-di AMEDEO CERESA GENET e PIERLUIGI PIETRICOLA–
In the wake of the pandemic, the world could undergo a radical change. We interviewed prestigious intellectual Noam Chomsky to get a clearer idea of what the future holds.
Professor Chomsky, in your opinion, what will the political and social consequences of this pandemic be?
Currently, two forces are contending for predominance. One is the business class, which has dominated to an unusual extent for the last 40 years and is represented by the neoliberal ideology both politically and economically. Their goal is to ensure that, in the aftermath of the pandemic, there will be harsher autocratic measures that favor the wealthy and the corporate sector.
At the other end, the counterforce is embodied by the Progressive International initiated by Bernie Sanders in the US and Yanis Varoufakis’s DiEM25 in Europe. They aim to tackle the effects of global warming and other severe problems, and, in Europe’s case, to salvage what is valuable in the EU and replace their harmful and destructive forces, dismantling the oppressive regime and concentration of wealth.
What are the causes of this pandemic?
That is not difficult to figure out. We are talking about the same factors that caused the previous pandemic and will cause the next one, unless overcome.
In 2003 we had the first epidemic of SARS, which is a Coronavirus. The drug companies – backed by the political parties and with massive resources, labs, and funds – understood that there would be another one. However, on that occasion, the real barrier was capitalism – profit. You don’t make money by working to produce a vaccine for some catastrophe that might happen in ten years and is used irregularly, unlike something that happens every day.
The second factor is the savage capitalism initiated by Reagan and the Chicago Boys 40 years ago. Their motto at the time was ‘The government is the problem, not the solution.’
So we were stuck. The drug companies couldn’t prepare for a coming pandemic and the government couldn’t do it either.
Of course, not all governments support this doctrine fully. The US cooperated with China and did some excellent work identifying the sources of future prospective pandemics
Also, the source of Coronaviruses is not so obscure. Most of these viruses are passed on from bats to other mammals, which eventually come in contact with humans. This research was mainly carried out in the Wuhan Center of Virology. It is dangerous work – some get killed.
Trump is a slave of the corporate sector, waving a false flag of populism. He canceled these programs and is now in a campaign to find a scapegoat for his crimes against America. The way the president has acted killed tens of thousands of people, and he has to cover for it by blaming China. Every year he has been in office, he has defunded the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and other health-related aspects of government.
On February 10th, with the pandemic raging, he came up with his Federal Budget: he called for defunding the CDC even further while increasing subsidies for the fossil fuel industries. This is the mentality typical of savage capitalism.
About a week after symptoms of an unknown disease appeared in China, Chinese scientists identified the virus, sequenced the genome and distributed it to the world through the World Health Organization. By mid-January, every scientist interested knew what was going on. Some reacted – Australia, New Zealand, East Asia, Taiwan, South Korea, and China. They all have it under substantial control now. Europe waited, then they acted. Some more effectively, some less. Way at the bottom of the barrel is the US.
First of all, the government happens to be that of a narcissistic sociopath, interested in nothing but himself. On top of that, the US is an unusually business-run society. Even before Trump, the health system was a catastrophe. We have twice the cost of any comparable country with some of the worst outcomes – highly inefficient, highly bureaucratized. It was privatized to provide profits for the rich. The business model requires that there be no waste – everything is cut to the minimum.
The next pandemic could be even worse because of global warming. We know how to get ready for it, but somebody has got to do it.
Will democracy be in danger, after this pandemic?
That depends on the outcome of the ongoing class war. The gurus of neoliberalism – such as Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek – used to say that democracy is a bad thing because it interferes with sound economics.
In their view, Pinochet’s autocratic state was the perfect experiment for neoliberalism. There was no opposition. The torture chambers took care of that. America had strangled Allende’s government and poured money onto Chile for the sake of the neoliberal dream, as did the international financial institutios. The Chilean economy depended on the highly efficient nationalized Copper company CODELCO. Conditions were ideal. They crashed the economy in five years.
Because democracy is considered a danger, the neoliberal state needs to crush resistance by all means possible, including violence. That is what happened with the repression of the Austrian labor unions back in the 1920s, enthusiastically supported by the leading lights of neoliberalism. Very much like Pinochet.
When we hear that the US is the beacon of democracy, we should bear in mind that the gold standard of scholarship on the forming of the Constitution is called ‘The Framer’s Coup.’ That is to say, the coup against the general public and its demand for democracy.
The American constitution is designed to undermine the possibility of democracy itself. James Madison explained this perfectly. A prime goal of government is to “protect the opulent minority against the majority’. Democracy interferes with this.
The subsequent political history of the US is largely a battle between these two forces. The same applies elsewhere, as and will after the pandemic.
Do you think the media gave adequate coverage of this virus?
The better media did an honest job reporting the data. In this respect, The New York Times and the South China Morning Post come to mind. However, they never investigated the causes of the pandemic: a capitalist catastrophe intensified by neoliberalism and far right betrayal.
On the other hand, if we consider the Republican Party, most of its members won’t even acknowledge the that these questions exist. Thats that’s what they hear from FOX News, which is the echo chamber of the far-right administration – ‘science is just deceit,’ ‘global warming is a hoax,’ ‘stop the lockdown,’ and so on. This has severe effects on the entire world.
Trump uses the World Health Organization as a scapegoat to defund and destroy it eventually. There is an element of sadism in all this, and Europeans are too cowardly to do anything besides sitting in a corner and saying: ‘We don’t like what you’re doing.’
What is your perception of the pandemic in Italy and Europe?
The pandemic has been very serious, especially in northern Italy, but just a few kilometers north of it, there are rich countries that managed the crisis successfully. Are there any German doctors in Italy? They’re Cuban! Cuba sends doctors. Germany doesn’t help Italy.
For the last two months, the public’s attention has been focused entirely on the Coronavirus. Which other issues – global warming, the risk of nuclear war, etc. – have been developing?
Global warming is already a problem. If we do nothing, the polar ice sheets will melt along with other processes that will make much of the world uninhabitable, maybe within the next 50 years. The narrow climatic spectrum that is crucial to the survival of the human species will deteriorate irreparably. Some countries are trying to move to sustainable energy. In contrast, the US is trying to make it as bad as possible, investing in fossil fuels, new areas for exploitation, and cutting back on regulations that might mitigate the effects of a phenomenon that is much more dangerous than the pandemic.
We are racing into the abyss as quickly as we can.
Do you think that the relations between the East and the West will change?
The scholarly literature, I think, has exaggerated the prospects for the main Eastern countries. The US is, by far, the most powerful country in the world. It’s the only one able to impose sanctions that others must obey. Its corporations own half the world’s wealth. No other country can match its supply of internal resources – agricultural, mineral – nor the homogeneity of its society.
China has had enormous growth but is still a very poor country. You just need to take a look at the UN Human Development Index – you’ll find it’s ranked about 90th. The country has huge internal problems – demographic and ecological issues that are entirely unknown to the West. Chinese exports are designed and controlled by companies like Foxconn in Taiwan and Apple, but the profit does not stay in China. Apple then sets up an office in Ireland and avoids paying taxes. This is neoliberalism today.
The US can harm itself – and under Trump, it is doing so, but they still have a long way to go. It remains the most powerful of all.
What mistakes do you believe have been made in the US, Italy, and Europe, when dealing with the pandemic?
The first mistake was back in 2003 when nobody prepared for the current pandemic. Now we need to prepare for the next one.
Secondly, when the information came out of China – which happened very quickly – some countries didn’t react.
In Italy, there was a huge soccer game. That, I’m sorry to say, was apparently one of the sources. The Italian health system is pretty good, but it was not prepared for anything like this, because of the neoliberal cutbacks and austerity. This is continuing, incidentally.
You may have noticed that, not long ago, the German constitutional court ruled that the German banks cannot adhere to EU regulations. Well, that might eventually destroy the European Union. Germany has the big banks behind it. It has been blocking the efforts to create Eurobonds to distribute the costs through Europe.
So, overall, some countries in Europe have done well, but they’re not helping others.
When it comes to the US, it’s not even mistakes – it is criminality. US intelligence agencies were warning the White House daily. Trump only looks at his TV ratings and the stock market, which, he thinks, will help his election. Then when all of a sudden the stock market plunged, he realized something had happened.
Now his electoral strategy is to blame the States and their governments. When things go wrong, Trump will say that the wealthy States – especially those run by the Democrats – are misusing funds. This gets him some electoral points. He can claim success if something happens to go well. Of course, it’s the Federal government that has the funds and means.
So you can’t talk about mistakes. You can talk about sociopathic megalomania. Trump simply cares nothing about the public and the international situation.
From my childhood – the 1930s – I remember the fascist slogan of Franco’s generals – ‘Down with intelligence. Forward with death.’
How could a different future be created, without pandemics, global warming, and threats of nuclear war?
It’s all in our hands; it’s not even terribly difficult. First of all, we must prepare for the next pandemics, and we know how to do it. And we must repair the sick system in the background.
Governments need to stop tax havens and stock buy-backs, which rob the public of tens of trillions of dollars. None of this existed on anything like the present scale prior to the Reagan administration. It’s not utopian to say we should go back to the system before the neoliberal doctrines were imposed.
Austerity programs in Europe have been devastating, and there is no serious economic justification for that. They’ve lost the Union trillions of dollars. However, not all things are bad with the EU. It’s good for people to be able to travel from one country to another, have trade interactions, and migrate as they please. But the destruction of democracy by centralizing decision-making in Brussels is extremely harmful. The decisions of the unelected bureaucratic elite are generating anger, resentment, and dislike for institutions, creating fertile terrain for demagogues. That can be overcome.
Global warming can be dealt with too. We have the means, but not much time. I don’t think there’s a single threat that cannot be resolved. But the more we wait, the worse it gets.