/2021/11/01/the-planetary-rift/, The Planetary Rift, John Bellamy Foster and Haris Golemis John Bellamy Foster is the editor of Monthly Review and a professor of sociology at the University of Oregon. Haris Golemis is a Greek economist who worked at the Research Department of the Bank of Greece, was scientific advisor to the Federation of Greek Bank Employees, consultant to the United Nations Center on Transnational Corporations, and director of the Nicos Poulantzas Institute from 1999 to 2017.

JBF: In “Marx’s Theory of Metabolic Rift,” I argued that the widespread view on the left that Marx had adopted a Promethean (extreme productivist) view of the human domination of nature—and hence had failed to perceive the natural limits to production and ecological contradictions in general, giving them at most only marginal attention—was contradicted by his theory of the metabolic rift, which played a key role in his overall analysis. Marx built on the German chemist Justus von Liebig’s notion of the robbery of nature, in which nutrients were systematically removed from the soil and shipped hundreds and even thousands of miles to the new urban centers, polluting the cities, rather than being returned to the soil. Based on this, he constructed an ecological critique of capitalism, rooted in the concept of social metabolism, standing for the human relation to nature as a whole through production. Capitalism’s disruption of this metabolism generated an “irreparable rift in the interdependent process of social metabolism, a metabolism prescribed by the natural laws of life itself.” For Marx, the labor and production process constituted nothing less than the social metabolism between humanity and the universal metabolism of nature, mediating between the two. But under capitalism this had become an alienated mediation, rupturing this metabolism, which needed then to be restored under socialism, as an eternal requirement of life itself. In these terms, Marx developed a notion of sustainability, arguing that no one, not even all the people in the world, owned the earth, but rather they needed to sustain it for “the chain of human generations” as “good heads of the household.” Socialism itself was defined in volume 3 of Capital as the rational regulation by the associated producers of the metabolism of nature and society, so as to conserve energy, and promote human development.

Alternative – people are now seeing the horrors of capitalism and are open to ending it, there is simply no alternative to not embracing the alternative

Foster, 11-1, 2021, , https://monthlyreview.org/2021/11/01/the-planetary-rift/, The Planetary Rift, John Bellamy Foster and Haris Golemis John Bellamy Foster is the editor of Monthly Review and a professor of sociology at the University of Oregon. Haris Golemis is a Greek economist who worked at the Research Department of the Bank of Greece, was scientific advisor to the Federation of Greek Bank Employees, consultant to the United Nations Center on Transnational Corporations, and director of the Nicos Poulantzas Institute from 1999 to 2017.

This was such an important part of our overall discussions on the environment that, when I became aware that the phrase had been introduced in print by Jameson, who had prefaced it with “Someone said,” I thought it had emerged somehow from our own discussions. Now, however, I think we picked it up from him indirectly, probably from Cade Jameson, Fredric Jameson’s son, who is himself a great environmental sociologist, now teaching in Hawai‘i, and who was part of our program at the University of Oregon. It may be Cade, knowing his father’s work, who inserted this phrase early on into our discussions. I am not sure. The point, though, is not that the consciousness of capitalism’s role in the destruction of the planet as a safe home for humanity is wanting; rather, the point is to change this. In reversing the famous Jameson quote, and indicating that “it has suddenly become easier to imagine the end of capitalism than the end of the world,” I was pointing to the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic, coming on top of climate change, was threatening the ideological hegemony of the system, demonstrating that our ecological-epidemiological crises were products of capitalism itself. The illusion of the emperor’s clothes had vanished and suddenly the emperor was revealed as naked. The United States, at the center of capitalism, has now experienced over half a million deaths from COVID-19, which everyone knows have to do with the privatization of public health, not to mention the circuits of capital, as historical-materialist epidemiologists like Rob Wallace explain. For many, this allows them to see that what is constantly projected as the end of the world is indeed properly seen as the question of ending capitalism. You are right, of course, that in presenting the virus as an external threat to the system, the ruling ideology was attempting to steer the population away from such critical conclusions. You ask me about the views that prevail in the general public, given the constant outflow of propaganda on TINA under capitalism. I think that is the wrong way to think about it. A snapshot of public opinion tells one very little, given that the material conditions of humanity—the very conditions of life on Earth—are changing more rapidly than at any time in human history. People are like volcanoes and will erupt when the molten rock rises to the surface. If one starts simply with ideas, from an idealistic perspective, it looks like capitalism is supreme and will remain forever so. But the Catholic Church got Galileo Galilei to disavow his science, and yet, as legend has it, he touched the ground and said, “It still moves.” TINA is correct, but in a different way than Margaret Thatcher believed. There is no alternative to a society of substantive equality and environmental sustainability, that is, socialism—if humanity is to survive.

Climate change is a form of Northern imperialism

Foster, 11-1, 2021, , https://monthlyreview.org/2021/11/01/the-planetary-rift/, The Planetary Rift, John Bellamy Foster and Haris Golemis John Bellamy Foster is the editor of Monthly Review and a professor of sociology at the University of Oregon. Haris Golemis is a Greek economist who worked at the Research Department of the Bank of Greece, was scientific advisor to the Federation of Greek Bank Employees, consultant to the United Nations Center on Transnational Corporations, and director of the Nicos Poulantzas Institute from 1999 to 2017.

In “Imperialism in the Anthropocene,” we developed an argument that departs from most traditions on the left, in that it takes physical geography seriously as the climate catastrophe demands. Thus, we explained how low-latitude countries, essentially the Global South, are affected most, as a result of Earth System dynamics, by climate change, independently of the fact that they are already economically exploited by the nations of the Global North. Moreover, the effects of climate change on such factors as the elimination of glaciers (or water towers); desertification; the flooding of islands and other low-lying areas; the eradication of tropical forests and coral reefs; the extinction of species; and the creation of hundreds of millions, even as much as a billion, climate refugees expected this century—are all being factored into the global imperial strategy of the United States and other nations in the Global North. We, therefore, desperately need a theory of imperialism in the Anthropocene that would take all of this into account.

Capitalism responsible for the spread of disease

Foster, 11-1, 2021, , https://monthlyreview.org/2021/11/01/the-planetary-rift/, The Planetary Rift, John Bellamy Foster and Haris Golemis John Bellamy Foster is the editor of Monthly Review and a professor of sociology at the University of Oregon. Haris Golemis is a Greek economist who worked at the Research Department of the Bank of Greece, was scientific advisor to the Federation of Greek Bank Employees, consultant to the United Nations Center on Transnational Corporations, and director of the Nicos Poulantzas Institute from 1999 to 2017.

In the work of Wallace and other theorists of what is known as Structural One Health (a historical-materialist approach to epidemiology), the emergence of COVID-19 and other zoonoses are seen as connected to the circuits of capital and the extension of agribusiness into ecosystems and wilderness areas. This work provides a rich understanding of the relation of global commodification to global contagions. Moreover, the same analysis points to the consequences of the privatization of public health under neoliberalism and the effects on the spread of disease, especially among the poor, pointing to the contemporary significance of Frederick Engels’s notion of “social murder.”

Capitalism is responsible for the environmental problems coming out of China, and China itself is trying to reduce environmental problems

Foster, 11-1, 2021, , https://monthlyreview.org/2021/11/01/the-planetary-rift/, The Planetary Rift, John Bellamy Foster and Haris Golemis John Bellamy Foster is the editor of Monthly Review and a professor of sociology at the University of Oregon. Haris Golemis is a Greek economist who worked at the Research Department of the Bank of Greece, was scientific advisor to the Federation of Greek Bank Employees, consultant to the United Nations Center on Transnational Corporations, and director of the Nicos Poulantzas Institute from 1999 to 2017.

The fact that the COVID-19 virus originated in China has less to do with China itself than with the circuits of capital globally and the destruction of ecosystems and wilderness areas, with zoonotic spillovers. No doubt China will institute and is instituting new regulations, for example, in relation to wet markets. But this is not the core of the problem. In terms of overall ecological responses, China, while an epicenter of ecological destruction, is also an epicenter of ecomodernism and environmental reform. It has made “ecological civilization” an official goal, unlike countries in the West. How we understand this is important. There are indications that China under its current leadership is taking decisive environmental steps (although hardly the ecological revolution that is needed). China is now the world leader in clean energy technology. I just read a very interesting book by Barbara Finamore, published by Polity, entitled Will China Save the Planet? (2018). We have plenty of reason to be skeptical. Yet, given all that China is actually doing in terms of seriously addressing its ecological crisis and that of the world, the question remains. As a post-revolutionary state, with a quite different social construction from that of the mature monopoly capitalist economies of the West, China, with all of its contradictions, may still have a hidden potential to move in the direction of its official goal of an “ecological civilization.” My view is that this depends ultimately, as elsewhere, on the spread of a genuine ecological revolution emerging from the ground up. That this is at least possible in China is suggested by its current rural reform movement.

The alternative has to be possible, asking what is realistic is the wrong question

Foster, 11-1, 2021, , https://monthlyreview.org/2021/11/01/the-planetary-rift/, The Planetary Rift, John Bellamy Foster and Haris Golemis John Bellamy Foster is the editor of Monthly Review and a professor of sociology at the University of Oregon. Haris Golemis is a Greek economist who worked at the Research Department of the Bank of Greece, was scientific advisor to the Federation of Greek Bank Employees, consultant to the United Nations Center on Transnational Corporations, and director of the Nicos Poulantzas Institute from 1999 to 2017.

HG: The inability of capitalist states to fight the pandemic, largely due to the underfunded and understaffed health systems—together with the fact that vulnerability is closely tied to class, race, and gender—and the concomitant economic crisis have created hope among some radical leftists that an increasing number of people in the world might envision a noncapitalist alternative. Do you think that this hope is realistic?

JBF: The question of whether hope is realistic always sounds strange to me. The question is whether hope is necessary. We shouldn’t be trying to predict the future so much as to engage in the necessary struggles, recognizing that the world’s population now has its back to the wall. I think this is what scares the ruling classes. They know a struggle is inevitable and they know they could lose. Marxists have long argued for freedom as necessity. At no time has this stance been more realistic than today, since the reality of our world is one of catastrophe capitalism. If it is impossible to save the world, humanity, and most of the world’s known species, then the struggle must become that much fiercer, the impossible has to be made possible.