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.