The coronavirus lockdown has brought about a crisis of capitalism in relatively short order. In removing much of the labor from the system — because people need to self-isolate, necessitating, in most cases, staying home from work — we are finding out how quickly the system will collapse without working people. The billionaires we’ve been told to think of as “job creators” have nothing but angry tweets to share with those who’ve made their fortunes, and workers are taking a long, hard look at lousy jobs with no safety precautions, and in some cases saying, “No, thanks.”
In the midst of this crisis, despite the electoral defeat of the Bernie Sanders campaign, many people are still fighting for policies that could be described as socialist or social-democratic. Since it’s become clear that workers are what make the thing we call “the economy” run, shouldn’t they have a bigger say in how it runs? The demands being made by working people right now — including those who are still on the job in “essential” positions and those who’ve been laid off — are for a more equitable distribution of work, care, and resources in society, and for a world that, as the saying goes, puts people before profit. In many cases, the policies being proposed are actually proving their usefulness in fighting the virus and the attendant economic crash, as they’re being adopted (or in some cases already existed) in countries around the world and even right here at home.
The most obvious of those is socialized medicine. While Medicare for All was a centerpiece of the Sanders campaign and of the Democratic Socialists of America’s ongoing organizing, and while it would certainly help right now to have a system under which everyone was covered, this isn’t a truly socialized system, since those working in health care would still be part of the private sector. A real national health care system — like the United Kingdom’s National Health Service — would be an integrated system where not just the payments, but the health care provision itself would be funded by the government. Doctors and nurses would be public employees, the hospitals and clinics would be publicly owned, and the whole thing would be funded by tax dollars, free at the point of service to anyone who needed it.
The U.S. does, in fact, have one such fully public system — the health care provided by the Veterans Administration, or V.A. Phillip Longman, author of Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care Would Work Better for Everyone, explains that a public system has an incentive to keep people well, and to prepare for crisis rather than seeing any unused beds or services as a waste. While the V.A. has faced some criticism for providing inadequate care, Longman says it relies on “an evidence-based model that is not profit-driven, that concerns itself with the whole patient, the whole community, not just one body part at a time.” While the V.A. has faced cutbacks and attempts to privatize it in recent years, studies still find that it provides equal or better care than the private sector.
As the pandemic spreads, doctors and other health care advocates have already called for subsidizing care for those who have the coronavirus — in part because in a pandemic, we are each only as healthy as our neighbors. If those neighbors don’t get tested or get help because they don’t have insurance and are worried about costs (or are undocumented and fear being met with a crackdown rather than care), they continue to spread the virus. And in New York, the epicenter of the virus in the U.S., Governor Andrew Cuomo has already basically socialized the operation of hospitals, which one hospital administrator described as “cutting through the bullsh*t.”