Reviewed by Bob Bonner
The Killer’s Henchman: Capitalism and the Covid-19 Disaster; by Stephen Gowans, (Montreal, QE: Baraka Books, 2022. 280 pp.)
In The Killer’s Henchman, Capitalism and the Covid-19 Disaster, Stephen Gowans has exposed the ugliness and unbridled greed of the American health care system’s response to a deadly pandemic in which private pharmaceutical companies and their owners sucked billions from the taxpayers’ treasury with the assistance of a compliant legislature, the obsequious media, and a special contribution from billionaire Bill Gates. In contrast to the rosy picture of the triumph of the pharmaceutical industry over a deadly pathogen, Gowans details the miserable failure of a response that shunned public health measures in favor of vaccine development even as Covid 19 ravaged the country with sickness and death.
Gowans is no vaccine denier but contends that vaccines should only have been part of an effort that included testing, tracing, and quarantining as was done in other countries. He credits vaccines for saving lives and reducing hospital admissions but laments the loss of the approximate 800,000 lives lost as a result of greater concern for stock market health than human life. Coupled with a vehement rejection of any actions resembling a “socialist solution”, methods employed by China and others were ignored even though the World Health Organization Director General rejected vaccines as the principal tool in the effort to defeat Covid. The author points out, that in 2020, the Rockefeller Foundation presented a proposal to the Trump Administration to invest $100 billion dollars to assemble a health corps of 300,000 to conduct a country-wide test, trace, and quarantine effort as China had done to enable it to bring the outbreak under control and reopen its economy much sooner with far less death per capita. China returned to normal eighteen months earlier than the US and had the lowest death rate of any country.
Gowans uses his 266-page work, published by Baraka Books, to compare the efforts and outcomes of the US and China and allows the readers to reach their own conclusions. He argues that the “nanny state” which portrays itself as operating free of state intervention is anything but, citing numerous examples of corporate parasites suckling at the government tit, including the pharmaceutical industry which derives two thirds of its research and development money from taxpayer funds. He writes that between 1971 and 2006, 77 of R&D Magazine’s 88 innovations were fully funded by the US Government! Gowans asserts that the US is a militarist plutocracy citing a military budget that exceeds the combined GDPs of 185 countries, the economic status of members of Congress many of whom enjoy millionaire status, and power of the Council on Foreign Relations whose members interlock with cabinet positions as the “closest thing we have to a ruling establishment in the U.S.” He illustrates the depth of control the oligarchs wield through phony tax-deductible contributions which Robert Reich contends cost the US taxpayers $40 billion dollars per year and effectively control the narrative of our institutions while painting themselves as do-gooder philanthropists.
The author displays a particular degree of contempt for America’s darling billionaire, Bill Gates, who has made “charitable contributions of $7 billion to the American Enterprise Institute and $15 billion to the US Chamber of Commerce. He describes him as,” Capitalism personified: equal parts parasite and fraudster.” Gates has given more than $300 billion dollars in grants to news organizations including the BBC, NBC, Al Jazeera, ProPublica, The National Journal, The Guardian, Univision, Medium, The Financial Times, The Atlantic, The Texas Tribune, Gannet, the Washington Monthly, Le Monde, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, which helps explain his elevation to the position of Covid guru despite a lack of scientific credentials.
Gates claimed that the development of vaccines was only possible under capitalism, somehow ignoring the fact that Cuba made its own vaccines and that of the twelve vaccines it administers to its people, they produce eight themselves. Gowans maintains that big government produced these vaccines, not big pharma and that the companies involved had the risk removed by a government which provided funds for raw materials, including plant expansion and hiring, as well as lucrative advance order agreements. Then our representatives in Congress legislated their immunity from liability and consequently our “risk taking capitalists” had no risk at all. Our generosity prevailed despite being aware that the Lancet had reported in October of 2020 that there was no evidence of lasting immunity. The financial outcome for the industry was the transfer of taxpayer money to facilitate their buyback of stocks and a loss of resources to the treasury that could have been spent on creating a real public health system.
Operation Warp Speed was headed by individuals with ties to the pharmaceutical industry and making vaccines public in “warp speed” sacrifices the safety of the product. Vaccine testing usually takes place over several years. Anybody that voiced those concerns were castigated as anti-vaxxers, anti-science, or un-American. In 2020, America had three options available. Allow the virus to spread, develop a vaccine with limited immunity or eliminate the circulation of the virus through public health measures. Of course, choosing the third option would have negated spending billions on a vaccine conferring limited immunity and ineffective against a host of new variants.
I should mention that the author also addresses the risk of lab leaks from research facilities. I was elated with the opportunity to read a book that clearly elucidates the role of capitalism, “the henchman”, in shaping our response to the Covid-19 pandemic. There is much to learn from and to like in this book which the author concludes with the following, “No effective response to future pandemics is possible until the henchman is dead.” I couldn’t agree more. Gotta love it.
–Bob Bonner is former president of AFGE Local 2028 in Pittsburgh, PA where he represented US Veterans Administration workers.