The global economy has been capitalist for some time now. An imperialist structure, dominated by a small number of countries, has existed for more than one hundred years. That system means accumulation of wealth and especially the accumulation of sufficient capital to fund higher and higher scientific levels of production are concentrated in the United States, the Western European countries and Japan, with Australia, New Zealand and Israel among the junior imperialist countries.
The other countries, known as the Third World, as well as parts of the old socialist bloc are trapped without the capacity to accumulate enough capital to fund higher levels of scientific production which might raise the levels of prosperity of their society. Even the largest of these countries, with a state able to intervene seriously into economic affairs, such as the People’s Republic of China, while able to achieve massive and highly important progress in leaving behind the poverty and backwardness of 70 years ago, are still caught up in this trap.
In most of Africa, South America, South and South-east Asia and the middle East, there are hundreds of millions of people suffering the misery, humiliation and injustice of poverty – with no relief in sight. On this basis, it is completely true to say that capitalism is a failure. It has not and cannot deliver a decent life to the vast majority of people – those in the Third World and other non-imperialist countries. These are countries all have low production (GDP) per person compared to the imperialist countries, as well as much lower accumulated wealth. Hundreds of millions of people live in extreme poverty, and hundreds of millions more just above that, but way below what should be quality of life for a human being in the 21st century world of massive material abundance (and potentially even more abundance).
But this capitalist failure is not only manifested in the immiserating scarcity to be found in the Third World. The failure is more and more obvious in the belly of the beast itself, the United States. While the low GDP per capita world is a world of scarcity, the United States – and indeed all the imperialist countries – are marked by a general abundance. The U.S. itself is an enormously wealthy country. The conservative Brookings Institute issued an assessment in 2018 stating “American households held over $98 trillion of wealth in 2018” (total assets minus total liabilities). In the same year:
U.S. households held over $113 trillion in assets. For context, that is over five times as much as all the goods and services produced in the U.S. economy in a single year. If that amount were divided evenly across the U.S. population of 329 million, it would result in over $343,000 for each person. For a family of three, that’s over a million dollars in assets.
They also gave figures on the distribution of wealth within the US:
The top 20 percent held 77 percent of total household wealth in 2016, more than triple what the middle class held, defined as the middle 60 percent of the usual income distribution.
In fact, the top one percent alone holds more wealth than the middle class. They owned 29 percent—or over $25 trillion—of household wealth in 2016, while the middle class [the middle 60%] owned just $18 trillion.
This maldistribution of abundance within the United States – noting of course also the massive maldistribution globally – is not simply a matter of statistics. Suffering, misery and loss of life are the reality of these statistics, not least during the course of the Covid 19 pandemic. On July 23, the Party of Socialism and Liberation in the United States, issued the following statement responding to a report documenting a very significant drop in life expectancy in the richest country in the world.
COVID + Capitalism = Death
Party of Socialism and Liberation, July 23, 2021
In a shocking new report, the Centre for Disease Control just announced the largest single-year drop in life expectancy in the United States since World War Two. Life expectancy for people in the United States dropped by an astonishing one-and-a-half years from 2019 to 2020.
Life expectancy for Black and Latino people dropped by a whopping three years, double the average decline. The projected lifetime for Black people is now less than 72 years, the lowest it has been in over 20 years. This constitutes the largest drop in the life expectancy for Black people in the United States since the Great Depression. Life expectancy for white people is now less than 78 years, which is also an almost two-decade low. Lifetime projections for Latino people in the United States now sit at just under 79 years, making this the largest drop ever recorded for this community.
More than 3.3 million people in the United States died last year, the most ever in U.S. history. About 11% of those deaths were attributed to COVID-19. However, the Coronavirus wasn’t the only factor in the astronomical decline, with record drug overdoses also factoring into the fall.
Inequality in access to healthcare as well as liveable and affordable housing put many working class people in general at an increased risk of getting sick, and contributed to the discrepancies in life expectancy for Black and Latino people as compared to the population as a whole. Access to jobs, especially those that pay a living wage, is another major factor in this catastrophic decline — many Black and Latino workers were and are employed in “essential” industries. When combined with the fact that many of those jobs are lower-paying, this resulted in members of those communities not having a choice but to continue working throughout the worst of the pandemic.
Every one of the factors, from the deaths caused by COVID-19 directly to the lack of adequate housing and healthcare to drug overdose deaths, can be attributed to governmental failures to take appropriate action and properly address the pandemic. Had the government not mishandled the situation from the start, had they effectively distributed personal protective equipment for front-line workers, had they met the needs of the people so they could quarantine safely and not have to work in order to feed their families or pay their rent, an untold number of lives could have been saved. They could have provided universal healthcare and rapidly built-up medical infrastructure so that those who did get sick with COVID-19 could be sufficiently cared for. Their failure to do so prolonged the pandemic, leading people struggling with drug addiction to use substances in isolation where fatal overdoses are much more likely.
Instead, they fumbled their response at every turn, doing less than the bare minimum in the form of measly “survival” checks that were barely enough to cover the average monthly rent, and eviction moratoriums that could see vast numbers of people face homelessness shortly after they expire. As they always do, these so-called “representatives” in government put their own greed, and the greed of other capitalist elites, ahead of the needs and lives of working-class people. The responsibility for the drop in life expectancy caused by the massive numbers of deaths that occurred in 2020 rests squarely in their hands, and in order to move beyond the disregard for life inherent in the current system, the power to make these changes and decisions needs to rest with the people.
Originally published here: https://www.liberationnews.org/covid-capitalism-death/