The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

A Contagious Virus and a Virulent Economy

Mar 16, 2020

The following article is the editorial from The SPARK’s workplace newsletters, for the week of March 9, 2020.

Wall Street has been gyrating wildly. In one week of wild speculation, global stock markets destroyed almost five trillion dollars of value. That’s nearly the total value of all the goods and services produced in three months in this country’s factories, offices, farms and all the little businesses that still supply our daily lives.

Wall Street is panicking, fearful of what the novel coronavirus can do to the capitalist economy.

It’s true this new disease has interrupted supply lines for companies that depend on China. Quarantines to isolate the contagious virus shut down production. Ports were closed; goods couldn’t be shipped. As the disease spread to other countries, businesses cut employee travel.

Airlines, anticipating lost revenue, laid off workers. Other companies, anticipating their lost revenue, laid off more workers. Banks, anticipating lower revenue, laid off employees.

The coronavirus may be what caused the first layoffs, but capitalists, seeking to protect their profits, spread the layoffs. The virus may have disrupted production and shipping. But Wall Street’s gyrations were caused by the sickness of a capitalist economy sunk in speculation.

The global economy was pulled out of the 2008 financial collapse by governments that went deep in debt to prop up bankrupt companies. In this country, the Federal Reserve printed up trillions of dollars of fictitious money to bail out the banks that caused the crash.

The American economy has been living on debt ever since. Big corporations ran up debt to pay off their stockholders. Government continued to go into debt to prop up business profit.

All that debt put extra money in the hands of speculators. Wall Street wolves bought up companies that had existed for decades—like Sears or Payless or Art Van. The new owners ran up big debts for the companies, stripped them of all their value and dumped them, destroying needed stores, cutting people’s jobs.

The speculators moved on. In ten years’ time, stock prices quadrupled. Wall Street itself was a great, big expanding bubble, waiting for someone to come along and pop it.

This new virus may be what finally pops the financial bubble. But the devastation we will face comes from a capitalist economy which is not healthy.

Today, there is no medical reason why this country, as wealthy as it is, couldn’t mobilize enough resources to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The disease has not yet spread that widely. Other countries have had the time to learn from China’s experience.

And yet, nurses in the first areas with known clusters have not even been provided basic protective gear they need to work. They haven’t been given enough kits to test all the people they should test. There aren’t enough isolation chambers in hospitals nearby to keep those infected away from others. Untrained people are moving infected patients.

An economy organized to serve the needs of the population would already have solved those problems. But the disease will spread because the money spent on medical care is organized to provide profit: profit for the insurance industry, profit for hospital chains, profit for pharmaceuticals, profit for companies that produce testing kits.

It should be obvious that many people with symptoms won’t ask to be tested because they lack insurance that will cover the tests. It should be equally obvious that others will go to work because they have no paid sick days.

An economy organized to serve the needs of the population would provide free testing and paid sick days for everyone. But that would go against the basic premise of this virulent economy, which is to produce the maximum of profit for the capitalist class. And so the disease will spread.

The capitalist pursuit after profit is the sickness that will kill us all.