COVID-19: Capitalism in Systemic Crisis

The soaring contagion rate and death rate in the US expose fundamental, systemic problems with the nature of not only the US public health and medical care systems, but also the entire social, political and economic structure of US society. At Pacifica we want to encourage a vigorous public debate and discourse about such issues, in keeping with our mission of investigating the causes of conflict and our commitment to the peacable and just resolution of such conflicts.

To that end, we are featuring various economic, political and social analyses and critiques of the Coronavirus response by different elements and sectors of US society, economy and government. There is no common perspective in these analyses, and we share them without representing any of them as being the views of Pacifica or any of its radio stations. To start with, this will mainly be as a portal to material of interest posted elsewhere, with a short summary, image and link. But increasingly, we will be posting original content here, especially audio and audio-visual productions from Pacifica stations and our affiliates and media partners — interviews, debates, investigations and creative cultural expression that shine a light on how we can come through this global pandemic in such a way as to lay the foundation for a better, healthier world in the future.

So check back often as we continue to expand this and other sections of this website!
From Monthly Review

Excerpt from this analysis:

If by its global expansion alone, commodity agriculture serves as both propulsion for and nexus through which pathogens of diverse origins migrate from the most remote reservoirs to the most international of population centers.42 It is here, and along the way, where novel pathogens infiltrate agriculture’s gated communities. The lengthier the associated supply chains and the greater the extent of adjunct deforestation, the more diverse (and exotic) the zoonotic pathogens that enter the food chain. Among recent emergent and reemergent farm and foodborne pathogens, originating from across the anthropogenic domain, are African swine fever, CampylobacterCryptosporidiumCyclospora, Ebola Reston, E. coli O157:H7, foot-and-mouth disease, hepatitis E, Listeria, Nipah virus, Q fever, SalmonellaVibrioYersinia, and a variety of novel influenza variants, including H1N1 (2009), H1N2v, H3N2v, H5N1, H5N2, H5Nx, H6N1, H7N1, H7N3, H7N7, H7N9, and H9N2.43

However unintended, the entirety of the production line is organized around practices that accelerate the evolution of pathogen virulence and subsequent transmission.44 Growing genetic monocultures—food animals and plants with nearly identical genomes—removes immune firebreaks that in more diverse populations slow down transmission.45 Pathogens now can just quickly evolve around the commonplace host immune genotypes. Meanwhile, crowded conditions depress immune response.46 Larger farm animal population sizes and densities of factory farms facilitate greater transmission and recurrent infection.47 High throughput, a part of any industrial production, provides a continually renewed supply of susceptibles at barn, farm, and regional levels, removing the cap on the evolution of pathogen deadliness.48 Housing a lot of animals together rewards those strains that can burn through them best. Decreasing the age of slaughter—to six weeks in chickens—is likely to select for pathogens able to survive more robust immune systems.49 Lengthening the geographic extent of live animal trade and export has increased the diversity of genomic segments that their associated pathogens exchange, increasing the rate at which disease agents explore their evolutionary possibilities.50

While pathogen evolution rockets forward in all these ways, there is, however, little to no intervention, even at the industry’s own demand, save what is required to rescue any one quarter’s fiscal margins from the sudden emergency of an outbreak.51 The trend tends toward fewer government inspections of farms and processing plants, legislation against government surveillance and activist exposé, and legislation against even reporting on the specifics of deadly outbreaks in media outlets. Despite recent court victories against pesticide and hog pollution, the private command of production remains entirely focused on profit. The damages caused by the outbreaks that result are externalized to livestock, crops, wildlife, workers, local and national governments, public health systems, and alternate agrosystems abroad as a matter of national priority. In the United States, the CDC reports foodborne outbreaks are expanding in the numbers of states impacted and people infected.52

That is, capital’s alienation is parsing out in pathogens’ favor. While the public interest is filtered out at the farm and food factory gate, pathogens bleed past the biosecurity that industry is willing to pay for and back out to the public. Everyday production represents a lucrative moral hazard eating through our shared health commons.

Capitalism, Class Struggle and the Coronavirus in China

Capitalism, Class Struggle and the Coronavirus in China


The Furnace

Wuhan is known colloquially as one of the “four furnaces” (四大火炉) of China for its oppressively hot humid summer, shared with Chongqing, Nanjing and alternately Nanchang or Changsha, all bustling cities with long histories along or near the Yangtze river valley. Of the four, Wuhan, however, is also sprinkled with literal furnaces: the massive urban complex acts as a sort of nucleus for the steel, concrete and other construction-related industries of China, its landscape dotted with the slowly-cooling blast furnaces of the remnant state-owned iron and steel foundries, now plagued by overproduction and forced into a contentious new round of downsizing, privatization and general restructuring—itself resulting in several large strikes and protests in the last five years. The city is essentially the construction capital of China, which means it has played a particularly important role in the period after the global economic crisis, since these were the years in which Chinese growth was buoyed by the funneling of investment funds into infrastructure and real estate projects. Wuhan not only fed this bubble with its oversupply of building materials and civil engineers but also, in so doing, became a real estate boomtown of its own. According to our own calculations, in 2018-2019 the total area dedicated to construction sites in Wuhan was equivalent to the size of Hong Kong island as a whole.

But now this furnace driving the post-crisis Chinese economy seems, much like those found in its iron and steel foundries, to be cooling. Though this process was already well underway, the metaphor is now no longer simply economic, either, as the once-bustling city has been sealed off for over a month, its streets emptied by government mandate: “The greatest contribution you can make is: don’t gather together, don’t cause chaos,” read a headline in the Guangming Daily, run by the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda department. Today the Wuhan’s broad new avenues and the glittering steel and glass buildings that crown them are all cold and hollow, as winter dwindles through the Lunar New Year and the city stagnates under the constriction of the wide-ranging quarantine. Isolating oneself is sound advice for anyone in China, where the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (recently renamed “SARS-CoV-2” and its disease “COVID-19”) has killed more than two thousand people—more than its predecessor, the SARS epidemic of 2003. The entire country is on lockdown, as it was during SARS. Schools are closed, and people are cooped up in their homes nationwide. Nearly all economic activity stopped for the Lunar New Year holiday on January 25th, but the pause was extended for a month to curb the spread of the epidemic. The furnaces of China seem to have stopped burning, or at least to have been reduced to gently glowing coals.  In a way, though, the city has become another type of furnace, as the coronavirus burns through its massive population like a fever writ large.