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Sun Mar 29, 2020, 09:13 AM

How Capitalism Kills During a Pandemic

(Jacobin) Critics of socialism often point to the mass deaths that occurred under dictators like Stalin and Mao. Such deaths were abhorrent, of course. But one problem with this line of attack is that it selectively ignores the numerous examples of mass deaths that occurred under brutal capitalist regimes, while also overlooking the everyday deaths that are a matter of course under capitalism, caused by grinding and utterly unnecessary poverty.

Both of these realities are or soon will be confronting us under the unfolding coronavirus pandemic. The virus will likely kill millions of people in the United States alone. Many of these fatalities could have been avoided if we had a social order that placed the needs of people over profit. Make no mistake: we’re facing a pandemic that could produce one of the worst mass deaths in human history, and capitalism will be responsible for many of them.

Profit Over People

To explain why, we should first go over some basics about capitalism. Capitalism is an economic system in which a small number of people (capitalists) own the vast majority of material resources (land, buildings, factories) necessary to produce useful things. Other people, the working class — the vast majority of us — own very little or no such resources.

Members of the working class must sell their labor to capitalists for a wage in order to survive (or they must depend on the financial support of someone else who works for a wage). The capitalist then sells the products made by the worker on the market, hoping to fetch a price over and above the cost of materials and what they paid the worker who made the goods. The difference between a good’s cost of production and the price the good sells for is what the capitalist keeps as profit (and can do with whatever the hell they feel like: buy a yacht, build a fourteenth bathroom in their mansion — whatever their heart desires).

Usually, capitalists compete with one another to sell similar goods. That competition forces each capitalist to keep their prices as low as possible. But, in order to continue making a profit, capitalists need to keep costs low as well. .......(more)


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