Harvard COVID-19 Night School: Aparna Gopalan (Anthropology), 'A Pandemic of commodification: COVID-19, profit, and public goods in comparative view
Acute socioeconomic distress is certainly the effect of the COVID-19 crisis, but is it also its cause? By considering the varying effectiveness of different economic systems against the ongoing pandemic, this talk highlights two decisive factors which determine the potency of crisis-response: 1) the degree of commodification of basic necessities, and 2) the extent to which supply chains can be extricated from the profit motive. Focusing in particular on the exemplary pandemic response of the Indian state of Kerala in contrast to the rest of that country, the talk traces how decades of heavy public investments & workers’ struggles in first case and austerity & labor suppression in the second explain why PPEs could be rapidly produced, tests administered, quarantines set up, and the fallout of economic shutdown managed in Kerala but not the rest of India. Through this example, the talk touches on larger themes of neoliberalism, austerity, valuing socially essential labor, and rebuilding a post-crisis economy for the many, not just the few.