Thursday, 5 March 2020

Coronavirus: Marxist Accounts

Initial Post: March 3, 2020; Current Update March 23, 2020

Here are a series of links, which I will update as the pandemic continues to spread, to Marxist accounts.


Most recent analysis of the economic impact by Marxist economist Michael Roberts:  

• The 'emerging market' slump

"Forecasts of a global slump in the rest of 2020 are coming in droves from mainstream economists – it’s now the consensus that there will be a contraction in global real GDP in at least two consecutive quarters (Q1 and Q2), in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic and the ‘lock down’ in response." 

• 'It was the virus that did it.'

"This biological crisis has created panic in financial markets. Stock markets have plunged as much 30% in the space of weeks.  The fantasy world of every rising financial assets funded by ever lower borrowing costs is over.

COVID-19 appears to be an ‘unknown unknown’, like the ‘black swan’-type global financial crash that triggered the Great Recession over ten years ago.  But COVID-19, just like that financial crash, is not really a bolt out of the blue – a so-called ‘shock’ to an otherwise harmoniously growing capitalist economy.  Even before the pandemic struck, in most major capitalist economies, whether in the so-called developed world or in the ‘developing’ economies of the ‘Global South’, economic activity was slowing to a stop, with some economies already contracting in national output and investment, and many others on the brink." 


From the Marxist geographer David Harvey, 

• 'Anti-capitalist politics in the Time of Covid-19'

(Posted March 19, 2020)

'Workforces in most parts of the world have long been socialized to behave as good neoliberal subjects (which means blaming themselves or God if anything goes wrong but never daring to suggest capitalism might be the problem). But even good neoliberal subjects can see that there is something wrong with the way this pandemic is being responded to. 

The big question is how long will this go on? It could be more than a year and the longer it goes on the more the devaluation including of the labor force. Unemployment levels will almost certain rise to levels comparable to the 1930s in the absence of massive state interventions that will have to go against the neoliberal grain.'


Inadequate Action against Covid-19: The Ardern Government Must Put People before Profit

Posted in the ISO NZ website (19-3-2020).

Martin Gregory argues that New Zealand's Labour-led Government needed to go harder and earlier with its measures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Around the world capitalist governments (there are no others, unfortunately) have criminally permitted Covid-19 to spread and cause needless deaths. From the political harassment of Li Wenliang by the Chinese Stalinist police state to the present day, governments have behaved appallingly. Why? Because they have sought to limit the impact of responses to Covid-19 on the business of making money. Consequently, government measures have consistently been too little, too late." 


Article published March 15 in Red Flag by Australian Marxist political economist Rick Kuhn:

• 'Viral plague and economic crisis.'

 "We’re experiencing a triple crisis of production: brought about by the Covid-19 virus, a financial bubble bursting and, underlying that, stagnant profits. 

Natural disasters have brought about catastrophic falls in production and consumption throughout the existence of the human species. In contrast, purely economic crises are a recent phenomenon resulting from the spread of capitalism. But the two kinds of calamity interact because our world is governed by both scientific laws of physics, chemistry and biology and by the logic of the social system, capitalism, that we inhabit."


"With the prospect of a rapid escalation in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Australia, with the risk of hundreds if not thousands of deaths, and with a health crisis that, as the government now admits, could go for six months or longer, the Morrison government is responsible for a looming humanitarian disaster."


For the background and conditions that generate this kind of virus see the following book:

Rob Wallace, (2016) Big Farms Make Big Flu: Dispatches on Infectious Disease, Agribusiness, and the Nature of Science. New York: Monthly Review Press.

From the Monthly Review (US):

'Coronavirus: a disaster of capitalism’s making'
Posted Mar 04, 2020 by Ben Hillier
Originally published: Red Flag (March 2, 2020)

“What to do if confronted with an extremely contagious virus that medical experts say they have not seen before and don’t understand, and which is fast spreading and killing hundreds of people? a) Take precautionary measures to stop the virus spreading and prepare the health system for a potential shock? Or b) Ignore it, blithely assert–without any evidence–that it is little different from the common flu, accuse your adversaries, who are taking it more seriously, of scaremongering for political gain and then, when a pandemic is imminent and doctors still can’t say exactly how bad the virus is, tell everyone that everything’s under control despite little to nothing having been done to prepare for a local outbreak?”

'Coronavirus: Bracing for the economic shockwave'
Posted Mar 04, 2020 by Yves Smith
Originally published: Naked Capitalism (March 2, 2020)

“A case fatality rate of between 2% to 4% rivals and even exceeds that of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, which is estimated to have killed upwards of 50 million people. Even a case fatality rate of 0.7% — which means 7 out of every 1,000 infected people would die — is sobering. It is seven times the fatality rate for seasonal flu, which is estimated to kill between 290,000 and 650,000 people a year globally.”

'No, the coronavirus is not responsible for the fall of stock prices'
Posted Mar 04, 2020 by Éric Toussaint
Originally published: CADTM (Committee for the Abolition of Illegal Debt) (March 3, 2020)

“We are witnessing a big crisis in the stock markets of the Wall Street, Europe, Japan and Shanghai, and many blame the coronavirus for it. In the last week of February 2020, the worst week since October 2008, the Dow Jones fell 12.4%, the S&P 500 fell 11.5% and the Nasdaq Composite fell 10.5%. The scenario is similar in Europe and Asia for the corresponding period. On the London Stock Exchange, the FTSE-100 fell by 11.32%, in Paris the CAC 40 fell by 12%, in Frankfurt the DAX lost 12.44%, on the Tokyo Stock Exchange the Nikkei fell by 9.6%, the Chinese stock exchanges (Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hong Kong) also fell.


From the UK Socialist Worker:

'Coronavirus shows capitalism is sick'

by Alex Callinicos

See also:


From the Socialist Review of Aotearoa/NewZealand:

'Why is New Zealand so Sinophobic?'

By Brandon Johnstone


From Red Flag (published by Socialist Alternative in Australia).

• ‘We need more panic buying. Of ventilators, anti-virals and hospital beds.’
by Louise O’Shea  
"Despite the relatively recent experience of the SARS, Ebola and MERS epidemics, the health system is woefully underprepared to effectively deal with a pandemic. The cumulative neglect and defunding of the public health system under successive governments has created a situation where people suffer needlessly and die prematurely because of a lack of resources, even in the absence of a deadly pandemic. In the face of the coronavirus threat, this disgraceful situation has become positively criminal."

• ‘Coronavirus demands international solidarity, not authoritarianism’
by Sarah Garnham

“The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has unleashed terror upon the people of Wuhan. It has killed over 1000 and possibly infected hundreds of thousands. It has also spread beyond China and has the potential to become a pandemic that will kill millions.

This living nightmare is the work of modern capitalism. Virus outbreaks are not flukes of nature, nor are they akin to alien invasion. It is the cut-throat, profit driven and ecologically destructive logic of production, in particular food production, that enables the spread of toxic pathogens. In an increasingly globalised world with long production chains, the risk of epidemics developing into pandemics is dramatically increased.”


From Climate and Capitalism:

Article by, and interview of, Rob Wallace

• 'Coronavirus: Agribusiness breeds another deadly epidemic'

"Once again, authorities are scrambling to deal with a fast-spreading disease after the fact, while the systemic causes remain in place."

• 'Capitalist agriculture and Covid-19: A deadly combination.'

"The new coronavirus is keeping the world in a state of shock. But instead of fighting the structural causes of the pandemic, the government is focusing on emergency measures." 


From Jacobin in the US:

'Our Economic Model Is Making Us More Vulnerable to Coronavirus'

The coronavirus is making the argument for antitrust — single sources of supply for all kinds of suddenly essential medical needs are leading to shortages and could cause huge price jumps. 


Responses by Mainstream International Economic Agencies

From the IMF:

• 'Coronavirus Economic Planning: Hoping for the Best, Prepared for the Worst" 

• Monetary and Financial Stability During the Coronavirus Outbreak

 "The global spread of the coronavirus is a human tragedy unfolding across the world. Quantifying the economic impact is complex, giving rise to significant uncertainty about the economic outlook and the associated downside risks. Such an abrupt rise in uncertainty can put both economic growth and financial stability at risk. In addition to targeted economic policies and fiscal measures, the right monetary and financial stability policies will be vital to help buttress the global economy."

• 'Limiting the Economic Fallout of the Coronavirus with Large Targeted Policies' 

From the OECD:

• 'The impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on economic prospects is severe.'

 "Growth was weak but stabilising until the coronavirus Covid-19 hit. Restrictions on movement of people, goods and services, and containment measures such as factory closures have cut manufacturing and domestic demand sharply in China. The impact on the rest of the world through business travel and tourism, supply chains, commodities and lower confidence is growing." 

OECD Interim Economic Assessment Coronavirus: The world economy at risk 2 March 2020

"The adverse impact on confidence, financial markets, the travel sector and disruption to supply chains contributes to the downward revisions in all G20 economies in 2020, particularly ones strongly interconnected to China, such as Japan, Korea and Australia."
PDF can be downloaded from: 

From the World Bank:

• 'Swift action can help developing countries limit economic harm of coronavirus'

"We know from history that when the global economy faces a common threat, quick, coordinated, and decisive action makes all the difference. That is beginning to happen. Several countries have announced stimulus programs, many have cut interest rates, and both the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund have unveiled massive financial-support packages to help countries overcome the health crisis and limit the economic damage."

"No one can reliably predict the full economic impact of the outbreak. Too much depends on what is unknowable—how long the outbreak lasts, how many countries it afflicts, and the extent to which a coordinated, concerted, fast-track policy response is mobilized and sustained. But what we do know is that the outbreak arrived at a weak point for the world economy, when global growth was beginning to pick up from its lowest rate since the 2009 financial crisis." 

• 'Coronavirus highlights the need to strengthen health systems'

For years the IMF, OECD and World Bank have promoted neoliberal policies that have involved the under-funding of public health systems. No self-critical reflection on this in this article. Nonetheless, it is important to argue for more funding for public health. 

"But addressing emergency health and economic impacts from this outbreak must be followed by longer-term investments to build stronger and more resilient health systems. 
This makes sense both from a health and an economic perspective. Putting more resources on the front lines to detect and treat conditions early, before they become more serious, saves lives, improves health outcomes, reduces healthcare costs and strengthens preparedness for when outbreaks occur."


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