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Our Leaders Are Terrified. Not of the Virus – of Us
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You can almost smell the fear-laden sweat oozing from the pores of television broadcasts and social media posts as it finally dawns on our political and media establishments what the coronavirus actually means. And I am not talking about the threat posed to our health.

A worldview that has crowded out all other thinking for nearly two generations is coming crashing down. It has no answers to our current predicament. There is a kind of tragic karma to the fact that so many major countries – meaning major economies – are today run by the very men least equipped ideologically, emotionally and spiritually to deal with the virus.

That is being starkly exposed everywhere in the west, but the UK is a particularly revealing case study.

Dragging their heels

It emerged at the weekend that Dominic Cummings, the ideological powerhouse behind Britain’s buffoonish prime minister Boris Johnson, was pivotal in delaying the UK government’s response to the coronavirus – effectively driving Britain on to the Italian (bad) path of contagion rather than the South Korean (good) one.

According to media reports at the weekend, Cummings initially stalled government action, arguing of the coming plague that “if that means some pensioners die, too bad”. That approach explains the dragging of heels for many days, and then days more of dither that is only now coming to a resolution.

Cummings, of course, denies ever making the statement, calling the claim “defamatory”. But let’s dispense with the formalities. Does anybody really – really – believe that that wasn’t the first thought of Cummings and half the cabinet when confronted with an imminent contagion they understood was about to unravel a social and economic theory they have dedicated their entire political careers to turning into a mass cult? An economic theory from which – by happy coincidence – they derive their political power and class privilege.

And sure enough, these hardcore monetarists are already quietly becoming pretend socialists to weather the very first weeks of the crisis. And there are many months more to run.

Austerity thrown out

As I predicted in my last post, the UK government last week threw out the austerity policies that have been the benchmark of Conservative party orthodoxy for more than a decade and announced a splurge of spending to save businesses with no business as well as members of the public no longer in a position to earn a living.

Since the 2008 financial crash, the Tories have cut social and welfare spending to the bone, creating a massive underclass in Britain, and have left local authorities penniless and incapable of covering the shortfall. For the past decade, the Conservative government excused its brutalist approach with the mantra that there was no “magic money tree” to help in times of trouble.

The free market, they argued, was the only fiscally responsible path. And in its infinite wisdom, the market had decided that the 1 per cent – the millionaires and billionaires who had tanked the economy in that 2008 crash – would get even filthier rich than they were already.

Meanwhile, the rest of us would see the siphoning off of our wages and prospects so that the 1 per cent could horde yet more wealth on offshore islands where we and the government could never get our hands on it.

“Neoliberalism” became a mystifying term used to reimagine unsustainable late-stage, corporate capitalism not only as a rational and just system but as the only system that did not involve gulags or bread queues.

Not only did British politicians (including most of the Labour parliamentary party) subscribe to it, but so did the entire corporate media, even if the “liberal” Guardian would very occasionally and very ineffectually wring its hands about whether it was time to make this turbo-charged capitalism a little more caring.

Only deluded, dangerous Corbyn “cultists” thought different.

Self-serving fairytale

But suddenly, it seems, the Tories have found that magic money tree after all. It was there all along and apparently has plenty of low-hanging fruit the rest of us may be allowed to partake from.

One doesn’t need to be a genius like Dominic Cummings to see how politically terrifying this moment is for the establishment. The story they have been telling us for 40 years or more about harsh economic realities is about to be exposed as a self-serving fairytale. We have been lied to – and soon we are going to grasp that very clearly.

That is why this week the Tory politician Zac Goldsmith, a billionaire’s son who was recently elevated to the House of Lords, described as a “twat” anyone who had the temerity to become a “backseat critic” of Boris Johnson. And it is why the feted “political journalist” Isabel Oakeshott – formerly of the Sunday Times and a regular on BBC Question Time – took to twitter to applaud Matt Hancock and Johnson for their self-sacrifice and dedication to public service in dealing with the virus:

Be ready. Over the coming weeks, more and more journalists are going to sound like North Korea’s press corps, with paeans to “the dear leader” and demands that we trust that he knows best what must be done in our hour of need.

Saved by the bail-outs

The political and media class’s current desperation has a substantive cause – and one that should worry us as much as the virus itself.

Twelve years ago capitalism teetered on the brink of the abyss, its structural flaws exposed for anyone who cared to look. The 2008 crash almost broke the global financial system. It was saved by us, the public. The government delved deep into our pockets and transferred our money to the banks. Or rather the bankers.

We saved the bankers – and the politicians – from their economic incompetence through bail-outs that were again mystified by being named “quantitative easing”.


But we weren’t the ones rewarded. We did not own the banks or get a meaningful stake in them. We did not even get oversight in return for our huge public investment. Once we had saved them, the bankers went right back to enriching themselves and their friends in precisely the same manner that stalled the economy in 2008.

The bail-outs did not fix capitalism, they simply delayed for a while longer its inevitable collapse.

Capitalism is still structurally flawed. Its dependence on ever-expanding consumption cannot answer the environmental crises necessarily entailed by such consumption. And economies that are being artificially “grown”, at the same time as resources deplete, ultimately create inflated bubbles of nothingness – bubbles that will soon burst again.

Survival mode

Indeed, the virus is illustrative of one of those structural flaws – an early warning of the wider environmental emergency, and a reminder that capitalism, by intertwining economic greed with environmental greed, has ensured the two spheres collapse in tandem.

Pandemics like this one are the outcome of our destruction of natural habitats – to grow cattle for burgers, to plant palm trees for cakes and biscuits, to log forests for flat-pack furniture. Animals are being driven into ever closer proximity, forcing diseases to cross the species barrier. And then in a world of low-cost flights, disease finds an easy and rapid transit to every corner of the planet.

The truth is that in a time of collapse, like this decade-long one, capitalism has only “magic money trees” left. The first one, in the late 2000s, was reserved for the banks and the large corporations – the wealth elite that now run our governments as plutocracies.

The second “magic money tree”, needed to deal with what will become the even more disastrous economic toll wrought by the virus, has had to be widened to include us. But make no mistake. The circle of beneficence has been expanded not because capitalism suddenly cares about the homeless and those reliant on food banks. Capitalism is an amoral economic system driven by the accumulation of profit for the owners of capital. And that’s not you or me.

No, capitalism is now in survival mode. That is why western governments will, for a time, try to “bail out” sections of their publics too, giving back to them some of the communal wealth that has been extracted over many decades. These governments will try to conceal for a little longer the fact that capitalism is entirely incapable of solving the very crises it has created. They will try to buy our continuing deference to a system that has destroyed our planet and our children’s future.

It won’t work indefinitely, as Dominic Cummings knows only too well. Which is why the Johnson government, as well as the Trump administration and their cut-outs in Brazil, Hungary, Israel, India and elsewhere, are in the process of drafting draconian emergency legislation that will have a longer term goal than the immediate one of preventing contagion.

Western governments will conclude that it is time to shore up capitalism’s immune system against their own publics. The risk is that, given the chance, they will begin treating us, not the virus, as the real plague.

(Republished from Jonathan Cook by permission of author or representative)
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  1. The free market, they argued, was the only fiscally responsible path

    Tell me more about this ‘free market’ that you think is espoused by people who are in charge of the government sector in an economy where government spending takes up 40% of GDP.

    Seriously, nothing is stupider than the belief that crony corporatism has anything whatsoever to do with a ‘free market’.

    You’re making the same category error that Roderick Long identified as the ‘zaxlebax‘ problem: your definition of ‘capitalism‘ is something along the lines of “a free market system, like the system that prevails in the West“.

    This embeds a (false) assumption that the system that prevails in the West is a free market system – when it absolutely is not (otherwise government would not be 40% of GDP!).

    Sloppy terminology is useful for dilettantes, but it stymies insight.

    • Agree: Hibernian
    • Replies: @Ace
    , @Biff
    , @Roger
  2. Boeing wants some gibs. But I think they’re just lazy. Boeing should move back in its parents, the lazy, good-for-nothing, welfare-chiseling chumps.

    • Replies: @Antiwar7
  3. Ace says:

    Bravo. A closely related misrepresentation is that “capitalism” = the current rotten jumbled, distorted, manipulated, scammed, skimmed, exploited mish mash of a dog’s breakfast of an economy.

    Mr. Cook’s version is that “the market” “decided that the 1 per cent . . . would get even filthier rich,” as though this aberrant ultra-concentration of wealth is part of the Grand Design.

    Capitalism and its first cousin free markets necessarily involve government supervision and regulation. Not the stupid modern regulation of obligatory hiring of Nigerians, homosexuals, and tap dancers but the salutary regulation at the hands of the courts that enforce contracts, punish fraud, and break up monopolies (with the aid of appropriate legislation).

    The terminology of the left is amusing. I’m not sure what “neo-liberalism” but it seem to be anything that resembles a desire to have the economy operate rationally and with appropriate restraint. This is much disdained by Mr. Cook and co. “Austerity” seems to be anything that amounts to taking away the punch bowl during the wild adults-only pinata party that the economies of most of the Western world resemble.

  4. Biff says:

    Good analysis, but also include the corporate conglomerate of monopolies that make up the bulk of the economy, which begs the question – how could anyone call it a free market system?

  5. I’ll echo the comments that you’ve confused oligarch corporatist statism with capitalism and free markets and go one better; Feudalism and Capitalism as we once knew them at their worst were often tempered by some sense of Noblesse Oblige. While the elite predated on the lesser folk, like sensible parasites they limited their predations to prevent collapse of the entire system. Oddly enough, it was the Black Death that broke down the Feudal order, but the vacuum was filled by a rising self-reliant middle and merchant class. Here the vacuum is being preëmptively filled by social-welfare dependency programmes that will have the effect of reversing 600 years of increasing individual wealth and liberty and return the bulk of people to Feudalist serfdom.

  6. Dig a bit into the great E Michael Jones.
    Martin Luther is the problem.
    He was the one who turned greed into a virtue.

    • Replies: @Curmudgeon
  7. “giving back to them some of the communal wealth that has been extracted over many decades. ”

    What has been extracted is private wealth. There is no “communal wealth” outside of a commune. Anyone but a communist knows this.

  8. October 23, 2008

    Alan Greenspan: “I do not understand what happened.”

    Waxman: “You [make decisions under the influence of] an ideology. Others urged you to change, you refused and now our whole economy is paying the price.

    Greenspan: “There was a flaw . . .”

    • Replies: @fish
  9. fish says:

    Aspiring Thief #1 with governmental imprimatur interrogating Extant Thief with governmental imprimatur ?

    Where are you going with this?

  10. @fish

    My mistake, quoting both Waxman and Greenspan.

    Intent was to focus on Greenspan’s comment(s) that he “didn’t understand” and his “ideology” had “a flaw.”

    Waxman’s observation that Greenspan is driven by ideology, and that ideology caused enormous harm, was useful. Greenspan’s refutation was arrogant and unpersuasive: “all reality is perceived through ideology.”

    It was my understanding that Newton tried to change all that, tried to make the evidence of nature rather than the decrees of dogmatists the First Principle.

    Listen to the clip.

    imo every October 23 should be a uniquely American Never Again , End the Fed day.

  11. @Fuerchtegott

    Martin Luther is the problem.
    He was the one who turned greed into a virtue.

    There are many of Jones`s opinions with which I agree. However, blaming everything on Luther has been a popular RC canard for centuries.
    Luther always considered himself to be a good Catholic. His beefs with Rome were that there were many things, like indulgences that had no biblical basis. At the time, the Holy Roman Empire, essentially the RC church, controlled all the trade within its borders. Many of the German Princes, whose tribes had been forced by the sword to convert, resented this. Luther did not care about free trade, he cared about corrupt church practices that he wanted reformed.
    The Church refused to debate or consider any of his protests, they simply ordered him to be executed. The German Princes saw this was an opportunity to get away from the economic control of the RC Church. In context, Luther produced his 95 theses about a century after the Pope dismantled the Knights Templar and hunted them down. The German Princes understood their risk, and took it.
    Like many others in history, Luther was not the reason, but used as an excuse.

    As for greed into virtue, what best exemplifies it is the Papal indulgences outlined in the 95 theses.

  12. Hibernian says:

    Luther always considered himself to be a good Catholic.

    If you mean prior to the breakaway, OK.

    As for the blame for the greed is good philosophy, blame should be aportioned between the corrupt Popes, Luther, Calvin, and a long line of others who came afterwards.

  13. Antiwar7 says:

    Boeing should go out of business for their egregious mismanagement (overlooking safety in a systematic way for pennies, and using their profits for stock buybacks). And the usable pieces of their corporation would be acquired by their competitors.

    Just like what should have happened to the big banks in 2008.

  14. Dare I say,

    God the Save the Queen.

  15. @Curmudgeon

    A lot of reply for two short lines.

    Trust me, I know my German brethren, and they did exactly that.

    Project greed on the church and coined it into a virtue for themselfs.
    —> Calvinism.

    I just don’t waste many words on Angloids.

    Perlen vor die Säue.

  16. @fish

    Oops… Original Model Was Horribly Wrong
    Epidemiologist who predicted 2.1 million American deaths has now revised his estimate down to 20000.
    Ramzpaul Mar 26 2020

  17. @Curmudgeon

    It’s my understanding that one of the key reasons popes created the indulgence-for-pay system was to finance construction of St Peter’s Basilica and other extraordinary works of art that have endured through the centuries and are hallmarks of what is called European Western Civilization.

    Contrast that with the even more corrupt Frankfurt-to-London (via Rothschild) central banking system, to finance the British empire project of colonization by war, and its clone-offspring, the US federal reserve and income tax system, created just in time to finance wars against European Western Civilization.

  18. “Since the 2008 financial crash, the Tories have cut social and welfare spending to the bone”

    Any specific amounts, numbers of people, programs, Pounds saved etc.

    Who defined “the bone” to which they have cut?

    Do they have any programs left if so what are they, what do they cost?

    Anything other than the usual rhetoric,.

  19. Wielgus says:

    I am curious that Johnson reports having the corona but although he is self-isolating he is continuing in office.
    Either he is lying about having it, or this thing is, for the vast majority of those affected, of no more consequence than the common cold. Because he is treating it like a glorified version of the sniffles.

  20. jonswift says:

    I’m kinda enjoying the Corona Virus. Traffic for the past 20 years was getting ferocious and the last 5 years horrendous. At 5 p.m., where I live (north Atlanta), you couldn’t travel 8 miles in less than 45 mins. Now it’s like the 1970’s–regular town home traffic.
    Let’s hope our leaders keep the Corona Virus going all summer.

  21. Roger says:

    Beautiful! You have nailed it!!

  22. Since the 2008 financial crash, the Tories have cut social and welfare spending to the bone

    Er, no. In fact, they borrowed more than a trillion pounds to keep the economy and the welfare system running, while managing to preserve international confidence in our credit-worthiness.

    Britain had austerity in the sense of not being as wealthy as we were before the 2008 bubble burst; or in the sense of not having as much public spending as we would have liked. In contrast, countries in Southern Europe experienced a different kind of austerity – 50% cuts in Greek pensions, 40% youth unemployment in many countries. Mr Cook should thank the Tories for steering a much better course.

  23. Woodman says:

    Let’s leave Luther aside for a moment. How holy was it to castrate boys to sing hymns to Mary queen of heaven? Did I offend anyone?

  24. Jeremygg5 says:

    The chart for the US is totally off, considering that the CDC director had admitted that posthumous tests of flu victims confirmed that they had actually died from COVID-19 – so the 10th death would have occurred months earlier. The outbreak of vaping disease in clusters starting August 2019, could very well had been from COVID-19 considering that CT scans of both types of victims show the same glassy lungs. Also it’s unimaginable that vaping disease can occur in sudden outbreaks, and in clusters.

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