Ritu Raj Subedi
The COVID-19 pandemic first triggered a health emergency before quickly morphing into an economic calamity. The twin disasters combined to expose the ruthless character of neo-liberalism that loathes the values of welfare state, strong public institutions and universal morality. Already deflated by the 2008/2009 financial crisis, the neo-liberal system has faltered and collapsed under the strain of coronavirus flare-up, which amply vindicated the relevance of socialism, just distribution of national wealth and fair international order. The countries with robust public health services, such as China, Germany and Denmark, fully or relatively succeeded to contain the virus but those with weak or privatised systems saw a large number of fatalities. Once again, it has become evident that the profit-driven crass capitalism berates human life and dignity. When the crises – be it human- or nature-induced – hit the people, the neo-liberal regimes dithered and failed in saving their citizens from the catastrophe.
The US epic failure and China’s success in handling the pandemic clearly highlights the two different strategies and ideological visions adopted by political leadership of the respective nations. The US and some Western countries have accused China of spreading the virus but the blame is merely a subterfuge to hide their incompetence and neglected healthcare system. The US under its mercurial president Donald Trump underestimated the virus threat from the very beginning and failed to prepare against it. As a result, the US death toll from the virus has crossed 208,440, surpassing the total number of casualties of its soldiers caused by the last five wars that it fought since the mid-20th century.
In Bob Woodward’s new book, Rage, Trump has admitted that he was "playing down" the threat of the virus to the health of Americans despite knowing that it may be five times "more deadly" than the common flu. He said: "I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic." In February and March this year, the noted investigative journalist interviewed Trump on the US tackling of COVID-19 and has concluded that Trump is "the wrong man for the job". Despite early warnings from the Chinese authorities, the Trump administration squandered critical moments by indulging itself in futile blame game about the origin of the virus. One might be tempted to surmise that the situation would not have been so terrible if a Democrat president had occupied the seat of the White House. Still America’s privatised healthcare system is not much supportive of the poor, African Americans and immigrants, who find it difficult to foot the expensive medical bills when they suffer from serious health complications.
Unlike the US, China pulled out all stops to crush the virus ever since it first appeared in Wuhan of Hubei province. Martin Wolf wrote in the Financial Times on March 31 that China was successful in “bringing the disease under control in Hubei and halting its spread across China.” The world’s most populous country limited the death toll at 4,634. Trump refused to tell his people the truth about the deadly disease and prioritised business over public health. He declined to craft lockdown, conduct mass testing and enforce health protocols to break the chain of the virus infection. Seemingly, he is much concerned with the November presidential polls so he tried to keep the economy open at the expense of people’s lives.
Unlike Trump, Chinese president Xi Jinping applied a science-based and people-centric approach to saving people from the virus and revive the coronavirus-destroyed economy. Xi said that his government would be “putting people first.” Accordingly, it quickly subordinated its economic priorities to protect the lives of millions at risk. Owing to the fast elimination of domestic transmission of the virus, China is now witnessing a rapid economic recovery. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has projected that China will be the only major economy to experience positive growth in the aftermath of COVID-19 outbreak. On the other hand, the U.S. economy will shrink by 6.6 per cent for the year. “The risk ahead is that a large share of the U.S. population will have to contend with an important deterioration of living standards and significant economic hardship for several years to come,” IMF warns.
“How did China’s economy rebound so fast? The answer is clear: the socialist character of the economy,” write Vijay Prashad and John Ross in their joint article in Globetrotter. By July, China’s state investment stood at 3.8 per cent above its level of a year ago, while private investment is still 5.7 per cent below 2019. China’s powerful state sector was instrumental in keeping the looming recession at bay. This also debunks a fallacy that state-led investment lacks productivity, efficiency and innovation. The Soviet-experimented classical communism was dead long before but China has indigenised Marxism to suit its national context and reality. President Xi said: “The foundation of China’s political economy can only be a Marxist political economy, and not be based on other economic theories.” Will the COVID-19 impel the nations to embrace some key attributes of socialism to overcome unprecedented health crisis and economic shocks they are now reeling from?
(Deputy Executive Editor of The Rising Nepal, Subedi writes regularly on politics, foreign affairs and other contemporary issues. email@example.com)