Category Archives: Capitalism

The Complicated Savagery of Society Revealed

 

The Covid-19 pandemic reveals a lot about us. It shows us the best and worst of ourselves.

According to New York Times columnist Charles Blow, “This crisis is exposing the savagery of American democracy.” The pandemic is showing us the ugly predatory side of American society and American capitalism. Blow described America this way:

“People — mostly white, sometimes armed, occasionally carrying Confederate flags or hoisting placards emblazoned with a Nazi slogan from the Holocaust — have been loudly protesting to push their state governments to reopen business and spaces before enough progress has been made to contain the coronavirus. This is yet another illustration of the race and class divide this pandemic has illuminated in this country.

For some, a reopened economy and recreational landscape will mean the option to run a business, return to work, go to the park or beach, or have a night on the town at a nice restaurant or swanky bar. But for many on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, it will only force them back into compulsory exposure to more people, often in occupations that make it hard to protect oneself and that pay little for the risk.”

Blow sees America as the scene of class warfare .He pointed particularly to Georgia. The first businesses to be allowed to open were businesses like tattoo parlors, and barbershops, nail shops, and hair salons. Are these essential services? Clearly not. Why are they allowed to open? Is it because they are staffed mainly by low-wage earners? Is it because most of those low wage earners are black? Is it because these workers are considered expendable?

Blow opines this way:

“These are the struggling workers who entertain and aestheticize people of means. These businesses were by no means essential, and they put these workers in danger. There is absolutely no way to practice social distancing while inking someone a tattoo. (Also, what are you so desperate to stamp on your body that you would risk it all during a pandemic?)

These workers are “allowed” to be the first to try-out and hence, perhaps, the first to die by the opening out. It makes sense to think the establishment would prefer low-earning blacks take the first chances, giving more important white workers the ability to decline if it turns out unsafe.”

Yet, to be fair, these black people are serving “people of means” as Blow suggests. Are they not taking the same chance as the poor workers? In fact what person of means would be interested in taking an unnecessary risk to add to his armour of tattoos?

As well, as Blow admits, among those taking the biggest risks are medical care workers including Doctors and nurses and other highly paid professionals. How can this be a class war? Yet to make things even more complicated there are others in hospitals who are low-wage earners and they are taking big risks. Finally, as  well it must also be admitted that many of these low paid workers want to go back to work. They need to work to pay their mortgages, rent, or groceries. You might say that they are being compelled to work, but what would the workers really say? I don’t know.

Charles Blow made some more important points in his recent New York Times article:

“It has been widely reported that the virus is having a disproportionate impact on black and brown people in America, both in terms of infections and death. But that is only one aspect of the disparities. In a country where race and ethnicity often intersect with wealth and class, there are a cascade of other impacts, particularly economic ones, to remain conscious of.

In a Pew Research Center survey conducted last month, 52 percent of low-income workers said they or someone in their household had lost a job or taken a pay cut as a result of the pandemic. But, when you look at this through a racial lens, another striking reality emerges: 61 percent of Hispanic people agree with the statement, compared to 44 percent of African-Americans and just 38 percent of white people.

And, as Pew pointed out, “lower-income adults are less prepared to withstand a financial shock than those with higher incomes.”

Is it an exaggeration to characterize this as class war? If it is it is a a very complicated one. The fact is that whites, like me, often fail to see the privileges we enjoy at the expense of blacks, browns, or indigenous. That is what systemic racism is all about. Whites are blind to the benefits and detriments the system doles out. As whites we just think that is natural. We don’t see the water in which we swim. That is what racism is all about, and the first step those of us who consider we are not racists have to take, is to acknowledge the advantage exists and acknowledge the injustice of that advantage. There is no good reason that we enjoy that advantage.

Blow also referred to a recent McKinsey and Company report last month that found: “39% of jobs held by black workers, seven million jobs in all, are vulnerable as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, compared with 34% for white workers.” On what basis can we whites successfully argue that this is fair? I wish I had similar statistics for Canada for likely we are not immune to this. That report also showed that 40% of the revenues of black-owned businesses are in the five most vulnerable sectors — including leisure, hospitality and retail — compared with 25% of the revenues of all U.S. businesses.

Of course a systemically racist system like the one we live in, does not stop delivering advantages and disadvantages during the pandemic. Those will inevitably endure well beyond that time. As Blow opines:

“Even when the country starts to recover, the race and class disparities will most likely still be present and working against minorities in low-wage jobs. As the Center for American Progress wrote last month, ‘Evidence demonstrates that while workers of color are often the first to be fired during economic downturns, they are often the last to be rehired during recoveries.’

This pandemic is likely to not only expose inequalities, but also exacerbate them. America has never been comfortable discussing the inequalities that America created, let alone addressing them. America loves a feel-good, forget-the-past-let’s-start-from-here mantra.’

But, this virus is exploiting these man-made inequalities and making them impossible to ignore. It is demonstrating the incalculable callousness of wealth and privilege that would willingly thrust the less well off into the most danger for a few creature comforts.

This crisis is exposing the class savagery of American democracy and the economic carnage that it has always countenanced.”

Yet if this is class war it is a complicated one. What else is new? Things are always complicated.

Capitalism: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

Capitalism has brought enormous benefits to society. Millions have been lifted out of extreme poverty.

Yet it also has a dark side. A predatory side. This side is uncomfortable. This side is also revealed from time to time. For example, it was brought to light in the COVID-19 pandemic. It brought out the best in people; it brought out the worst in people. As Charles Dickens once said,

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

It seems like Dickens was writing about the times we live in. Paul Krugman a Nobel Prize winning economist was alert to the sinister effects of capitalism. This is what he said,

“Covid-19 has had a devastating effect on workers. The economy has plunged so quickly that official statistics can’t keep up, but the available data suggest that tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, with more job losses to come and full recovery probably years.

But Republicans adamantly oppose extending enhanced unemployment benefits — such an extension, says Senator Lindsey Graham, a leading Republican, will take place “over our dead bodies” (Actually, over other people’s dead bodies.)”

Is this what western democracy and capitalism has come down to? I will help the sick and poor only over my dead body!  Is this not predatory capitalism at its most ugly? Over our dead bodies…

What do the Senators have in mind? This is Krugman’s view:

“They apparently want to return to a situation in which most unemployed workers get no benefits at all, and even those collecting unemployment insurance get only a small fraction of their previous income.

Because most working-age Americans receive health insurance through their employers, job losses will cause a huge rise in the number of uninsured. The only mitigating factor is the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, which will allow many though by no means all of the newly uninsured to find alternative coverage.

But the Trump administration is still trying to have the Affordable Care Act ruled unconstitutional; “We want to terminate health care under Obamacare,” declared Donald Trump, even though the administration has never offered a serious alternative.

Bear in mind that ending Obamacare would end protection for Americans with pre-existing conditions — and that insurers would probably refuse to cover anyone who had Covid-19.

Finally, the devastation caused by the coronavirus has left many in the world’s wealthiest major nation unable to put sufficient food on the table. Families with children under 12 are especially hard hit: According to one recent survey, 41 percent of these families are already unable to afford enough to eat. Food banks are overwhelmed, with lines sometimes a mile long.

But Republicans are still trying to make food stamps harder to get, and fiercely oppose proposals to temporarily make food aid more generous.”

 

How much more brutal do the Republicans, standing in for the corporate elites want things to get? I really don’t know how far they are willing to go. Are they really willing to let 41% of American families starve, as Graham seems to suggest? That seems to be a starting point. But where will it end?

Again here is Krugman:

But we’re only now starting to get a sense of the Republican Party’s cruelty toward the economic victims of the coronavirus. In the face of what amounts to a vast natural disaster, you might have expected conservatives to break, at least temporarily, with their traditional opposition to helping fellow citizens in need. But no; they’re as determined as ever to punish the poor and unlucky.”

In the past so-called Conservatives have claimed such draconian policies were necessary because otherwise the poor who received handout would lose their incentive to work. Why work when you get handouts? Forgetting first of all, that the reality is very few people prefer handouts to work. Forgetting that in America and Canada work is part of most people’s self-identity and sense of worth. People without work lose their sense of worth and even in many cases their sense of identity. They are also forgetting that currently with unemployment in the US standing at 14%, the highest rate since the Depression, there is no work to be had! Nonetheless, as Krugman said,

“What’s remarkable about this determination is that the usual arguments against helping the needy, which were weak even in normal times, have become completely unsustainable in the face of the pandemic. Yet those arguments, zombielike, just keep shambling on… There was never serious evidence for this claim, but right now — at a time when workers can’t work, because doing their normal jobs would kill lots of people — I find it hard to understand how anyone can make this argument without gagging.

Added to that there is a lot of hypocrisy among Conservatives who also claim that we can’t help the poor and sick any more than we do because it will increase the deficit and impair our ability to help the sick and poor in the future. First of all, letting them die will not help them in the future! Secondly, it is obvious that they don’t want to help any more than they are doing now and this attitude is not likely to change in the future.”

Finally, as Krugman pointed out,

you still hear complaints that spending on food stamps and unemployment benefits increases the deficit. Now, Republicans never really cared about budget deficits; they demonstrated their hypocrisy by cheerfully passing a huge tax cut in 2017, and saying nothing as deficits surged. But it’s just absurd to complain about the cost of food stamps even as we offer corporations hundreds of billions in loans and loan guarantees. 

Krugman sought an understanding of the motivation of Conservative parsimony. This is how he explained it:

“So what explains the G.O.P.’s extraordinary indifference to the plight of Americans impoverished by this national disaster?

One answer may be that much of America’s right has effectively decided that we should simply go back to business as usual and accept the resulting death toll. Those who want to take that route may view anything that reduces hardship, and therefore makes social distancing more tolerable, as an obstacle to their plans.

Also, conservatives may worry that if we help those in distress, even temporarily, many Americans might decide that a stronger social safety net is a good thing in general. If your political strategy depends on convincing people that government is always the problem, never the solution, you don’t want voters to see the government actually doing good, even in times of dire need.

Whatever the reasons, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Americans suffering from the economic consequences of Covid-19 will get far less help than they should. Having already condemned tens of thousands to unnecessary death, Trump and his allies are in the process of condemning tens of millions to unnecessary hardship.”

Grim words or grim reality? You decide.