My partner woke up in the middle of the night last night worrying about the Coronavirus. He wasn’t worried about catching it, me catching it, or buying toilet paper. He was worried about books.
“All the books are going to be online.” He said to me this morning as we were lying in bed, propped up side-by-side, drinking coffee and watching the cats harass squirrels raiding the bird feeders attached to the windows.
“Before long books will all be digital and with one key stroke somebody like Trump can change them, change them just like that.”
“There won’t be any need to burn books anymore.” I said.
“There won’t be any need to burn books.”
It’s not surprising that people like us are worrying about books during this Coronavirus crisis. The Trump administration is quietly reaching out the evil fingers of authoritarianism all over the social order. I can almost feel them burrowing their way underneath the covers of the bed every night.
In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban did not seize power. The Hungarian Parliament handed it over to him by passing a new law that gives him broad powers supposedly to deal with the Coronavirus. There is no end date set for these expanded powers and others are so concerned that they are calling for the EU to expel Hungary.
Orban, who has bragged about being the champion of “illiberal democracy” now has the power to jail people who publicize what are viewed as untrue or distorted facts which could alarm people. No by-elections can be held as long as the law remains in force. The government has the power to suspend laws.
The new rules can only be lifted with a two-thirds vote of the parliament AND A PRESIDENTIAL SIGNATURE.
Tell me that’s comforting.
In an interview on MSNBC, Lt. Gen. Honore reminds us to pay attention to what is going on behind the scenes of this crisis. While the rich and the powerful are wasting time actually dealing with the Convid-19 crisis, they have well enough make sure their pockets are lined.
The bailout package passed last week is just one example. While containing some provisions for regular people, most of the money is a giant bailout for large corporations. After Democrats fought for oversight of this slush fund, the President issued a signing statement that he will ignore the oversight. When asked about this, Nancy Pelosi just said that the Congress will exercise its power. Right. Let’s see how that works out.
Even people you wouldn’t ordinarily expect to be pointing out the graft and corruption that is going to be a central part of this crisis, like Lt. Gen. Honore, are sounding the alarm.
In an interview with Crag Melvin on MSNBC, Honore warned that powerful people in the administration had time to change the EPA regulations about companies dumping pollutants into an area known as “Cancer Alley,” in Louisiana. This dumping always most negatively affects low income and people of color.
We will see more and more of this as the crisis continues. They will use every opportunity to bilk profits, endanger regular people and steal. When this is over, they will tell us we can’t afford even basic services. We cannot let them steal the country during this crisis.
- This morning, there were 1600 dead. It’s 2:00 PM and there are 1800, almost 1900.
- The NYT (3/28/20) is running a story about mismanagement of the crisis early on. Little attention was given in meetings in the White House with the subject of testing.
- During this time, the U.S. “squandered” a month of precious time that could have been spent preparing for the crisis.
- Had they tested, it might have been possible to quarantine hot spots and this might have confined the disease.
- By the time testing was adopted on a wide scale, it was too late.
- By mid-February, the U.S. was testing only 100 people per day.
- Obama’s global health office had been disbanded a year earlier.
- Testing is still being denied to those with milder symptoms.
- NYT (3/28/20) . On Friday, the Trump administration cut tens of millions of dollars for health care programs and other aid to Yemen. This move will create major problems for programs run by the UN and private aid groups trying to supply hand soap and medicine and to staff clinics.
Notes from the podcast Pitchcock Economics
“Disaster Economics” 23 March 2020
- This crisis brings into focus the damage of forty years of neo-liberal politics. These policies have been corrosive.
- The effect of a crisis reveals how well the society was prepared in the first place. If, when a hurricane is coming, the society lived in houses that were already built to withstand a hurricane and have good plumbing, the effect of the hurricane is not so disastrous. For us, it’s like we have been living in tin huts.
- Decades of wage suppression have left people living on the edge of financial survival.
- If you cannot survive a $400 emergency, if you don’t have the reserves to last over a $400 emergency, you are going to have to go back to work, no matter what the risks. If people go back to work, they are going to destroy the social distancing measure effect.
- Over the past 40 years, the richest 1% got richer. The poorer got poorer.
- By Mid-March 18% of the workforce will lose their jobs or suffer reduced hours due to the epidemic. We could see 20% unemployment.
- Even on the Democratic side, politicians are steeped in neoliberalism.
- As the Republicans have been saying, they want a government so small it could be drowned in a bathtub. Well, that’s what we now have, a government that is unprepared to deal with a crisis like this. We have underfunded all the collective capacity of the government to deal with a situation like this. We have done so to maintain a society whose entire organizational structure is designed to make rich people richer.
- One example of this that is particularly pertinent at the moment is massive hospital consolidation which has left us without the adequate health care capacity to deal with a pandemic. While this consolidation has made private equity guys rich, it has not benefited the rest of us..
- The U.S. has one of the lowest per capita percentages of hospital beds in the developed world. In Italy, where there is an unmitigated disaster, they have significantly more capacity in their hospital system.
- While it’s more “efficient” when 70% – 80% of your hospital beds are filled at any one time. In a crisis, you need more beds. When you don’t have them you are in a situation like we are in now, where we’re choosing who gets health care and who doesn’t. We are forced to choose who will live and who will die with people who would otherwise survive.
- Grover Norquist said that his goal (and the goal of the Republican Party) was to establish a government that was small enough to be drowned in a bathtub.
- But, there is no alternative to collective capacity. You can’t buy own ventilators. You can’t prepare for pandemic on your own. You can’t establish your own CDC, develop your own vaccines.
- (Note: Quote from Mario Cuomo saying that government is like family, sharing resources between those who have and those who have not).
- China was able to respond quickly to the crisis because they have a well established collective capacity. We, on the other hand, are still struggling just to establish social distancing.
- We are still not testing. Only way to control this pandemics is to test and isolate those infected, but we are not doing this.
- (Note: The notion of American exceptionalism is one of the things that blocks us from taking effective action. The assumption is that we are Americans, we won’t be affected like the rest of the world, we can go back to work in the middle of a pandemic and not be hurt.)
- McConnell and the whole gang of libertarian idiots, at least said that they believed we would all be better off on our own, without government.
- But, the airlines asking for a $60 billion bailout. During the past decade the airlines have had high profits, but they didn’t use those profits to prepare. They did CEO raises and share buy backs. And now they are waiting, demanding that the government bail them out.
- The airline industry spent $800 billion on share buy backs last year. That’s one year. They could have chosen to pay their workers more. But, they have established no cushion for disaster. This is an economy where corporations assume that any upturn is going to last forever. “They thought it was going to go on forever.”
- Boeing is a good example of corporate irresponsibility. Their 737 max has been grounded for a year due to incompetence. But, during that time last year Boeing was borrowing money to buy back stock. Going into debt, borrowing money to return “value” to shareholders. This at a time when they were facing biggest internal management crisis in their history.
- “The shareholders should be wiped out.” They allowed an incompetent company to run itself into the ground. But, rather than the investors absorbing the hit, the government is going to bail them out.
- It should be part of the bill that no company gets a bail out without giving citizens preferred stock. The government could create a joint stock company, and everyone with a social security card, would be a co-equal share holder. This would be like a Sovereign Wealth Fund. Citizens would own the stock, not the government. Preferred stock means that the holders are given preference over all other stock holders. They get paid first if there’s a liquidation.
- Individuals would own stock in any company accepting a bailout.
- Vast majority of these companies are going to thrive, and instead of old shareholders being bailed out, middle class citizens would own shares along with the old shareholders.
- This is a fair way to recapitalize these companies.
- When you retire, you get your share.
- And, by doing it this way, we would have seats on the board.
- This is one way of turning lemons into lemonade
- The vast majority of wealth in this country is owned by a minority. We could make this the new disaster capitalism. For the past 40 years economic and other types of disasters have been used to disempower regular people, to disenfranchise and impoverish them. We can re-empower regular people by making new rules in this crisis.
- We can change the rules. We can set rules for those companies that are requiring bail outs. We could require, for example, that labor be on boards of these companies. Other countries do this.
- We can make rules that these bailout companies have to keep their employees employed. We are not bailing you out so you can downsizes lay off people.
- We could require that companies have to offer $15 minimum wage, paid sick leave. If these companies need the money they will have to take the rules. Otherwise they don’t have to take the money.
- Crises like these make vivid past policy failures – the fact that there is no national policy on paid sick leave.
Make the tax structure make more progressive, raise the taxes on capital gains and dividend, to same level as ordinary income. I
Increase highest tax level for those making above $1 million to 50%
There is an insane amount of money available to meet the challenges of society if we just make the tax system fair.
Have a national health care system that disintermediates private insurers – from health care transactions.
Implement common sense labor reforms, national paid sick leave, raise minimum wage, increase wages for bottom 60%.
Establish expanded unemployment programs. The length and the amount of unemployment should be increased.
The more useless the corporate news media becomes, the more essential it is to find good, informative podcasts.
Today, I listened to a podcast from Pitchfork Economics called “Disaster Economics.” It’s worth 100 hours of listening to the gossip of Nicolle Wallace, the geek coronavirus obsession of Rachael Maddow, or the endless inspirational anecdotes of CNN.
The hope is that this crisis will force a reexamination of forty years of neoliberal policies. Republicans and libertarians have fought for years to make government small enough to (as Grover Norquist once said) strangle in a bathtub. Well, now that’s what we’ve got, and it’s ill equipped to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
Even knowing that this type of pandemic was possible, the government scaled down and down government agencies like the CDC and failed to adequately prepare for a crisis. Trump eliminated pandemic planning units of the government and trivialized the problem even when he was repeatedly warned about it.
Neoliberal policies have led to a situation where, for example, this country has the lowest per capita percentage of hospital beds in the advanced industrialized world. The massive hospital consolidation which has been allowed to occur, may have made running particular hospitals more “efficient.” Hospitals, for example, make more money when they have 70% to 80% of their hospital beds full all the time. And, this makes private equity guys happy, but when there is a crisis, the country is not prepared.
We must use this crisis to make regular people more empowered. For 40 years, capitalists have used disasters to disempower people. We must use them to seize back the power we have to determine our own futures.