Friday, March 20, 2020

There Is Nothing More Political Than A Pandemic


opendemocracy  |  The US Federal Reserve has chosen to pump $1.5tn into Wall Street to reinflate the stock market, while millions of Americans go without insurance or continue to go to work despite sickness, because they can’t afford a day off. That’s a political choice.

The governments of Ireland, Finland and France have chosen to pay out millions to their citizens and to cancel mortgage and rent payments. Those, too, are political choices.

The poor are much more likely to die from COVID-19 than the rich, because they have other illnesses thanks to their poverty. The staggering increase in homelessness rates in the UK means thousands have nowhere safe to go. The failure to tackle domestic violence across the world means that millions of women will be living in fear as they self-isolate. All of these problems are products of the failures of our politics.

Wealth and power will define who is bankrupted and who isn’t, who becomes sick and who doesn’t, who gets the care they need and who suffers, how many of us will live and how many will die. But we will be told that we’re not allowed to talk about these things, because they’re political.

For a decade, progressives across the Western world have been pointing out that our healthcare systems are being torched on the altar of the market. But now we’re all paying the price of that sacrifice, we won’t be allowed to mention it. Because that’s political.

For a generation, the left has developed policy ideas to ensure the protection of everyone in an increasingly precarious economy. But we will be told off for calling for them. Because that’s political.

More broadly, politics is how we negotiate how we live together. And so there is absolutely nothing on earth that is more political than a pandemic, when disagreements over resources and priorities and behaviour define who will live and who will die, not through the slow playing-out of the long symphony of history, but in the coming weeks and months.

Health is always a social affair, and never more so than with infectious diseases. As a species we live in groups. Everybody’s health relies on everybody else’s. The survival of each depends to some extent on support for all. There is no such thing as an isolated individual decision in a pandemic.

There is no doubt that our world will not go back to what it was before, As Naomi Klein pointed out more than a decade ago, big money has long used disasters to advance its agenda of cuts, privatisation and deregulation, securing unpopular policies when people are too overwhelmed to resist.