• What We Lost in the Pandemic

    April 4, 2020

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Post-Constitution America


     
    A lot of change has taken place in a very short period of time in America, almost all of it undebated and unchallenged, in response to what still has a long way to go to justify it. But the virus is killing us all! Stop. It is not only possible to hold two ideas in mind at once, it is vital. The virus is a threat. At the same time we are immersed in making fundamental changes to society willy-nilly that will outlive the virus.
     
    Only two weeks ago I had an hourly-paid part-time job, my hours subject to my boss’ needs and whims. That made me a lot like the 60 percent of the American workforce who are also hourly employees, not to mention those working as independent contractors, adjuncts, and the massive undocumented labor behind our farms, hotels, and restaurants. The government ordered most of us to stop working and we did. Nobody is entirely sure if “the government” can actually just do this, but it did. Almost none of us can work from home. We wait like baby birds for the government to drop checks into our mouths. Overnight we went from workers, albeit workers at the failing edge of economic inequality, to dependent on government handouts. As the balance of power between Americans and their government changes dramatically, 60 percent of us approve of Trump’s handling of the crisis.

    Perhaps the clearest example of what just happened took place among teachers. Teachers from K-College worked frantically on their own time to eliminate the need for classrooms and move instruction online. Something that might have been rejected as unacceptable six months ago, or expected to take years under normal circumstances, was done at no new cost overnight. No consultants, no arguments from parents or unions, just worker bees radically transforming the American educational system. It won’t take long after this is done for institutions to realize they don’t need so many teachers, classrooms, janitors, etc. anymore. The infrastructure now assembled can be used so one teacher can instruct hundreds or thousands of kids. Why have ten math professors to teach ten sections in ten rooms when one person online can more or less do it? So teachers, thank you for your efforts to iron out the bugs in a mass proof-of-concept experiment. Don’t worry in the future when you’re out of work; there are always alternatives in the free market system. A porn site is offering the unemployed big bucks as cam girls during the pandemic.

    A live classroom teacher (doctor, therapist, consultant, etc.) may someday become yet another luxury available only to a select few. Quality will be what you can afford. That is part of what corona is doing, helping people adjust to a new standard. Remember once most white collar jobs came with a private office with a door, a dedicated secretary, and a formal lunch hour, never mind a pension. Manufacturing jobs paid a living wage, with union benefits and a picnic each summer to honor the American worker. Stuff happens, ya’ know?

     

    For the second time in about only a decade, we are seeing our homes endangered. Rent payments are hard. As mortgage payments slip the banks are sniffing around like hyenas. Some people will fail on rent payments on the same homes they used to own. Occupy Wall Street? No, occupied by Wall Street.

    Like good boys and girls a lot of us did invest our money after the 2008 economic crisis, yet anyone contemplating retirement or college in the near term just saw 20 percent of all that go away. Again. The bailouts are here, in the trillions, again, for the airlines and other businesses. Of course the stock market will go back up, it always does. What occurs in the space between it going down and going back up is the wealthiest Americans, having money in reserve, buy cheaply once-expensive stocks you were forced to sell at the bottom to feed your family. In a few years you’ll start buying in again, you know, when you get back to work, to push up prices and fuel the rich folks’ gains. The wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-2008 financial crisis growth while the bottom 80 percent, whose wealth was in their homes not stocks, became poorer as their missing homes did not “grow.” Their wealth, such as it was, was a Potemkin vision in the form of their homes which they actually did not own. The last recession represented the largest redistribution of money in a century.

    What about 2020? Since over half of all Americans now own no stock, the wealth in 2020 will be sucked out of the so-called 10 percent, the remains of what was once the upper middle class. They are the only ones who actually have money for the hyper-wealthy to take. The bottom 90 percent are basically too poor to steal from (except our labor; see above.) A month ago the richest 10 percent of Americans owned 84 percent of the total value of the market. The One Percent are in the process of taking from the Nine Percent below them right now. Fair enough in a way; much of the Nine Percent’s wealth was harvested out of the 2008 crisis.

     

    At least in 2008 it was just our money they took. I sit here in NYC under a multi-layered federal, state, and city state of emergency. I am still sort of free to go out, but since most stores, bars, restaurants, theatres, gyms, etc. are closed by fiat, freedom of movement is an illusion, like prisoners circling the rec yard. Adding to the people who now tell me what I can and cannot do, the manager of my local grocery has made up his own rationing rules, choosing which products and which quantities he allows us to purchase.

    Freedom of assembly is gone. No more questions about whether Milo can speak on campus. No more Pink Pussy Hat marches. A month ago if anyone said that to a BLM group, the riot would have been followed by a Supreme Court First Amendment case. In 2020 only three people nationwide have legally challenged anti-assembly orders. Before the virus we made fun of George W. Bush, who in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 seemed to downplay the severity of it all by telling Americans to go shopping, to visit Disney World. That seems generous to a population now cowing in their bedrooms. We are being conditioned to reject the comfort and solidarity of being in the presence of others; one media outlet explains to little JoJo’s and Yorki’s how to report large gatherings to the authorities via an online form.

     

    Politically the progressive movement disappeared with the proverbial whisper, not a bang. Is Bernie still in? All that talk about a brokered convention, third party stuff, whatever, it is gone. Frightened people (they were scared about Bernie’s ideas long before the virus but the end came quick once the virus arrived) want to pull the blanket over their heads. Joe Biden’s campaign slogan seems to be “I Won’t Do Much,” or more succinctly, “Better Things Aren’t Really Possible.” Joe is the political equivalent of an Obama tribute band. You’ve seen them, imitators who look a little like the Rolling Stones. They play only the best hits, competently but not skillfully, showing how wide the gap is between someone who can pull “Honky Tonk Woman” from the ether and someone who can just play the cords with enthusiasm. It’s a way to make a living and for Joe Biden telling everyone things will look like the 1958 it might just be enough. Protip: don’t wager too many dineros on the political future of AOC and The Squad. Even Tulsi endorsed Biden on the way out.

     

    Orwell in 1984 never really explained how it all came to be. He wanted to shock readers with a dystopian society whole on page one, something that felt like it always was and thus always will be. For us, however, living in this time, the evolution is of some interest. Orwell was also an amateur. He imagined freedom as something people would fight for. He did not envision how easy it would be to manipulate fear into learned helplessness such that Americans would in the space of a week voluntarily give up most of their freedoms, along with their actual jobs. Orwell envisioned the need for a Ministry of Truth when in fact all it took was a handful of deaths, some prolefeed — worthless entertainment for the masses about whether calling it “Chinese flu” was racism — and a dash of sky-is-falling articles for the majority not only to go along with the new authoritarianism, but to demand more. Fear is the problem and empowering government is the solution. You have to give some things up for a safe good society. If not, you’re selfish, a thought crime.

    Of all the bell curves, the one of interest is when the cure becomes worse than the disease. When do we as a society cross the line where measures of social control are no longer affecting the spread of the disease but are damaging the life we live. Of course many of the draconian steps taken these past weeks will be pulled back. But some will stick. And the lessons learned by the darkest corners of American life will be jotted down. The same thing happened after 9/11, when frightened by terrorism, Americans gave up their rights to privacy and freedom from search with great enthusiasm. Somewhere Dick Cheney is saying to himself “we could have taken it so much further, we just didn’t realize it would be so easy.”

    Hey, Dick, check it out — we have voluntarily given up our livelihoods and jobs, freedom of assembly, and transferred most of our speech to social media monsters who can edit or block it as they wish. We are heading toward more dependency on government money to eat. Access to medical care, once limited by having “good” insurance, is now limited by medi-bureaucratic decisions — committees who will decide who gets to see a doctor. Remember how even the rumor of such “death panels” under Obamacare set people afire? We understand better now, sorry grandma.

    Unintended consequences? Doubt that. This did not just happen, our governments made it happen near enough to overnight and we wanted them to do that. No one wants to die. But think ahead to how we are going to live.
      

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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  • Recent Comments

    • John Poole said...

      1

      Was the Trump team’s mishandling of the current deadly pandemic purposefully callous? Where does one draw the line between indifference and incompetence. Where do Donald Trump and Jared Kushner register on the autism spectrum chart? I’m afraid to look.

      04/4/20 1:51 PM | Comment Link

    • J.L.Seagull said...

      2

      Any correction for your old article?

      “Right now, in real time, behind the backs of the coronavirus, is the every-year plain old influenza. Some 12,000 people have died, with over 13 million infected from influenza just between October 2019 and February 2020. The death toll is screamingly higher … One does not hear much about that. Why?

      Bluntly: more people have already died of influenza in the U.S. than from coronavirus in China, Iran, and Italy combined. Double in fact. To be even more blunt, no one really cares even though a large number of people are already dead. Why? …

      The fear being promoted has no rational basis compared to regular influenza and the swine flu of 2009. “

      04/4/20 4:05 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      3

      Seagull- do you have statistics denoting age and health of the 12K you say died in this past regular flu season? How many were physicians or therapists treating those 12K souls? How many of the deceased had a flu shot? If the body count is ten times higher with Covid-19 would that still be a rational number?

      04/5/20 2:32 PM | Comment Link

    • teri said...

      4

      John,

      Seagull is quoting from Peter’s last article before this one; “Looking For Jim Jones Amid Covid-19”. He is asking if Peter ought to correct that. Ask PVB your questions.

      04/5/20 6:15 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      5

      Teri- You’re right. I have to assume that Peter is sort of wincing at his call. I had blocked that Seagull was just quoting PVB.

      04/5/20 10:02 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      6

      I think most of us visiting PVB’s blog appreciate the opportunity to post a short comment whether it be approving or disapproving. I appreciate that it hasn’t turned into a verbal slugfest where most (not all) restrain our “gotcha” tendencies.

      04/6/20 11:01 AM | Comment Link

    • Joe said...

      7

      Fear mongering has been used to control the masses for ages. What Orwell foresaw, dimly but correctly, was how easy modern communications technology would make fear mongering for the likes of Joe Goebbels, Joe Stalin, Joe McCarthy, Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

      Fun fact: over 150,000 people die each day around the world. And while about 100,000 of them pass from old age related causes, the other 50K do not; for example over 3,500 people die each day in car accidents. In the US the automotive death toll is a little over 100 a day, or 36K per year, with many more maimed for life on top of that. Yet how terrified is the average person of getting into their car, day in and day out? Not very, because they’re not being constantly told they should be. The world survived the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 and it’ll survive this one too. Might I or one of my loved ones die because of it? Yup. Might you or one of your loved ones? I certainly hope not, but it’s unfortunately a possibility. Might PVB? You bet and I’m sure he knows it. So why isn’t he pissing in his panties about that like everyone’s telling him to? Because if you read his book, you know he spent a year of his life working in a place where death was quite noticeably lurking around the corner every single day. If getting him to admit he made a mistake will make you feel better about yourself and in your mind justify buying into this current round of fear mongering, knock yourself out – that’s what all those Joe’s I mentioned, and the one Donald too, absolutely thrive on.

      04/6/20 11:52 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      8

      Joe: Cars are much safer for drivers and passengers today but it is too easy for just about everyone to get a license. 90% of the drivers on the road today are completely unqualified to operate a vehicle safely and intelligently. Make qualifying for a license what it should be and auto deaths would plummet.Fatal “accidents” are caused by stupid and unskilled drivers. People gotta get around so they can buy stuff and do stuff they really don’t need to do I guess.

      04/8/20 10:06 AM | Comment Link

    • Joe said...

      9

      @John Poole: I completely agree with you that cars today are safer than ever. So if you can afford a new vehicle with all the bells and whistles (which is a big if for many people) you can really nudge the odds in your favor. And of course anyone can improve those odds further by being a smart, safe driver. But with all that said some drunk or high person can still come across the double-yellow line, hit you head on doing seventy and take out your entire family in the blink of an eye. So why don’t folks freak out about that? Well in part because as you point out, “people gotta get around” so they try not to think about the risk. And that mindset is assisted by the media, which only occasionally covers the most horrific accidents – because that sort of coverage really doesn’t generate much in the way of mouse clicks and also discourages car company ads.

      So now let’s take a look at COVID-19 from the same perspective. First, medical technology today is 100 years more advanced than the time of the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 – again if you can afford it that is. And even if you can’t there are still plenty of things the average person can do to nudge the odds in their favor. Should you do all of those things? Abso-frigging-lutely, unless you’re suicidal or grossly irresponsible. But should you devote 100% of your mental bandwidth to living in fear that you’re going to die of COVID-19? IMO the answer to that one is no. Which is why I’m using some of my social isolation time to read up on the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security Act, which is shaping up to be an even bigger corporate windfall than the TARP was. (And it’s the CARES Act! Because the Federal government sure does love its acronyms, and cares about you!) And the thing that really boggles my mind is that besides all the Republicans, Chuck, Bernie, Nancy, Tulsi, AOC and everyone else in the Democratic Party went for it too! (Though you gotta hand it to dear old Pelosi; by calling for a voice vote in the House, which theoretically controls Uncle Sam’s purse strings, there is no actual record of who voted for it there.) Now that’s something to really be afraid of as far as I’m concerned.

      04/8/20 12:10 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      10

      Joe: TARP II = Terrified Asses Repeatedly Plundered?
      By the way- what happened to Lincoln Chafee? Do such guys finally move to Montana after giving up. His attempt at taking down the cackle queen Hillary in 2016 probably doomed his purportedly idealistic political aspirations.

      04/9/20 2:47 PM | Comment Link

    • Joe said...

      11

      @John Poole: Good one on TARP II, especially since gallows humor is all we have left at this point!

      Just came across a good capsule analysis of the CARES Act:

      “The stimulus package that just passed is the biggest wealth transfer from common folks to the super-rich (Wall Street & bankers) in the history of mankind. Done in the name of a virus with $1200 checks as the cheese in the trap. This will be obvious in short order.”

      Who said that? Republican (not a typo) Congressman Thomas Massie, who represents a district in Kentucky of all places! (Ideologically Massie is apparently rather Libertarian, kind of like Lincoln Chaffee; as far as I know Chaffee has shelved his efforts to be the Libertarian nominee in 2020, but is still working with that party in some advisory capacity or another. And before you write off Massie as some Southern hick, he was bright enough to get a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Science from MIT.)

      And it also wasn’t Donald Trump who called for that voice vote on the CARES Act in the House, it was Democratic Party Speaker Nancy Pelosi …

      04/9/20 7:47 PM | Comment Link

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