There’s an absurd myth being propagated throughout every country and media outlet in the world – the myth that the coronavirus is behind our struggling economies and re-opening the economy will change things.
The world is in desperate need of a reality check, because while the coronavirus has certainly dealt a massive blow to the global economy, it’s not at fault for the inherent flaws in the “free” market systems that exist in most parts of the world. Ever since 1990, when capitalist nations won the ideological conflict with socialists states and the Cold War ended, we’ve been living through the “end of history”, as Francis Fukuyama called it. With no competing ideologies, capitalism has been able to permeate throughout the world and operates without restriction, creating massive wealth disparity, making a tiny minority very, very, very rich and leaving millions of people behind in the doldrums of famine, homelessness and disease.
And, of course, any dissenting voice opposing the system is subjected to McCarthyism and labeled a socialist or a ‘pie-in-the-sky’ dreamer with ideas that aren’t grounded in reality. No doubt countless people will be reading this and dismissing me as a stupid socialist (not my political label of choice by the way) that wants rainbows and chocolate rivers but will actually end up in a Soviet Union-esque dystopia if I got my way. Maybe they’re right… maybe… but what about your free-market global standard-bearers like the United States makes you think it’s doing much better than the USSR in 1985? Take a look around and ask yourself whether the coronavirus is the cause of the economic disaster or if it’s merely a symptom.
We’ve all known that this system of unfettered wealth and relentless inequality was unsustainable. We knew that if the environment didn’t beat them to it, the poor would eventually be eating the rich and we still continued to live like nothing was wrong, because capitalism is the only thing that ‘works’…
In 2007, we were given a warning in the form of the global economic crisis, the so-called Great Recession. We were shown what happens when greediness goes unchecked. It only took another decade for Donald Trump to pass the biggest tax cuts in US history, the vast majority of which went towards the rich. And, in South Africa, our politicians are guilty of the same, but they take the money for themselves, not faceless corporate bosses. Yet, don’t think for a second that the Oppenheimers, Ruperts, Bekkers and Motsepes aren’t pulling the strings in their own favour, without any regard for the poorest in our country.
And now, as their share prices fall through the floor, all of a sudden we can’t hear enough about how important it is to send people back into the front lines of a public health crisis, because otherwise people will be starving. If we were to have a conversation about poverty in South Africa, we should have done so years ago – but six months ago, it was only us crazy idealists that wanted to talk about families struggling to put food on the table. We’ve been told that poverty is just a reality of life, but now all of a sudden we need to open the economy because mitigating poverty is so important. And that conversation has pivoted to the idea that some death is inevitable. So no longer are people’s livelihoods expendable, their lives are. It is morally reprehensible.
In the modern economy, most jobs don’t require you to go into the office anyways. There’s very little that can’t be achieved with an internet connection and a few Zoom calls. The only jobs that genuinely require physical contact are manual labour positions, like builders, miners, plumbers, domestic workers, electricians etc. And guess who is doing those jobs? The economically disenfranchised people of this country. And yet, we refuse to acknowledge that our economies cannot function without the workers that we pay a pittance, so instead act like we ALL need to go back to work.
And the people like myself that are in the Middle Class won’t actually be going back to work… our offices will remain in the virtual realm until we reach Level 1 and it really is safe to go back outside. But it’s okay, we’ll send the retail workers back at Level 4, because if a few of them die, it’s chilled. They don’t have Medical Aid and have to get treated at some shitty state clinic? Tough break, it’s the free market right? Pull yourself up by the bootstraps.
So us journalists will get to stay home and leave once a week or so to buy our groceries, maybe visit our friends, who aren’t at risk of contracting the virus, and, otherwise, we’ll live in relative safety and isolation, regardless of what the regulations are. But because I’m tired of cleaning my own toilet, I demand that the economy “opens”, because otherwise how are the poor going to feed themselves? And we all know that they’ll be eating three square meals a day and their fridges will be fully stocked when lockdown ends right?
The global economy is on its knees because it was built like a house of cards. Rather than building wealth through actual labour, the majority of wealth is generated by provident funds, investments and stock portfolios. We make money out of money, not out of hard work. The suckers who think hard work makes a difference are the ones at the bottom, working for minimum wage. Then we also act as if the South African economy was on solid ground in December 2019.
I’m here to tell you that re-opening this broken economy won’t make the starvation stop, it’ll just make your life a little bit more comfortable at the cost of far more lives. Should we criticise the government’s measures? Should we be looking for nuanced ways to get back to normal life, or the closest thing to it? Yes. The government has gotten a lot wrong, but that is no excuse for playing with human lives as if they are bargaining chips used in a quest to get your share of the pot.
If you think reopening the economy is for the good of the people, you are either naive or being completely disingenuous.