Disaster Capitalism Causes Disasters

Many have wondered why some places have been hit hard by the pandemic (Spain, Italy, New York, etc) whereas others still are barely affected. Some likely factors are public transportation, population density, and multiple generation households. Socioeconomic conditions and probably inequality also is involved, as poverty correlates with higher rates of immunological compromise and dysfunction because of stress, food deserts, parasite load, lack of healthcare, and such.

Air pollution, for example, increases asthma which is a major comorbidity of COVID-19. And, of course, poor areas tend to have far worse air pollution, not to mention heavy metal toxicity from old paint and pipes, toxic soil from old factories, and toxic waste dumps. But it turns out that the virus SARS-CoV-2 can also be carried by air pollution particles: Ron Brackett reports that, “Air samples were collected at two sites in Bergamo province in northern Italy’s Lombardy region, the area of the country hit hardest by the pandemic. Testing found a gene highly specific to COVID-19 in multiple samples from the province, one of the most polluted in Italy” (Researchers Find Coronavirus on Pollution Particles). That might be another explanation for why dense urban areas like New York City could worsen infection and death rates.

Consider the example of Italy (Conn Hallinan, How Austerity and Anti-Immigrant Politics Left Italy Exposed; & John Buell, Disaster Capitalism and the Real Culprit in the Italian Covid-19 Catastrophe). Since the 2008 recession, the number of Italians in extreme poverty has doubled which no puts it at more than 10% of the population (Eva Pastorelli & Andrea Stocchiero, Inequalities in Italy) with another 6.8% barely above poverty (Federico Razetti, Poor, scarcely poor and almost poor: what’s going on in Italy?) — combined together, that equates to around 10 million Italians, which is more than the entire population of New York City. Bergamo province is in northern Italy. Even worst poverty is found further south, the location of 70% of the poor (Michael Huang, 10 Facts About Poverty In Italy That Everyone Should Know).

Two of the countries most devastated by COVID-19 are Italy and Spain, both of which have suffered from high rates of poverty combined with economic austerity. As in the United States, it’s the most impoverished and underprivileged who bear the brunt. Shockingly, in New York City, almost half the population is at or near the poverty level with one in five fully in poverty (NYC Opportunity, Poverty in NYC). Although NYC poverty has dropped slightly, inequality remains as high as ever (Elizabeth Kim, NYC Poverty Level Drops To Record Lows, But Income Inequality Persists). It’s unsurprising that such immense poverty and inequality crippled the public health response in such places and specifically harmed those worse off, such as seen in Spain (Guy Hedgecoe, In Spain, austerity legacy cripples coronavirus fight; Brais Fernandez, Spain’s Hospitals Have Suffered Death by a Thousand Cuts; & Stephen Burgen, Poor and vulnerable hardest hit by pandemic in Spain). Such pandemic inequality has been seen all across the United States with poor minorities hit the hardest.

For a combination of reasons, the poor are hit hardest and specifically where poverty is concentrated and exacerbated by high inequality. And this pandemic will only worsen poverty and inequality, unless we demand reforms that are both democratic and progressive. But if we let disaster capitalism run rampant, it will bring on further disasters.

* * *

Austerity in the Age of COVID-19: A Match Made in Hell?
by Paul Rogers

The Impact of COVID-19 Is All Down to Inequality
by Mariano Aguirre

How austerity measures hurt the COVID-19 response
by Cristina Fominaya

As Coronavirus Deepens Inequality, Inequality Worsens Its Spread
by Max Fisher and Emma Bubola

The coronavirus pandemic is already increasing inequality
by Steve Schifferes

Covid-19 shows why tackling inequality benefits everyone
by Han Fook Kwang

The pandemic strengthens the case for universal basic income
by Ishaan Tharoor

Athens is starved so that Sparta can be fed.

“It’s not the Americans, what they are doing in this country or that, or the Germans or the French or such. It’s the dominant interests in that country. If anything, the common people in these countries are themselves also the victims. It’s their taxes that are used to raise the armies. It’s their sons and brothers and now daughters and such who go in and pay the price in blood.

“The empire feeds off of the republic’s resources. The people end up doing without essentials so that Patricians can pursue their far off plunder. Athens is starved so that Sparta can be fed. And you see that very same thing happening today. You see, for instance, an estimated 200 to 250 billion is going to be spent on Iraq. Meanwhile, the Republican Congress is proposing about 300 billion in cuts in human services, in public services, in healthcare, in aid to public education, and the like.

“Every time they raise your tuition you are paying for the cost of empire. Every time they cut funds to the state of Wisconsin you have to make up the difference. Everywhere I go… and, when I pick up the local newspapers, it often seems like the same paper and every paper has the same story for a while, factoring when the fiscal year was ending, it would say: ‘State facing huge deficits’, ‘City council voting cuts in budget’…

“That is the cost of empire. What happens then is our economic democracy is under attack.

“Not everyone, as they say, pays the costs. Some people profit immensely.”

That is from a talk given by Michael Parenti at the University of Wisconsin.

What he spoke of here was part of a larger point he was making. Empires don’t happen by accident or by absentmindedness. Empires are built and that happens intentionally with immense effort and costs. We imperial subjects don’t always notice the costs because we aren’t used to thinking about our country as an empire. But the costs are always there, however hidden by mechanisms that externalize them, that defer and displace them.

Yet there are also benefits, powerful interests that are being served. The purpose for imperialism isn’t simply about brute power, though. It’s about control toward specific ends.

Parenti explains that, even without Western domination, many non-Western countries were more than willing to sell oil and participate in global trade. Still, that isn’t enough. The Western oil cartels want to be able to control the oil supply in foreign countries. Here is the problem presented by those like Saddam Hussein. It wasn’t that he wouldn’t sell his oil but that he insisted on selling his oil that was driving down oil prices. That is contrary to the interests who want to control and manipulate the oil markets, to artificially set the prices so that they will bring in the largest profits.

Also, the problem wasn’t that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator. It was the US who put him in power in order to ensure the destruction of Iraqi democracy, an action that required the death, torture, and imprisonment of Iraqis fighting for their freedom. The US wanted a brutal dictator and supported him most strongly (with money and weapons, including weapons of mass destruction and biological weapons) precisely when he was at his most brutal, for he was being brutal in serving Western interests. What sealed his doom was his ultimate refusal to play the role of a subordinate puppet dictator. It turned out that, as leader, he wanted to serve the interests of Iraqis instead of the interests of Western powers. That is the one thing Western powers can’t tolerate.

All of that is obvious, to anyone who isn’t entirely propagandized by Western education and media. The main issue remains what I quoted. And it isn’t a new insight. Parenti is simply rephrasing what Dwight D. Eisenhower stated earlier last century, in his famous Chance for Peace speech. But it bears repeating, until one day the American people finally grasp the horrific injustice that has been forced on them, costs that aren’t just monetary but human. As Eisenhower explained it,

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

“The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

“This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”