The Covid-19 pandemic is one of the most complex events facing global capitalism since World War II (as declared by the United Nations). According to information compiled by Johns Hopkins University, the pandemic has already caused more than three million confirmed deaths. In fact, compared to the diseases that caused the most deaths in 2019, according to information from the World Health Organization, Covid-19 is in fourth place.
Despite such a widespread impact, the situation does not affect everyone in the same way. The pandemic is combining with other pre-existing global issues, creating a multidimensional crisis. In particular, the health crisis worsens the great inequalities in the world and vice versa. One example is the limited access to Covid-19 diagnostic tests in low- and lower-middle-income countries. Although they represent 46.8% of the world’s population, these countries only have access to 21.6% of global tests. Sub-Saharan Africa is a tragic case because, although it represents 14% of the population, it only takes part in 1.4% of the tests.
According to a forthcoming study by the author of this article on the political economy of the Covid-19 crisis, another dramatic example of how the pandemic and the capitalist periphery are creating the worst of all worlds is reflected in a potential “apartheid vaccines”.
The combination of global patent systems, the concentration of scientific and technical capacity in a few countries, and even the interests of large pharmaceutical companies, severely limit the ability of poor countries to access Covid-19 vaccines. Looking at information from 164 countries, a direct relationship can be found between per capita income and immunization: on average, each 1% increase in per capita income is associated with a 1.34% increase in immunization rates.
The fact that the poorest regions of the world do not fully immunize their populations, while the richer regions acquire excess vaccines, has obvious effects. As Israel or the United States consider lifting restrictions through vaccination, the Covid-19 crisis is creating hell in Brazil and India. It is clear that in addition to the combination of the pandemic and the periphery, irresponsible treatments of the crisis are also relevant. Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Narendra Modi in India have dealt with the situation in dire straits.
But the severity of the Covid-19 crisis transcends such irresponsibility. Let us simply ask ourselves how poor countries can effectively deal with a global pandemic when they are historically victims of unequal trade processes, overexploitation of labor, extraction, accumulation by dispossession and others. structural problems?
The result of all these factors leads these countries to develop under conditions of enormous uncertainty. The Latin American labor market illustrates this problem. At the start of the pandemic, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated that 54% of the working population was employed informally, facing the uncertainty of ensuring their daily subsistence on the streets in the face of the threat of contracting the virus. and the various containment measures.
Paradoxically, even the effects of the pandemic on employment are uncertain. Unlike other crises, after one year, ILO estimates suggest that informal employment has fallen more sharply than formal employment. And uncertainty increases by including in the analysis other complexities facing the region, such as fiscal fragility, difficult access to external financing and even political and institutional instability.
The pandemic, the periphery and uncertainty are three dimensions that must be taken seriously to understand the economy, politics and, in general, social phenomena during the Covid-19 crisis. The pandemic as an immediate problem to be overcome in order to save lives; the periphery as a region that should receive priority attention in terms of testing, vaccines and international financial support; and uncertainty as the new dominant paradigm in the stages of protracted crises.
Certainly, economically speaking, times of crisis and deep uncertainty have become more acute, but they did not start with the coronavirus. Due to the international financial crisis of 2008-2009, significant challenges arose in the way of thinking and saving money. Among them, we can highlight the 33 theses for the reform of the economy published in 2017 by the group Rethinking Economics and the New Weather Institute.
Two of these 33 theses can be highlighted. The first is thesis 14, which states that “wages, profits and returns on assets depend on a wide range of factors, including the relative power of workers, firms and asset owners, and not simply their contribution to production “. Thesis 18 asserts that “markets often tend to increase inequalities”.
While the financial crisis has motivated these problems, the Covid-19 crisis – with the greatest human impact – requires deeper questions. In this discussion, it is urgent to stress, as R. Horton suggests in an article in The Lancet, that the Covid-19 crisis has triggered disputes over the exercise of power in societies: “central government versus local government , young against old, rich against poor, black against white, health against economy. ”In other words, the Covid-19 crisis is not only a health or economic crisis, it is also a distribution crisis. ‘energy.
If we do not discuss this distribution of power, we will remain trapped in false dichotomies that hide the fact that the world has enormous wealth that could be used during the crisis. Economists Saez and Zucman estimate that in the United States alone, 10% of taxpayers concentrate nearly 80% of all wealth (a percentage that has been growing steadily since the 1980s). In Latin America, economists Alarco Tosoni and Castillo Garcia estimate that in 2016, only 87 billion people reached a net worth of $ 373 billion, a figure higher than the nominal GDP of Venezuela, Colombia or Peru.
Such wealth could finance the livelihoods of marginalized populations during the pandemic with measures such as large income and wealth taxes, universal basic income, universal health insurance, etc. But if power relations – local and global – do not change, such measures will remain only good intentions that will suffocate to death in the pandemic … with uncertainty.