This week’s topic in the media has been a debate about the actual number of deaths the epidemic is causing. Macron doubts the Chinese figures, the Iranian parliament’s count is double that of its government and in Spain 8,000 new deaths are confirmed that the government continues to refuse to count because they could not even be diagnosed due to lack of tests. The horror and the noise do not manage to hide a reality repeated country by country: the slaughter of old people in nursing homes, the role as sources of contagion of the companies that did not close down, the haste of the governments to restart businesses no matter what. But this week left more topics and a few clues about the world that will follow the epidemic.
The social costs of “big pharma”…
If no vaccine and mass vaccination campaigns are carried out, “social distancing” measures are bound to continue in one form or another until 2024. As the prospect is a win-win situation, pharmaceutical companies are sabotaging the centralization and acceleration of development in supranational organizations. The Italian appeal to the EU to create an international alliance for a vaccine has all the prospects of coming to nothing or of becoming decaffeinated in a sprinkling of subsidies to “big pharma”, in reality a marketing and patent exploitation machine whose R&D has been outsourced for too long. These companies are, of course, excellent vehicles for capital, but their lobbying power is inversely proportional to their usefulness in meeting the needs of pharmaceutical innovation for exactly the same reasons.
… result in the implosion of the tourism sector and with it of “destination countries”
The latest IMF report provided a particularly bleak outlook for Italy and Spain. In Spain the forecasted decline is to reach 20% unemployment and a fall in the GDP of 8% by 2020. The number is striking because at the end of the day the Spanish government is the one that has committed the least resources in relation to its GDP of the European countries affected and therefore the one that could be expected to suffer the least debt. However, it is the one that will end up owing the most debt. The reason is the dependence on tourism to increase the balance of trade – international tourism is an export of services – and the weight of the hotel and leisure services in employment. If “social distancing” is going to go on, more or less relaxed, for years, partly because of the foreseeable delay of the vaccine and partly because of the rush to send workers back to the factory and office, the whole sector is going to collapse.
The shutdown of German Wings, Lufthansa’s low cost line and the reduction in bases of asian airlines warn of a brutal fall. The World Tourism Organization conservatively estimates that the number of international tourists will fall by 20-30% overall, which in revenue terms means a seven-and-a-half times greater – and probably much longer – drop in the tourism revenues of host countries. Italy, Spain, Greece, Croatia, Turkey, Tunisia… are going to carry an extra weight in the recession: the suffocation of one of their main export sectors.
What’s more, in a highly financialized sector like airlines and tourism, a succession of financial closures and bankruptcies coupled with the industrial crisis is practically inevitable. The trend that was already evident with the bankruptcy of Thomas Cook is worsening and accelerating.
- «Quiebra Thomas Cook», 23/9/2019
A war capitalism dressed in “green”, a culture of “sacrifice”
In the post-covid world, not only will international travel be much less frequent, but the re-nationalization of production chains is already a given. The World Trade Organization has calculated a drop in international trade of 32% or even higher for the scenario we are seeing where nation states are unable to coordinate among themselves comprehensive policies against the drop in economic activity. Although the figures will ease in the years to come, as confinements disappear or are limited to pockets of resurgence, the change is structural and part of the process of generalization of true war economies.
They are imperialist war economies in the strict sense: increasingly concentrated capital and increasingly centralized states orienting their entire power to winning markets to sustain accumulation and, in the meantime, organizing a massive transfer of income from labor to capital.
We are already seeing how this transfer will be organized. In Argentina, the trade unions, very much at work, are imposing cuts of up to 30% in wages “to avoid layoffs”. In Europe, the “green deal” will become strengthened not only because big capital as a whole sees the change in its technological base as the most desirable way to generate new destinations for capital on a widespread basis. But because now, renationalization makes it easier, cushioning the more than probable differences in implementation times. And also because the most powerful European imperialism, Germany, understands that strengthening and accelerating the “Ecological Transition” is the way to increase its capacity to attract capital at a time when it was already considering some key technological battles with China and the US as lost.
The phenomenon is of such force that it is already beginning to show even cultural consequences. Not a single day passes without seeing devastating criticism of the “coddling of children” and praise for the quasi-military harshness of the training of emergency workers and nurses. The post-May ’68 pedagogical discourse, the “laissez faire” in education, the reduction of selective pressure… are now seen as inappropriate. Stress and the “ethics of sacrifice” of the Korean or Chinese education systems are no longer seen as an authoritarian and maddening delirium, but as part of a “building of character” to be recovered. Even today it may seem difficult for families to accept it, but it seemed even crazier that the propaganda of the “green deal” could create its own pathology, “climate anxiety”, and massify it among the pubescent and teenagers.
And yet, the trends of capital are not the only ones present
So much for the immediate future that capital offers mankind. But it is not the only present force defining what is to come. As we see on our map of “Covid strikes”, all over the world workers are stopping, protesting and fighting to impose universal human needs – starting by not getting infected or contagious and followed by guaranteeing supplies, living spaces and freedoms for all. This force, already on the move and growing every day, which as we can see is global and whose approaches and objectives converge at once, is the only thing that separates us from the miserable world to which the logic of the profitability of capital as the ordering principle of the whole of society leads us.
The post-confinement world is beginning to take shape. On the one hand, the tendencies shown by capital outline a world of war economy and exaltation of sacrifice; on the other hand, the world wave of workers’ struggles presents a world that imposes life by orienting production to satisfy people’s needs. On this struggle, which can only be understood as a class struggle, depends the immediate future and the destiny of the whole Humanity.