Will the US be able to reform its system after pandemic?

By Global Times (11 April 2020) – Bernie Sanders dropped out of the 2020 US presidential race on Wednesday, clearing former vice president Joe Biden’s path to the Democratic nomination.

Sanders ended his White House campaign at a time when the COVID-19 rages across the US. Many people have noticed that the White House responded slowly to the COVID-19 epidemic. They did not see that the spread of the virus has actually exposed the inherent contradictions of the capitalist system.

German journalist Timo Lokoschat on March 31 wrote an article titled “Capitalism is not to blame for the COVID-19” (Der Kapitalismus ist nicht schuld an Corona). But the problems during the COVID-19 pandemic will help us understand what is wrong with capitalism. During the COVID-19 outbreak in the US, many poor people could not afford the testing and treatment. Some homeless people had to be quarantined at an open-air parking lot. The mortality rate of African Americans is the highest in the US. The medical facilities are also not enough due to insufficient investment in public health. These problems have exposed the weakness of the US capitalist system.

Sanders has attracted much attention because the socialist tendency he represents has begun to gain popularity, especially among the younger generation in the US. However, it is unlikely that Sanders’ idea will become the mainstream in American society, because it involves a fundamental reform of the existing system and will hurt the foundations of capitalism. Capitalism can be regarded as the foundation of the US. Neoliberalism, which encourages individual competition, provides full vitality for the society, but also inevitably leads to a gap between the rich and poor. In particular, the government has played a weak role by letting capital prevail. Thus, public service has been seriously weakened, resulting in the government’s sluggish response in this public health crisis.

In the book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, French economist Thomas Piketty argued that inequality is not an accident, but a feature of capitalism, and can only be reversed through state interventionism. The book pointed out that unless capitalism is reformed, the democratic order will be threatened.

Sanders saw the gap between the rich and poor in the US and the crisis it has brought. But his so-called democratic socialism lacks the will to oppose capitalism. It is also impossible for him to promote reform under the current conditions. Thus, his theory has many limitations.

US and European medical institutions are making every effort to develop vaccines and new drugs to control the pandemic as soon as possible. It may not be too difficult to develop a vaccine. But it is almost impossible to eliminate the gap between the rich and poor, make health insurance available for everyone and provide higher education and reliable employment opportunities for all people if capitalism is not reformed.

It is generally believed that a big crisis will help improve the adaptability of the system and social practices. But after the epidemic, can the US and other Western countries reform the system so as to meet the new challenges in the public sphere? We shall wait and see.

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