Life After the Pandemic /w Christoph Hermann

From Production for Profit to Provision for Need. Part of the Socialist Register series “Beyond Digital Capitalism.” Watch video »

From Production for Profit to Provision for Need

Perhaps the greatest flaw revealed by the COVID-19 crisis is capitalism’s addiction to profit. The main goal of capitalist production is the maximization of profit; the satisfaction of needs is only a by-product in the endless process of accumulation. This means that the economy cannot simply pause during a lockdown and continue when the pandemic is under control. The insecurity of future profits instantly pushed the economy into an existential crisis. As a result, the crisis was not characterized by a lack of urgently needed supply, as one may expect during a period of large-scale economic inactivity.

While the coronavirus challenged the very foundations of the profit-driven economy, the lockdown provided the environment with a much-needed break. The pausing of industrial production together with the restriction of transportation, including international air travel, significantly reduced carbon dioxide emissions and other pollution. As a result, residents of smog-plagued cities such as New Delhi could suddenly see the sky. The crisis has shown that a focus on essential needs can provide breathing space for the global ecosystem. However, at the same time the crisis also sounded the death knell to all attempts to solve the ecological crisis through profit-based incentives. The dramatic fall in oil prices caused by the decline in economic activities will undermine the shift to less damaging energy sources.

In sum, what in a needs-based economy would be a formidable healthcare challenge and, perhaps, a major disruption of social life, but not a crisis of social reproduction, at least not as long as there is sufficient supply, turned in the profit-driven economy of capitalism into an existential threat. The anxiety about falling profits could only be calmed by flooding investors, businesses, and credit institutions with massive amounts of money. As a result, the US government will record the highest debt in its history. While debt is essential in a profit-driven economy, it is pointless in a needs-based economy. When the goal is that everybody receives what she/he needs, there is no need to go into debt. In this presentation Christoph presents some ideas for a needs-based economy.

Christoph Hermann is a Lecturer in History at University of California, Berkeley.

Part of the Socialist Register series “Beyond Digital Capitalism.” Recorded online, 27 April 2021.