How the Free Market Allows Every Basic Human Need to Be Exploited Even During a Pandemic.

By now we’ve all heard the of the word ‘Plandemic’; from documentaries to random chat groups the users of the word firmly believe the pandemic was planned by an elite group of people with business interests and intentions to take over the world or place themselves higher up.

The rise of scepticism is largely due to the fact that now more than ever, the pandemic has exposed the haves and the have nots. Those who have access to hospitals and those who don’t, those who have been locked down in palatial homes with gardens and pools as opposed to average families that are locked down in cramped flats or even worse, cramped  rooms.

But nothing symbolises the pandemic more than the mask. The tiny piece of cloth or fibre covering our mouths and noses (often not the case) will surely go down as the most powerful symbol of this pandemic. Although debates continue to rage about the futility of the mask, the vast majority of us have accepted it as part and parcel of our attire these days. Even Israel, which has taken a clear lead in vaccinating its population, hasn’t got rid of masks.  Israel might have jabbed its population without much opposition, but significant factions of the world remain hostile to the vaccine. Both the educated and uneducated quarters of the world have expressed their discomfort. Even those in the first line of duty have refused to take the prick. Almost 25% of NHS staff has flatly refused to be vaccinated. The French however, remain the leading vaccine-sceptics. Even the land of Louis Pasteur (who first explained the science of vaccines in the late nineteenth century) is deeply sceptical of vaccinations. France’s technocrat President, Emmanuel Macron, and his brand of politics, which also puts economic gain for his circle of friends first, do not help matters at a time when people are losing jobs and facing enormous hardship.

For long, business has been allowed to dictate state policy. Unsurprisingly, the vaccine has turned into a business interest or more specifically a business interest of geo-political significance. Curiously, very few people know who the vaccines are funded by. While we are expected to express our gratitude that their cutting-edge technology is saving humanity, in reality, this experiment is going to give pharma investors the godly status of Plutus, and so begin the times where plutocracy is likely to gain ground.
And while we await the verdict on the vaccine, it is ironic that the most symbolic piece of cloth of the pandemic is mired with controversy. From to wear or not to wear to more sinister decisions that made specific masks – notably the FFP2 – an obligation by law, another humble garment has fallen victim to politics.

A year ago, when the mask made its global debut, the Czech government encouraged its citizens to take to their sewing machines; and they did! Back then, none of us was equipped with masks so it seemed like a perfect way to inspire solidarity in people. I myself got two magnificent masks from a dear friend. We were told – and we believed – it would keep us safe. Of course, the only priority was to cover our nose and mouth with any or all possible means, but soon the opportunists tapped into the market and the mask became just a commodity to exploit. From trendy socks makers to designers like Gucci and Prada, they were all manufacturing masks. Haute couture is now debating if their models should walk the ramp dressed down and masked up.

When the pandemic first hit the Czech Republic, the government gave itself a pat on the shoulders for its crisis management under the leadership of Andrej Babiš (a business tycoon turned politician). A year down the line, however, Babiš (who is no stranger to controversy and corruption) has managed nothing significant apart from getting himself vaccinated and securing the business interests of the super-rich of the country. Babiš has truly lived up to his party slogan  ‘Ano bude líp’, meaning, ‘Yes, it will get better’; while it  has worked out well for his ‘band of brothers’, the rest of the republic is left worse off.

With a staggering number of Covid cases, the Czech Republic is now one of the hardest hit within the EU. The Czechs are now stranded in their regions, municipalities or zones depending on how the ‘lockdown measures’ describe the territories. Most people were so looking forward to the light at the end of the tunnel, which has turned out to be another train. And while the measures are justified, what makes matters worse is that there seems to be no sign of a vaccine for the wider population or for that matter even speed testing in the near future.

Amongst a host of measures implemented by Babiš’s government, one has exposed the exploitation of even the most basic of all commodities. Following a sharp rise of cases in the Czech Republic, it was decided that all other masks were to be tossed away and the citizens of the republic would have to all invest in FFP2 masks. Since I live in a small town and region bordering Germany, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a few boxes, Made in China with ‘Sehr Gut’ printed on it to reenforce the stipulated German standards. For those who wanted to sanction China for their role in spreading the ‘Chinese virus’, it seemed odd that those very people had given China the lion’s share of the profitable mask making business. Over 85% of all masks are made in China and elements of the media backed by politicians in the UK and Germany who called for sanctioning China are quietly masking up to Made in China.
Amidst the fear-mongering and the bullying, began the scramble for the FFP2 masks. However, it shocked most of us to learn that the pricing of the humble and helpful mask was left to the invisible hand of the free market. Some of us were lucky enough to find an FFP2 mask for 10Czk (about 50 cents) while others had to shell out 45CZK for a mask.

Well, conspiracy theories aside, one has to wonder why governments across the world refused to regulate the prices of the masks. The reason, in part, is the short-sightedness of our political class which is married to businesses or the business class. Billionaires becoming politicians to secure their personal interests is the new norm across nations.
Both Trump and Babiš are rolling in riches and they were voted in office with a bizarre logic that claimed nations can be run by successful businessmen. Never mind the fact that they had no sense of a nation or the culture of politics. The long-term consequences of cheering for their brand of politics is going to deliver its blow shortly after the pandemic is done with us. The class of politicians with strong ties and affiliations to businesses is certainly not of their making, however.

In the 1920s, manufacturers came up with planned obsolescence – a known but ignored mechanism at the heart of consumer philosophy. Experts at the time came up with the idea that in order for business to boom the average consumer had to spend and keep spending. Therefore, basic commodities like bulbs and stockings were made to last up to a certain point in time and then simply collapse into the trash heap of society, now referred to as an ecological time bomb.

The light bulb became the first in the long list of commodities to fall into the trap of planned obsolescence. When Adolphe A Chaillet, a French inventor, found a way to make his filament last over 100 years, his bulb was simply shelved for one simple reason – constant consumption.  His successors were made to adopt values and objectives while designing their filaments bearing in mind that the bulb would have to die after a fixed number of hours. Today the average bulb roughly burns for 1000 hours before giving up. That story in a nutshell defines all of our commodities or goods and the source of a certain evil we blissfully ignore.

A lesser discussed topic is the trail of trash the masks will leave behind that will further burden our environment. We have now known of the pandemic and the necessity for masks for well over a year. However, our values and objectives have still not inspired the invention of a mask that would prove ecologically viable. Surely society has mastered enough technology to invent an eco-friendly mask that requires just filters to be changed. But then that would not give our current business model the edge to exploit, and the room for the rise of mask moguls
who have turned misery into money. Every human tragedy is perceived as an opportunity to exploit by the current business model and those in denial might sail though this storm, but the ecological time bomb will teach their generations a long overdue lesson on humility, and perhaps even humanity