Who Will Pay for the COVID Crisis?

by T.R. Whitworth

This article was originally published in Socialism Today, the paper of the Independent Socialist Group. Subscribe to the paper to receive each issue in print and read the articles before they’re published online!

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the contradictions of capitalism. Widespread death (over five million worldwide), unemployment, homelessness, and poverty coexist with a booming stock market and a capitalist class that has grown richer than ever. The crisis has prompted the U.S. government (first under Trump, and continuing under Biden) to shift away from decades-long policies of neoliberalism and embrace deficit spending to stimulate the economy through COVID-19 relief bills and trillions of dollars in emergency bailouts to the stock market. 

Yet the working class has seen little of this aid money. The meager stimulus checks disappeared quickly to cover rent and mortgage payments or pay down debts. The supplemental unemployment checks were barely enough to live on. Many small businesses struggled to access assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program, while large companies with extensive financial reserves walked off with much of the money. And relief funds distributed to cities are being allocated by politicians behind closed doors. 

At the same time, large businesses and the wealthy have profited during the pandemic. During periods of economic crisis, the super-rich are able to consolidate even more wealth. For example, Amazon has seen mega-profits during the pandemic as people in lockdown ordered everything online. “Nonprofit” hospitals and universities funneled millions in pandemic aid money into their “rainy day funds,” growing richer while using the pandemic as an excuse for lay-offs, pay cuts, and “restructuring”.

Capitalism has proven completely unable to deal with crises, from the Great Recession to the current pandemic. The U.S. government is pursuing essentially the same strategy which devastated the working class in the aftermath of the 2007-09 financial crash: huge taxpayer-funded corporate bailouts and meager stimulus programs. Biden presided over both as then-Vice President, and now President. In both cases, we still saw massive job losses, as well as widespread deprivation and homelessness. We have yet to see the full extent of evictions and foreclosures as pandemic-related housing protections expire. 

The pandemic also puts a spotlight on the lack of a global strategy under capitalism. Currently, the developed countries of the world are distributing booster shots while in developing countries, many people still lack access to vaccines entirely. Not only does this vaccine apartheid mean unnecessary suffering and deaths, but also it means the virus will continue to spread and develop new mutations. As we’re seeing with the Omicron variant, it won’t take much for new variants to develop that evade current vaccines. This entirely preventable situation (if we had a fully-funded worldwide vaccination program) may cause the pandemic to drag on indefinitely. 

Under the logic of capitalism, an indefinite pandemic would be extremely profitable for the pharmaceutical corporations. Despite knowing that uneven vaccination would lead to new variants and prolong the pandemic, these vaccine manufacturers  (Pfizer, Moderna, etc.) chose to sell vaccines for a profit to the countries that could pay the most and also defend withholding their vaccine formulas. AstraZeneca recently switched from a “non-profit” to a for-profit distribution model. This means that the emergence of new COVID-19 variants will create more demand for vaccines and treatments, and thus more profits for Big Pharma

The working class will continue to pay for the COVID-19 crisis: working in unsafe conditions, contracting COVID-19 unnecessarily, and losing our homes, jobs, and loved ones. If the economy crashes again, we will pay for that, and if billionaires continue to get richer, we won’t see any of that money. Both Biden and Trump pursued the same fundamental strategy to the pandemic: reopen the economy regardless of the cost in human lives. Before the next crisis hits, we need to build a working-class political party that will fight for a coordinated, humane, and socialist response. 

We demand:

  • End vaccine apartheid! End patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. For an equitable, democratically-controlled global vaccine distribution plan.
  • No evictions or foreclosures! Forgive rent and mortgage debts accrued during the pandemic. For a massive investment in affordable, high-quality public housing.
  • Tax the rich to create and fully fund public services, including universal free healthcare!
  • Take into public ownership the top corporations that dominate the economy, including any company profiting from the pandemic. Run them under the democratic control of elected representatives of the workers and the broader public.

Image Credit: Alberto Giuliani via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0