f there is a God who is pushed off the pedestal by COVID-19, then it is the market – which would subsequently prove that it was in truth not a god, but at best an idol. Certainly, a powerful one, because despite its failures, the world-dominating spiritual formation of liberalism pays homage to it. And it is to be feared that its followers will continue to pay homage to it in the future, even though there is no longer any reason to do so. In the corona crisis, the market has proven to be incapable of playing the role that liberalists assign to it: the role of social regulator. If the market had been left alone to act, the scale of the pandemic would have been even greater than it is now.
Let us recall only a few seemingly minor episodes: the large-scale export of medical protective clothing from Germany to China in January – economically clever, politically foolish; the price explosion of respirators on Amazon and Ebay – economically clever, morally vile; advances of the US to German research institutes to acquire patents for future vaccines with expensive money – in accordance with the market law, a slap in the face for transatlantic friendship. Three examples that make one thing clear: A free and unregulated market that consistently follows the logic of game theory and liberalist ideology can plunge societies into misery and endanger millions of lives. Economic liberalism is a fair-weather ideology. In times of crisis it fails completely.
The reason for this is easy to find: Neoliberalism is based on the flat human image of homo economicus – the rational economic agent who seeks only his own advantage in everything he does. Under certain circumstances, people may tend to design themselves according to homo economicus; for example, when they fool themselves into great existential security and lose all awareness of the fact that their entire existence is due to being woven into a social network that supports and holds them. Then they live in an intoxicating trance, nourished by short-term economic successes, from which there is a painful awakening when the security breaks apart. When the abyss opens up, which homo economicus persistently ignored, the highly praised market collapses like a house of cards.