Profits over Human Rights: How COVID-19 Exposed the Faults of Capitalism

Sprouting from Wuhan, China to across the globe, the coronavirus outbreak brought forth an age of great uncertainty, disaster, and economic woes. Everywhere media outlets blare news of the crippling economy; as the flow of people came to a halt, the economy too has come to a standstill. What initially started out as a pandemic unexpectedly became a spotlight on the faults of capitalism – a subject that has long deserved more global attention. Late-stage capitalism is no new nor radical debate topic, where it is often discussed in certain economic forums and social media platforms among debt-ridden millennials. In tandem with the beginning of a new decade, the pandemic is finally shedding a bolder light on a once lauded economic system. Finally, the brutal systemic priorities of capitalism — profit-making over life-making – are shown on the front. 

Competition over resources:

One of the earliest widespread problems following the outbreak was the scramble for resources: especially food and hygiene products. Roused from fears of infection and running out of supplies, people rushed to supermarkets in order to stockpile necessary living goods. Hoarding arose as a major issue, as seen in the infamous frenzy over toilet paper. The rush for toilet paper was immense to the point that grocery stores in Australia have hired security guards to patrol customers. For a while, empty shelves became a regular sight. This panic buying phenomenon portrayed a survivalist, almost primitive tendency with consumers excessively purchasing materials and leaving nothing for those unfortunate to be last in the line. Shoppers focused on buying as much as they can with little to no consideration for leaving a fair share for others; a behavior that can be understood in the sense that capitalist countries such as the US do not offer aid such as food, as well as for living under quarantine. But what cannot be ignored is the aforementioned competition over basic living necessities. The world is witnessing a race for survival - forcing unnecessary competition instead of offering aid.

Disregard for the safety of workers:

Even amid the quarantine, certain workers continued to work as usual. Cashiers at supermarkets are an iconic example, as they were not only made to come but rather very much needed with the sharp increase of consumers. While others are allowed to work from home under the global "stay at home" campaign, such laborers are put in great risk of infection from close proximity with many strangers for prolonged periods of time. Thus it is no surprise that retail workers around the world are protesting against their employers, as seen in the strikes coordinated by Amazon and Target employees in protest of working conditions and inadequate safety protections during the coronavirus pandemic. This treatment of workers shows how companies are willing to sacrifice their employees for the sake of avoiding further losses. Such business practices deserve scrutiny for subjecting employees to such unfair and dangerous conditions. It simultaneously portrays the rift between white and blue-collar workers. With the progression of the pandemic, millions have filed for unemployment benefits in recent weeks, reflecting widespread layoffs. In a positive way, COVID-19 became an unprecedented opportunity that demonstrated the importance of blue-collar workers; much depended upon yet given little credit. 

Business over people:

As companies wilted during the pandemic, employees became a target to layoffs. Struggling from heavy losses, numerous companies are suddenly cutting employees and even those who made it past interviews. For instance, media titan Disney furloughed 100,000 theme park and hotel workers. It is further made clear by the fact that governments are now extending loans to businesses at a time when private debt is already historically high. Suddenly cut off from their career, workers now have to seek another in an ever-challenging job market; competing with likewise concerned job-seekers. In a time when so many, especially households with low income, were already struggling with multiple economic troubles, the pandemic wrought unprecedented levels of anxiety. As reflected in the layoffs, the pandemic revealed the need for vast, fundamental changes to current capitalist systems to ensure people can continue living even without income – especially for immigrants, the disabled, and those with children. In the end, COVID-19 managed to expose what may be the ultimate fault of capitalism: one must earn in order to exist. Though widely accepted as the norm, many, mostly older generations, fail to realize that capitalism expects people must be profitable just to earn basic living rights. Not only does this monetize living rights, but it also bars people who struggle with problems such as disabilities.  

The pandemic has caused great damage in physical, social, and economic terms by no doubt, but in a small positive turn showed the cruelty of capitalism in such a clear light. Even though various countries around the world, both developed and developing, are providing benefits, governments are doing so because they are forced to and therefore always on a temporary basis. This is why even countries such as the US, which are model capitalist states, are reluctantly giving out aid. From misery, now it is time to use this opportunity for paving way for much-needed changes. Capitalism is no longer defined by the so-called American dream where everyone can steadily attain wealth through hard labor. The wait has been too long for granting living rights without compensating one’s existence via satisfying corporate interests.