On Pandemics, Progress and their Paradox…
What do you get when you take two political parties, eager to fight about anything in the news, a pandemic and a president desperate to hinge his reelection on economic vitality? Well, you get America in 2020.
And, somehow, we find ourselves in the grips of a very real paradox — where people are first forced into lockdown to help save lives, then, because of the lockdown find themselves in the very real position of economic collapse.
So, let’s recap the facts:
- Flattening the curve is an attempt to keep from overwhelming our health care system, but it doesn’t necessarily avoid the total number of people who would get the disease. This helps save lives. The policies in place, the so-called “Great Lockdown,” are designed to help save lives by limiting the number of cases at any one time.
- The economic costs of the Great Lockdown are deep. Unemployment in the United States has reached 14.7 percent. Forty-nine companies have declared bankruptcy. And we’re talking about reaching Great Depression levels of economic contraction and unemployment.
- The virus and its economic fallout have disproportionately affected minorities and those already on the lower end of the income bracket. From The Economist, “Research by Abi Adams-Prassl of Oxford University and colleagues finds that an American who normally earns less than $20,000 a year is twice as likely to have lost their job due to the pandemic as one earning $80,000-plus.” Meanwhile, the stock market is up.
- The $2 trillion Covid stimulus bill passed so easily during a period of incredible political acrimony that it feels almost arbitrary. Two trillion dollars, and, as any number of headlines will remind us, it’s largely going to major corporations, even dollars intended for small businesses.
So, here we are, where it seems that people are now being forced to pick between losing their jobs or losing their lives. Where it seems like their elected leaders have chosen corporate interests over theirs. Where it seems like the rich keep getting richer, and the $1,200 checks that went out were distributed so quickly that it made all the rhetoric about American self-determination and economic pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps ethos feel like complete bullshit.
Here we are, in the wasteland of the American dream, where it seems like our leaders have failed us. They’ve given up on America. They don’t have confidence in our ability to fight the disease, or create new industries, or build great things. They don’t think we’re smarter than this. They’ll band-aid over the problems, and we’ll survive then be happy to return to often menial jobs that treat us without respect so that we can work too hard for shit we don’t need.
This pandemic gives a lot of time to think about the life we had and the life we want to create. It gives time to plan. And, lately, when confronted with this paradox — human life or the economy’s— I’ve been thinking about how strange it is to have this choice. If it really was so arbitrary to give away $2 trillion, then why can’t we do great things?
Why can’t we educate the entire country—as in pay for every person who works hard enough to earn a four-year degree? Why can’t we find a place for everyone in the economy—those with skills that the economy rewards and those who don’t? Why do we need to sort our society —first by capabilities in school —defined narrowly at best—then by earning potential? Why can’t we build incredible visions of the future—with space elevators and interplanetary colonies and exploration on a cosmic scale?
Somehow America has managed to believe that it is both the most powerful country in the world and its people are completely incapable. Maybe it’s disinterested, that it’s somebody else’s problem — somebody smarter or harder working or more capable can do really great things. What happened to craftsmanship? What happened to quality? What happened to self-determination?
America, where is our pride?