Try both. Or many. Try more.
Economy or health? Capitalism or socialism? These are dumb questions. Reality is not binary, certainly not along such broad categories. These things are all connected, they’re a continuum, they’re both.
Economy AND Health
Neoliberals talk about ‘trade-offs’ between suppressing COVID-19 and preserving an economy. There are no trade-offs. It’s one thing. Countries that locked down, hard, bought time to build defences and eliminate the virus. Economies like China, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, or Taiwan are now completely open.
In contrast, economies like Europe that tried to ‘balance’ things are now heading into a worse second wave and will continue doing so for ever, until they actually eliminate the thing. The fault is in the dualistic view that the economy and human health are two discrete things when they are obviously not. An economy is just the sum of human activity. Obviously if humans are sick and dying that’s going to hurt the economy.
Leaving aside the moral turpitude of sacrificing human life for an economy, these people don’t even understand what an economy is. Or when an economy is. They are dooming their economy for years rather than shut it down for two months. Expected value anyone? Why do we wear a cast and not walk on a broken leg? So it can heal, and so that we don’t end up permanently disabled. Such it is with the broader economy and human health.
Capitalism AND Socialism
Americans are so blinded by their own propaganda that socialism, being vaguely adjacent to capitalism, has become a bad word. But most of the world is socialist. And capitalist. The two things quite happily coexist.
It is a falsely dualistic idea that capitalism requires no regulation and socialism is regulated to death. The reality is that the two things mesh together quite nicely. Germany is a wealthy capitalist country where 40% of board seats must be elected by the workers. And this works well, certainly better than US companies like Boeing which are based on ‘shareholder value’ which is indistinguishable from looting.
China is a socialist country with an obviously strong state and public services, but also the leading capitalist powerhouse of this century. You can call it capitalism with Chinese characteristics. It’s a hybrid. It’s both things at once.
Do these systems have flaws, of course, they’re all uniquely terrible, but none is worse than America, one of the only countries in the world with no paternity leave, no universal healthcare, and a population of debt peons rapidly bifurcating in fortune from the 10% that own 85% of stocks.
The unique blindness of America is because they believe their own propaganda — that socialism is evil — and not, like, having a society. The truth is that capitalism will always have some relationship with the state. In America they have socialism for capital and individuals are on their own. It’s not just a failure of policy. It’s a failure of understanding.
The world is not one thing or another. It is the world. It’s certainly not whatever bullshit categories economists came up with a century ago. These categories are useful tools for analyzing the world, but they are not how the world works. The world is inherently dualistic in a way that our language (categorically) cannot define. Health is the economy and the economy is health. Capitalism is socialism and socialism is capitalism. Things are both and none and many things at once.
I don’t know if it’s polytheistic religions or Buddhist philosophy or our tendency to head-wobble, but this is somewhat known in the Global South. We’re not used to one God, one heaven, one hell and all neatly divided between. We’re used to multiple cycles of rebirth, heroes that become villains, villains that are nonetheless fulfilling their dharma.
Many countries in the Third World saw the US and USSR duking it out and did both. They tried elements of socialism, elements of capitalism, and we’ve ended up with better public health and even general living standards than America today. These are countries, like, say, Vietnam where preserving the economy over health was never considered because it doesn’t make sense. It only makes sense if you think of an economy as the stock market and not human activity. It only makes sense within a dumb mental model, you obviously lose both in reality. Because they’re not two separate things.
In Buddhism there are 10 (or 14) questions the Buddha simply refused to answer. Is the world eternal or not? Is the self the body or not? Does the Buddha exist after death or not? The questions are all dualistic in nature. Binary. And these questions at least make sense.
Questions like economy vs. health or capitalism vs. socialism are just dumb. It’s like asking what color a rainbow is. I dunno, it’s a spectrum, it’s a whole? It is questions like these that are dooming the western world to suicide by Op-Ed today. Please forget these questions and follow your compassion. Save lives. Have a society. Life is not one thing or another, all we can really understand is that it is precious. Just live.
Note that by dualism I mean the opposite of the Eastern idea of nondualism.