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Ideology and Coronavirus

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Eric Zuesse, originally posted at Strategic Culture

There are two polar-opposite approaches for dealing with the challenge of coronavirus-19: libertarian proposals prioritize the economy above the public’s health, whereas socialist proposals prioritize the public’s health above the economy. Libertarian countries rely on developing “herd immunity” to the disease, in preference to imposing social distancing and “lockdowns,” which aim instead to reduce the spread of the infection. Unlike socialist measures, the “herd immunity” approach doesn’t need any regulations, because it allows the disease to spread so that the people who survive it will become predominant; it allows survival-of-the-fittest to take its course, so as to develop a ‘strong herd’. Social distancing, etc., countervail that goal, by protecting the public from the virus. To use both approaches simultaneously is to contradict oneself. Developing a “herd immunity” to coronavirus-19 (or Covid-19) might turn out to be impossible, but, if it is possible, then the only way to do it is to “let nature take its course.” Anyone who isn’t naturally immune to the infection must be immunized against it; and, since there isn’t yet any effective vaccine against this virus, everyone who catches the disease mustn’t be isolated, but instead going out among the public in order to expose as many people as possible to the contagion, so as to enable non-immune people to die-off, and thus to leave only the immune people. This approach is considered to be optimum for the owners of corporations, because it allows them to continue doing business and making profit, regardless of how many employees aren’t showing up for work — any such employees will simply be replaced. Only workers and consumers suffer the disease, death, and other losses — that’s how the libertarian approach works. It is maximum freedom, for the owners of corporations.

Among the countries that immediately rejected the libertarian approach were Taiwan, China, South Korea, Japan, and Venezuela, all five of which nations took the socialistic approach even at the very start. In an article on May 11th, I documented the astounding success of those five countries (Taiwan, China, South Korea, Japan, and Venezuela) in dealing with this crisis, and the equally astounding failure of the libertarian United States in dealing with it, and you can see all of that there, with links to all of the evidence. (And here is where all nations’ data on Covid-19 today can be found and compared, all together on one page, so that the performance of each nation can easily be compared with that of every other nation and with the global averages — it’s the daily international scorecard on coronavirus-perfomance.)

I excluded Vietnam from considetation because their ratio of tests per million population was too low, and because too little information had been published about the reliability of their data, but then on May 15th, the BBC issued from a superb journalist, Anna Jones, “Coronavirus: How ‘overreaction’ made Vietnam a virus success”, and her interviews with experts on the situation in that country indicated clearly that the stellar low coronavirus-19 numbers in Vietnam are the result of a great government there, not of a cover-up.

Another country that now clearly has one of the world’s best records in its handling of this coronavirus is Thailand, whose daily new cases peaked on March 22nd and are now down to low single digits, which is amazing for a population of 70 million. Their ratio of total cases per million (which might be considered to be the ultimate measure of success or failure) is only 44. Another such country is Cambodia, and their infection-ratio is a stunningly low 7. For comparison: China’s infection-ratio is 58. South Korea’s is 218. Venezuela’s is 36. Vietnam’s is 3. Japan’s is 131. All of these countries with low infection-ratios have taken a socialistic approach to the crisis, instead of a libertarian appraoch to it. By contrast: here, in order are those same infection-ratios for the 10 countries that have the largest total number of cases: U.S. is 5,039; Brazil is 1,644; Russia is 2,361; Spain is 6,040; UK is 3,790; Italy is 3,792, France is 2,796; Germany is 2,149; Turkey is 1,848; and Iran is 1,618. And, at the extreme high end is Qatar at 14,679 (that’s 14,679 cases per million inhabitants, and that infection-ratio has been steadily getting higher, and still isn’t going down. So: an enormous difference exists in the degrees to which the various countries have succeeded or failed in their handling of this virus. And the socialistic approach is vastly more effective than is the libertarian approach.

The libertarian approach minimizes the imposition of regulations, and instead relies on “nature” to take its course, “survival of the fittest,” as being the best way to ‘protect the herd’. It’s opposite to the socialist approach, which consists of governmentally imposed rules, or “laws,” that aim to minimize the amount of suffering — not only of the corporate owners, but of the entire public. Of course, every country has laws, but in a socialist country, the government’s right to make and enforce laws is more respected, whereas in a libertarian country, the right of individuals (and especially of stockholders) to violate laws is more respected. This has nothing to do with the distinction between dictatorship and democracy. For example, Marxist countries, such as was the Soviet Union, are dictatorial socialist, whereas democratic socialist countries such as is Denmark, are, indeed, democratic, not at all dictatorial. And fascist countries, such as the three Axis powers during WW II were, are dictatorial libertarian (or dictatorial capitalist).

Another word for “libertarian” is simply “capitalist” or “free-market,” but no country is entirely free-market, not even those Axis countries were: capitalistic countries only favor the rights of capital — the owners of corporations — above the rights of workers and consumers, and so respect property-rights above civil rights (the rights of workers and consumers) and therefore they allow corporations much more freedom to abuse and cheat their workers and consumers — that’s a freer market; it is laissez faire.

(Capitalism is the same as corporationism, because it refers to the owners of corporations: the “capitalists.” In capitalism, only the owners are actually represented; workers and consumers are not represented but only manipulated — or else any resisting or incompetent workers are fired — by the owners. Corporations were invented around the year 1600 so as to transfer all personal criminal liability away from owners onto their workers and customers, so that only workers and customers could become sentenced to prison. Prior to 1600, only bankers enjoyed such limited liability. Stockholders and bondholders have limited liability — they’re liable only for monetary losses up to the extent of what they have invested in the corporation, but not for any crimes that their employees and other agents of the corporation perpetrate on behalf of further enriching the corporation’s owners. That’s the limited-liability function, for which corporations were invented: it protects owners from liability for crimes that their agents are paid to commit on their behalf. Whereas mere employees can lose everything including their lives, owners can lose only what they have invested in the corporation. For example: America has the world’s highest percentage of its residents who are in prisons, and virtually none of its prisoners own, or even control, any corporation. In fact, almost all of them are poor. This is a libertarian country.)

Consequently, applying the terms “socialist” versus “libertarian” here concerns the extent to which the government sets the rules regarding what is considered acceptable in order to protect the public from coronavirus-19 infection, versus the extent to which violation of such rules is considered to be acceptable. In a country where violation of the governmentally established rules is treated as being acceptable, there are effectively fewer actual rules and enforcement of rules than in a country which has been adhering more to socialism regarding Covid-19 policy. A libertarian country is more accepting of law-violators regarding coronavirus policy, than is a socialist country, regardless of whether or not a given country is democratic or dictatorial. For example, Denmark is socialist but democratic, whereas Cuba is socialist but dictatorial; and Switzerland is capitalist but democratic, whereas today’s United States is capitalist but dictatorial. Whereas both America and Switzerland are libertarian, both Cuba and Denmark are socialist. But no country fits 100% into any of those categories; in politics, everything is only a matter of degree, never (except, perhaps, under the Axis powers during WW II) actually polar on a given measure (and those — the Axis powers — were 100% capitalist; i.e., pure libertarian, meaning that workers and consumers had no rights — only the powerful did).    

On May 13th, Axios headlined “Coronavirus likely forced 27 million off their health insurance” and reported an analysis which estimated this to be the number of persons who had lost their health insurance in America because of the soaring unemployment which has thus far resulted from the virus. On 10 September 2019 — just prior to the virus — the Wall Street Journal had reported “The number of Americans without health insurance climbed to 27.5 million in 2018,” and so the total number of health-uninsured Americans now is around 55 million, which is 17% of Americans — and many of America’s “health-insured” have only extremely limited health ‘insurance’, so that perhaps only 50% have health-insurance which is actually comparable to what 100% of the residents in all other industrialized nations (in all of which, healthcare is a right instead of a privilege) have.

The fewer people who have health-insurance, the larger percentage of the public will need the income from work in order to be able to pay for their healthcare, and this makes them virtual slaves of their employers. It’s for reasons like this that the American model is extraordinarily libertarian, and that this model results in almost a third of the entire world’s Covid-19 cases currently being in the United States, which has only 4.2% of the world’s population.

The Axios report closed: “The coronavirus is blowing up health insurance at a time when people need it most.” Destroying health-insurance will inevitably increase Covid-19 deaths. Since America is the only industrialized nation where there are residents who don’t have any health insurance, America is an extreme case, which is extremely likely to be the worst industrialized nation during the coronavirus crisis. After all: even a non-citizen resident can receive or transmit a communicable infection. America is systematically the most vulnerable industrialized country for any communicable disease to thrive and spread. And this shows up in America’s shortened life-spans.

As I headlined at Strategic Culture on May 5th, “America’s design causes it to fail the coronavirus-19 challenge.”

That is why the chief U.S. scientist who was responsible for advising the Government on the coronavirus-19 threat got booted by the Trump Administration and then on May 14th warned the U.S. Congress “that without a stronger federal response, the coronavirus threatens to make 2020 the ‘darkest winter in modern history’.”

As I argued on May 11th:

In other words: the supposed either-or choice (trade-off) that the libertarian U.S. regime and its propagandists assert, between either controlling the epidemic (continuing the “lockdowns” etc.) or else preventing economic collapse (“reopening the businesses” etc.), is fraudulent. The exact opposite is the actual case: in order to minimize the economic damage, controlling the epidemic is basic — whatever is sound policy for the public’s health is also sound economic policy.

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Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.

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