Vice President, Theory, Research and Policy & Executive Director, Next System Project
COVID, Climate and Capitalist Crises: A PEP Briefing Note
That we are in the midst of a major crisis, or series of overlapping crises, is uncontroversial. Even the most orthodox voices of the capitalist status quo—from the United States Department of the Treasury to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)—now recognize this openly. Even the Business Roundtable, the collective voice of U.S. corporate capital, tacitly acknowledged the need for fundamental change to the basic operations of the economy when it issued a much-ballyhooed 2019 statement that effectively shifted from a position of “shareholder primacy” to an approach emphasizing that corporations “share a fundamental commitment to all our stakeholders,” including workers, communities, and the environment.
In truth, however, such attempts to construct a “stakeholder capitalism” are a chimera. For the uncomfortable truth is that capitalism is crisis. The crises we are confronting—climate change, growing income and wealth inequality, the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the frequency and severity of COVID-like outbreaks of infectious diseases—are not external to the system of global capitalism but intrinsic to it. They are distinct but interwoven aspects of an economic system that, as part of its ordinary everyday operations, also generates other crises, like the crisis of racial injustice and racialized violence and the crisis of imperialism and unending war. The system itself, with the profit-maximizing, capital-controlled multinational corporation at its heart, is structured in such a way as to have produced the current age of crisis, fraught with such existential challenges as global ecological overshoot, extreme wealth inequality, and the continuing impact of structural racism and violence.
The document on this page is a study paper prepared by The Democracy Collaborative and Trademark Belfast for the Political Education Project.