Neoliberal disease: COVID-19, co-pathogenesis and global health insecurities

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The COVID-19 pandemic has at once exposed, exploited and exacerbated the health-damaging transformations in world order tied to neoliberal globalization. Our central argument is that the same neoliberal plans, policies and practices advanced globally in the name of promoting wealth have proved disastrous in terms of protecting health in the context of the pandemic. To explain why, we point to a combinatory cascade of socio-viral co-pathogenesis that we call neoliberal disease. From the vectors of vulnerability created by unequal and unstable market societies, to the reduced response capacities of market states and health systems, to the constrained ability of official global health security agencies and regulations to offer effective global health governance, we show how the virus has found weaknesses in a market-transformed global body politic that it has used to viral advantage. By thereby turning the inequalities and inadequacies of neoliberal societies and states into global health insecurities the pandemic also raises questions about whether we now face an inflection point when political dis-ease with neoliberal norms will lead to new kinds of post-neoliberal policy-making. We conclude, nevertheless, that the prospects for such political-economic transformation on a global scale remain quite limited despite all the extraordinary damage of neoliberal disease described in the article.




Sparke, M., & Williams, O. D. (2022). Neoliberal disease: COVID-19, co-pathogenesis and global health insecurities. Environment and Planning A, 54(1), 15–32.

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