Reflections on Covid
I’m pretty sure America’s tangle with Covid will mark a cultural turning point; the question remains, however, will it be one where we correct our cultural ills, or one where we double down on the policies that hurt us?
The lens I personally see Covid through, is that America’s previous decades of predatory capitalism, neoliberalism, and gaslighting invisible propaganda will lead to the unnecessary death of approximately half a million people. The question at hand, however, is will this immense human cost cause us to re-evaluate our culture, or will we continue to go down an irrational and punishing path?
To be clear about how we got here, you need to understand a little bit about the underlying ideology that defines America. It is a philosophy called neoliberalism, and since the 80s we have basically been living in an ongoing, unmitigated experiment on neoliberalism.
Do you ever feel like you are in a perpetual and inescapable competition, with very few winners and heaps of losers? Do you want to save money, but have so man other expenses come up somehow it never happens? Do you feel insecure at your job, like one wrong move, and you might be out on the street? Do other moms try to one up you about their breast feeding habits, or other middle age men humble brag about their new cars? That’s all neoliberalism.
Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.
We have become so paranoid of communism or “socialism” that we have succumbed to giving away massive personal freedom while believing we are saving ourselves from government control. But, let me ask you this, who would you rather be in control? Elected officials, who must answer to the public and who can be fired by the public, or by billionaires who own corporations who answer to no one?
For instance, many people fear governmentally regulated health care because they fear getting substandard treatment, but why do these people assume that the CEO of Walmart, Facebook, Amazon or wherever is going to be motivated to fund their employees wellbeing? Why would they do that, when they could make more money by letting them get sick and die?
Ok, you say, people can just go work for another company where health insurance is better. But what if all the companies are like that? And, why wouldn’t all the companies be like that if it maximizes their profits? Then, what choice do you have if you can’t get a better job?
And, we’ve really seen the end of this situation with covid. So far, America has had the greatest death toll of *any country*. There are many factors for this, but a few are that Americans (generally) aren’t in good health and don’t have good health care, that most Americans don’t have enough savings to ride out a pandemic, and the government was unwilling to give their citizens the money they needed stay safe the pandemic. So instead, people were forced to go work in unsafe conditions where they contracted and spread the virus.
I have a question for you; if we don’t have the freedom to live and be healthy, what do any of our other freedoms even matter?
America’s ability to care for her citizenry is an unmitigated disgrace. America’s inability to care for her sick, her poor, and her vulnerable is an indefensible critique on our current society — because one day, we will all get sick. One day we will all be vulnerable. If you live in a country like this, rest assured that once your body fails you — and it will — you will be cast out, seen as unimportant and without value. Even if you are young and healthy now, no one stays that way forever.
So, will we see this? Will Covid open our eyes to this massive problem we have? Will we fix it? Or, will we keep going down the same tired and broken path?
How will we pay for all the healthcare? It’s too expensive! I don’t want to pay any more taxes!
Here’s the thing though; our taxes are basically as low as they’ve ever been. We’ve had decades of low taxes under neoliberalism. Check out our Federal tax rate for the top income bracket over the past 100 years:
Since the late 70s we’ve effectively stopped taxing the rich, and the result is massive wealth inequality. Check out, these graphs on income inequality in the US since the 70s:
Basically, since the 70s, the rich have kept getting richer and the poor kept getting poorer. The lowest income bracket in 1970 was 20k, and poor people today make about 8k more per year than they did in the 70s. The rich, on the other hand, make about 70k more per year than they did in the 1970s. Or, phrased another way, one rich family has added about three poor families worth of additional income into their earnings — on top of the fact that they already had a head start of 100k per year in 1970.
We can additionally see, that today the wealthy own a much larger percentage of US income than the poor and middle classes, but in the 70s most of the income was going to the middle classes. Or, phrased another way, a smaller percentage of people have a larger percentage of the money than they did in the 70s. This is called wealth concentration, and it’s bad. It leads to the undoing of democracy, and the beginning of oligarchy which is basically where we’re at now.
And, this concentration of wealth corresponded with the undoing of governmental regulation and taxation of the upper classes. Effectively, the tax on the wealthy paid for maintaining the health of populous. This sometimes sounds unfair to people, but I don’t believe it is. The rich got rich on a fully functioning society. If the wealthy didn’t have the protection of the police and army, we’d just go steal all their shit. If they didn’t have a well educated and healthy populous, they wouldn’t have workers for their businesses. If they didn’t get bank bailouts when they fucked up their investments, they’d be as poor as the rest of us. And, even getting taxed more, they will have more money than they’ll ever spend, more than their children will spend, and more than their children’s children will spend. They’ll be just fine.
“Make America Great Again,” the people say. Just when was America great? Maybe around 1950? You know, they taxed the rich by 90% in 1950, right? I’m serious, go up and look at that graph again. The eras conservatives get nostalgic for, the 1940s and 50s, was one of the most socialist eras in American history. Coming off of Franklin D Roosevelt’s historic 3 term presidency, the US implemented some of the largest government funded programs (“the new deal”) we’ve ever seen; much of that has been undone by the neoliberals in future generations. Yet, for some reason, people think we’ll get back to America’s gilded past by cutting taxes and social programs? That’s the very opposite of what people were doing back then.
And, so here we are. Sick, poor, unequal — and dying. I sincerely hope Covid will mark the death of a sick and inhumane ideology that has plagued us for the last 50 years or so, but the problem is, people have to see the causation. They have to understand taxes are lower now than in America’s “golden ages.” They have to understand, if they don’t allow the government to regulate big business, their employer will exert more control over their lives than the government will. Government over-reach is a valid thing to fear, but we have pulled so far in the other direction in an attempt to not be “communist” that we have ceded our autonomy other entities instead. It’s not the government you should be afraid of now; it’s the oligarchs.