The domestic response of the Trump administration to the COVID-19 humanitarian crisis has been marred by fatal indecision and incoherence. The early window of opportunity was squandered, and the number of new cases in the United States has continued to mount at a much faster rate than in any other country. The death toll in the country is the highest in the world. At the same time, the embrace of an isolationist, America First approach means that this regime is retreating from any role in spearheading a coordinated global response to the pandemic. The United States is unceremoniously exiting the World Health Organization, the multilateral institution set up to coordinate global health responses, even as the toll of the pandemic keeps rising. It stayed conspicuously away from a global summit organized by the European Union in May to raise funds to develop a vaccine for the virus. So, instead of a coordinated, wide-ranging global effort, we have a flurry of multibillion-dollar deals between few states in advanced capitalist countries and large companies to develop a viable vaccine — a ragtag approach that threatens to leave people in many nations without access to the vaccine once it is developed, while offering some companies and their investors the prospect of rich pickings.
In contrast to this abject failure on both the public health and humanitarian front, and the insular paralysis in steering or even supporting a coordinated global response to the pandemic, the full force of the financial firepower and authority of the US state has been brought to play with much greater urgency and purpose in its global financial governance. The US Federal Reserve has adroitly led a series of interventions that have averted a breakdown of the machinery of global finance in the pandemic’s wake.1 More significantly, its swift and extraordinary interventions have ensured that the mechanisms of dollar hegemony have been restored and reinforced. And in an astounding twist, these deliberate and far-reaching interventions to extend its safety net to global finance and reconstitute the mechanism of dollar hegemony are occurring with none of the public scrutiny and none of the outrage that had marked the Fed’s interventions to bail out the financial system after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008.
Over the past months, the Federal Reserve has pumped trillions of dollars into buying up assets in order to provide a backstop to the financial system. Equally significant, the Fed has ramped up and temporarily widened the ambit of existing mechanisms — swap lines — through which it coordinates with central banks in advanced capitalist countries to keep the financial system flush with dollars, in effect closing ranks around the dollar. Outside this core, it has launched a new arrangement — the repo facility — that, in effect, mobilizes countries in the periphery with reserves in their coffers into the efforts to restore the global flow of dollars, while reinforcing the hierarchy that embroiled these countries into supporting the dollar in the first place. Countries excluded from these arrangements — debtor countries in the periphery — have been left at the mercy of the financial markets, entrenching the role of US-led finance in their subordination. The Fed has so far been singularly effective in preserving and extending dollar hegemony.