“Free market capitalism” is in terminal decline, to be replaced in this century or early in the next with state capitalism and other presently undeveloped form of socialist hybrid states. The decline is structural, political, but also social and cultural. By the end of February, China provided the entire world with a complete and proven COVID-19 strategy. By March, everyone had a perfect model for a sharp lockdowns to arrest growth, decentralized fever clinics to provide rapid isolating testing, recovery facilities to provide care without family transmission, outbreak tracing to destroy clusters, and significant financial and material support to protect life and livelihood during the strictest periods.
Capital-owned countries were not just unwilling to take this path, they were incapable. The fever clinics and emergency stockpiles of medical supplies needed for this strategy don’t exist in a free market, it “optimizes” them out of existence. The only part of capital-owned countries that necessitates an escape hatch is capital itself, and that’s the purpose of our financial institutions. It worked perfectly: that’s what these states are purposed for. That’s why the stock market is doing (relatively) fine. America had a democratic centralist solution for its capital. It had a five-year plan.
However, even a country as structurally unprepared for COVID-19 as America had the opportunity to prepare this strategy for the coming year. This is where the political, social, and cultural rot comes in.
When the structure and the culture of a society are working in sync, exceptional things are possible. When 9/11 happened, the American state was perfectly purposed to began a multi-continent project of destruction, extraction, and domination. The entire media apparatus and popular culture joined together to create an American identity around this unified, joint struggle. It generated a resolve so powerful that, twenty years later, hundreds of thousands of American parents weep tears of joy when they send their children to murder and suffer and die in colonial occupations. The compulsion is so unbelievably strong that even though a majority of the participants logically understand the realpolitik at work and can explain it themselves in simple terms, they still find comfort indulging in the shared illusion.
In April, New York had a pandemic event so earth-shatteringly devastating it was the rough equivalent of ten 9/11s. Ten. Media and popular culture were on hand to observe, dissect, consume, and metabolize this information, with all the trappings of disaster: mass death, brave first responders, devastated victims, battered survivors. This time, though, structure, media, and popular culture were all entirely out of sync. No one had to parachute into a foreign capital to beat coronavirus. No one had to step on a landmine. What American society needed to do was to mobilize to protect the vulnerable. Companies needed to put isolation and distance work before profits. States had to respect that they belonged to a collective with free travel and act accordingly. Individuals had to be willing to sacrifice the comforts of public life not just until they personally felt tired with the notion, but until the national mission was accomplished.
Most importantly of all, this strategy had to be the precursor to a real nationwide lockdown, not an ad hoc, immediate fix. With Italy as a comparative model, the world had a clear understanding that containing the disease required both the preparations and the execution taken by China. If America had taken 2020 seriously, we would’ve pursued a national mask policy, an unprecedented shift to work-from-home, and an enormous respect for the businesses and agencies that couldn’t stop serving the public. We would’ve spent the year ensuring that they could continue to operate safely. At the same time, every major industry in the nation would’ve attempted to transition into providing the state with the equipment and the facilities needed to begin the national lockdown as soon as is possible. Congress would have put partisanship aside, just as they did in 2003, to jointly achieve this goal.
If the above two paragraphs read like ridiculous parody to you, you’re absolutely right. The very idea that even the most persuasive modern American government could’ve managed a strategy of national, selfless unity is a complete fucking joke. The average red state governor in October, with a quarter million Americans dead, is still vacillating between tepid support for unenforced mask orders and openly declaring the pandemic to be some kind of a hoax. And yet a solid 20% of those governors’ constituencies believe them to be — and I mean this without any exaggeration — Stalinesque figures of total government control. If you don’t believe me go test the theory. I’m right for every single state.
Suggesting that America should do another lockdown is like suggesting that an AIDS patient dying of tuberculosis should try fighting it off with their immune system. That is obviously the solution and even more obviously not something the host body is capable of. Instead, the job of the American is to cope by using incomplete information from countries that don’t apply. The American’s job is to pretend that they have the civil society of South Korea or the physical isolation of New Zealand. The American’s job is to misunderstand cycle rates and comorbidities, to squint at charts and turn them sideways and tinker with the ranges until the pointy lines are smooth. Then, the American’s job is to die.