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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