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Michael Roberts: The Political Economy of the Pandemic

As we head towards 2021, the pandemic infection rate shows no sign of stopping or even slowing. Hospitals in the northern hemisphere are under pressure and economic activity is dropping back. Employment levels are still down and real incomes are set to fall, especially for the lower paid as jobs disappear and inflation rises. The economies of the global south have been trounced by the COVID pandemic as international trade dived and domestic economic activity collapsed. Debt defaults will mount; and for the billions in the ‘global south’, the spectre of rising poverty, illness and exploitation will be realised. The ‘scarring’ of the world capitalist economy will be long lasting.

Even if effective vaccines emerge in 2021, that will not provide a long-term solution. COVID-19 emerged, like other new pathogens for which human beings had no immunity, from wild animals in remote parts of the world transferring through animals being ‘industrially farmed’ and into food markets used by humans. There will be more pandemics because there are more pathogens out there and nothing is being done to curb or stop fossil fuel exploration, logging and deforestation for plantations and livestock; all in the drive for more profit for agro and energy industries. If and when this pandemic fizzles out, we should not return to ‘business as usual’. We urgently need to build a ‘social economy’ where democratic planning replaces the capitalist sector and directs and controls national and global resources towards people, not profit.

Michael Roberts is a Marxist economist and author of several books, including The Great Recession – a Marxist view (2009); The Long Depression (2016); World in Crisis (2018); Marx 200 (2018) and now has a new book out for the 200th anniversary of Engels’ birth, Engels 200: his contribution to political economy. He blogs at:

The lecture will be in English and will be moderated by Arne Kušej, a member of the ILS programme committee. It will be streamed on ILS YouTube channel.