Earlier this year, I posted a piece on rabble in which I claimed that the global Covid-19 pandemic, though devastating for humankind, has not been nearly as pernicious as the social and economic plague of global capitalism.
Many readers of this essay disagreed with my hypothesis, some quite vehemently. They thought I was exaggerating the harmful effects of capitalism and minimizing the harm of the coranavirus.
Such comparisons, of course, are invidious, if only because capitalism has been the world’s dominant economic system for more than a century and a half, while Covid-19 has been scourging the planet for less than a year.
The proper assessment, therefore, is to regard Covid-19 as not just a deterrent to rabid capitalism, but also, so far, as its most effective adversary.
In short, Covid-19’s main function is to stop the economic, social, and environmental ravages of capitalism from further desecrating the planet.
We are thus enmeshed in a titanic clash between two global forces in which most human beings consider capitalism to be the hero and Covid-19 the villain. This belief is inevitable, given that the virus indiscriminately infects and kills the most vulnerable among us, while the preventive and curative efforts are conducted by valiant nurses, doctors, and other caregivers who are funded by capitalist corporations and governments.
Little attention is given, however, to exposing the main reasons why many people succumb to the coronavirus while the majority escape or survive it. All of the most debilitating effects clearly stem from the colossal poverty, inequality, and preventable diseases that the capitalist system inflicts on millions of disadvantaged people – many of them children.
A report by UNICEF last year on The State of the World’s Children warned that “an alarmingly high number of them – over 200 million under the age of five – are undernourished or overweight. They are not fed nourishing food that supports their rapidly growing bodies and brains.”
Capitalist pandemic’s victims
Globally, under capitalism, according to the OECD, 15,000 children die every day from poverty, hunger, and preventable disease. At the same time, two thousand billionaires hold more wealth than the 4.6 billion poorest people in the world. In Canada, one in eight households struggle to raise their children while living in poverty, many dependent on food banks to keep food on the table.
We live under a warped economic system in which “free enterprise” corporations obsessively pursue profits for the rich and powerful at the expense of the vast majority of the world’s inhabitants. Through deforestation, strip-mining, over-fishing, and other forms of looting and pillaging, they have rapidly been depleting non-renewable resources, and in the process raising global warming levels to a perilous degree.
Climatologist Elizabeth Colbert, a staff writer for the New Yorker and author of the best-selling The Sixth Extinction, warns that the current unfolding extinction, unlike the first five, is being caused “solely by humanity’s transformation of the ecological landscape. It’s an extinction event of our own making.”
She didn’t explicitly add that humans have brought this catastrophe on themselves by permitting the capitalist system to inflict it on them. But it was certainly an unwritten implication.
In any event, the big corporations’ demolition of the planet, its climate and wildlife was undeniably rampant before the coronavirus struck. A recent study by the National Academy of Scientists bleakly exposed the extent of this “free enterprise” carnage:
- The world’s 7 billion people constitute just 0.10% of all living things, but since the dawn of civilization have caused the extinction of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants, while livestock kept by humans abound.
- Farmed poultry today accounts for 70% of all birds on the planet, with just 30% being wild.
- About 60% of all mammals left on Earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, while 36% are human and just 4% are wild animals.
- The destruction of wild habitat for farming, logging and development has precipitated the start of what many scientists consider the sixth mass extinction of life to occur in Earth’s four-billion-year history, this one being caused almost entirely by human activities.
- Three-quarters of the world’s food today comes from just 12 crops and five animal species, which leaves supplies vulnerable to disease and pests that can sweep through large areas of monoculture.
Capitalism trumps science
As usual, however, this momentous scientific study received no more serious attention from our business and political leaders than did all the previous warnings. Why not? Because to take the protective and restorative measures the study recommends would require a drastic switch from profitably plundering the planet’s non-renewal resources to unprofitably preserving them.
That, in turn, would entail a more equitable allocation of wealth and a sharp reduction in global poverty and inequality. Horrors! It would actually mean scrapping the entire global capitalist economic system!
What are the odds of the neoliberal corporate and political elites voluntarily abandoning their obsessive accumulation of wealth and power? Realistically, not a chance. Not even to prevent the looming mass extinction. Not even to preserve their own lives and those of their children. That’s how deeply the capitalist system is embedded among the world’s business and political rulers.
The only thing that might possibly dissuade them from resuming their planetary pollution and the eventual obliteration of humankind would be a stronger counterforce – one that would curb industrial toxic emissions and thus ongoing global warming.
That one and only counterforce, undeniably, is Covid-19. Its shutdown of many Co-2-emitting factories, and its curb of pollution by heavy road, sea, and air traffic have virtually eliminated smog and provided a long-lost fresh and clean atmosphere.
Granted, these beneficial climatic improvements have come at the terrible cost of human infections, lives, mobility, jobs, and social contact. The best remedy for such a pandemic is obviously to find and administer an effective vaccine. But, when that happens, will our political and business leaders have learned the lesson they should from such a widespread affliction?
Will they take firm and immediate steps to avert another such global scourge that was clearly spawned by global poverty, hunger, inequality, and distress? Or will they reactivate the appallingly brutal and iniquitous social and economic capitalist system that preceded Covid-19?
If so, the next global pandemic launched by an irate and impatient Mother Nature will be even more excruciating and hard to endure than the current coronavirus.
Only if enough valiant and dedicated progressives rally behind a global crusade to dump capitalism in time to avert another anti-capitalism pandemic will the human species survive.
And all is not yet lost. There’s still a ray of hope that such a dramatic global reprieve will be mobilized.