If there’s one thing that’s become clear during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that neoliberal economic policies have failed our societies.
Our healthcare systems are vastly underfunded as a result of the relentless pursuit of balanced budgets through tax breaks to large corporations and billionaires. When pandemics hit, our healthcare providers end up overworked, stressed, and ill themselves. When pandemics hit, we lack the resources to maintain current healthcare service levels, having to prioritize who gets tested, who gets surgeries, and who gets seen in clinics and emergency rooms.
On the labour side, we find that our system isn’t set up to protect the worker. Public sector workers are laid off (even temporarily) because the public facilities where they work are shut down. Private sector workers are laid off because their employer shuts down due to lack of business or because of government mandate. And when these workers are laid off — whether in the public sector or the private sector — they’re unlikely to have wages continue during their layoff period (unless they were unionized and it was part of their collective bargaining agreement or they lucked out with a generous employer).
Or if their employer doesn’t close shop, the worker may feel forced to go to work, particularly if they have low wages, no savings, no food storage, no way to fulfill their physical needs should they stay home. And if they work in a public environment, where they’re exposed to customers, their risk increases of contracting whatever disease is causing the pandemic, and then passing it onto other customers. And the entire underfunded healthcare system gets overloaded.
Capitalism didn’t create COVID-19. Nor did it cause it to mutate to spread to humans. But capitalism aided in its spread. And it’s not even an issue specific to the COVID-19 pandemic. All the issues I mentioned above exist for other pandemics, too.
There is only one cure (pun intended) to the issues I mentioned above. And that’s addressing the root cause.
There’s a massive amount of wealth being hoarded by large corporations and billionaires. That money could instead be circulating in the economy: through public funds collected by taxation and spent on public labour or capital projects or through private funds as workers spend higher paycheques. Whether governments spend more money on hospitals or workers spend more money on eating out, spending money is what drives the economy. Hoarding money, on the other hand, hinders the economy. Unspent money can’t create jobs, no matter how many hundreds of billions of dollars it is.
If a robust health care system that’s prepared to easily deal with the fallout of a pandemic is important to you, then you should support measures to extract more money from billionaires and large corporations.
If a strong public research system that can help find a cure for the cause of a pandemic is important to you, then you should support measures to extract more money from billionaires and large corporations.
If an adaptable public education system that can flexibly educate students during a pandemic is important to you, then you should support measures to extract more money from billionaires and large corporations.
If workers being able to care for themselves in the event of a job loss is important to you, then you should support measures to extract more money from billionaires and large corporations.
If small business owners not having to go out of business due to lack of customers during a pandemic (or even an economic downturn, for that matter) is important to you, then you should support measures to extract more money from billionaires and large corporations.
Those measures can be varied but could include higher corporate taxes, higher inheritance taxes, higher income taxes on the top bracket, cracking down on tax evasion, implementing maximum wages, stronger labour unions, stronger antitrust laws, and so on.
And once that money is out of the hands of billionaires, it can be in the hands of the government and workers.
In the hands of the government, it can be spent on hospitals and health professionals, universities and researchers, schools and teachers, and so on. It can be spent on social programmes that get more money into the hands of consumers, whether it’s through supplementary income programmes or more progressive options, such a universal basic income.
In the hands of the workers (whether through wages, supplementary income, or UBI), it can be spent on groceries, on fuel, on clothes, on eating out, on new trucks, on housing, on cell phones, on going to the movies, on travel, on hockey games, on theatre productions, on hunting trips, on back country camping, and so on. And all those purchases require a person at the other end selling the product or providing the service. And the more people there are buying those products or paying for those services, the more jobs it’ll require.
The greed of billionaires and large corporations is preventing us from being able to quickly and efficiently respond to this pandemic. The greed of billionaires and large corporations is preventing small business owners from being able to keep their doors open during this pandemic. The greed of billionaires and large corporations is preventing workers from being able to provide for themselves during this pandemic.
And insisting that cutting their taxes will fix our hospitals and create jobs isn’t going to change anything.