If we ever want to heal, we have to recognize what the sickness is: capitalism is the virus and it is killing our society.
A pandemic took the lives of 500,000 Americans. A coup attempt rocked the U.S.’s liberal democracy to the core. The U.S. prison system is overcrowded, and our hospitals are under-utilized by patients too fearful of a hospital bill. More Americans are falling back into poverty than ever before. In the backdrop, the creeping disaster of human-induced climate change waits to wreak further havoc on our broken society. Capitalism has not only failed us, it’s largely to blame for this mess of despair we found ourselves in.
The social, economic and status quo is to blame. First, let us define capitalism. Capitalism is a political and economic mode of production characterized by private ownership of the means of production. It has one goal: profit. Milton Friedman famously pointed out that corporations have but one loyalty, and that is to their shareholders. Only 55% of Americans are shareholders and the top 1% of wealthiest individuals control over 80% of the stock market’s value.
The U.S. has the largest prison population in the world. If you hold the U.S. as the freest nation on Earth, how could this be? Well, our prison system is largely for profit. These minority owners have a vested interest in-laws being written that criminalize citizens so they can use them as cheap or free labor under the prison system. This is largely the case in the War on Drugs. Cannabis was never made illegal because it was harmful to society, and most states can attest to that now. It was made illegal specifically to pack prisons. Under U.S. capitalism, a private owner has an interest in you being arrested and convicted; it is profitable. John Ehrlichman, an advisor to the Nixon White House, admitted as much.
How did these minority owners play a role in climate change and the coming devastation? Since the 1970s, oil giant ExxonMobil has lobbied against climate action and science. Yet, ExxonMobil knew of human-induced climate change since the ’70s as well. Solutions to a problem that will cost lives were just not profitable to ExxonMobil.
But how can this mode of production be the cause of such ills? The U.S. is approaching 500,000 COVID-19 deaths with a population of 300 million. In contrast, self-described socialist nations China, Vietnam, Laos, and Cuba have less than 7,000 deaths. Their combined populations are well over 1 billion.
In these countries, public health was prioritized over the profit-motive. Private owners were instructed to step back and allow these socialist governments to coordinate and mobilize their healthcare infrastructure to prevent the spread of the virus. The governments came in full force, instituting sweeping and targeted lockdowns. In Vietnam and China, cell phones were weaponized as contact tracers.
To contrast, the U.S.’s officials and business leaders begged the government to reopen following lockdowns last March. Private owners cried out about possible foreclosures. We all heard it over and over: “We can’t let the solution be worse than the virus.” Numerous times, the “economy” was cited as a reason to re-open. So, we did. Everyone went back to work, ignoring the CDC’s re-opening guidelines, and COVID-19 related deaths spiraled out of control.
Perhaps you witnessed this first-hand or know someone who did. Amazon workers were packed into warehouses transmitting the virus for the sake of Amazon’s profits; for the sake of the economy. Bosses instructed workers to “hide their illnesses,” and even fired employees that spoke out on behalf of their public health.
Meanwhile, China’s economy grew despite COVID-19. Its economy grew despite lockdowns and prioritizing public health.
To put it simply, the destruction of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. benefited corporate owners at the expense of everyday working people. Our health was not profitable to the capitalist class, the owners, so it was disregarded.
Since the Cold War, free-market capitalism has been championed with no end in the U.S. The answer to all our ails was always “more capitalism.” Our denial of the systemic failures has crushing effects, such as violence and despair. If we ever want to heal, we have to recognize what the sickness is: capitalism is the virus and it is killing our society.