Decarbonise, Demilitarise, Democratise: Building a Resilient Economy in a post-Covid-19 World

Like millions of people around the world in May 2020, I am at home adjusting to the new reality of lockdown as this terrible, Covid-19 crisis unfolds. Laurie Garrett’s book, ‘The Coming Plague’, first published in 1994, was chillingly prescient on how a highly-infectious disease could be  transmitted from animals to humans, rapidly spreading around the world through global transportation networks and densely-populated cities. Despite repeated scientific warnings and the evidence from subsequent outbreaks like Ebola and SARS that a pandemic was inevitable,  government preparations to contain Corvid-19 have been  criminally negligent, leading to mass infection and the deaths of tens of thousands of people.

With it has come an economic crisis whose implications are as serious, if not more so, than the pandemic itself. When the Chinese authorities locked down Wuhan, the centre of the original outbreak,   whole swathes of the manufacturing base experienced dramatic declines in output. The most striking was a fall of over 90% in motor-vehicle production. Global supplier and distribution networks for major companies like General Motors, Honda and Nissan, were immediately disrupted, even before Covid-19 spread and similar lockdowns were implemented in Europe and the United States.  Advanced, industrial economies now face a perfect storm of both domestic and international dislocation on a scale not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Just as the pandemic will have a profound effect on the way we live and socially interact for years to come, so it will on every facet of our economy.  Optimistic forecasts of a full recovery by the middle of 2021 are delusional. The collapse in output has been so steep that, even with the unprecedented levels of government funding for wages (furloughing) and business support, some sectors of the economy will never recover and others will be substantially reduced. Millions of people, especially the most vulnerable in society, such as agency workers, those on zero-hour contracts and the self-employed precariat in the gig economy face unemployment and destitution.

These are incredibly dangerous times. The level of government borrowing needed  to fund these  measures is already being weaponised by neo-liberal ideologues to accelerate their project for  the complete privatisation of public services  and the deregulation of the economy. According to them,  the country is faced with a stark choice between the the threat of bankruptcy as debt levels are unsustainable, or the acceptance of deep cuts to  public-sector funding. along with the dismantling of workers rights and environmental protections that impose costs on businesses. 

The neo-liberal agenda extends to an aggressive form of Western militarism abroad, with increased arms expenditure and growing confrontations over the control of oil and gas supplies in regions like the Middle East and the South China Sea. The apparatus of the surveillance state will be strengthened and emergency powers extended for the arrest and detention of citizens involved in popular protests against further austerity or preparations for war.

Either we accept neo-liberal authoritarianism imposed by a capitalist elite, with its ever-widening  inequalities of wealth and power, and the threats of war and environmental destruction. Or we fight back and take control of this crisis  to radically restructure the economy in favour of working people, building economic and environmental resilience against the inevitable, future shocks to globalised capitalism. Only sustained public investment in a post-carbon and post-military economy can provide the resources for such a transformation.

As with the pandemic itself, the economic red flags should have been raised earlier because of  fundamental weaknesses that have been all too obvious since the financial crisis of 2007-08. Then, the banking system faced virtual meltdown after an orgy of speculation and outright fraud led to unsustainable debts and market panic. Massive state intervention, including nationalisation of major banks and new forms of stimulation through quantitative easing, stabilised the finanacial system and maintained liquidity. But even these extraordinary measures could not prevent a recession in the wider economy.

The last decade was one of imposed austerity and only partial, economic recovery. While the profits of the financial institutions and the asset base of the wealthy were protected, real living standards of working people stagnated and public services and welfare provisions were systematically cut. Instruments like quantitative easing, originally seen as emergency measures, have become regular forms of intervention, allied to historically-low interest rates. Yet the international economy was already entering recession before the pandemic. For example, Germany’s manufacturing sector, recognised as the strongest in Europe,  saw output fall by 1.2% in the first two months of  2020.

The lockdown has already led to a dramatic fall in global output and almost surreal impacts, such as the negative pricing of oil to release storage capacity.  In the UK, emergency actions have included the furloughing scheme, with the government providing 80% of wages up to £2,500 a month. By the middle of May, 6.3 million employees were furloughed, with a further 2.3 million self-employed workers on a similar scheme.  Government  borrowing to pay for emergency provisions will grow to unprecedented peace-time levels – £225 bilion in the four-month period from April to July, compared to £227.6 billion in twelve months, during the bail-out of the banks in 2009-2010.  

All this is seen as the inevitable but short-term impact from the lockdown, with the expectation  that the economy can recover as it did after the financial crisis, and essentially, through the same mix of policies. But the Covid-19 crisis is one of solvency, not liquidity and far more serious.  For example, British Airways has already laid off 12,000 of its 42,000 workforce, and Rolls Royce is cutting 8,000 jobs in engine manufacture because of steep falls in passenger numbers and reduced orders for aircraft. Some sectors will never recover, while others may continue to operate but at well below their previous capacity. Closures and cutbacks will lead to waves of redundancies across manufacturing, services and construction. Future investment plans will be delayed or cancelled, while  company indebtedness reaches critical levels. 

There is a real danger that the accumulated impact of multiple, domestic solvency crises around the industrialised world will combine with an international, financial meltdown threatening the availability of funds to service government debt and borrowing. We will then be in uncharted territory, with an economic collapse greater than the depression, mass unemployment, shortages of basic essentials and escalating prices, as the capitalist, global production and distribution networks collapse. 

The UK government’s interventions may be financially unprecedented in peacetime but are entirely consistent with a neo-liberal agenda. Wages support is temporary and will be tapered down over the autumn and winter, at the same time that waves of redundancies smash through the economy. More and more people, without savings and struggling with the basic costs of rent, food and energy bills face a desperate time, dependent on a punitive welfare system and declining public services. 

Government aid to the private sector is also ideologically driven.  For example, the government temporarily took over the rail franchises in March, while contracting the same companies to run a reduced service on a fee-paying basis for the next six months. In effect, the government has underwritten the losses of rail companies that were previously paying hundreds of millions of pounds in dividends. Other major  corporations are queing up for similar assistance under government loan schemes, including motor-vehicle, aerospace and airline companies, claiming that they represent strategically important industries that are vital to the future prosperity of the country. 

Neo-liberalism is very comfortable with the use of government expenditure to support transnational corporations that are shedding jobs, while maintaining the same, globalised networks for the carbon economy at the heart of the climate crisis.  Government support could have been conditional on the protection of jobs and wages, the freezing of executive bonuses and targets for environmental improvements. The idea of public ownership or equity in return for government funds is, quite literally, unthinkable.

Instead, under the cover of debt reduction, the real agenda will be draconian cuts to public spending, and further privatisation and deregulation in the name of efficiency savings. This is class war by the rich against the poor, with millions of ordinary working people facing a terrifying future of destitution, reliance on food banks, accumulating rent arrears, debt and homelessness.

Prior to the pandemic, the main econonomic alternative to neo-liberalism had coalesced around the Green New Deal, with popular support in both Europe and the United States. It takes its name from the original New Deal programme of the Roosevelt administration during the 1930s depression, influenced by Keynesian economics, that stressed how government expenditure could stimulate employment. Public investment and public works schemes such as road-building, dam construction and reforestation provided jobs for unemployed workers across the whole of the United States.

The modern equivalent focuses on the threat of irreversible climate change and the need to rapidly decarbonise the economy through renewable-energy alternatives and energy-efficiency programmes. Recognising that jobs will be lost in the oil, gas and coal industries, strong emphasis is placed on a ‘Just Transition’, with the guarantee of alternative employment. New capacity for renewable energy and the retrofitting of homes to a high environmental standard will generate millions of jobs, more than compensating for the loss of carbon-sector employment.

Various funding proposals have been made for a  ‘people’s quantitative easing’ and the issuing of government bonds for a public investment programme. In response to criticisms over higher government debt and the burden of debt repayment, the benefits are stressed from the  increase in direct employment, as well as the multiplier effect on demand stimulation and indirect employment. Higher incomes will generate tax returns both to fund future investment and to manage the  longer-term debt repayments, affordable in an era of low interest rates. 

Other proposals include a Citizen’s Basic Income that would guarantee a regular, weekly payment for every adult to cover essential costs of living. Again, criticisms that the scheme would be unaffordable are met by similar arguments on the overall benefits to the economy through demand stimulation, as well as the savings to the existing, highly-bureaucratised and dysfunctional benefits system.

As the scale of the climate emergency and the threat of irreversible climate-change becomes ever more clear, the Green New Deal has mobilised widespread support around the need for urgent economic policies to eliminate carbon emissions. But the pandemic has exposed fundamental and chronic instabilities at the heart of globalised capitalism that require deep structural change in which the creation of post-carbon economy is only one element. A Keynesian approach that focuses on demand management within an existing institutional framework, is totally inadequate compared to the systemic scale of the crisis. Only a radical programme of democratic ownership and control that prioritises the interests of working people can provide a comprehensive alternative.

The objective should be to localise production through new forms of public ownership across all the essential elements of an advanced economy, including energy,  housing, transport, food and medical supplies. Such a transformation cannot be dependent on quantitative easing and central government debt financing. Its funding  requires a complete reconfiguration of public expenditure, including new fiscal policies and the reallocation of military spending to socially-useful production. Only this will guarantee the necessary scale of resources for an independent, multi-billion pound local resilience programme, the objective of which will be to complete the decarbonisation, demilitarisation and democratisation of the economy by 2030.

Capitalist elites have enjoyed an asset boom while their austerity policies have decimated public services. They would be subject to higher income taxes, property taxes and, for the wealthiest rentiers, a land tax. Corporations that manipulate their finances through tax havens would be subject to forensic scrutiny in order that they pay taxes that accurately reflect their turnover and profit in the country. 

Military expenditure has also increased over the past ten years of austerity. At present,  the world spends over $1,900 billion a year on armamanents, led by the United States which, with its allies, is responsible for over 70% of global spending. The UK, at £40 billion,  has  the sixth highest expenditure.  Not only is this a moral outrage in a world of poverty and basic social need, it is a gross diversion of scarce resources, including research and development, manufacturing capacity and skilled workers, all required for building resilience in the civil economy. 

Institutional power accumulated over decades, has led to the growth of the first, permanent peace-time, military-industrial complex (MIC), based on specialised arms corporations. Through  restructuring and consolidation, a handful of military-industrial behomoths, led by Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman in the United States and BAE Systems (formerly British Aerospace) in the UK, effectively monopolise procurement and dominate the lucrative, arms export markets. 

Western militarism, far from contributing to global security, undermines it. Power projection has been used to secure oil resources, turning the Middle East into a powder keg.  The illegal invasion of Iraq led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, precipitating a social and economic collapse from which the country has never recovered. The United States is also set on a dangerous military confrontation with Iran that could lead to a full-scale, conventional war, drawing in Russia and China.

One of the more perverse aspects of western militarism is the dependency of the MIC on  oil. The United States and its allies maintain a vast military presence through overseas bases and aircrat-carrier groups to control the supply of the very same, non-renewable resources that must be kept in the ground if we are to achieve real environmental security and prevent irreversible climate change. Rather than support any real disarmament agenda, the West has constructed an arms control framework that institutionalises its technological dominance, from the continued development of nuclear weapons and each new generation of fighter aircraft, through to a global intelligence and surveillance network. All this to sustain the profits of the MIC.

The UK’s real security requires an immediate end to its nuclear weapons and blue-water capabilities and to the despicable arms trade with authoritarian regimes like Saudi Arabia. A small, army corps would be retained to provide logistical,  engineering and medical support for use by  civil authorities in emergencies, deployable both in the UK and abroad.

As with the Just Transition for workers in the carbon industries, there would be an arms conversion programme to provide alternative employment in the small number of localities with concentrations of arms production. (Even in these areas like Barrow-in-Furness, Preston and Plymouth, there have already been substantial job reductions.) Democratic participation in the arms conversion process is best illustrated by the Lucas Aerospace Plan from the 1970s. Here, shop stewards at the main Lucas factories came together to draw up alternatives to military production when faced with a redundancy programme.

Arguing that the government had the power to redirect funding from military to civil production, they developed a comprehensive set of civil alternatives including medical equipment, public-transport vehicles and environmental technologies, both to maintain employment and provide socially-useful work. Although the company’s management rejected the plan, it still stands as an inspirational example of working-class, industrial democracy. 

However, sustained post-war military expenditure has seen the emergence of highly-specialised arms manufacturers. Their expertise is in systems integration for platforms such as fighter aircraft, submarines and surface vessels, combined with weapons and electronic control systems that are expected to perform under extreme conditions. The traditional approach of factory-based arms conversion is no longer tenable for these military-systems integrators because of redundant complexity that has no equivalence in the civil sector. 

Arms conversion should, instead, focus on  new, local manufacturing capacity as these specialist facilities are dismantled. Many of the skills in engineering, electronics and design can be transferred from military to civil production. Others in the workforce can be provided with training for post-carbon industries. The principles of democratic participation from the Lucas Plan would still apply but in the broader context of a Citizens Economic Assembly, with representation from workers and the wider community on the allocation of public funds for investment in the post-carbon and post-military economy.

Overall, the combination of  revenues from  progressive taxation and the reallocation of government expenditure from military to civil investment will be sufficient for a resilience tranformation fund of approximately £80 billion a year, over a twenty-year timescale. This can only be an estimate since tax revenues will fluctuate but is based on a core budget from savings of 80% in military spending and a realistic framework for the elimination of tax havens and tax avoidance schemes.

Local authorities would be the strategic agencies responsible for overseeing and delivering the programmes. They would bring together all the various participants – from technical institutes and unversity departments providing research and development, through to their applications in new, locally-owned and democratically accountable industries, as well as ensuring representation from trade unions and local communities to guarantee workers rights and community benefits.

A key feature of resilience funding would be affordable council housing built to high environmental standards, and the retrofitting of existing stock to similar standards by a local-authority construction and energy-efficiency workforce. All empty private properties can be identified and, where possible, brought into that stock. Energy demand would also be met by local and community-owned renewable energy companies and through distributed networks that reduce dependency on the national grid.

Local food production would be linked directly to public procurement. All NHS facilities, schools and other public agencies would use local suppliers and farms. The local authorities can identify land for food growing by local cooperatives and for environmental projects such as tree planting, that contribute to carbon capture. Priority should be given to domestic food crops, particularly fruit and vegetables, with the objective of local self-sufficiency. Public transport would be expanded as a comprehensive alternative to private vehicles, using an electric-powered bus fleet, with local capacity for production and maintenance. NHS funding would prioritise public health, particularly, community health teams that can respond quickly to disease threats. Any public procurement contracts with external suppliers would stipulate trade-union representation and agreed environmental standards.

The Citizens Economic Assemblies have a crucial role to play in setting the targets and monitoring progress on employment in the public-sector industries and on carbon elimination. Their function would be as the democratic feedback mechanisms to all the institutions involved in popular planning, identifying the priorities for the funding of training and apprenticeships, as well as research into innovations and techniques that support local resilience, such as improvements to energy and food storage. 

It is entirely feasible to offer a comprehensive, local alternative to capitalist, globalised supply networks for essential production, and to achieve the target of zero carbon emissions by 2030. Through planning and long-term investment in energy, food, medical supplies and flood defences, working-class  communities would also be fully prepared against future emergencies like a pandemic or an environmental disaster.

Local resilience funds must be independent of central government and the uncertainties of debt financing if they are to be sustained over the twenty year period.  All investments are exclusively for local programmes around research and development, production and construction capacity, and skills training. In return for sustained investment, there would be a steady source of income from council house rents, public transport revenues, licensing agreements and a local income tax, that provide the resources for continued re-investment over the twenty year period and beyond.

The relationship between central government economic policy and local resilience can be mutually supportive. An integrated transport system requires rail nationalisation, the full electrification of the network across the UK and, therefore, higher regional investment, feeding into the improved local, public transport networks. Other candidates for nationalisation include the pharmaceutical  industries, where large-scale R&D is required for new vaccines or cancer treatments.  

As importantly, central government must extricate itself from expensive, international vanity- projects such as the funding of nuclear-fusion research and manned space flight. Focus should be on collaborative research that offers clear economic and environmental benefits. One of the more obvious, presently lacking funding, is the predictive modelling of climate change through the use of supercomputers to provide a clearer understanding of the complex inter-relationships between global weather systems.

But the priority must rest with sustained local investment. In effect, this is the recovery of capital resources that, for generations, have been expropriated from working-class communities and should have been used for continuous re-investment.  These include council house sales, imposed on local authorities that were prevented from using the revenues to invest in new housing; capitalist profiteering from north-sea oil, rather than the setting up of a sovereign wealth fund; the privatisation of public-sector industries at massively discounted valuations; and government R&D support and regional funding to companies that relocated production abroad. 

As local resilience is institutionally embedded, it can take on the form of an economic commonwealth, with a collectively-owned, material base. Ideally, as a commonwealth it can then introduce its own local currency that reflects the value of that base, completely independent of national, fiat currencies and the whole, corrupt apparatus of deficit funding through the globalised, financial system.

Is it possible to carry out such a profound transformation of an economy? Comparisons are often made to World War Two and the need now for a similar, emergency mobilisation to prevent irreversible climate change. But war-time production could only be sustained for a short period, compared to the contemporary crisis that requires a programme of public investment at a similar annual scale but one  lasting for at least a generation.

If there is one historical precedent, it is the period that straddles the middle of the Second World War from 1942-43 through to the end of the Labour government in 1951.  The prospects for a decisive victory by the allies had become clear but, as today, there was widespread fear of a deep recession, since the post-war economy would have to absorb over 2.5 million members of the armed forces returning from overseas and 1.3 million civilians redeployed from work on armaments. Yet there was also an absolute determination and resolve not to return to the economic orthordoxies of the 1930s that had led to depression and mass unemployment.

Detailed research and planning was carried out during the war on public ownership and the modernisation of industry that would form the basis of post-war recovery.  Despite an unfavourable economic outlook and historically high levels of debt, the Attlee administration, with mass support from the labour movement, carried through a comprehensive programme of public investment,  including nationalisation of coal, electricity, railways and steel industries, as well as council house building and the creation of the NHS and the welfare state. The feared recession never materialised, partly because the economy benefited from the release of pent-up savings accumulated during the war, but also from active public policies in favour of working people.

However, that sense of radical purpose was not sustained. Nationalised industries, rather than encouraging industrial democracy,  became highly-centralised and managerial bureaucracies. Other detailed proposals, including those to make the country self-sufficient in agricultural production were never implemented. Tragically, the Labour leadership, with some notable exceptions,  supported the United States’ policy of rearmament in the early years of the Cold War, when it could have played the leading role in European post-war reconstruction centred on assistance to a demilitarised and neutral Germany. Billions of pounds were diverted to armaments while other areas of public spending, including the NHS, were cut. 

Instead of a demilitarised Europe, the continent was divided between the armed encampments of Nato and  the Warsaw Pact.  Even Marshall Aid, which was originally provided by the United States to support civil reconstruction across the whole of  Europe (as well as to restore the continent as a major market for American consumer goods), was diverted into Western-European rearmament.  The UK and the European economic post-war reconstruction would have looked very different if public funding had been focused on sustained, civil investment as opposed to what became a permanent, peace-time, military economy.

Nevertheless, over the post-war period, all the major utilities and strategically important industries, including the railways, steel, coal, electricity, gas, aerospace, docks, shipyards, and telecommunications have been, at some stage, under public ownership. Similarly, local authorities have owned public transport fleets and council housing stocks, constructed  and maintained by direct labour forces. (Municipal ownership of water and energy utilities has an even longer pedigree, dating back to the early 20th century, as well as significant land ownership, including farms for local food production.) The UK also had a network of public research establishments that, despite the concentration on military R&D, extended across many civil sectors, in the physical sciences, engineering, health and agriculture. 

As with the period from 1942-51, it is possible to put forward a transformative agenda that is implemented with urgency, and has a lasting impact on  the economic and institutional structure of the country, given the political will and widespread popular support.

Contemporary conditions are very different to those in the 1940s. There has been a hollowing out of the UK manufacturing base, along with the privatisation of industry and of research institutions. The labour movement has been seriously weakened by the loss of membership and anti-trade union legislation. Rather than the reconversion of an existing industrial capacity, a resilience programme  will require a fundamental rebuilding of production with new industries.

The potential support for a local, resilience agenda is strong given the existing momentum around the Green New Deal. It will be able to offer an independent capacity for renewable energy, social housing, public transport, medical provision and food production. Millions of people with technical, engineering, construction, health and agricultural skills will be directly employed in the public sector and in cooperatives on socially-useful work, with good wages and welfare protections.   

But if a resilience agenda does gain support, the neo-liberal, political backlash will be severe.  A deep economic crisis in which millions of people are unemployed and desititute, can be manipulated to create a sense of fear and anxiety. The government debt becomes an existential threat of national bankruptcy. Deep cuts to public spending will be deemed imperative, and a complete privatisation of what remains of public sector provision. Carbon reduction targets would be abandoned as unacceptable costs to industry and replaced by ‘voluntary’ agreements. 

Any commitments to public infrastructure investment or repatriation of industry from abroad will be an ‘ersatz’ form of resilience, built on a capitalist house-of-cards, since the prime motiviation of neo-liberalism remains to maximise short-term profit through globalised supplier networks, seeking out the cheapest combination of factors of production, particularly labour.

The impetus to authoritarian government through a national, economic emergency will be re-inforced by raising the spectre of threats from abroad. As public spending is slashed, expenditure on armaments will be increased and power projection justified as the bedrock of national security in a dangerous world. A major confrontation in the Middle East or the South China Sea is inevitable. 

The world would be locked into a ‘danse macabre’ between the fossil-fuel industrial complex pulling us towards irrreversible climate change, and a military-industrial complex pushing us to global war. A domestic surveillance system, including the electronic tracking of individuals, will be justified as a necessary security measure against any internal opposition or protest movements, demonised as terrorists and subversives.  These are all the characteristics of a proto-fascist state dominated by corporations and where normal, democratic politics is suspended.

But this terrible pandemic has also demonstrated clear and powerful examples of working-class solidarity, signposting an alternative future. Whether it is the organisation of food and medical supplies by local groups to vulnerable people in the community, or the sharing of 3D technologies  to produce vital equipment such as face masks, a culture of mutual aid has grown that can liberate us from the politics of fear.

Nor should we ignore the obvious environmental benefits from reduced pollution during lockdown, even though they have arisen out of the appalling circumstances of an avoidable pandemic.  If reduced emissions were sustained over a longer time-scale there would be obvious benefits to working-class communities, including lower death rates from chronic lung and heart conditions. Rather than return to the  polluted cities of the carbon economy, there is a widespread appreciation and determination that urban life should combine work with a healthy environment. 

But, most of all, the crisis has demonstrated, in a profound way, the vital importance of working people to the functioning of a complex, industrial society. It is shocking that such an obvious truth has to be stated at all. But in a culture that genuflects to the materialist life-style of  billionaires and celebrities, the contribution of working people, the real source of wealth in society, is often ignored to the point of invisibility. 

Every day of lockdown has reinforced the appreciation of how dependent we are on  production and distribution networks that can only function through working-class labour, without which society would simply break down. The mobilisation of all NHS staff, including doctors, nurses, porters, cleaners and ambulance drivers, as well as care workers in the wider community, has epitomised that sense of social solidarity. They have saved countless lives while being prepared to expose themselves to personal risks in ways that are extraordinary and humbling.

On a personal level, because I have academic qualifications and can put some thoughts together on paper, my status is deemed higher than working people classified as low-skilled. I certainly don’t mean to decry education. The freedom to think about the world around you, to draw on, and to contribute to, a body of knowledge  and political debate, is an essential element of any democratic society. Yet we are all workers, from the carers to the university lecturers, and we are all interdependent for our very existence. Education counts for nothing unless society reflects the equal worth of all working people. Rather than financiers and rentiers, the working classes will be the bedrock of the resilience economy, respected and properly rewarded.

Covid-19 is the first capitalist pandemic and must be the last capitalist crisis. Rapacious destruction of the natural environment for corporate profit has increased exposure to animal pathogens that would not, otherwise, have crossed the species barrier. The trade in wild animals is also driven by extreme poverty and the lack of other employment opportunities. Concentration camps, euphemistically known as industrial farms, provide the perfect breeding ground for billions of animals to transfer diseases between themselves and then onto humans. 

A decade of austerity has seriously undermined public health networks, ranging from cuts to the international ‘early-warning’ centres for disease notifications, to  national emergency responses when faced with a pandemic. For the global pharmaceutical corporations it has proved far more profitable to develop opiates and other prescription medication, responsible for generating their own epidemics of drug dependency, than to monitor diseases and develop potential vaccines.

The lack of preparadness has led to high death rates from Covid-19, disproportionately affecting poorer people from deprived, urban communities that had already been hit hardest from the cuts to public services. Life  expectancy in those communities had, for the first time in post-war history, already declined in 2019 because of underlying chronic conditions,  making them more vulnerable to the disease.

Working people are trapped in a world of low incomes and little or no savings, vulnerable to all the consequent physical and mental health problems of poverty and  compounded by the economic impact of the pandemic. As the lockdown restrictions are lifted, millions will be faced with the unacceptable dilemmas of having to travel and work in crowded and unsafe conditions for precarious employment, or face a future of complete destitution as part of an invisible underclass.

The capitalist elites responsible for this neo-liberal contagion have their own very effective immunity  through the protected opulence of their high-security, luxury estates and armour-plated yachts. So-called democratic government will be tolerated only as long as it continues its alloted role in the extension of corporate power. 

In the event of widespread popular protest, the state will be expected to protect elites and their property through the imposition of martial law and the use of lethal force. While they continue their lives of material excess, Covid-19 rips through working-class communities. While they accumulate wealth and possessions, the graves of the poor are dug and the victims buried and forgotten. 

Will there be a monument to the unknown citizen, symbol for all those sacrificed on the altar of neo-liberalism, or a minute’s silence dedicated to her memory? I doubt it, I doubt it very much. But there has to be some sort of reckoning. How long? Not long. For what you reap is what you sow.

May 2020
steven schofield