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Capitalism’s Triple Crisis

Dopo la crisi del 2008, abbiamo imparato fin troppo bene cosa succede quando i governi inondano incondizionatamente l’economia di liquidità invece di gettare le basi per una ripresa sostenibile e inclusiva. Ora che è in atto una crisi ancor più grave non si deve ripetere lo stesso errore. Da “Project Syndicate”.

Capitalism is facing at least three major crises. A pandemic-induced health crisis has rapidly ignited an economic crisis with yet unknown consequences for financial stability, and all of this is playing out against the backdrop of a climate crisis that cannot be addressed by “business as usual.” Until just two months ago, the news media were full of frightening images of overwhelmed firefighters, not overwhelmed health-care providers.

This triple crisis has revealed several problems with how we do capitalism, all of which must be solved at the same time that we address the immediate health emergency. Otherwise, we will simply be solving problems in one place while creating new ones elsewhere. That is what happened with the 2008 financial crisis. Policymakers flooded the world with liquidity without directing it toward good investment opportunities. As a result, the money ended up back in a financial sector that was (and remains) unfit for purpose.

The COVID-19 crisis is exposing still more flaws in our economic structures, not least the increasing precarity of work, owing to the rise of the gig economy and a decades-long deterioration of workers’ bargaining power. Telecommuting simply is not an option for most workers, and although governments are extending some assistance to workers with regular contracts, the self-employed may find themselves left high and dry.

Worse, governments are now extending loans to businesses at a time when private debt is already historically high. In the United States, total household debt just before the current crisis was $14.15 trillion, which is $1.5 trillion higher than it was in 2008 (in nominal terms). And lest we forget, it was high private debt that caused the global financial crisis.

Unfortunately, over the past decade, many countries have pursued austerity, as if public debt were the problem. The result has been to erode the very public-sector institutions that we need to overcome crises like the coronavirus pandemic. Since 2015, the United Kingdom has cut public-health budgets by £1 billion ($1.2 billion), increasing the burden on doctors in training (many of whom have left the National Health Service altogether), and reducing the long-term investments needed to ensure that patients are treated in safe, up-to-date, fully staffed facilities. And in the US – which has never had a properly funded public-health system – the Trump administration has been persistently trying to cut funding and capacity for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among other critical institutions.

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