Take one rampant market economy directed by an authoritarian state more concerned with suppressing dissent than public health, add in debt-driven globalisation, throw in extreme weather patterns and broken political systems and you have a deadly cocktail.
That’s how the coronavirus pandemic originating in China, the stock market collapse, climate change and the slow death of liberal representative democracy are inextricably connected, each reinforcing a global crisis of the system, also known as neoliberal capitalism.
China has gone from a relatively low-level, state-owned, state-controlled economy to become the engine of the global economy, throwing up cities and coal-fired power stations in a handful of decades. Impoverished millions in the countryside have flooded to the towns, seeking a higher standard of living, to be exploited by transnational corporations like Apple or home-bred conglomerates.
So when poor peasants defied the authorities and brought live animals to Wuhan to sell in the market, the scene was set for a virus to cross over to humans and then to go unchecked until it went out of control. A local doctor who first identified coronavirus was arrested for his troubles. He later died. Web censorship kicked in but the virus was soon on its journey to other countries.
In countries like the US and the UK, the concern is first and foremost to protect economic and financial activity so that “growth” can be sustained. In a caring world, all workers could be given time off work at full pay so that the virus can be contained. But, oh no, capitalism cannot and will not do that.
So with the NHS at breaking point after being starved of resources and public health wrecked by a decade of austerity, citizens have to carry on as best as they can manage by themselves. That’s after weeks of wild weather and floods precipitated by climate change and made worse by indifferent governments and councils who have allowed building on flood plains and held back investment on defences.
What is the point of a useless state system like this, led by politicians of the calibre of Boris Johnson, Priti Patel and Mike Hancock? You may well ask.
The cocktail is completed by the stock market sell-offs of shares inflated by a system swimming in debt. This was just waiting to happen, as Washington Post economic columnist Professor Steven Pearlstein, author of “Can American Capitalism Survive?”, explained.
And who is responsible for this record level of debt in financial markets, and record level of debt in the real economy? he asked. “That’s simple: the Federal Reserve and other central banks around the world that pumped trillions of dollars in freshly printed money into the financial system in the years following the 2008 financial crash to pull the global economy out of a deep recession.
“They did that by buying up government bonds, mortgage-backed securities and, in some places, common stock, in the process artificially propping up the prices of those assets even as they drove down interest rates. While this unprecedented ‘quantitative easing’ probably saved the world from another Great Depression, the central banks never quite got around to sopping up all that money when the crisis had passed, as they originally promised. For to do so would have run the risk of angering investors and politicians by disrupting what became the longest bull market in recent memory.”
So here we are again. The debt crisis is back with a vengeance in the midst of a pandemic after the warmest winter on record. In the US, Trump peddles conspiracy theories on Twitter and Johnson is more or less twiddling his thumbs.
The deadly cocktail is not of our making and we shouldn’t allow ourselves to become its victims.
Democratic revolution anyone?