The age of neoliberal virus
The coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease is the first neoliberal virus in the world. To say so is to criticise how it has been confronted by most governments across the world. This even applies to the better social welfare capitalist States of Europe — such as Denmark.
Retreating social welfarism –
- On March 12, Denmark largely shut down for at least two weeks, as did many other European nations, with the exception of the United Kingdom and some others. This shutdown was necessary, and could have been implemented a few days earlier. However, other necessary things were not implemented.
- One of the most crucial is testing. Denmark, like many other European nations, is testing only acute cases. If you have mild symptoms — and at least a hundred other diseases give you the same symptoms — you are simply expected to self-isolate (in doubt).
- At the same time, Denmark sealed its borders — a political gesture in the absence of widespread internal testing. It is also surprising that while it takes two to four days for test results to become available in rich western nations, it takes only four hours in the afflicted regions of China.
What does it imply?
- Evidently, it is a neoliberal response as a major burden of stopping the virus has been passed on to ordinary citizens, who now have to isolate themselves while the government issues directives but spends as little as possible.
- For the past two decades, whenever corporations or significant banks have stumbled, national governments have pumped public money into them, while cutting public services (including health and research) to raise the money.
Allocation of resources –
- A few days ago, Denmark provided $50-billion to its businesses to cope with the economic downturn caused by the virus crisis.
- Even before accepting that it was a threat, Trump’s U.S. provided $1.5-trillion to its businesses and financial sectors. After finally declaring a national emergency, Mr. Trump added another $700-billion for American corporations.
- The U.K., which is still partly in denial, is sanctioning $900-billion for its businesses. As have other nations.
Neoliberal response –
- Most of this money is not being strictly earmarked to preserve jobs, and the lowest wage earners are particularly ignored. Many workers have been fired by corporations in different countries.
- The other problem is that almost no country has put in comparable amounts into the health, social and educational aspects of combating the pandemic.
A lot still needs to be done to combat this pandemic. Xenophobia and nationalism will not help. A lot also needs to be done to prepare for similar pandemics that will undoubtedly occur in the future. But nothing much will be done unless we see this as the first neoliberal virus pandemic in the world, and act accordingly.
Source – The Hindu
QUESTION – The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the social welfarist state to the temptations of neoliberalism. Comment.