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EL MOSTRADOR

Chomsky On Coronavirus: Why Neoliberalism And Big Pharma Can't Respond

In two recent interviews, iconic left-wing activist Noam Chomsky says the COVID-19 crisis reveals the inherent weakness of the profit-driven to confront a global pandemic.

Chomsky in 2017 in Mexico City
Chomsky in 2017 in Mexico City
Alejandro Acosta/El Universal via ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

For many long-time critics of global capitalism, COVID-19 is a glaring new example of how our prevailing economic system no longer serves the common good. Among those is the 91-year-old public intellectual and self-described anarcho-syndicalist Noam Chomsky, who shared his thoughts on the crisis in two recent interviews.

Speaking last week with the Chilean news site El Mostrador, Chomsky pointed out how the crisis is shining a light specifically at the pharmaceutical industry, a.k.a. Big Pharma, and more generally at the neoliberalism system in place in many parts of the world. "Like climate change, the pandemic is another case of massive market failure," Chomsky told the Spanish-language site. "For private pharmaceutical companies, the market signals were clear: Don't waste resources preparing for a pandemic ahead of time."

Chomsky, a lifelong social activist and a renowned MIT professor of linguistics, argues that the U.S. government could have intervened to stem the crisis, as in South Korea, but that it would have "conflicted with neoliberal ideology that centers on the sacred rights of concentrated private power. The government's role is to subsidize and provide exorbitant patent rights — ensuring colossal profits — but not to interfere with privilege and wealth."

Is the species even viable?

Speaking Saturday with Democracy in Europe Movement 2025"s Croatian-born co-founder Srecko Horvat, Chomsky said the current health pandemic is just one of many looming crises facing humanity, including climate change, threats of nuclear war and migration.

"The coronavirus could have terrifying consequences, but there will be recovery," Chomsky said. "The others there won't be: it's finished. If we don't deal with them, we're done."

The activist noted the "irony" of recent reports that Cuba, which has suffered Western sanctions for decades, is sending doctors to help European countries to fight the coronavirus.

"I mean this is so shocking that you don't know how to describe it. Germany can't help Greece: but Cuba can help European countries," he said. "Just as when you see thousands of people dying in the Mediterranean, fleeing from countries Europe has devastated for centuries and being sent to their deaths in the Mediterranean, you don't know what words to use."

Chomsky, who was born in 1928, says the response of certain leaders conjures "childhood memories of listening to Hitler raving on the radio to raucous crowds adoring him at the Nuremberg rallies ...One begins to wonder if the species is even viable."

Chomsky said the only hope is more democratic participation: "If we're leaving our fate to sociopathic buffoons, we're finished," he said. "An informed, engaged, involved public taking control of their fate — if that doesn't happen, we're doomed."


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Ideas

Making It Political Already? Why Turkey's Earthquake Is Not Just A Natural Disaster

The government in Ankara doesn't want to question the cause of the high death toll in the earthquake that struck along the Turkey-Syria border. But one Turkish writer says it's time to assign responsibility right now.

photo of Erdogan at the earthquake site

President Erdogan surveys the damage on Wednesday

Office of the Turkish Presidency
Dağhan Irak

-OpEd-

ISTANBUL — We have a saying in Turkey: “don’t make it political” and I am having a hard time finding the right words to describe how evil that mindset is. It's as if politics is isolated from society, somehow not connected to how we live and the consequences of choices taken.

Allow me to translate for you the “don’t make it political” saying's real meaning: “we don’t want to be held accountable, hands off.”

It means preventing the public from looking after their interests and preserving the superiority of a certain type of individual, group and social class.

In order to understand the extent of the worst disaster in more than 20 years, we need to look back at that disaster: the İzmit-Düzce earthquakes of 1999.

Because we have before us a regime that does not care about anything but its own interests; has no plan but to save itself in times of danger; does not believe such planning is even necessary (even as it may tinker with the concept in case there is something to gain from it); gets more mafioso as it grows more partisan — and more deadly as it gets more mafioso.

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