(Source: CD/Jason Dunn, Sputnik)

A leading economist has taken aim at the capitalist system for the economic crisis surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, citing its “unique incapacity” to respond effectively to the outbreak and protect public health.

In an interview with Salon on Sunday, Dr Richard D. Wolff of the University of Massachusetts Amherst slammed the United States government for failing to decisively step up to meet the reality of the crisis and instead leaving the response measures to an ineffective private sector.

“There is a unique incapacity of the capitalist system – by which I mean, a system of private enterprises owned and operated by shareholders, families, individuals producing for a profit and the ordering about of the majority of people involved in every enterprise or the employees – that system is uniquely incapable of securing public health,” Wolff told Salon

“And since public health is a basic demand, a need of human communities, this represents a profound disqualification of capitalism. And to spell it out just briefly: it is not profitable for a private, profit-driven competitive capitalist to produce masks by the millions, or gloves, or ventilators, or hospital beds, or all the rest of them.”

Dr Wolff clarified that this wasn’t due to a lack of ability of the State to respond, but rather a lack of political will, which tends to only intervene for the benefit of certain industries, as with the military-industrial complex, for example.

“A government failure cannot be excused on grounds of the government not doing such things or conceiving of such things, because that’s not true,” he said.

“The government does exactly what it failed to do in the maintenance of public health. It does that for the military. It is just as unprofitable for a private capitalist to produce a missile and then store it in some warehouse and monitor it and clean it and replace it and repair it, waiting for God knows however long a time until the next war makes this missile something the government buys.”

He also criticised the United States healthcare system, which he described as operating as a monopoly at the expensive of the American public.

Dr Wolff explained that the health industry does not want the government regulating its behaviour, as it would threaten the “lunatic arrangement” of “government money being used to sustain a profession.”

​This interview follows the release of Dr Wolff’s new book The Sickness is the System: When Capitalism Fails to Save Us from Pandemics or Itself.

The work analyses the events of the last seven months and the coronavirus pandemic, identifying the crisis as caused by the social, political and economic status quo.

It accuses the bipartisan capitalist economic system of being unable to handle epidemics, and wealth inequality of being responsible for widespread misery prior to the outbreak.

More on Novena on the Pope’s calls to move beyond capitalism post-coronavirus:

In ‘Fratelli tutti’, Pope sets out vision for new world order post-coronavirus beyond nationalism, capitalism

Vatican ‘Fratelli tutti’ talking points for Spanish bishops refute claim Pope a “socialist” or “communist” (with full text)

Francis hits out at economy of “profit at any cost”, warns against “risk of concentrating commerce in the hands of a few global players”

30/9: General Audience: Pope warns against “false prophets” of “trickle-down” economics: “The glass grows and grows and never overflows to the poor”


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.