Because there’s still so much uncertainty as to how the pandemic is going to evolve, it’s far too early for anyone to evaluate its cost. But the government is already preparing us to accept the idea that common people will be the ones to pay.
Last week, the Minister of Public Accounts released the figure of 424 billion euros. According to him, this is what the Covid crisis could cost the state for 2020, 2021 and 2022. This figure doesn't mean a lot as it will surely be revised dozens of times by 2022. If the government has popped it out of its hat, it’s only to try to impress us and to prepare the working class for further sacrifices.
The Covid epidemic has made public deficits and the national debt soar. This is presented as a "time bomb". But while public funds have been spent, the bourgeoisie's coffers have filled up.
While there have been more and more plant closures, business bankruptcies and layoffs, the number of French billionaires has grown. There are now 42 of them, with Arnault, Bettencourt-Meyers and Pinault in the lead. Their total wealth amounts to nearly 500 billion euros, a fortune that exceeds the Covid bill presented by the government. How did they manage that? Well, the goose that lays golden eggs is currently the luxury industry, and it's doing very nicely in these times of crisis. The money the ultra-rich weren't able to spend on travel has been put towards expanding their collection of bags and jwelry.
The pandemic has been a tragedy for the overwhelming majority of the population. For business people and capitalists, it has opened up new El Dorados, starting with the vaccine bonanza. In a rationally organised society, vaccines would be a public good to be shared worldwide. But, under capitalism, they are just a new means for speculation!
When the start-up company Moderna announced it had discovered a vaccine, it saw its stock market value skyrocket – and its CEO became a billionaire in just a few weeks. Because Pfizer was not so lucky on the stock market, it is now doing everything to bait speculators, suggesting a third dose might be necessary and that the price of its vaccine could reach 150 dollars.
Vaccines, tests, biotechnologies, digital and home delivery companies have become the new commodities for speculation. Hundreds of billions are flowing in their direction, to the point that some experts are worried: biotechs are creating speculative bubbles no less dangerous than the subprimes in 2007-2008.
While hospitals around the world lack resources but do their best to fight the epidemic, the speculative frenzy is threatening the entire economy with a new crash! While homecare workers and supermarket employees are forced to demonstrate and go on strike just to be granted the 1,000 euro Covid bonus, the capitalists are gambling fortunes on the stock markets.
The government keeps repeating that it wants to reimburse the national debt and balance the budget as quickly as possible. Fine! Let it make the billionaires pay! They are parasites and completely irresponsible towards society's needs!
Workers have already paid for the crisis in many ways: by going to work whatever the risks involved, by contracting the disease and infecting their loved ones; by losing their jobs and part of their wages. Shamelessly, the government has cut unemployment benefits for over a million people. Before, the jobless were supposed to live on 900 euros per month, now they’ll have to make do with 600!
The employers and the government haven't shown any generosity towards the workers. The furlough scheme, maintaining only 84% of net salaries and getting rid of all bonuses, was certainly no gift! Although furlough was meant to avoid layoffs, all the major corporations have cut jobs and forced their subcontractors to do the same.
Furlough has above all enabled employers to make the state pay a good part of the wages. And they have never ceased to alternate weeks of unemployment with periods of intense, exhausting activity on assembly lines.
The government and employers keep telling us that we are all in the same boat. This is an economic shipwreck but it's just like that of the Titanic: the captain’s priority is to save first-class passengers, and too bad for those in steerage! So, when the time comes to settle accounts, we’ll have to make sure that those who profited from the crisis pay back what they owe us.
Making the big bourgeoisie pay will be a necessary measure if society is to recover. But as long as this minority can increase its fortune on the misfortune and exploitation of others, we will go from crisis to crisis. Expropriating the capitalist class and taking away its power to cause harm, that is the only progressive programme for our times.