Does the Coronavirus Favor the Left or the Right?
The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is caught up in the ideological and cultural wars of our time. Perhaps it is not entirely frivolous to ask whether the effects and consequences of this virus disproportionately help the left or the right.
One obvious aspect plays to the interests of the right: the outbreak has reintroduced chaste distances and a dignified sobriety in social interactions, preventing us from kissing, hugging or shaking hands. Secondly, the virus seems to encourage acute individualism, another principle more often associated with the right than the left: It has made us skeptical of social life, almost misanthropic, and heightened the importance of self-reliance.
A third element that ties it to the right: It has further enhanced the crucial importance of technology, particularly information technology, in our daily lives—and technology, the child of innovation and entrepreneurship, develops in business-friendly environments. (At a bistro in Washington, DC, I have often been intrigued by a couple that text chat with each other rather than talk over dinner. They have been foreshadowing for me the world of the virus—distant, IT-driven communication.)
A fourth feature: The virus outbreak, like the ideological right (with some exceptions), strongly disfavors migration, as exemplified by the near-closing of borders in Europe, the United States, and much of Latin America.
I could add a fifth “right-wing” dimension of the virus outbreak: home confinement may skyrocket the birth rate, strengthening, or at least slowing the erosion of, family values.
But then…there is the other side of the coin. The outbreak has brought about a new heyday of government power. Governments lock us down; they bully us into complying with their draconian measures; they are now controlling entire industries (they can requisition goods, take over factories, redirect production towards their goals, etc.); and they have announced monetary and spending measures that make the post-financial crisis days of easy money and fiscal profligacy look like small fry. Despite government spending levels that, as a percentage of GDP, are on almost three times as high as that of Singapore and twice that of Hong Kong, Europe is looking to spend the equivalent of between 2 and 3.5 percent of GDP to rescue the economy.
Although the right is also statist and interventionist, the ideological champions of statism are communism and socialism. We could say, then, that the coronavirus is serving the interests of the left. (There are socialists on the right, as F. A. Hayek pointed out in The Road to Serfdom, but that’s a different issue.)
The virus is also a social equalizer that attacks the rich and the poor, the powerful and the underprivileged. We know that, under the social justice of the left, as on George Orwell’s farm, some are more “equal” than others, but the virus’s egalitarian bent plays to the interests of the left.
A third dimension that smacks of the left: the hatred of economic globalization. Again, right-wing populism also distrusts globalization, but in general the right espouses free trade whereas the protectionist left denounces it as favoring the rich. The disruption of supply chains and of commercial exchanges caused by the virus and the governmental response could have been designed by Naomi Klein, the anti-globalization Canadian writer and activist.
A fourth “left-wing” feature: The coronavirus discourages all form of human assembly, except, as we saw in Spain only a few days ago, large feminist marches.
Finally, the virus is causing tension in couples who do not share the same dose of panic. Separations and divorces, which run against the tradition of the family, are rather left-wing.
In the contest between the left and right, we have a draw—five all. Let’s break the tie. But how?
China, despite the partial opening of its economy, is still ruled by a communist party—which, by the way, made things worse by hiding information at the inception of the outbreak. Since we are talking about the communist party, China is a left-wing factor in all of this. But it is likely that the vaccine will be developed by a private business in a capitalist country, which serves the right. Six all.
Sorry, but this virus seems to be ideologically ambidextrous and hermaphrodite.