The Economy and the Pandemic

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We have been in the grip of this crisis since March when the virus reached our shores and killed thousands of Americans in places like New York City. We now know that particular strain came from Italy. Early on we did not know much about the virus, or how it spread. After all, this is a novel virus, and there was virtually nothing known, except that it made the species jump from bats to humans. We quickly understood that it was likely airborne. Now we know for sure. In the beginning, we also believed it was going to stay on surfaces for many hours, why many of us started deep cleaning like crazy. Now we know it’s more an airborne threat than surface permanence. But we also knew something else. If you had groups of people, it would spread like wildfire. This is why governors and mayors did what they needed to save lives, under the recommendations of local and state health officers. Curfews and lockdowns came in quick succession to save lives. However, this inevitably led to severe economic consequences.

Sadly there were Waldo politics at play. “Red America” and its government officials, starting with President Donald Trump, decided to weaponize this. Wearing a mask, and respecting the science, became political. Since this was confined to blue states, it was portrayed this way, an urban and liberal disease. Now the surge is all over because the virus could care less. This means we have had a very haphazard response to the crisis.

For a minute though there was a sign of hope. We had a stimulus, as weak as it was, and a series of policies passed to encourage people to stay home. There were a series of things, including larger federal unemployment support and rent relief. All this has expired, or will soon. This package, as large as it was, is not enough to deal with the crisis. The waning Donald Trump administration does not care to help their successors. There is no appetite among Republicans to help the people. All is highly political and how to block anything that helps Main Street, not Wall Street.

As the economy shut down to flatten the curve, specific sectors were more affected than others. The hospitality and tourism sectors shut down overnight. Millions of workers were furloughed and half of those jobs are not expected to come back. So we have millions of workers who face the prospect of long-term unemployment They tend to be lower-skilled and lower-paying jobs, sending families into immediate crisis. As millions had their hours greatly cut, or gone people went hungry. And we fear a wave of evictions not seen since the Great Depression is coming.

Early on both party leaders acted as if this was the health and economic emergency it was. This is why trillions have already been spent, though the CARES Act, and there were protections in place to prevent people from foreclosure and eviction. Some states, like California, even invested the money they should have years ago to try to house homeless populations. We knew it was the moral thing to do. We had a moment, feeling as it was, of national unity. It was fleeting, partly due to poor leadership from Washington and denial of the pandemic.

This moment of national unity and purpose was fleeting. It was worse than the George W Bush moment after 9–11 when he told the nation to go shopping. National sacrifice after the attacks was not needed, and the war on terror has continued, with only one percent fighting and five percent shouldering the burden in any direct way. This affects all of us. Yet the President and his party were far more concerned with the economy than national health. The party of life, it turns out, is the party of death. The economy will not recover until we bring the virus under control. This is a point Republicans and Libertarians don’t care to understand.

Many of us have supported local small businesses as much as we can. It is not easy, but we do the best we can. This is partly to help them survive this. We the small consumer are not enough in the middle of this crisis. States and Counties have as well, but they do not have the fiscal capacity of the Federal government. At one point President Trump referred to this crisis as war. He was correct, but this requires the spending of wartime, as well as the taxation of wartime.

Historically this meant that the obscenely rich, who have become even more obscenely rich, paid 90 percent taxes, or higher, over a certain amount. In World War Two this was over a million dollars of income. In today’s money that would roughly translate to 30 million. Instead, the present administration started to talk of further cutting taxes on the last group of Americans who need the money to survive. This is the only hammer Republicans know and use, without understanding, it seems, that at some point even the Federal Government will not have enough money for basic services. This is entirely the point. Most Republicans and Libertarians do not believe there is any role for government, beyond the military. In my view the incoming administration will have to raise those taxes, and sell them as a matter of patriotism. We are in a war with a virus, we need to act like it.

We have piss poor leadership in Washington at the moment. Americans are exhausted, and cannot wait to get together with friends and for the pandemic to be in the national rearview mirror. This is why many Americans are no longer keeping their guard up. This is why we also going to see Thanksgiving and Christmas family get-togethers from all parts of the nation, with a side of COVID. This is dangerous and makes me wonder why Americans cannot sacrifice even for one holiday season. This is a general observation. We are keeping our guard up, and to be brutal, military families do this often. So do many essential workers who do not have Thanksgiving off, so you can enjoy the holiday. This is another symbol of how bifurcated our economy has been, for at least a few decades.

A false choice

We are now facing something that is crazy because it speaks of very broken values. We are told by many of our national leaders, starting with the president, that all that matters is the economy. If we have a failing economy, we cannot go on as a nation. The disease, while they will not say it outright, will solve itself if we just let it run through the population. This is the natural immunity route, and we know it does not work and leads to unnecessary deaths. Sweden tried this, and they failed. At this point, they are trying to follow what most nations around the world did. Their economy did not do well either, in spite of trying to get the young and healthy to live their lives. Their economy still suffered greatly because Sweden, and many in the Republican Party, have not taken one thing into account. This is personal safety. If I do not feel safe, I am not going to go to a business that ignores protocols. Like a few others I know, we are not going to a restaurant and we are mostly staying home. We support small businesses that follow protocols.

This is the exact link between the economy and the pandemic. If the consumer does not feel safe, he or she will not go to a store and buy. This is why we need to do all we can to make sure the virus is under control. This means testing, tracing, both not done by the current administration. It also means support groups people as we need to shut down the economy locally. It means taking personal responsibility when it comes to public health.

it turns out the party of personal responsibility and life is neither. In the name of freedom, Governors have avoided mask mandates, and life is an empty slogan.

I have written in the past that putting the economy head of human lives is a sign of a sick society. I am hardly the only one who has made this observation at this point. It is all about unfettered greed, no matter who dies. In fact, it is also about racism. Given the disease is affecting black and brown populations in greater numbers, this is fine for the so-called party of life.

`The CARES Act

Early in the pandemic, Congress passed the CARES Act, which supported people staying home. This was an important step to flatten the curve. It was hard enough since we are outliers in protecting our people. We refused to support our people to the same extent that our allies have, and our economy is showing a much slower recovery. While the CARES Act was welcomed there are a few things we need in order for people to survive this crisis. We still need to lockdown and to support people who will need to stay home. We also need to expand testing, tracing, and other health measures. We are well behind western democracies in this respect.

This matters and at this point both Democrats and Republicans in Washington seem completely out of touch with the needs of the people. To be frank, Republicans could care less, because ideologically they are opposed to any help. They have never believed in a working government. Or at least not the modern iteration of the party, starting in the 1980s. At the heart of the Reagan, revolution is greed.

Democratic elites suffer from an entirely different problem. They are part of a well-educated elite. They believe education is the key to a good society. Many of the party elders are well educated, some in elite Ivy League schools. There’s nothing wrong with this, well except that the party has a certain disregard for the working classes and minorities they represent. This is why there are moments when one wonders if they get it?

This is why compromise, that would help most Americans who are in crisis seems impossible. Republicans don’t want to help the incoming Biden-Harris administration. Democrats don’t want to excuse the bad behavior from corporate America, which wants liability relief if an employee or customer got COVID and died. So they left home for Thanksgiving.

in the meantime we see them. There are long lines at food banks. It’s not unlike the 1930s when people stood for hours outside soup kitchens. These are long lines of vehicles with people inside trying to get food to put on the table. People are not just hungry. People are also losing their roofs and ending up in the streets. This is the shame of our elite political class. They are ignoring this pain at great risk. It could pose a threat to the stability of the country. After all, hungry and unemployed people have little left to lose. This is why other Western nations have implemented different forms of universal basic income, which we still refuse to do. Whether they are full UBI or a modified form, they are helping their people through the crisis. Balancing the books will come later.

We are weirdly proud of this fact. We call it exceptionalism, even if in reality this is pure greed on the part of immensely wealthy people. This is not a normal economic crisis either, but a health crisis at the very heart. Many Americans voted to try to change this dynamic where one party screams fiscal responsibility only when the other is in power.

However, one has to ask how people could split the ticket between Donald Trump and the Senate. This is something historians will have to ask for years to come. How could Americans reject Trump, but not Trumpism? A Republican Senate will prevent the very help we need. Is this something that the same working class that is standing in food lines wants? Populism usually comes from a place of anger. This is where Trump got his base. So perhaps Republicans are thinking that blocking the other side will be a good strategy long term.

There is also a looming housing crisis. Homelessness is expected to go up. This is in the middle of winter, a cruel time if there ever was. So how many people will die from exposure to the elements? How many organizations set to help the homeless will not be able to, due to lack of space? How much more trauma do we need to subject the American people to?

Cruelty is the point of it. At this point this is clear.

Washington does not care in this the winter of our discontent. This is the reality of the extreme libertarian ideology we live under. It does not help that even most Democratic legislators are out of touch with the reality of most of the country. Partly it is their personal wealth. They are somewhat isolated from the worst effects of the economic crash. While they have passed legislation and used this as s cudgel, they need to do more than just pass legislation. They need to find a way for their base to put pressure on the whole system. It is hard to get the bully pulpit from Trump, but Democrats need to take charge of the messaging and make it a priority to help the people. We know Republicans will not.

We know Germany and Britain are supporting workers who are not working with 80 percent of their wages. Canada has a UBI for the duration. Is this expensive? Yes, but it is taking into account the balance of the need to work to put food on the table and to shut down the economy to flatten curves. Human lives are above the interests of the greedy.

Right now we also know that frontline workers, who are majority black and brown, are bearing the weight of the pandemic. Perhaps now that people of better means are traveling for Thanksgiving, the pandemic will start to affect whiter, better to do, workers. There is a reason why people were told to stay home by the CDC. Alas, people are exhausted so thinking they are above the laws of nature. However, we have had a K recovery. White-collar workers are doing ok, while blue-collar continue to fall down, with over eight million people who have slid into poverty.

Written by

Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game.

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