Published at 15:23 on 23 March 2020
If I were an evil person with the desire to do harm, and if I possessed the ability to genetically engineer, from scratch, a virus designed specifically to target people in the United States of America, I would design a virus much like SARS-CoV-2, the COVID-19 coronavirus. It is difficult to conceive of a virus more optimized to target the weaknesses of the USA. Maybe the only change I would make is to make the virus more lethal.
As it is, we have a virus seemingly almost tailor-made to attack a society whose self-image is tightly bound up with capitalism.
There are no existing drugs to control its spread, and developing such drugs will take time. Therefore, as lucrative as such therapies could be for their inventors, none can be available at the present. Since no pharmaceutical interventions are available, society must rely on non-pharmaceutical interventions.
One such intervention is self-isolation of the sick. But being a hyper-capitalist society, there is no mandatory, universal, paid sick leave in the USA, creating an economic disincentive for sick individuals to do the socially responsible thing. Even now, when the need for such leave should be self-evident, capitalism’s most subservient lackeys are busy opposing such a measure in Congress.
Another is the shutting down of non-essential economic activity, so that even the apparently well can self-isolate as much as possible. This is because the virus has a long incubation period, during which infected people are unaware of their infected status and are capable of infecting others. (The virus also frequently causes asymptomatic infections.)
It is totally feasible to perform such a shutdown for a period of up to several years, because most economic activity is not in fact vitally necessary. We can get by without new cars being made for a year or two (we did during World War II, after all). Ditto for most consumer electronics (above and beyond the need to replace defunct devices), fashions, most new housing, etc. Just stop things for a while. Let food, medicines, spare parts, other essential goods continue to be produced and distributed.
The number of workers involved in the above sectors is small enough that: a) most people could isolate themselves, and b) there would be enough experienced workers in reserve that any workers taking sick leave could easily be replaced. Most people wouldn’t be earning money, so the simplest way to facilitate distribution of needed basics would be to simply have a universal basic income for the temporarily unemployed. Relief from rents and loan payments would also probably be required.
Beyond several years, problems would start emerging. More labor and products would be needed, because shortages would develop in many sectors. Price controls (probably needed to ensure essentials can be afforded) would start causing economic malfunctions. However, there is nothing that makes the above impossible for shorter terms of time, and twelve to eighteen months is all we need.
Nothing, that is, except it would leave most capitalists out in the cold, no longer able to exploit labor and amass wealth by taking for themselves the surplus value it creates. Thus, it is a particularly toxic idea in American society. Expect it to be fought, to the max.
Those doubting this assertion have only to ponder how Trump has so far refused to use legitimate emergency authority to order businesses to do things like manufacture needed medical supplies*. That would mean bossing the capitalist bosses around, and we can’t have that.
So expect opposition from the capitalist class. Expect the opposition to be successful, because the capitalist class is not called the ruling class for nothing. Expect there to be consequences: severe, painful consequences. Viruses don’t care about anyone’s childish emotional attachments to obsolete socioeconomic systems.
No empire lasts forever. This is as true for the US empire as it was for any preceding one. When empires collapse, the process is almost never simple or painless. The badly-botched pandemic response, along with the Trump regime, is simply part of that process.
* Even supposedly progressive Jay Inslee, governor of Washington, has so far refused to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order, despite California (six times more infected on a per-capita basis) and Illinois (five times more infected) having already issued such orders. Now today, his office has announced there is a proclamation coming this evening, on the same day that Boeing announced it is closing its factories for the time being. Mere coincidence? I think not.