European stock shares dropped more than 8% Monday.
The markets were already precarious. The virus shutting down businesses, reducing daily commerce, is compounding the problem.
Society is shutting down as confirmed cases mount.
We will now witness how the almighty “free market” holds up.
With this pandemic just getting started, however, we are already witnessing the grotesque level to which capitalism inevitably lowers itself when confronted with crisis.
Examples of price gouging abound.
Amazon.com made headlines last week when it pulled more than a million products suspected of inflated pricing or being falsely advertised.
Yet while Amazon executives were granted two weeks’ paid leave amid the pandemic outbreak, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos-owned Whole Foods originally asked workers to help pay for colleagues’ medical leave.
After being placed into the spotlight, though, the following statement from an Amazon spokesperson recently began circulating:
“This is a longstanding Whole Foods Market program from prior to the acquisition. Amazon is matching all funds to the Whole Foods Fund since the acquisition to support the team needs during this unprecedented event, and all Whole Foods team members have access to the 2-weeks paid time off related to coronavirus that was announced for all Amazon employees.”
On Friday, Vt. Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders tweeted:
Amazon paid $0 in taxes on $11 billion in annual profits. But it asks workers to “donate” their paid leave to others who are sick.
Workers and taxpayers are expected to be generous. Corporate CEOs—even during a pandemic—can be as stingy as they want. https://t.co/xsJLnxgVSa
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) March 14, 2020
Trish Zornio, a Democrat running for a Colorado U.S. Senate seat, said:
“Runaway capitalism is when Whole Foods suggests employees trade vacation time to address coronavirus rather than offer paid leave, all while the CEO rakes in ~$15 million a year in stocks, benefits, and more.”
This came to light last week after Whole Foods CEO John Mackey sent an email to grocery store employees with six suggestions, one of which was for employees to “donate” their paid time off (PTO) to coworkers confronting medical emergencies:
“Team Members who have a medical emergency or death in their immediate family can receive donated PTO hours, not only from Team Members in their own location, but also from Team Members across the country.”
In the same message, Mackey said the company would offer unlimited, unpaid time off during March and two weeks of paid time off for workers who test positive for COVID-19.
Amazon announced the policy, as did tech companies Uber, Lyft, and Instacart.
Congress may have turned the heat off Bezos just in time when the House of Representative passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to “to bolster the federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak and address the severe impacts of the coronavirus on Americans’ personal safety and financial security.”
It has not yet passed the Republican-controlled Senate, the final step before reaching Donald Trump to sign.
This legislation is another example of why we need a strong social safety net to prop up capitalism when it fails.
Image credit: ourfiniteworld.com