The rise and fall of capitalism. Could we have predicted this earlier? The coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the globe may cause complications that are beyond imagination at this point. Cities once hustling and bustling with locals and tourists have now turned into ghost towns following massive lockdowns. Shops are shut, businesses suspended and millions forced out from their jobs. The consequences of the coronavirus could be sharp and deadly and, in the long-term, capitalism may end up taking the biggest hit.
How Does Capitalism Work?
To understand what capitalism is, let’s look at it this way: capitalism is an economic system where private exchange and ownership are the basis of the economic system instead of state-owned or socialized ownership. In reality, capitalism has shown itself to be a system where a few people end up owning the vast number of resources and wealth while the working class which is used by these capitalists to produce goods for local or global societies. The working class, in order to survive, must work for the ruling “owner” class and earn wages to carve out a basic living. However, if these corporations shut down, the average person won’t be able to survive due to the lack of income.
The capitalist society is one which is driven by profits. If an initiative is not worth the desired return, that plan could be canceled. Light is being shed on this system as healthcare systems collapse and world leaders scratch their heads before making the next move. Lockdowns in major economies like the United States, India, Brazil and almost all of Europe have led to the reduction in demand. The price of oil has fallen to a record low and corporations are betting on their next moves.
This has also put world governments in serious crisis. Citizens are questioning their leaders why effective measures weren’t enforced beforehand to stem the transfer of infections. With the inability to stop the spread and lockdowns being proposed as the ideal means to fight Covid-19, consumer spending is also taking a hit. Recession is here but so are issues for major industries, who have no consumers left to take care of. Share prices have also slumped as investor confidence continues to fall rapidly.
Helping Big Business or Citizens?
The main problem lies in governments trying to save big businesses over and above innocent people. Let’s take the example of Pakistan, a country closest to China where the virus initially broke out. Prime Minister Imran Khan said earlier that, “I would have gone for complete lockdown of the country had there been a similar situation in Pakistan like it had emerged in China and Italy.” He said that his government would not be able to provide food to the people and that, “the chaos and panic is more dangerous than coronavirus (Covid-19).” Despite being disguised as concern for ordinary people, this goes on to show that the survival and sustenance of capitalistic structures are preferred over the well-being of citizens.
Similarly, we can see in the United States that a ‘for-profit,’ capitalistic structure is dragging millions to the brink of death. Where private healthcare systems are made to gain advantage rather than helping people recover. In the $1 trillion stimulus package unveiled by President Donald Trump, over $360 billion are allocated for small businesses so that they don’t lay off their workers, while under the same program, Americans will be entitled to receive checks of $1,000. In a society where a routine check-up would cost anywhere from $200-$700, what importance will a thousand dollars have?
The Destruction of Small Business
To keep the economy running, it is essential that small businesses continue to progress. However, the problem is that these businesses will survive at the expense of their workers who in some cases don’t have access to apt precautions to fight the virus, risking their lives so that they can earn money to sustain their livelihoods. The capitalist structure is effective but harsh since it disregards basic human rights. Another harrowing detail of the stimulus plan is that hospitals and health centers are allocated $100 billion while big distressed companies get over $400 billion in funding. Not to forget the tourism and aviation industries which will have around $75 billion at their disposal.
In the United Kingdom, £350 billion were borrowed by the state to pour that amount into the bank accounts of both large and small businesses, while also suspending taxes. When we compare this situation with that of China, a country siding more towards an authoritarian and communist structure, we see that the health of citizens was heavily prioritized. Despite hiding the initial outbreak from the outside world, China built hospitals, installed surveillance cameras and entered into a lockdown which was capable of stemming the flow of the virus. China’s effective measures safeguarded the lives of its citizens.
Looking into the Future
When this coronavirus crisis ends, people will be more inclined to think about the choices they need to make in order to survive. An entirely different mindset will be visible across the globe as people come to terms with the problems that the real world faces. Many will continue doing the same: going back to their normal routines and enjoying life to the fullest, but for some it will be a completely different story altogether.
Yes, at this point in time many corporations are trying to safeguard the rights of their employees, but to what extent that will continue, only time will tell. However, others will be likely to make renewed choices about their health and mental well-being, the things they buy and how much they’re willing to put back into the economy for their own benefit. Will this signal an end of corporate and capitalistic greed and injustice? If we start thinking about what we need and what we want, the answer can be “yes.”