Neoliberalism provides no answers

Granma | June 25, 2020

A temporary parking lot shelter for the homeless in the U.S. city of Las Vegas, Nevada, with spaces marked for social distancing. Photo: Steve Marcus /Reuters

Serious questions about neoliberalism during the current pandemic are raised by Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, President of the Republic of Cuba, and Jorge Núñez Jover, dean of the University of Havana’s Science, Technology and Society department, in an article recently published in the Cuban Academy of Sciences magazine, Anales, entitled, Gestión gubernamental y ciencia cubana en el enfrentamiento a la COVID-19 (Government management and Cuban science in confronting COVID-19).

In fact, while the new coronavirus has raised many questions in the scientific world, it has also challenged the dogmas of neoliberal policy implement in many countries, based on premises that include “minimum state, the market as a panacea, deregulation, denationalization, privatization, reduction of the public sector, destruction of public property, and weak social policies,” among other aspects that have led to significant debate.

Neoliberalism brings with it dire social consequences for humanity, which have been aggravated significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Cuba has clearly denounced the fact that the pandemic worsens the pressing problems of a planet plagued by deep inequalities, with 600 million people living in extreme poverty and almost half of the population has no access to basic health services, in which the market is imposed as determinant, as opposed to the noble purpose of saving lives,” the article states.

If one aspect is evident in this section of the text, it is the unmasking of neoliberal ideology in the context of the pandemic, with solid arguments, denouncing its costly mistakes in reducing the state’s role and capacity, carrying out extensive privatizations, and ignoring the needs of the majority. In essence, an irrefutable truth has been it corroborated. Before the peoples of the world, neoliberalism was left with no answers.

THE TRIPLE HELIX MODEL: Regarding existing cooperative relations between universities, business, and government, the neoliberal approach is to make institutions of higher learning creators of knowledge, which plays a key role in the relationship between business and government, and how they are developed to create innovation in organizations as a source of knowledge creation.

ETHOS OF SCIENCE: An ethos is the set of traits and behaviors that shape the character or identity of a person or community. It is a Greek word, the origin of terms like ethics. Therefore, the “ethos of Science” is that complex of values and norms, with affective impact, that is considered obligatory for scientists, according to Robert Merton.

REFLECTION: The question is whether or not this is a problem and whether the solutions to the great economic, social, environmental, health and other challenges can be addressed with imported science and technology, delivered on a turnkey basis.

NEOLIBERAL PREMISE: The thesis of the minimum state – or the less state, the better – is one of the main dogmas of neoliberalism. Apologists speak of a dynamic, innovative and competitive “revolutionary” private sector and an indolent, bureaucratic and inertial “meddling” public sector.

IN CONTRAST: Unless we challenge the many myths about economic development and abandon conventional views of the role of the state, we cannot aspire to meet the structural challenges of the 21st century or bring about the technological and organizational change we need to ensure sustainable and equitable growth in the long term. Can we do without states that can mobilize actors, resources, and capacities to meet these challenges in an organized manner?

NEOLIBERAL STRATEGY: Social policies, in particular health policies, have been increasingly subordinated to the logic of profit and competition, and have seen their response capacity reduced, especially in extreme situations.

IN CONTRAST: Should health be a universal human right, or just another piece of merchandise that can be traded on the market?

NEOLIBERAL PREMISE: Neoliberalism promotes what has been called “cognitive capitalism,” which is nothing other than privatization and commodification of knowledge, with the aim of generating profits for the capitalist class.

IN CONTRAST: Should socially shared knowledge facilitate cooperation between scientists and serve human needs?

NEOLIBERAL PREMISE: Cognitive capitalism generated new modes of knowledge production. The Triple Helix model incorporates concepts such as “knowledge capitalization” and the “entrepreneurial scientist,” clearly indicating that these models are related to the Silicon Valley experience and others of a similar nature. New objectives for science are added, and scientists move away from values included in the Ethos of Science, formulated by Robert Merton in the 1940s. A very important value is disinterest, according to which the scientist does not pursue anything beyond the truth. Another is “communitarianism,” which projects the sharing of results since science is a collective effort. It is obvious that, in times of a knowledge-based “gold rush,” this ethos has been badly eroded.

IN CONTRAST: Are the values of scientists important in the difficult task of confronting crises like the new coronavirus?

NEOLIBERAL STRATEGY: The global medical-pharmaceutical industry, largely in the hands of a small group of transnational corporations, defines its research-development agendas on the basis of profitability and earnings objectives. Considerations related to the welfare of the majority, especially in countries of the South, are not the focus of their policies. They are primarily interested in the epidemiological profiles of countries of the North and social groups of the South that can pay for the products they sell, Thus new diseases and traditional tropical diseases are ignored. This also explains why the medical-pharmaceutical industry has neglected the development of new anti-virals and antibiotics, while prioritizing more profitable drugs.

IN CONTRAST: The COVID-19 pandemic has led to questioning of these basic neoliberal premises and strategies. Does the monopoly of knowledge held by these large corporations effectively contribute to making health a universal human right? Should states and the public sector build capacity to successfully meet current and future challenges?



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