Death for profit: Herd immunity and capitalist realism

When I’m discussing or reading about the political systems of countries other than the U.S., I start with the assumption that even where there are similarities, the context, dynamics, and groups involved aren’t going to be analogous to the situation of my home country. While I think American Exceptionalism is arrogant nonsense, there are ways in which every country is exceptional, because every country has its own unique circumstances. That said, we’re all the same species, and we tend to respond similarly in similar circumstances.

I don’t recall when exactly I started paying attention to British politics, but while it was clear that the label “liberal” meant something different outside of the U.S., it was also clear that the UK Conservative Party was pretty similar to the American Republican Party. During healthcare debates, some Americans who wanted universal healthcare pointed out that far from being an extremist position, even the conservatives in the UK supported the NHS. Since then, it’s become pretty clear to me that to whatever degree that’s true, it’s similar to the Republicans’ claims to value democracy. It’s a position they hold when they think it’s necessary to gain and keep power, and one that they abandon as soon as it no longer seems to be serving that purpose.

I think the frequent parallels drawn between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher are useful, both in terms of ideology, and in terms of the position occupied by those leaders in the minds of the modern parties. I also think that the lessons of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine are essential to understanding not only the British and American conservative movements, but also a great deal of how capitalism operates on a global scale. If you haven’t read it yet, you should do so.

Since moving to Scotland, the similarities have been even more noticeable, and that came into grim focus with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. People sounded the alarm in both countries, saying that far from taking steps to deal with the outbreak, they were actively downplaying it, and planning to do nothing at all. Those people were attacked for daring to claim that conservatives could be so callous, but eventually it became indisputable that the ruling parties of both the U.S. and the U.K. planned to let the disease tear through their countries with little or no action from the government to help the populations.

This lethal disregard for both human life and scientific realities should not surprise anyone, but it absolutely should enrage everyone. This tallies with the version of capitalist dogma described in The Shock Doctrine, and that’s constantly used to undermine any policies that might improve – or save – countless lives. This is the same dogma behind the decades-long campaign of denial and misinformation around climate science, as well as tobacco smoke, lead, and many other issues.

This is not the first time that pro-capitalist politicians and policies have caused mass death through a deliberate disregard of facts that threaten the wealth and power of the wealthy and powerful.

As long as these people keep their power, it will not be the last time. They have demonstrated repeatedly that they will not change how they do things, and that they have no remorse for the horrors they bring about. I’m not just talking about the politicians currently holding governmental positions, I’m talking about the whole “ruling class” of global capitalism. As the planet continues to get hotter, there is no limit to how many people our current rulers will allow to die, or directly kill to keep their hoards and their power.

To them, there seems to be no difference between the end of their reign, and the end of the world, and so they’re happy to cause the latter to prevent the former. A human society not ruled by them is a human society that’s not worth keeping alive.

Unless we take their power away.

Despite everything happening in the world right now, life goes on, and I’m still required to spend money in order to live. My work is supported by a group of wonderful people over at, and I would be immeasurably grateful if you would consider joining their ranks. How much you give, and for how long are entirely under your control, and every little bit helps a great deal, as my household is very short on money right now. Thank you for reading, and take care of yourselves.


  1. Bruce says

    When we discuss national health insurance in the USA, I’m always amused to note that to OUR conservatives, both Maggie Thatcher and Boris Johnson are brutal Stalinist communists, because they supported national health insurance. American political discourse is too often led by Republicans who refuse to admit that Hitler and Stalin were not always on the same side.

  2. sonofrojblake says

    The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was successfully making people think his legal disregard for human life was incompetence, rather than deliberate knowing callousness. “he’s trying” is the central lie. And it’s going to work. People – ie the majority of English people – are fucking morons. I despair.

  3. Tim H. says

    I believe the “Conservatives” do as they do out of a religious belief, it’s how they serve Mammon*. The deaths of those unblessed by their God are seen as a purification, they’ll probably still think so even as the Nation is crippled by death & poverty… dead enders.
    *I borrowed the notion of Mammon worship from a Norman Spinrad essay and a fundamentalist past.

  4. says

    This post is completely inane. The author clearly has no understanding whatsover of Covid-19, the measures which actually have been taken at least in the US, what has occured in other countries, or the inherent limits on the power of the federal government in such cases. I say that as someone who teaches research, and who returned from China to Seattle at the same time as Covid, to the same airport, and has studied the matter closely.

    I’m not going to explain all these facts in detail: I suspect they will be rejected for emotional rather than rational reasons. To pretend that the feds have just “let the disease tear through their countries with little or no action” shows a deliberate disregard for the facts that it is probably not worth responding to in detail. More commonly, Drayton fails to grasp: (1) the fact that this disease preys upon countries with lots of elderly, that is, First World countries, in particular; (2) some western European countries have seen more deaths; (3) the US had a federal system, which means the president can’t even stop a riot in downtown Portland that lasts two months, let alone run all the state programs; (4) obesity alone explains much about the high US mortality rate: many times as many Americans per capita are obese than Italians, and the obese die at 50% higher rates; (5) the disease first caught in Cuomo’s Northeast, and spread from there around the country, and he and his fellow Democrats screwed up in a few different ways, enabling that spread; (6) American culture is unlike East Asian culture: we are individualists, and cannot easily be forced to follow official orders, which is sometimes a good thing; (7) we have a “loose” not “tight” culture, more like Brazil than China; (8) we don’t have much pollution, so don’t wear masks and didn’t have them (China’s death rate PER YEAR from pollution is not far behind our death rate from Covid in this one year); (9) We have a long border with Mexico, which apparently really didn’t do much for long, and which sent us some cases.

    But I know I’m wasting my time to explain these things. Fanatics got to fanatic.

  5. says

    @David Marshall, I am from one of those east European countries that have higher proportional covid rates than the USA at the moment and I can say with confidence this: We actually had the pandemic under very good control for over six months, being among the best in the world. The cases started to climb after our politicians have stopped listening to epidemiologists and started to put conservative “economy over health” policies in place. Our health minister and his top advisor have both resigned over this. The politicians started to listen to epidemiologists about two months later again, at which point it was unfortunately too late – the government lost the trust of the people and the disease was running rampant.

    Regarding the USA and federal system: No matter what the impeached president could or could not do on a legislative basis, he, and his fellow Republicans, could do one thing from the start – acknowledging the reality of the pandemic and at least speaking about the necessity of effective countermeasures, whether or not those countermeasures could be enforced or not. Instead, the impeached president and a significant portion of the Republican party have spent denying that something is happening at all, and many do so to this very day.

  6. Who Cares says

    @David Marshall(#4):
    The problem isn’t so much that the US hasn’t tried mitigation strategies. The problem was and still is that it is a patchwork across the states and in the states. And if you cannot stop traffic from places that are actively encouraging the pandemic any measure the places that take it seriously can only slow down the spread in those places taking it seriously. Worse is that even most places that took it seriously only implemented some measures instead of all that were needed to bring down the number of cases. Even worse is that the moment that the number of cases would drop the pressure on the people making the decisions to force them to rescind measures usually reached such levels that measures were rescinded.
    All in all a zero effective strategy.

    1) The disease doesn’t prey on countries with lots of elderly. That the US has a chronically underfunded retirement system (not just benefits but everything) is the cause. The majority of the people getting infected and dying where I live (somewhere in Europe with a baby boomer retirement wave) are the people between 30 and 50.
    2) About that riot in Portland, you do know that the main reason that it lasted two months was the federal government kidnapping people of the street and other actions to get the people that were protesting to riot so that they’d have an excuse to break the BLM protests in Portland, at least the failed in that since most protesters did not take the bait and the ones that did were restrained by the ones that did not. There was a reason why the state and city government kept demanding that they leave so that that two month riot would go back to protests again.
    3) The reason that the virus went unchecked is because the states were looking to the federal government for an unified response. They got not just no response but were actively worked against by the federal government in their own attempts to keep things under control or do things that the federal government was supposed to do but didn’t. And you can thank Trump and the republicans for that.
    4) Funny you claimed in 1) that it was old age that was the prime reason that the virus can’t be contained. Italy isn’t called the old man of Europe for nothing. They should be dying over there in amounts that overweight doesn’t even start to approach.
    5) And then Trump and the republicans compounded the early mistakes by actively fighting measures that would have helped New York and slowed the spread to other states. And those early mistakes are not lethal if the response afterwards is sufficient as can be seen in Europe where the rest of the EU only went something is wrong after Italy shutdown 1/3 of the nation. Meanwhile the virus spread unchecked for a week or two through people returning from holidays. Most of Europe managed to react swiftly enough to get the outbreaks under control after that fuck up. So the US should have been able to do the same.
    6) Me, me, me and fuck you, I don’t care if you die. That is not an individualistic attitude, that is selfish bordering on psychopathic narcissism. The attitude of at least 1/3 of the US can be described as follows :”The masks don’t protect me (well they do but not a lot if because I only have those cheap dentist masks) and I need to wear it to protect others? No fucking way, I will not do something that is only a minor monetary sacrifice since it will only help others”. And repeat that other measures that if they would have been taken seriously would have (based on the experience of where I live) allowed 4 to 5 months of normal economic activity by putting a break on everything for 5 weeks. Instead the US has effectively been in partial lock down since March. So it is not only selfish but stupidly short sighted as well.
    7) And? Doesn’t mean you cannot care for others, just another way to excuse the behavior I pointed out in 6).
    8) And? Doesn’t mean you cannot care for others, just another way to excuse the behavior I pointed out in 6).
    9) You do know that the Mexicans seriously considered shutting down the border with the US due to the amount of contagious people fleeing the US to Mexico.

    So all in all excuses for a republican government that was actively encouraging the spread of the virus instead of using the tools the preceding administrations had put in place to fight a pandemic. Oh wait they couldn’t do that since most of them had the imprimatur of Obama on them so Trump actively took a hatchet to them in his frenzy of petty revenge on Obama. Most the rest couldn’t be used since Trump decreed that the reality was that there was no virus, nothing would be done that would tank the stock market since he staked his reelection on that. And the ones that could be used, well yeah sucks to be you but Trump is a petty vengeful person and he is putting that personality on full blast on you since is mean (Trumps definition of the word) to Trump and worse refused to bend their knee to him so you won’t get what you need as opposed to states not yet needing stuff but having brownnosers so deep up trumps ass you’d only see their shoes.

  7. says

    David Marshall @4: I see you’ve presented a veritable Gish gallop of excuses for how come the USA’s death toll for COVID19 is so friggin’ high. I’m curious: How many of those excuses were just as applicable to past contagions which swept the USA—particularly those whose death toll is nowhere near the 300K-or-so and rising that COVID19 has stuck us with now?

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