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Chomsky: Coronavirus shows "colossal failure of neoliberalism"

From Noam Chomsky's point of view, the coronavirus pandemic shows “another colossal failure of the neoliberal version of capitalism”. The particularly severe effects in the USA are the result of the “surreal” reactions from the White House.

Noam Chomsky is considered the founder of modern linguistics and one of the most famous intellectuals in the world. After many years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Chomsky has been a member of the linguistics department at the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona since fall 2017.

He spoke to Cristina Magdaleno from EURACTIV's media partner Efe on a video call. The full interview in the original Spanish can be found here.

Professor Chomsky, what lessons can be learned from the current pandemic?

One lesson is that it is another colossal failure of the neoliberal version of capitalism. It's a huge failure. If we don't learn from this, the next time around it will get worse.

It's obvious what happened: after the SARS epidemic in 2003, scientists knew full well that more pandemics were coming, probably also of the coronavirus variety. It would have been possible to prepare for it at this point. It's like doing it with the flu: you have a new flu vaccine every year because there are always slight mutations and variations, but you are prepared for it. So you can make [vaccines] quickly.

But in the current case that was not done.

Someone has to look into this and pursue it. There are two conceivable actors for this: the pharmaceutical companies have the means; they are super rich because we shower them with gifts. But they didn't want to make such vaccines because they are watching market signals. And the market signals tell you that there is no profit to be made in preparing for a potential disaster in the future. Second, there is the neoliberal hammer that governments cannot do anything either. They are part of the problem, not the solution.

In the United States, the whole thing has become an absolute disaster because of this gang that rules Washington. They always know exactly how to blame anyone in the world except themselves. They are responsible for the disaster. The US is now the epicenter of the crisis. They are the only country so inoperable that it cannot even provide the World Health Organization with data on deaths and infections.

How would you describe the overall response of the Trump administration?

As surreal. The way this all turned out is surreal.

In February the pandemic wreaked havoc [in other parts of the world]; everyone in the US could see that. And yet Trump presented new budgets in February that should be looked at closely: In the midst of a pandemic, he made cuts for the Center for Disease Control and other health-related parts of the government. At the same time it allowed an increase in funds for the fossil fuel industry. These are further subsidies to destroy organized human life in the not too distant future. And of course there was also more funding for the military, which is already bloated, and additional funding for Trump's famous wall.

That says a lot about the nature of these sociopathic fools who run government - and how the country is suffering as a result.

Now they are desperately trying again to blame someone else, especially China and the World Health Organization. Speaking of which: suspend funding from the World Health Organization - what does that actually mean in practice? The World Health Organization works all over the world, mostly in poorer countries. So [the US government] is basically saying, “Let's let a lot of people die in the global south; because maybe that will improve our prospects for choice. "

Trump initially downplayed and neglected the possible effects of the pandemic. Has reality overtaken him now - possibly for the first time?

You have to give Trump one thing: He has probably the greatest self-confidence that has ever existed. He lets P.T. Barnum look like an amateur.

Trump is also able to hold a banner in one hand that says "I love you, I am your savior, trust me, I work for you day and night" - and with the other hand he stabs you Dagger in the back. That's how he treats his electorate, who idolize him, no matter what he does.

And of course a very interesting media phenomenon helps him, namely the mix of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Breitbart ... the only part of the media Republicans watch. Everything that Trump says is reflected in this media. So if he claims today: “It's just a flu, don't worry”, these media will say, “Yes, it's just a flu, let's not care”. But the next day he admits that it is a "terrible pandemic" and of course he was the first to notice it. And everyone shouted in unison: “He's the greatest person in history; his latest discovery is the greatest thing of all time. "

And it goes on like this day after day. In the meantime, he looks at himself in the morning Fox News and decide what he'll say today. It is truly an amazing phenomenon how Rupert Murdoch, Rush Limbaugh, and that sociopath in the White House are driving the country to ruin.

Do you assume that the crisis will change us as a society and our relationship with nature? And if so, in which direction?

That will mostly depend on the younger people. Overall, however, this cannot be predicted.

It depends on how the world's population will react to what happens. The pandemic could lead to extremely authoritarian, repressive states that spread the neoliberal plague even further than has happened before. In fact, they're working on it at the moment. One should always remember that the capitalist class does not give in, that it is always fighting. Now, in the midst of the [coronavirus crisis], she is calling for more funds for fossil fuels. It destroys previous regulations that offered a certain protection.

Only recently, the US Environmental Protection Agency, which under Trump has become a vicarious agent for coal producers, abolished regulations that limit the release of mercury and other pollutants into the air and soil around power plants. It also means, "Let's kill more American children and let's destroy the environment because that way you can make more profit for the coal companies."

It happens all the time, every day. I am sure: if there are no opposing forces, the world will continue to develop in this direction.

What could geopolitically change as a result of the pandemic?

What is happening internationally is really quite shocking. This also applies to the European Union, which actually does not deserve the name - Union -. Germany is doing quite well in overcoming the crisis. It has sufficient hospital capacities and there is also no lack of diagnostic capacities. The neoliberal rules were not strictly adhered to there.

Meanwhile, there is a serious epidemic in Italy. But is that why help comes from Germany?

Fortunately, the Italians are getting help - but from “the superpower” on the other side of the Atlantic: Cuba. Cuba sends doctors. Material also comes from China. So Italy gets at least some support - but hardly from the rich countries of the European Union.

In fact, the only country that is showing real internationalism now - and this is not the first time - is Cuba. That should really make us think. Cuba has been under attack by the US for 60 years, be it through economic blockades or large-scale terrorist acts. Miraculously, Cuba survived and continued to show the world what internationalism is.

But that's not what you should and want to talk about in the US. The polite, obedient person should see something different. So the blame is currently placed on China; the “yellow peril” is conjured up again. This fear is very deeply rooted in American history: the Chinese are coming to destroy us. That goes back to the 19th century, you can apparently conjure it up again at any time.

But there is also a call for a progressive international. This call comes from Bernie Sanders in the United States and from Yanis Varoufakis in Europe. They want to bring together progressive elements from Europe, the United States and the global south.

This is to counteract the "reactionary international" that is being forged in the White House together with brutal states in the Middle East [...] or people like Orbán and Salvini, whose zest for life is apparently to ensure that people who are desperately fleeing Africa, drowning in the Mediterranean.

[Edited by Catalina Guerrero, Zoran Radosavljevic and Tim Steins]

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