COVID-19, Capitalism, and Socialism

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 2088 ... May 13, 2020

COVID-19, Capitalism, and Socialism

Victor Wallis

The COVID-19 emergency underscores longstanding truths about capitalism and socialism. Acting on the most immediate demands that it raises draws us directly into a confrontation with core issues. COVID-19 is exceptionally contagious, and those who are infected by it do not necessarily show symptoms. These two traits, in combination, guarantee rapid spread of the virus unless certain requirements have been met.

Most directly, there must be ample supplies of the appropriate diagnostic tests, personal protective gear (masks, gloves, hand sanitizers, etc., especially for healthcare workers), and ventilators.

At a more basic level, there must be an adequate healthcare infrastructure. This means that there must be enough hospitals and enough healthcare professionals and support staff to be able to respond effectively to emergencies. It also means that all persons must be able to get diagnosed and treated free of charge.

At a still broader level, there are certain additional requirements. There should be universal "sick leave," so that individuals do not have to fear loss of income... if they stay away from their jobs for health reasons, and there should be unemployment compensation for all those whose jobs are terminated. Further, no person should lack housing (without which self-quarantining is impossible). Also, no distinction should be made, in matters of healthcare, between citizens or legal residents and those lacking such status (given that any inhabitant of the society is a potential transmitter of the virus). Finally, the government must have both the capacity and the political will to order the emergency mobilization of resources as needed, for everything from educating the public to assuring food supplies to rapidly building temporary hospitals.

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