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Alternet - April 3, 2020

"Our globalized economy that has pushed manufacturing to maximize profits over resiliency, and our obsession with celebrity culture and charity as a substitute for government funding have led us to our current predicament. Such a system is deeply vulnerable to the type of political and economic earthquake that the pandemic has unleashed and dependent on the crumbs that billionaires choose to scatter in our direction."

Among the countless distressing news stories covering the COVID-19 pandemic over the past month are the heartwarming ones that focus on what ordinary human beings are doing to help one another during this historic crisis. Many of these “good news” reports have focused on a nation-wide effort by fashion industry labels, domestic apparel manufacturers, and amateur seamstresses to mass-produce the much-needed masks that are in short supply. But what most of the stories are missing is a systemic framework that offers a critical view as to why such an effort is needed in the first place.

In my spare time during the past several weeks of quarantine, I too have been putting my amateur sewing skills to use and churning out dozens of cotton masks for friends and neighbors who are elderly, pregnant, or working as delivery drivers, grocery workers, food bank volunteers and more. The masks are easy to make with a bit of cotton fabric, wire, and elastic, and, while they are not as efficient as medical-grade masks, they help absorb droplets to and from our mouths. My efforts are among countless similar ones that were sparked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggesting on its website that healthcare providers “might use homemade masks (e.g., bandana, scarf) for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort.”

America is built on a mythical sense of work ethos that feeds into our romantic notions of independence and self-reliance. We are drawn to the idea of a meritocracy that rewards hard work and perseverance and we are trained to congratulate ourselves for eschewing government assistance. Such a sentiment was apparent when the head of a Southern California chapter of the American Sewing Guild proudly told the New York Times, “Sewers, we’ve always stepped up and done this thing…We’re made for this time. We’re happy to stay home and sew. And we all have stashes of fabric.”

But America is also the world’s richest nation. Looking beyond aside our inflated sense of national hubris, it ought to fill every single one of us with rage that our doctors and nurses are scrounging for masks and other medical supplies and that a government agency like the CDC is recommending improvised masks. The shortage of supplies is directly the result of a capitalist system so unregulated that it is designed to benefit only shareholders, not societies. States in the U.S. and nations around the world are now desperately competing with one another to buy the much-needed supplies. The Washington Post interviewed state authorities and hospital managers and found, “a broadly dysfunctional system across the United States, with hospitals and health authorities having few options but to rely on largely unknown middlemen whose priority appears to be making a profit as they promise to quickly replenish the nation’s depleted medical stockpiles.” Christian Mitchell, deputy Governor of Illinois summed it up best saying, “It is a dog-eat-dog world out here.”

It took President Donald Trump weeks to invoke the full force of the Defense Production Act which gives the federal government the authority to direct private industry to refocus manufacturing during a national emergency. Trump was loath to do so because, in his words, “We’re a country not based on nationalizing our business. Call a person over in Venezuela. Ask them, how did nationalization of their businesses work out? Not too well.” He failed to mention that the U.S. capitalist system had yielded precisely the sorts of shortage that Venezuelans have been suffering from and that Western media outlets have gleefully blamed on socialist policies. ...

This article was produced byEconomy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Read full commentary at Alternet