We Can Build a Better World After COVID-19

Duane Townsend

The Progressive - March 24, 2020

"Whether we like it or not, we are about to learn just how much of this thing we call “the economy” we can live without, because the choice is that or our lives and those of our loved ones. Despite the hand-waving ofLloyd Blankfeinand his fellow plutocrats, that is not a choice we are willing to make. Though economists likeDean Bakerproposed a shorter workday after the 2008 crisis, we now have to experiment on a much grander scale. We can neither work nor consume the way we used to: What does a world without such processes look like? "

There is a tendency in a crisis to declare that one has been right all along—that the crisis proves one’s previously existing ideology and preferred set of policy solutions. The capital-R Right has been good at this for a while. Naomi Klein dubbed it the Shock Doctrine, this tendency for politicians to push through a set of neoliberal reforms in the period of shock that hits after a disaster, manmade or “natural.”

There must be quotation marks around “natural” because, as the coronavirus is showing us, some disasters may come from nature but are structured and made worse by human society. By taking immediate action, South Korea and Vietnam have managed to contain the pandemic, while in the United Kingdom and the United States, infection rates are spiking and governments are flailing.

The left hasn’t been very good, though, at having its own version of the shock doctrine. Let’s call it disaster collectivism, a counter to disaster capitalism. In 2008, with the financial system in meltdown, mild Keynesianism prevailed despite bigger demands floating around. The banks were bailed out and, as the protest chant went, working people got sold out. I’ve written extensively about that moment elsewhere, and the weakness of social movements of the left precisely when they were needed. 

It would be a lie to say those movements are at a moment of historical strength right now. They are still far weaker than they need to be. Just three months ago, Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a landslide election in the United Kingdom. More recently, the Democratic Party consolidated behind Joe Biden, a candidate so entirely unsuited to this moment that any attempt to sum it up in a sentence just sounds laughable. 

Yet, the left has been the one with the new ideas lately. Even as its candidates lose ground, our ideas prove not just popular but necessary. What better proof is there of the need for a strong, well-funded public health care system than a fast-spreading, often asymptomatic virus? 

While President Donald Trump attempts to double down on his favorite policy solutions—closing borders and deporting people—the reality is that the virus came in via airplane from wealthy world travelers, not Central and South American migrants who are doing the necessary, dangerous, and low-paid work that, as it turns out, is what keeps us all alive. 

The people demonized by Trump are part of a vast, low-wage social reproduction workforce: The cleaning workers who come in unseen to keep hospitals, airplanes, offices, and grocery stores sanitized, often without any job security, paid sick time, or health care; the food delivery workers who bring groceries and takeout to the work-from-home brigades or to the exhausted nurses and doctors on the frontlines; the farmworkers who harvest everything we eat; and the Amazon warehouse workers who are packing our panic-ordered wet wipes and toilet paper. ...
Read full commentary at The Progressive

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