A world upside down.
The primary target for all the financial measures taken by pandemic-struck governments has been to provide aid to industry, commerce and banking. Such ‘largesse’ is not actually to save the ‘people’ but the existing economic ‘system’. Even money given directly to working people, will go to landlords, electricity, water, gas and mortgage companies, and supermarkets etc. Some will keep them fed, watered and housed, but it will also find its way back to the economic elite.
In this way, the pandemic has starkly revealed that, for the pro – capitalist elites, the connection between people and economic activity is viewed upside down. They think ordinary people exist to serve the economy and not the other way around. For them economic activity definitely does not exist to serve the people. In fact capitalists view the entire world as existing to supply the needs of their economic system. Indeed, they and their major shareholders act as if the world is there to service them.
From the bourgeois perspective the ‘health of the economy’ has always been of more importance than the ‘health of the people’.
Only immediately after the Second World War, was that viewpoint muted in some countries. Welfare reforms, with health services, pensions, education, sickness benefits etc., were evidence of this. But even then the fundamental view – of all political shades of opinion – was that a healthy economy needed a healthy workforce. Even post 1945, the world was still viewed upside down. The reluctance to initiate an early quarantine lock-down and the bailout package in March 2020, indicated that protect the economy first was still the priority.
But that is nothing new. Among the pro-capitalist elites, left, right and centre, it has never crossed elite minds that economic activity should primarily serve the needs of the majority of people. That would require a genuine humanist perspective, which could not arise among an elite who need the heavy taxation of working people to support their well-heeled life – styles. Yet this upside-down elite view directly clashes with the perspective which arises among working people and from the natural world.
The hopes and dreams of many, if not most, working people is not to stop work and do nothing. Rather it is to earn enough (or win enough) to stop working in relentless mass – producing industries and to do so early enough to enjoy a fuller range of activities and experiences. Interestingly, that viewpoint is essentially a perspective also rooted in nature. For no other animal species labours all its active life so that it can support a relative small number of its species in extravagant luxury, while the rest struggle to survive.
Natural life, other than human, is based only upon securing a desirable level of basic needs, such as food, water, shelter and procreation. No other animal amasses non-essential products. Moreover, no other species engages in a mode of production which in pursuit of economic and social inequality, consciously degrades and destroys the ecological basis for its own survival. Capitalism is thus a totally unnatural mode of production.
Even more contradictions.
Previous zoonotic viral epidemics (eg EBOLA, AIDS, SERS, MERS etc.) have brought to the fore a further development of capitalism’s fundamental contradictions. By leaving no part of the world un-plundered and un-connected, its extractive activities incubate and then enable new strains of virus – that would have otherwise remained in their places of origin – to infect whole countries and regions. In addition the Covid-19 pandemic illustrates that these infections can now spread to the whole planet and restricts capitalism’s own economic activity to the supply of limited amounts of food, water and shelter.
The general response to this pandemic also reveals that capitalism has to be rescued from its eco-cidal, economic and financial follies, not by better capitalisms, (there are none) but, – as in 2008 – by non-profit based public service organisations. Without public services and governmental organisations stepping in, capitalists concerns would have collapsed progressively or continued production until everything collapsed. The socialised bailout and quarantine measures, needed to keep societies alive and ticking over due to this Covid-19 pandemic, show that competition and private capital could not have saved the world’s population from the worst. It took non-profit institutions – albeit some very badly managed ones – to belatedly act to save the social system and many lives.
This pandemic also demonstrates that when crises of such magnitude occur, societies need the cooperation of all citizens to survive and function properly. It has also indicated something else. Social structures with pro-capitalists at the top wielding power, not only create the conditions for such epidemics to flourish and spread, but reveal that it is the bottom layers of society, the workers, (the least paid) who are the most important to societal maintenance and survival. It is they – as they do in normal times – who are keeping the health system, food distribution, water, electricity, sewage, rubbish removal and other essential services going.
The elite hide themselves away enjoying their perks and privileges, while the working class staff the front ranks again and give their energies and lives, to keep this new viral enemy at bay. True some elites meet in committee and push paper about, but it is not those who keep us directly supplied with essentials. Under capitalism it is clear, social importance and rewards are upside down, for even the rich need food, water, electricity, sewage processing etc., before they ‘need‘ anything else.
In normal periods as well as in crisis, the rich need working people more fundamentally than they need their own elite neighbours. We all depend not only the above named categories but teachers, engineers, technicians, plumbers, builders, transport workers etc. Crises sharply demonstrate we need working people, far more than the barely competent elites in Parliaments and governmental agencies. Yet the wage and salary levels do not reflect this. The world in 2020 and beyond, badly needs turning the right way up.
Roy Ratcliffe (April 2020)