COVID-19 Unmasks Capitalism

By Marc Vandepitte on January 30, 2021

In normal times, capitalism can keep up appearances reasonably well. But during crises, the masks invariably fall off. This is certainly the case now with the corona crisis.

The masks are falling off

Since the corona crisis, it has become clear that it is the essential professions that keep society afloat: nurses, teachers, cashiers, maintenance workers, parcel delivery staff, … It is interesting to note that they can now also count on the greatest confidence among the population. At the very top are the healthcare staff, teachers, and scientists. Bankers, CEOs, journalists, and politicians, on the other hand, score poorly to extremely poorly. In a severe crisis, the masks apparently have fallen off.

In any case, that confidence does not (yet) translate into remuneration. Did you know that nurses in the US have to work 228 years to earn what a CEO earns in a single year? It may be the time to make some adjustments.

Scandalous gap growing wider

The scandalous gap already existing between the rich and the poor has widened further. Thirty-two of the world’s largest multinationals saw their profits increase by $109 billion in 2020. The assets of billionaires worldwide increased by $3,900 billion between March 18 and December 31 of last year. They now jointly hold just under $12 trillion, which is as much as the G20 governments have spent in response to the pandemic.

Jeff Bezos, the boss of Amazon, could pay a $105,000 bonus to each of his 876,000 employees with his corona profiteering.

At the same time, the income of the working class decreased sharply. According to the International Labor Organization, workers lost more than $3,500 billion, roughly the amount that billionaires put in their pockets. Worldwide, some 500 million full-time jobs were lost and the income of the working population has fallen by about 10 percent on average. According to Oxfam, between 200 and 500 million people will fall into poverty as a result of COVID-19.

Vaccine chauvinism

The pharmaceutical industry is monopolized by a dozen giants. In order to generate maximum profit, “most manufacturers have prioritized regulatory approval in rich countries where the profits are highest, rather than submitting full dossiers to WHO,” said Tedros, the Director-

General of the World Health Organization.

Because of their hoarding behavior, rich countries have seriously delayed supply to poorer countries. Accounting for 14 percent of the world’s population, they kept at least 53 percent of the vaccine supply for themselves. They bought up 96 percent of all Pfizer doses and all Moderna doses. As it stands, 9 out of 10 people in the poorest countries will not get vaccinated this year.

However, this vaccine chauvinism is very short-sighted. In the words of António Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN, “In our interconnected world, we are only as strong as the weakest health systems”. If those countries do not receive the vaccine or receive it late, infections, with or without dangerous variants such as in South Africa or Brazil, will continue to reach our regions. Tedros: “The longer we wait to provide vaccines, tests, and treatments to all countries, the faster the virus will take hold, the potential for more variants will emerge, the greater the chance today’s vaccines could become ineffective, and the harder it will be for all countries to recover. No one is safe until everyone is safe.”

There is also an important economic cost. If the countries of the South cannot recover in time, they will not be able to supply enough of the goods that our economies need. At the current – too slow – rate of vaccination, rich countries will record a loss of $2,400 billion, or 3.5 percent of their GDP. This is due to the disruption of global trade and supply chains.

In the pessimistic but realistic scenario, in which the population of the South is not fully vaccinated this year, global production could fall by $9.2 trillion, or more than 10 percent of global output.

Tedros warns that “the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure”. This moral bankruptcy is something we will also pay for heavily economically. We will also pay heavily for this moral bankruptcy.

Source: Rebelion