We’re told that coronavirus – the damage done by it that is, not its existence – is a function of anti-state neoliberalism. Yup, it’s those nasty people who think the State can’t do all that much which has led to the death toll.
There’s something profound about the irony. The world’s highest coronavirus death tolls belong to two countries whose leaders came to power promising the restoration of greatness and control – the United States and Great Britain.
Let us first consider the quality of the evidence here:
It is that second vertical column that Ms. Malik is using. That number being rather influenced by the number of people in the place being considered. Given that the US has between four and six times the number of people of any of the large European countries we would rather expect there to be more people doing anything, dying of anything.
The actual columns that are important to consider concerning governmental performance are the last two on the right. Case to fatality, fatalities per 100,000. Measures by which the neoliberals are not perfect, to be sure, but not uniquely bad – thus destroying that evidence base upon which the rest of the assertions are balanced.
But we are still told of how awful this neoliberalism is:
By the time Covid-19 hit their shores, the UK and US were lacking not just the politicians but the bureaucracies required to respond effectively. Prior to the crisis, Trump repeatedly attempted to defund the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the UK, the pandemic inconvenienced a Tory cabinet embroiled in a feud with its own civil service. The intellectual and practical infrastructure to deal with facts had been vandalised.
But there is a longer, non-partisan history that rendered both nations incapable of an adequate response to the pandemic. The special relationship is not just one of linguistic and cultural proximity, but an ideological partnership forged in the post-second world war era. Anglo-American capitalism, pursued by both right and centre-left parties, rooted in small government and powered by exceptionalism, had dismantled the state. No notice or warning could have refashioned the machinery of government quickly enough to save lives. An economic and political model that hinges on privatisation, liberalisation and the withdrawal of labour rights created a system prone to regular crises, despite such shocks being framed as one-offs.
At which point we might consider what actually happened. Public Health England tried to do all testing centrally. They’ve that £4.5 billion a year to deploy so why not, right? And they cocked it up.
Over in the US the FDA insisted that testing could only be done using the CDC test. And that the processing of the test had to be done in the CDC lab(s). The hundreds of university and medical labs across the country were not to be allowed to do anything. Even, take sample at home, mail in for a test result, was declared illegal. Oh, and that central CDC lab managed to breach standard quarantine behaviour and infect their testing kits with coronavirus, thereby not only getting the test wrong but making it useless.
Germany, which has indeed done rather better, used the distributed system of any lab that was able to do a test doing a test. The Faroes, famously, converted a salmon testing lab. Well, not the Faroes, a vet in the Faroes did without permission.
This, this, this is the evidence we’re to use to show how useful the state is, how the neoliberals have gutted capacity for action?
It is, rather, given the actual performance of centralised bureaucracies in these times, evidence that the neoliberals haven’t gutted enough of the state, isn’t it.
Just as the financial crash was treated as the malfunctioning of a particular unsupervised bug in the system rather than as a feature of it, so is the failure to grapple with the pandemic being cast as an unforeseen, exogenous event, rather than a result of an ideology that enables the state to scramble unprecedented resources to save banks but not lives. A nurse will wear a bin liner as PPE in the US for longer than a failing bank can go unfinanced.
So what’s the explanation for Belgium then, Honey?