In the 21st century, the COVID-19 pandemic triggered the sharpest economic contraction in the history of capitalism. In a matter of days, tens of millions of workers became unemployed and millions of businesses lost their employees, customers, suppliers and credit lines.
The pandemic hit after four decades of neoliberalism had depleted state capacities in the name of the "superior efficiency" of the market. Shockingly, the epidemic itself was not unexpected. For decades, the likelihood of a flu-type virus had been known, especially since the recent experiences with Nipah, SARS, MERS, and Ebola. It followed that the crises of public health and the economy were not caused by failures of planning; instead, they reflected political choices: the deliberate dismantling of state capacities.
Emblematically, neoliberalism devalued human lives to such an extent that precious time was wasted in several countries – notably those with more uncompromisingly neoliberal administrations: the U.S., the UK and Brazil – with government attempts to enforce a strategy that would inevitably lead to the elimination of those with fragile health, instead of rapidly imposing a lockdown that although proven to reduce the loss of life, would hurt profits.