The United States of America is well-known for its free market economy. In fact, the Americans tend to have a deep hatred for any sort of government intervention. It thus comes as quite as a shock that the US Congress is currently debating a bill that would direct nearly 2 trillion dollars to individuals and businesses to provide emergency healthcare and ease the effects of the coronavirus-induced shutdown of much of the economy. And for once, the Americans seem to be welcoming such a proposal with open arms.
Self-described democratic socialist and presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, has stated that the virus would be more easily contained if the States had a single-payer health insurance system. Of course, Republicans and corporate Democrats might try to refute this, but it isn’t an unreasonable claim. In fact, the United States has recently overtaken China with the most coronavirus cases.
The big question on everyone’s mind is the following: will this crisis lead to a more accepting view of modern socialist policies?
Unfortunately, the opposite might be true. America does not want permanent government aid, but rather a temporary helping-hand to get through tough times before returning back to normal. The massive measures being discussed in Congress cannot be described as socialism because they’re not designed to remove power or profit motive from businesses once the crisis passes, or to redistribute income or wealth. They are simply a relief package to keep people and businesses afloat in a natural disaster until they can resume doing what they were doing before.
Let’s take a look at the situation in Malta. The Labour party has arguably lost its socialist roots over the years in favour of a more pro-business neoliberal ideology, especially since the beginning of the Muscat administration. It has now shifted its focus on maintaining economic growth and surplus, and has to some extent made the island into a tax haven for foreign businesses. So, has this pandemic caused the government to shift its neoliberal ideology in the slightest?
Prime Minister Robert Abela recently presented a “mini budget” which includes 200 million euros in direct operational aid to businesses, 700 million euros in tax deferrals, an 800 euro a month unemployment benefit for workers laid off by the crisis, and 35 million euros invested into healthcare.
Could this mean that the Labour Party will start leaning more towards socialist policies? Well, not really. Just like America’s, these measures are simply temporary, and are more directed towards keeping businesses and workers afloat rather than the redistribution of wealth.
In fact, one potential consequence of this crisis is that the government might actually use it as a way of excusing its neoliberalism, and they may even have a point. Our country’s economic growth and its famous surplus has to some extent cushioned the impact of the pandemic. More worryingly however, this might be used as a way to legitimise “sketchy” schemes such as the Golden Passport Scheme. Although the morality of such a scheme is extremely questionable, it does lead to a good amount of money for Malta which can be beneficial during any potential disaster.
The coronavirus pandemic has arguably exposed various flaws stemming from capitalist economic structures, and has shown us how modern socialist policies such as nationalised healthcare and strong welfare programs can be beneficial for society. But unfortunately for the opportunistic socialists, so far there has been no hint of any long-term alteration to our economic model once the crisis is over.