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Lights out as capitalist economies grind towards halt

By Masao Suzuki

Socialist China restarting its economy

San José, CA – From the corporate magic of Disneyland in California to the bright lights of Broadway in New York City, to the famous tourist sites of Paris, France and Rome, Italy, lights are literally going out as more and more businesses shut down, as of today, March 15. Meanwhile, in socialist China, where the COVID-19 pandemic initially hit first and hardest, the economy is starting to recover as enterprises start to reopen and more and more people go back to work. One is struck by the irony of Apple, one of the capitalist world’s most valuable corporations, shutting all of its retail stores around the world even as it reopens its stores in China.

European economies are looking the worst right now. Europe has become the new center of the global pandemic, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), with more than three-quarters of all new infections (75.5%) happening in Europe. The European economy was already stalling at the end of 2019, with some countries like Germany barely growing while other countries like Italy already contracting.

Unfortunately, the United States looks to be following Europe’s lead. The lack of testing in the United States has allowed the COVID-19 to spread silently, so more and more business and schools are shutting down. The United States is now tracking about nine days behind Italy in terms of infections, although a nationwide shutdown happening in Italy and starting in Spain are likely to take longer, given the larger size of the United States.

Panic buying has broken out in the United States as major retailers’ shelves are stripped bare of cleaning products and non-perishable food. This has been fed by some amount of profiteering as individuals buy out whole stores to try to sell at much higher prices online. A restaurant apocalypse is in the making as ones who are not having to close by local government order are running out of customers. The single largest corporate employer and retailer in the United States, Walmart, is cutting back on its hours as it shuts all 24-hour stores at night.

For those workers who haven’t lost jobs or hours, they are being caught between the need to go to work to keep their paychecks, lack of safety measures at work, and having children at home from school closings. The Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives agreed to water down their COVID-19 response on the demand of the Trump administration so that perhaps only 20% of workers would be eligible for sick leave pay as big businesses and small ones are or can be exempted.

While the Federal Reserve offered $1.5 trillion to the financial system March 13 and 14, the Trump administration has been talking up the idea of a bailout for major industries hardest hit, such as the airlines. Trump gave a press conference on Friday, March 13 where he declared a national emergency to free up disaster funds to use to local governments hit hardest by COVID-19. The press conference made clear his “whole of government” approach (which traditionally would mean a bipartisan effort) was, in fact, an open corporate take-over of what should be a government response that will put the burden of the economic crisis on the backs of working people.

While local schools that are closing are making efforts to continue to get food into the hands of their lower-income students who rely on free or low-cost lunches, the Trump administration has been on a campaign to cut SNAP [food stamp] eligibility in order to throw more and more people out of the program. The Trump administration’s approach – from cutting funding for to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to chipping away at health insurance in order to pay for tax cuts for the rich and ever more military spending – has turned a potentially weak response to a pandemic to a potential disaster which may be unfolding now.

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