The COVID-19 epidemic reveals the stark truth: the US dismantled and privatized its public health system to fatten the pockets of the oligarchy and render working people more helpless and dependent.
The nation that considers itself to be the apex of capitalist achievement on planet Earth turns out to have no health care system worthy of the name—a testament to the sucking moral vacuum at America’s imperial, White settler colony core. A lowly virus—a form of being that exists at the very border between “life” and “not-life”—has revealed the world’s superpower as butt-naked and very much afraid.
“The system…is failing. Let’s admit it,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Fauci’s outfit is one of 27 institutes and centers that make up the National Institutes of Health under the umbrella of the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and its Epidemic Intelligence Service. But this vast alphabet soup of agencies could not find enough coronavirus testing kits to cope with an outbreak in the tiniest Pacific island micro-state—much less a nation of 330 million.
“The dirty little secret, which will soon become apparent to all, is that there is no real public health system in the United States,” wrote former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich in a recent Newsweek column. “America is waking up to the fact that it has almost no public capacity to deal with it. Instead of a public health system, we have a private for-profit system for individuals lucky enough to afford it and a rickety social insurance system for people fortunate enough to have a full-time job.”
There are no buttons for the Centers for Disease Control to push in response to the epidemic, because decades of corporate duopoly privatization has hollowed out the U.S. public health sector so that it barely functions on good days. Even the Veterans Administration hospital system, the closest thing the U.S. has to “socialized” medicine on the British model, has been forced by corporate members of Congress to outsource much of its services to for-profit companies and cut in-house treatment capacity to the bone.
Thus, local, state and federal officials must resort to calling on the Army Corps of Engineers to build the needed hospital beds from the ground up, while the epidemic rages, citing the U.S. military experience with Eebola in West Africa. If that is the rationale, then the U.S. should also call on Cuba for rescue from the coronavirus, since Havana sent 256 doctors, nurses and other health professionals to provide direct care to Ebola victims—while the U.S. military refused to touch even one sick African.
Considering the incompetence of President Donald Trump, Reich also noted, “The system would be failing even under a halfway competent president.” Competence can’t provide beds, kits, gear, equipment, medicines and doctors and nurses that don’t exist.
Just as there is no public health system because the Lords of Capital grew fatter through the wholesale privatizing of health services, so have these same oligarchs prospered from the unrelenting assault on the rest of the social safety net, and from the imposition of the “sh-t job,” “gig” economy. The goal of the austerity regime and “gig” employment is to make working people so insecure, so desperate, that they will accept any job, at any wage, under any conditions and schedule
In the absence of a real system of labor regulation enforcement, or an unemployment compensation structure that could actually reach most of the working population, “helicopter money” is the quickest and best that the corporate-owned state can do. More importantly, the one-off payouts leave no trace of a safety net behind, once the epidemic is over.
The capitalist “crisis of legitimacy” may have passed the point of no-return, as the Corporate State proves daily that it cannot perform the basic function of protecting the lives of its citizens. And those citizens have become aware that the oligarchs—their rulers—are the vectors of mass insecurity, sickness and death. The austerity “Race to the Bottom” regime may become a casualty of the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, China, the society that presents the largest threat to U.S. world domination, appears to have pulled itself out of the health crisis through the exertions of its amazing command economy. The Chinese have delivered 10,000 coronavirus kits to Poland and are “airlifting masks, respirators and other critical supplies” to Italy to make up for Germany and France’s refusal to provide these vital medical goods to their European Union partner. Just as China pulled the planet out of the Great Recession, it may also emerge even stronger from the coronavirus crisis.
“Aunty” Maxine (Waters) and “Uncle” Jim (Clyburn) can rally frightened Black voters around Biden and other corporate servants, but they cannot save the system from its internal contradictions. The Black Misleaders’ days are also numbered, along with their masters.
Glen Ford is the executive editor of BlackAgendaReport.com.