Public Health in Times of Epidemics: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

By Karyn Pomerantz, May 7, 2020

The corona crisis, on top of so many others, shows how lethal capitalism is. Poverty and racism are the pre-existing conditions that inflate the rates of death and disability. For billions of people around the world, this disaster continues the misery at the hands of the 1%. It hopefully wakes up other people to the inequalities, negligence, and outright murder of global capitalism. 

How has public health responded to such inequities and pandemics? What can we learn from previous infectious disease outbreaks caused by smallpox, TB,  and cholera? When public health is good, it is very good, but when it is bad, many people die. When public health gets ugly, it destroys our lives and future security and aspirations. 

Public health today operationalizes the prevailing political ideology: personal responsibility, the philosophy that individuals make decisions about what to eat, where to live, how to work, or  whether to graduate, and then pay the consequences. Public health has blamed the individual for poor health habits and focused on educating people rather than dealing with systemic issues. Even now, when many talk about social determinants of disease, such as housing, racist police violence, immigration policy, and employment, actual interventions still focus on individual behavior.

This article identifies some of the qualities of successful and failed attempts to control epidemics with examples from selected countries since the late 19th Century.

Continue reading “Public Health in Times of Epidemics: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”

Racism and Epidemics from the Plague to Covid-19

by Karyn Pomerantz and KT Conner

Social Murder: “Infection Meets Inequality” 

A NYC physician described the Covid-19 pandemic as “infection meets inequality.” As the pandemic spreads here in the US, evidence shows that it reflects the same racist health and social inequities that capitalism created in the 15th Century. 

This post offers examples of racism during times of plagues and other epidemics, and reports early April 2020 data on Covid-19 morbidity and mortality rates among different racial and ethnic categories. These revelations of disproportionate deaths and illness have elicited vows to change the underlying causes of such inequity. This blog argues that the root cause is capitalism and that no reform, including elections, will eradicate racism, change the ways capitalism operates, or weaken the powerful owners of corporations and financial institutions. Capitalism cannot exist without racism, and we cannot live with capitalism. 

Continue reading “Racism and Epidemics from the Plague to Covid-19”

A Better World is Possible: Pandemic Management Under Capitalism and Communism

by Karyn Pomerantz, 4-3-2020

This contrasts the ways capitalist countries (primarily the US) mismanage epidemics and the changes communism would make. Part 1 discussed the prevention of epidemics.

Part 2 – Pandemic Management Under Capitalism = Social Murder

As described in Part 1, capitalists operate to make profit off the backs of workers. Whether they pay low or high wages, they ultimately exploit their employees by paying them less than the value they produce. Corporate boards cut benefits, increase productivity, establish factories in low wage, non-union countries, and avoid taxes to increase their wealth. This leaves low wage and unemployed workers destitute and vulnerable to disease.

Furthermore, in the interests of short term gains, they don’t plan for future needs or stockpile emergency equipment. While no country would ever have sufficient beds lying around in case of a pandemic, capitalists don’t invest sufficiently in prevention, health care, or medical research that would decrease the death rate of contagious diseases. Over the last decade, the US Congress has stripped funds from the CDC that cut over 700 employees and from public health budgets, leaving state and local health departments unable to conduct contact tracing, deploy enough outreach workers to educate the public, or pay for protective body wear.

In the richest country, we have regular people sewing gowns and printing 3D masks for healthcare workers. We have nurses, Instacart shoppers, and Amazon warehouse workers striking for protective gear and hazard pay. In Taiwan, factories produced millions of masks per day; the US has already depleted its stockpile and recommends that people make their own. The US had actually contracted with a company that could make inexpensive ventilators, but when the medical device industry objected, the government cancelled the contract.  Currently, major hospitals will run out of ventilators this month (April 2020). This neglect amounts to social  murder.

Here are some of the ways US capitalism sets up people for the kill.

Continue reading “A Better World is Possible: Pandemic Management Under Capitalism and Communism”

OVER FORTY YEARS OF LEAD POISONING IN CHILDREN — THE CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE OF AMERICAN CAPITALISM

By Nayvin Gordon and Karyn Pomerantz, October 28, 2019


The US Department of Health and Human Services promoted October 20-27, 2019 as national lead prevention week. As of 2017, pediatricians reported that more than half a million US children had lead poisoning (AAFP, 2019).


The poisonous effects of lead have been documented for over 2,000 years. It is an environmental toxin whose effects are totally preventable; it has no biological role in the human body. Lead causes irreversible brain damage, especially in children. It affects numerous organs, such as the heart and kidneys, and influences behavior and cognition measured by IQ scores and other tests. Researchers have postulated that lead poisoning contributes to higher rates of impulsive behavior, attention deficit disorders, and poorer ability to process information. Nonetheless, the law does not require testing of all children for dangerous lead levels.

Continue reading “OVER FORTY YEARS OF LEAD POISONING IN CHILDREN — THE CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE OF AMERICAN CAPITALISM”

Book Review: Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland by Jonathan M. Metzl

Book Review:
Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland by Jonathan M. Metzl

by Karyn Pomerantz, August 2019

Dying of Whiteness examines how racism hurts white working class people. Metzl counters the common ideology of white privilege, which posits that white people benefit from racism in terms of social status, safety, education, and housing. While racism devastates non-white communities, it also hurts ordinary white people. Metzl’s analysis doesn’t explicitly frame these inequities as different levels of exploitation caused by capitalism, but he demonstrates how racism enriches the rich, prompts people to support policies against their best interests, and divides people to keep the working class weak (see other blog pieces on white privilege).

Continue reading “Book Review: Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland by Jonathan M. Metzl”

Books on Structural and Personal Racism: Favorites I Read in 2018

By Karyn Pomerantz, January 2019

Selected non-fiction books that provide an analysis of racism in US history. Continue reading “Books on Structural and Personal Racism: Favorites I Read in 2018”

MORE RACIST MURDERS, IN A SYSTEM THAT SURVIVES ON RACISM

hate pictureby Ellen Isaacs

appearing on Counterpunch, November 7, 2018

We live in a nation totally beholden to racism. Founded on racism, built on racism, surviving by virtue of racism. From the near total eradication of Native Americans by disease, slaughter, and death marches; to the enslavement of 12 million Africans and the continued oppression, imprisonment, impoverishment and wanton killing of their descendants; to the exploitation and deportation of immigrants; to the Jews and Irish and Italians being eventually admitted into invented whiteness in order to turn them anti-black, but still maligned; to the wars fought against “gooks” and “ragheads” to increase rich men’s profits – US capitalism survives on racism. And the US that survives this way is not beneficial to any of its working people, tearing us apart from each other, impoverishing our souls and our pocketbooks, depriving us of health and learning and peace needed by all and the strength we could have in our oneness. Separated, we are likely to be led down the road to fascism. Continue reading “MORE RACIST MURDERS, IN A SYSTEM THAT SURVIVES ON RACISM”