Capitalism: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

Capitalism has brought enormous benefits to society. Millions have been lifted out of extreme poverty.

Yet it also has a dark side. A predatory side. This side is uncomfortable. This side is also revealed from time to time. For example, it was brought to light in the COVID-19 pandemic. It brought out the best in people; it brought out the worst in people. As Charles Dickens once said,

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

It seems like Dickens was writing about the times we live in. Paul Krugman a Nobel Prize winning economist was alert to the sinister effects of capitalism. This is what he said,

“Covid-19 has had a devastating effect on workers. The economy has plunged so quickly that official statistics can’t keep up, but the available data suggest that tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, with more job losses to come and full recovery probably years.

But Republicans adamantly oppose extending enhanced unemployment benefits — such an extension, says Senator Lindsey Graham, a leading Republican, will take place “over our dead bodies” (Actually, over other people’s dead bodies.)”

Is this what western democracy and capitalism has come down to? I will help the sick and poor only over my dead body!  Is this not predatory capitalism at its most ugly? Over our dead bodies…

What do the Senators have in mind? This is Krugman’s view:

“They apparently want to return to a situation in which most unemployed workers get no benefits at all, and even those collecting unemployment insurance get only a small fraction of their previous income.

Because most working-age Americans receive health insurance through their employers, job losses will cause a huge rise in the number of uninsured. The only mitigating factor is the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, which will allow many though by no means all of the newly uninsured to find alternative coverage.

But the Trump administration is still trying to have the Affordable Care Act ruled unconstitutional; “We want to terminate health care under Obamacare,” declared Donald Trump, even though the administration has never offered a serious alternative.

Bear in mind that ending Obamacare would end protection for Americans with pre-existing conditions — and that insurers would probably refuse to cover anyone who had Covid-19.

Finally, the devastation caused by the coronavirus has left many in the world’s wealthiest major nation unable to put sufficient food on the table. Families with children under 12 are especially hard hit: According to one recent survey, 41 percent of these families are already unable to afford enough to eat. Food banks are overwhelmed, with lines sometimes a mile long.

But Republicans are still trying to make food stamps harder to get, and fiercely oppose proposals to temporarily make food aid more generous.”


How much more brutal do the Republicans, standing in for the corporate elites want things to get? I really don’t know how far they are willing to go. Are they really willing to let 41% of American families starve, as Graham seems to suggest? That seems to be a starting point. But where will it end?

Again here is Krugman:

But we’re only now starting to get a sense of the Republican Party’s cruelty toward the economic victims of the coronavirus. In the face of what amounts to a vast natural disaster, you might have expected conservatives to break, at least temporarily, with their traditional opposition to helping fellow citizens in need. But no; they’re as determined as ever to punish the poor and unlucky.”

In the past so-called Conservatives have claimed such draconian policies were necessary because otherwise the poor who received handout would lose their incentive to work. Why work when you get handouts? Forgetting first of all, that the reality is very few people prefer handouts to work. Forgetting that in America and Canada work is part of most people’s self-identity and sense of worth. People without work lose their sense of worth and even in many cases their sense of identity. They are also forgetting that currently with unemployment in the US standing at 14%, the highest rate since the Depression, there is no work to be had! Nonetheless, as Krugman said,

“What’s remarkable about this determination is that the usual arguments against helping the needy, which were weak even in normal times, have become completely unsustainable in the face of the pandemic. Yet those arguments, zombielike, just keep shambling on… There was never serious evidence for this claim, but right now — at a time when workers can’t work, because doing their normal jobs would kill lots of people — I find it hard to understand how anyone can make this argument without gagging.

Added to that there is a lot of hypocrisy among Conservatives who also claim that we can’t help the poor and sick any more than we do because it will increase the deficit and impair our ability to help the sick and poor in the future. First of all, letting them die will not help them in the future! Secondly, it is obvious that they don’t want to help any more than they are doing now and this attitude is not likely to change in the future.”

Finally, as Krugman pointed out,

you still hear complaints that spending on food stamps and unemployment benefits increases the deficit. Now, Republicans never really cared about budget deficits; they demonstrated their hypocrisy by cheerfully passing a huge tax cut in 2017, and saying nothing as deficits surged. But it’s just absurd to complain about the cost of food stamps even as we offer corporations hundreds of billions in loans and loan guarantees. 

Krugman sought an understanding of the motivation of Conservative parsimony. This is how he explained it:

“So what explains the G.O.P.’s extraordinary indifference to the plight of Americans impoverished by this national disaster?

One answer may be that much of America’s right has effectively decided that we should simply go back to business as usual and accept the resulting death toll. Those who want to take that route may view anything that reduces hardship, and therefore makes social distancing more tolerable, as an obstacle to their plans.

Also, conservatives may worry that if we help those in distress, even temporarily, many Americans might decide that a stronger social safety net is a good thing in general. If your political strategy depends on convincing people that government is always the problem, never the solution, you don’t want voters to see the government actually doing good, even in times of dire need.

Whatever the reasons, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Americans suffering from the economic consequences of Covid-19 will get far less help than they should. Having already condemned tens of thousands to unnecessary death, Trump and his allies are in the process of condemning tens of millions to unnecessary hardship.”

Grim words or grim reality? You decide.

One thought on “Capitalism: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

  1. sir

    there was a time when some vague version of social democracy existed in the west. over 50 years it has been inexorably whittled down, almost disappearing completely.

    before the pandemic real wages had been virtually flat for a few decades. many of the jobs created over those decades were low wage part-time jobs without benefits of any significance.
    the result was of course the massive private indebtedness. people owed an average of many thousands of dollars on their credit cards, in addition to mortgage debt and automobile loan debt, all before the pandemic.

    simultaneously corporate and government debt increased exponentially.

    all those suggesting that social democracy was a good thing, a questionable proposition in my view, need to address why it has been impossible to reinstate livable wages and benefits during the last 50 years if they are going to make a case for capitalism. otherwise it is dead; the death has just not been formally declared.
    all of the above aside from the environmental devastation, the loss of any semblance of public ethics, the vapidity of consumer culture, etc. brought on by that capitalism that has “brought such enormous benefits.”

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