Chomsky on Covid-19: The latest massive failure of neoliberalism

By Cristina Magdaleno

New York, Apr 21 (efe-epa).- For Noam Chomsky, the overriding lesson of the coronavirus pandemic is that the crisis represents “another colossal failure of the neoliberal version of capitalism” and the situation is made worse in the United States by “the sociopathic buffoons who are running the government” with Donald Trump in the White House.

After revolutionizing linguistics as a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the world’s most prominent public intellectual joined the faculty at the University of Arizona in fall 2017 and he spoke to Efe from his home in Tucson.

Asked about what can be learned from Covid-19, Chomsky pointed to the failings of the existing economic order.

“One lesson is that it’s another colossal failure of the neoliberal version of capitalism. Massive failure. If we don’t learn that lesson, it’s going to recur worse next time.”

“It’s very obvious what happened. After the SARS epidemic in 2003, the scientists knew perfectly well that there were other pandemics coming, probably of the coronavirus variety. It would have been possible to prepare at that point. Pretty much the way it’s done with flu. You have a new flu vaccine every year because there’s slight variations, but you’re ready for it so you produce it quickly.”

“It wasn’t done. Someone has to pick up the ball and run with it.”

“There are two possibilities. Drug companies: they have the resources, they’re super-rich because of the gifts we lavish on them. They won’t do it. They observe market signals. Market signals tell you there’s no profit to be made in preparing for catastrophe down the road.”

“And then comes the neoliberal hammer: that governments are not allowed to do anything, that governments are the problem not the solution.”

“The United States is a total catastrophe because of the gang that’s running Washington. They know how to blame everybody in the world except themselves, and they are responsible for the catastrophe. The US is now the epicenter of the crisis. It’s the only country that is so dysfunctional that it cannot even provide data to the World Health Organization on deaths and infections.”

Chomsky described the Trump administration’s approach to the problem as “surreal.”

“So in February, the pandemic is already raging. Everyone outside the United States recognizes it … right in the middle of February, Trump comes out with his new budget for the next year. It’s worth taking a close look at it. Further cuts for the Center for Disease Control and other health-related parts of the government, to cut them further in the midst of a pandemic. Increases in funding for the fossil fuel industry, further subsidies to destroy organized human life not far down the road. And of course, further funding for the military, which is bloated and out of control, and further funding for Trump’s famous wall.”

“That tells you something about the nature of the sociopathic buffoons who are running the government and the country’s suffering from it.”

“Now they’re seeking desperately to blame somebody else, to blame China, blame the World Health Organization. And what they’re doing is really criminal. So defunding the World Health Organization – what does that mean? The World Health Organization works all over the world, mostly in poorer countries, on mothers’ health, diarrhea deaths and so on. So what you’re saying is ‘OK let’s kill lots of people in the South because maybe that’ll improve my election prospects.'”

Trump, after attempting to minimize the threat of the coronavirus, subsequently embraced the role of crisis manager, though without acknowledging that he erred in his initial response.

“You have to give Trump credit. He is probably the greatest confidence man who has ever existed. He makes PT Barnum look like an amateur. And he’s capable of holding up in one hand a banner that says ‘I love you, I’m your savior, put your trust in me, I’m working for you day and night’ and with the other hand he stabs you in the back. That’s how he’s dealing with his constituency, which adores him, is rabid, doesn’t matter what he does. And he’s helped by a very interesting media phenomenon, that are Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Breitbart segment of the media, which is the only part of the media that Republicans look at.”

“They echo whatever he says, so if he says today ‘it’s just flu, forget about it,’ they’ll say ‘yes, it’s flu, forget about it.’ The next day he says ‘it’s a terrible pandemic and I was the first one to notice it,’ they all scream in unison: ‘he’s the greatest person in history and his discovery is the most magnificent thing ever.'”

“And this goes on day after day and meanwhile, he himself he looks at Fox News in the morning and decides what he’s supposed to say today. It’s an astonishing phenomenon: Rupert Murdoch, Rush Limbaugh and the sociopath in the White House driving the country to destruction.”

As to whether the pandemic will change the way humans relate to nature, Chomsky said the answer to that question will come from young people.

“There’s no way to predict. It depends how the global population will react to what is happening. It could lead to highly authoritarian, repressive states which expand the neoliberal plague even more than has happened. In fact, they’re working on it right now. Remember, the capitalist class doesn’t relent they’re always struggling. Right in the middle of this they’re calling for more funding for fossil fuels. Destroying regulations that offer some protection.”

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