The global economic transformation after COVID-19

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Cartoon by Mark David/@mdavidcartoons.

The crises of 2020, particularly the COVID-19 pandemic, have shown us the true failings of neoliberalism and the need for change, writes Bilal Cleland.

THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC has held up a mirror to our society.

Those who believe they hold power in their hands and those around them are without significance may not yet be able to understand that millions of people have it.

The dominant “free market as god” ideology of neoliberalism has failed.

Nesrine Malik explains the spectacular failure of both the UK and the USA to deal with the coronavirus pandemic:

‘Anglo-American capitalism, pursued by both Right and centre-Left parties, rooted in small government and powered by exceptionalism, had dismantled the state.’

The market could not deal with the crisis.

The despised and weakened State had to step in to save lives and the economy.

The free and equal myth of democracy has been busted under the impact of virus deaths. 

The new aristocracy of wealth has been shown to be as parasitical and selfish as the aristocracy it replaced.

The corruption of the political system has exacerbated inequality in the midst of the pandemic.

In ‘The U.S. response to COVID-19 has lavished wealth on the rich’, Miles Kampf-Lassin lays it out:

The Small Business Paycheck Protection Program, meanwhile, turned out to be a bust for actual small businesses. Of the original $350 billion allocated for these businesses in the CARES Act, over $243 million ended up going to large corporations.


As a result, only 5% of all small businesses were able to access those funds, and over 30 million are still struggling to receive relief.

We are witnessing the exposure and the desperation of the old order through its spokespeople, like U.S. President Donald Trump, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and our Australian equivalents in organisations like the IPA, the source of Liberal Party candidates, with its “secret” donors like Gina Rinehart.

The worship of the True God of the Free Market is ringing hollow.

 The immediate consequence of neoliberal policies can be seen in the distribution of the death rate.

We are not all in this together at all.

In the UK, under Tory austerity, with a stripped out NHS:

‘The death rate among British black Africans and British Pakistanis from coronavirus in English hospitals is more than 2.5 times that of the white population, according to stark analysis by the Institute of Fiscal Studies.’

Owen Jones pointed to the class nature of the pandemic.

It targets those with pre-existing health conditions, which are more likely to be found among poorer Britons. It has largely spared those who can earn their keep from their living rooms using Zoom, quite unlike those whose working lives make human contact an unavoidable necessity.


More than 200 construction workers had died by 20 April, and as one trade unionist puts it: “How many of these died for that luxury flat, retail unit, football stadium or hotel?”

In the USA there has been a terrible cost in lives:

American states which have now lost more than 200 people per million citizens to COVID-19 comprise New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Michigan, District of Columbia, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Illinois, Delaware and Indiana.


The developed countries outside Western Europe with which the USA should be comparable have all kept deaths per million below eight.

A Yale epidemiologist, Gregg Gonsalves, co-director of Yale’s Global Health Justice Partnership, suggested it is ‘getting awfully close to genocide by default’:

‘What is happening in the US is purposeful, considered negligence, omission, failure to act by our leaders.


Can they be held responsible under international law?’

The pandemic has exposed the usually hidden racial contract which is a pillar of U.S. society. 

Adam Serwer, writing for The Atlantic, wrote:

The racial contract is a codicil rendered in invisible ink, one stating that the rules as written do not apply to nonwhite people in the same way.


“The terms of the Racial Contract,” Mills wrote, “mean that nonwhite subpersonhood is enshrined simultaneously with white personhood.”


Once the disproportionate impact of the epidemic was revealed (on Afro-Americans and Hispanics) to the American political and financial elite, many began to regard the rising death toll less as a national emergency than as an inconvenience.

Diversion from responsibility for rocketing death rates and inability to deal with the crisis is becoming the main avenue of failing governments in their efforts to escape the consequences of their stupidity.

This could bring about a dangerous, if short-lived, period of increased racism and conflict. Armed white supremacists have already invaded a state legislature in Michigan. China is being blamed in the USA — not Trump. Muslims are being blamed in India and African immigrants are being targeted in China.

Although Australia, a long-term subservient “ally” of the USA, may take longer to realise the need for fundamental transformation than more independent States, the Labor opposition is already calling for change.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese has called for a new focus on fairness in the recovery from the coronavirus crisis, naming housing construction and local manufacturing as two priorities in his economic agenda.

Dismissing talk of a “snapback” in the economy, he endorsed the need for:

‘...stronger government action to create permanent jobs and an industrial relations system to lift productivity and share the benefits.


We must revitalise high-value Australian manufacturing using our clean energy resources.’

There are signs that support for such a revised approach is also emerging in the USA.

Politicians from Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar to Senators Bernie Sanders and Richard Blumenthal are opposing the market fundamentalism of the Republican Party and many Democrats.

They are advocating wealth taxes, universal health care, plus 100 per cent cover of paychecks for the unemployed and monthly cash payments to all Americans during the pandemic.

As Miles Kampf-Lassin wrote:

‘Such proposals may seem far-fetched. But then, think of the strategy currently being carried out by the Federal Government: sacrificing American lives in the service of accumulating capital. It’s the status quo that’s radical. If there was ever a time to upend it, it’s now.’

There are indications that the prestige of the U.S. has been severely damaged by its inability to handle the pandemic and as Shaun Carney noted:

‘We've learnt that we have less in common with America and Americans than we thought.’

China’s prestige has also been diminished.

Australia may be shifted, willingly or unwillingly, towards a greater emphasis upon national sovereignty and a more independent role in the world under the impact of the coming changes.

Economic transformation and a genuine attempt to redress the atrocities created by growing inequality go hand-in-hand and the intellectual struggle against the old order is well underway.

As Professor Stan Grant Jr commented:

‘These are extraordinary times, whatever normal is it won’t be what normal was.’

Bilal Cleland is a retired secondary teacher and was Secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Chairman of the Muslim Welfare Board Victoria and Secretary of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils.

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