Covid 19 figures hadn’t even peaked when the phrase ‘the new normal’ started to enter daily usage. Was anyone really sure what it meant other than, somehow, our lives were to be very different in the future?
Social distancing and stringent public health measures are likely to be around for some time, but what has remained unchanged is the social and economic system under which we live, and which shapes and dominates all of our lives like no other factor.
When the capitalist system starts talking about ‘the new normal’, three things are clear: it won’t be new for them, suddenly we are not all in this together and working-class people and public services will be bearing the brunt of paying for it.
It was that way when capitalism crashed in 2008. The banks and other financial institutions were bailed out with public money, all while people’s homes were repossessed, jobs lost, wages frozen, social security budgets slashed and health, education and other public services robbed of funding.
Will it be any different this time? Of course not.
Capitalism’s relentless pursuit of profit eclipses all other considerations. The talk of ‘heroes’ and ‘community spirit’ will soon be replaced with warnings that we must ‘tighten our belts’, ‘re-balance the economy’ and ‘make sacrifices for the common good’
These messages won’t be coming out of nowhere. They may start somewhere else but, we’ll be hearing them from Sinn Fein and the DUP along with all the other major parties. Media columnists will be rehearsing them. Journalists will be repeating them. We, will be bombarded with them until they are accepted as the unchallenged ‘new normal’
It’s true that capitalism never wastes a crisis – and the Covid pandemic will be no different. The detailed plans of global conglomerates, multinational firms, business organisations and governments are already written and waiting to be implemented.
We can expect a further major shift towards the privatisation of utilities and public services through the introduction of water charges, toll roads and a levy on bin collections. There will be proposals for additional costs for the care of the elderly, upfront payments for GP and A&E appointments. University tuition fees will rise, and prescription charges will be reintroduced.
Income tax will be raised, and social security payments lowered. Jobs will be lost and the cost of living will increase as capitalism seeks to recoup the profits it lost during the pandemic.
The list of people, newspapers, radio stations, commentators, TV programmes and ‘experts’ repeatedly telling us how unavoidably necessary this all is, will stretch further than a queue for toilet rolls in the early days of the pandemic.
The state, which stepped in to underwrite wages, house the homeless and support business and employers, will soon be overseeing a sustained attack on the living standards, prospects and quality of life of the very people it hailed as ‘front line heroes’.
To argue that economic cutbacks are needed to get over the cost of Coronavirus is simply not true. Government borrowing is four times lower now than it was at end of World War ll when massive publicly funded infrastructure and reconstruction projects were undertaken, and just a few years later the publicly funded National Health Service was introduced.
Money can always be found for wars. Moderate estimates for the cost of attacking Afghanistan, Syria and Libya come in at around £240 billion. Replacing the Trident nuclear submarine fleet will cost over £40 billion and of course the costs of our own segregated education system and managing sectarianism runs into additional billions of pounds each year.
Add in the billions of pounds of avoided tax that never makes to government coffers and the costs of re-booting the economy look a lot more manageable.
The role of the state
The role of the state in the funding, central planning and co-ordination of our response to Coronavirus demonstrates the social, political and economic advantages of a centralised and planned approach.
While capitalism will insist on being supported and bailed out by the state when it thinks it will lose money it is a lot less keen on state management at other times. The coming months will show that clearly.
The reality, however, is that capitalism is a self-serving, profit driven, ruthless and ultimately anti-community system that is both unwilling and incapable of delivering, whether in a crisis or not.
Only a socialist system is capable of, and committed to, harnessing and directing the resources of all for the benefits of all.