Capitalism and COVID-19

The Trillion Dollar Question: Why COVID and Capitalism Don't Mix

How a viral tweet and plutocrats turning a blind eye has awakened Americans' skepticism of our economy's foundational principles.

I’m a Very Online Person. For better or for worse, I’m plugged in—to the news, to Twitter, to Instagram.

Since New Year’s Eve, COVID-19 has inundated our feeds with stories from all over the world. I watched as the situation got better in Asia, and steadily devolved in Europe and in the U.S. As other governments offered support to their citizens—from free healthcare to monetary relief—the United States was barely testing anyone. The crisis was worsening and our leaders were not doing enough to stop it.

Meanwhile, people were desperately stockpiling goods and panic buying toilet paper. Companies were laying employees off, while some businesses slashed their staff’s hours and offered few solutions. I sat at home—privileged to be able to work from my living room—watching the situation worsen and angry-crying because of our nation’s mismanagement of this crisis.

In a moment of absolute rage, I tweeted, “PLEASE let this moment radicalize you. Know that there are a handful of billionaires that could make sure people don't need to go to work. The government could put a moratorium on rent, mortgages, student loans. We could nationalize utilities. Capitalism prevents all of this.”

Part of a pattern

To be totally transparent, the mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis is not what radicalized me. If you know me or follow me on Twitter, you know that I’ve been an anti-capitalist to my core for a while. To me, this looks like being a prison abolitionist, thereby not supporting profiting off of incarceration. I write about and support the homeless community in my neighborhood, whose lives are negatively affected by capitalism and gentrification. Organizers and activists working on so many issues are doing so through an anti-capitalist lens (I highlighted some of their work here, here, and here!). That being said, by mid-March, as headlines about our government’s failing response to the novel coronavirus inundated my feed, I had reached a breaking point.

March 13th was when I was finally able to fully wrap my head around the seriousness of the COVID-19 crisis as it relates to capital and labor. I’d been social distancing since that Tuesday, but it took days for me to really process how deeply this pandemic is going to affect the lives of Americans—not only because of how contagious or dangerous it is—but also because of our government’s obsession with capitalism and "pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps." God forbid we encourage laziness through socialism in the midst of a global pandemic.

That Friday, many people were still going to work—particularly service workers and gig workers who weren’t given the option to work from home or take paid leave to help flatten the curve.

By then, the science was clear: social distancing is the best way to limit the spread and prevent more infections and deaths. Despite this, people had to go to work in order to pay their rent, their health insurance premiums, their mortgages, their utilities, and student loan payments. I was aghast at our country’s government. When were they going to intervene?

"By then, the science was clear: social distancing is the best way to limit the spread and prevent more infections and deaths."

Of course, some intervention has now come. There have been lockdowns and orders to shelter in place. These precautions are necessary to mitigate the spread of the virus, but what are workers supposed to do now that they can’t earn an income? Millions of Americans are being forced to take unpaid leave for an indefinite period of time or are being laid off en masse. What options do they have to stay afloat?

To me, it's clear what needs to be done: The government needs to put a moratorium on these expenses and provide Americans with enough money to buy food and other essential goods. And though pauses have been placed on federal student loans and taxes, it's not enough. By nationalizing utilities, for instance, we could ensure that every American had water, gas, and electricity during the COVID-19 crisis. For essential workers like grocery store employees and pharmacists, hazard pay is warranted—whether it is provided by corporations or by the government.

The problem, exposed

Instead of any of this, we have congresspeople and senators arguing over if $500 a month is enough for people who’ve been laid off or had their hours cut to zero in light of the coronavirus closures (to be clear: it’s not). Now, even as many of us are social distancing or sheltering in place, coronavirus testing still hasn’t become widely available. Neither the government nor the nation’s 540 or so billionaires are keeping us safe from this virus or from economic disaster. Mike Bloomberg could spend nearly $1 billion on a failed presidential bid, but can’t house all the homeless people during this crisis? Five “lavish” properties in the United States and Jeff Bezos can’t even guarantee paid sick leave for the people who work for corporations he owns? And they wonder why we say “eat the rich?

This tweet going viral demonstrated to me that many Americans agree on how unprepared we are for a crisis of this nature. It demonstrated how many people (at least 90,000, apparently) are beginning to see capitalism for the scam that it is. Trickle-down economics isn’t working, and that’s been made more clear than ever now, as money and resources are being hoarded by those at the top while the rest of us—especially those marginalized by our race or class—are suffering. There isn’t a scarcity of resources, money, or food in this country, and yet people are hungry and homeless.

If you’re not yet convinced, consider this: even in the middle of a full-blown economic and public health crisis hitting the poor and working classes, the government is continuing to protect the interests of the rich. If the Fed can funnel trillions to save rich investors and the markets—which are allegedly supposed to regulate themselves—but the rest of the government cannot provide basic necessities for its poor people, aren’t we ready to call bullshit?

I hope that the reception of my tweet means that maybe this moment is one where change could actually happen. To me, watching our leaders fumble this public health emergency makes it even clearer: capitalism is failing us.

"There have been lockdowns and orders to shelter in place. These precautions are necessary to mitigate the spread of the virus, but what are workers supposed to do now that they can’t earn an income?"

If you’re with me then please, in the spirit of my Tweet, let this moment radicalize you. Unionize your workplace. Organize strikes to demand better pay or benefits. Participate in mutual aid networks to support marginalized people during this global health crisis. Call lawmakers and demand they give us what we need and deserve to survive this. And after our social distancing is over, let’s take to the streets and start the revolution that has been brewing in the United States for decades.

Under capitalism, a system that encourages individualism, it’s easy to feel disconnected from our communities. But in this moment of painful uncertainty, we must resist this way of being. We must support our communities and keep each other safe. We’re all we’ve got, but that’s enough.

Sign me uppp

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