Putin’s Huge Blunder on Coronavirus


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Eric Zuesse

Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, is finally following the libertarian instead of the socialist path forward in the coronavirus-19 crisis, placing himself into the category of America’s libertarian President Donald Trump, instead of into the category of the countries that have been successfully dealing with the crisis, such as Taiwan, China, South Korea, Japan, and Venezuela, all five of which nations have rejected the libertarian ‘solutions’, which prioritize the economy above public health, and which thereby harm both. (The libertarian countries rely instead on developing “herd immunity” to the disease, in preference to imposing social distancing and “lockdowns,” which aim instead to reduce the spread of the infection. Unlike socialist measures, the “herd immunity” approach doesn’t need any regulations, because it allows the disease to spread so that the people who survive it will become predominant; it allows survival-of-the-fittest to take its course, so as to develop a ‘strong herd’. Social distancing, etc., countervail that goal, by protecting the public from the virus.)

In an article on May 11th, I documented the astounding success of those five countries (Taiwan, China, South Korea, Japan, and Venezuela) in dealing with this crisis, and the equally astounding failure of the United States in dealing with it, and you can see all of that there, with links to all of the evidence; but, despite such data, Putin, on that very same day (May 11th), decided for Russia to pursue the libertarian approach — the proven-failed method for dealing with the coronavirus-crisis. (And here is where all nations’ data on Covid-19 today can be found and compared, all together on one page, so that the performance of each nation can easily be compared with that of every other nation and with the global averages — it’s the daily international scorecard on coronavirus-perfomance.)

The libertarian approach minimizes the imposition of regulations, and instead relies on “nature” to take its course, as being the best way to ‘protect the herd’. It’s opposite to the socialist approach, which consists of governmentally imposed rules, or “laws.” Of course, every country has those, but in a socialist country, the government’s right to make and enforce laws is more respected, whereas in a libertarian country, the right of individuals to violate laws is more respected. This has nothing to do with the distinction between dictatorship and democracy. For example, Marxist countries, such as was the Soviet Union, are dictatorial socialist, whereas democratic socialist countries such as is Denmark, are, indeed, democratic, not at all dictatorial. And fascist countries, such as the three Axis powers during WW II were, are dictatorial libertarian (or dictatorial capitalist). Another word for “libertarian” is simply “capitalist” or “free-market,” but no country is entirely free-market, not even those Axis countries were: capitalistic countries only favor the rights of capital — the owners of corporations — above the rights of workers and consumers, and so respect property-rights above civil rights (the rights of workers and consumers) and therefore they allow corporations much more freedom to abuse and cheat their workers and consumers — that’s a freer market; it is laissez faire. Consequently, applying the terms “socialist” versus “libertarian” here concerns the extent to which the government sets the rules regarding what is considered acceptable in order to protect the public from coronavirus-19 infection, versus the extent to which violation of such rules is considered to be acceptable. In a country where violation of the governmentally established rules is treated as being acceptable, there are effectively fewer actual rules and enforcement of rules than in a country which has been adhering more to socialism regarding Covid-19 policy. A libertarian country is more accepting of law-violators regarding coronavirus policy, than is a socialist country, regardless of whether or not a given country is democratic or dictatorial. For example, Denmark is socialist but democratic, whereas Cuba is socialist but dictatorial; and Switzerland is capitalist but democratic, whereas today’s United States is capitalist but dictatorial. Whereas both America and Switzerland are libertarian, both Cuba and Denmark are socialist. But no country fits 100% into any of those categories; in politics, everything is only a matter of degree, never (except, perhaps, under the Axis powers during WW II) actually polar on a given measure (and those — the Axis powers — were 100% capitalist; i.e., pure libertarian, meaning that workers and consumers had no rights).    

On May 11th, the IntelliNews site, which leads the world in reporting geostrategically important news, bannered “Putin eases Russia’s coronavirus lockdown restrictions”, and sub-headed “Putin has eased the lockdown restrictions a little, but the change has more to do with restarting Russia’s stalled economy than with the population’s frustration at being kept indoors.” This report noted that “Companies will increasingly have to choose between sacking workers or going bust. The big employers have been the focus of the Kremlin’s economic aid programmes, but the SMEs [Small and Medium-sized Enterprises] have largely fallen through the cracks.” That’s increasing a ‘survival of the fittest’ approach, and it’s Russia’s new policy on coronavirus.

IntelliNews reports that “each week the lockdown is extended will result in a geometrical increase in the number of bankruptcies – something that could rapidly lead to protests and which the Kremlin is keen to head off as quickly as possible.” So, Putin is doing this — removing protections of workers — in order to “head off” “protests.” (Presumably, employees will now increasingly fear for their jobs, and thus not “protest.”) Also: the free market grants exponentially more power to large firms rather than to small ones because concentrated wealth means concentrated power, and therefore survival-of-the-fittest will greatly favor large firms over small ones. The natural tendency in a free market is toward increased concentration of wealth, because only enforcement of laws and regulations to countervail such concentration can prevent it from happening.

This new libertarian policy means that, in Russia, the pressure will be on for employees to show up at their places of work regardless of whether or not they have and can spread the Covid-19 virus. It’s capitalistic; it is libertarian. The government is reducing protection of employees. It’s increasing employers’ power over employees.

On May 11th, RT headlined “Paid holidays end May 12, Russia to start gradually easing coronavirus quarantine measures – Putin” and reported that, “‘Starting from tomorrow, May 12, the joint non-working period for the whole country and for all the sectors of its economy ends,’ Putin said during a televised speech on Monday.” The Government has been supporting the big employers more than the small employers; and, so, the small employers will soon need to shed workers in order to avoid immediately going bankrupt. The new policy will allow that. An increasing percentage of employed Russians will now be working for the big employers, which are the ones that the Government treats as being ‘essential’. This increasing bankruptcy of small firms will leave increasing amounts of those firms’ assets available to become purchased by big firms at depression prices, so that, as the coronavirus-crisis subsides, an increasing percentage of the economy will be controlled by Russia’s billionaires. This is exactly the same process that is already occurring in the United States. Putin is increasingly adopting a libertarian approach (like America does) to dealing with the coronavirus crisis.

The United States probably remains even more capitalistic than Russia is, but it is something of an extreme case in the world today. For example, on May 13th, Axios headlined “Coronavirus likely forced 27 million off their health insurance” and reported an analysis which estimated this to be the number of persons who had lost their health insurance because of the soaring unemployment which has thus far resulted from the virus. On 10 September 2019 — just prior to the virus — the Wall Street Journal had reported “The number of Americans without health insurance climbed to 27.5 million in 2018,” and so the total number of health-uninsured Americans now is around 55 million, which is 17% of Americans — and many of America’s “health-insured” have only extremely limited such ‘insurance’, so that perhaps only 50% have health-insurance which is actually comparable to what 100% of the residents in all other industrialized nations (in all of which, healthcare is a right instead of a privilege) have.

The fewer people who have health-insurance, the more people will need the income from work in order to be able to pay for their healthcare, and this makes them virtual slaves of their employers. It’s for reasons like this that the American model is extraordinarily libertarian, and this model results in almost a third of the entire world’s Covid-19 cases currently being in the United States, which has only 4.2% of the world’s population.

The Axios report closed: “The coronavirus is blowing up health insurance at a time when people need it most.” Destroying health-insurance will inevitably increase Covid-19 deaths. Since America is the only industrialized nation where there are residents who don’t have any health insurance, America is an extreme case, which is extremely likely to be the worst industrialized nation during the coronavirus crisis. After all: even a non-citizen resident can receive or transmit a communicable infection. America is systematically the most vulnerable industrialized country for any communicable disease to thrive and spread. And this shows up in America’s shortened life-spans.

As I headlined at Strategic Culture on May 5th, “America’s design causes it to fail the coronavirus-19 challenge.” America is the wrong model to follow, but Russia is starting to copy it.

Russia is moving away from the socialistic measures that have been applied in all of the countries that have been the most successful at controlling and reducing the spread of the Covid-19 infection.

I therefore retract and reverse my opinion on March 26th, that “Coronavirus: Why Russians Are Lucky to Be Led by Putin”. “Lucky” there has now become “unlucky”. Perhaps what happened is that Russia’s socialistic measures at the beginning of the epidemic needed to be even stronger than they were. But whatever they were, they are now being relaxed. The result will be a collapsing Russian economy, much like in the United States. As I argued on May 11th:

In other words: the supposed either-or choice (trade-off) that the libertarian U.S. regime and its propagandists assert, between either controlling the epidemic (continuing the “lockdowns” etc.) or else preventing economic collapse (“reopening the businesses” etc.), is fraudulent. The exact opposite is the actual case: in order to minimize the economic damage, controlling the epidemic is basic — whatever is sound policy for the public’s health is also sound economic policy.

Vladimir Putin has decided otherwise.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

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