by Mike McGinn
Here’s what an economist might say “The drive for efficiency across our economy has taken all the slack and redundancy out of the system needed to respond to a crisis. Combined with low personal savings, significant segments of the public lack the resources to respond.”
Let’s translate that. The relentless drive for profits combined with hoarding of wealth has put all of us in the crosshairs of a deadly pandemic.
On efficiency, here is what I’m talking about:
- Private insurers torpedo national health insurance, while figuring out how to deny coverage.
- Chambers of Commerce oppose paid sick leave because “it’s too expensive.”
- Private hospital owners have reduced the number of hospital beds over the decades because fewer beds and higher turnover increase profits.
- New companies have sprung up (e.g. Uber) whose business model is based on reducing costs by using “independent contractors”, undercutting businesses that provide health insurance and benefits.
Now let’s talk about wealth hoarding
- Over the last decades income inequality has reached levels not seen since the 1920s, with the top 1% controlling as much wealth as the bottom 90%.
- Taxes on high earners have been reduced, and governments rely more on regressive taxes.
- Corporations receive massive tax subsidies while social service programs and education are cut.
- Residents of high value neighborhoods resist construction of affordable housing, as well as the taxes to pay for subsidized housing, leaving many neighbors unsheltered.
- Public funding for universities, which house the researchers searching for treatment and cures, has been declining for decades.
- Air quality protections are being eliminated, pushing asthma and health costs onto lower income communities, and endangering future generations with climate change.
This philosophy is revealed with President Trump disbanding the pandemic response unit in 2017 claiming “when we need them we can just hire them back very quickly.” As if these skilled people are raw materials scheduled to arrive “just in time” at the factory, thereby reducing storage costs and enhancing corporate cash flow. And this philosophy culminates with more than one Republican elected official now claiming that we have to lose lives to save the economy.
But let’s be clear. Conservative Republicans may be the enduring champion of the policies described above, but far too many Democrats nationally and locally have been fully on board. They are either genuinely sympathetic to these flawed policies, fear facing the flood of corporate money in an election, or have convinced themselves they must “rise above principle” to keep their own special skills in office.
This pandemic has proven not just the moral destitution of their approach to public policy, it’s also demonstrating economic foolhardiness as well. A resilient (and moral) economy would allow people to take off work to protect their neighbors from infection without fear of eviction. Allow them to seek medical care and testing without fear of bankrupting costs. Allow more people to have savings to dip into to tide them over. Would have public health workers to be mobilized in times of crisis. And teams of well funded researchers to develop tests, vaccines and cures.
It turns out that the things we have been cutting and squeezing to wring out a little more in profits and a little less in taxes are the exact things we need to fight a pandemic. We are incredibly fortunate to have the extraordinary expertise of the University of Washington, which fought back against the incompetence of the Trump administration. As well as nurses, technicians, grocery store workers, delivery people, and so many other low paid workers risking infection to keep the essential places open.
In this bleak time, where families fear and face a deadly disease, many with resources stretched past the breaking point, there is only one thing that can even partially redeem their and our losses. That we recognize that there is no economy, there is no resilience, there is no community, where we do not put regular people’s health and financial security first.
We’ll get through this dark passage, and then we need to go change some things. That starts with organizing, making our voices heard on the government response, and using elections to get authentic representation. I’ll see you out there. We can do this.
Mike McGinn is a political and environmental consultant to candidates and communities across the country, and occasional host on KVRU FM. As Seattle mayor (2010-2013) he started the Office of Immigrant and Refugees, expanded the Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, expanded minority contracting, and funded the construction of the Rainier Beach Community Center. He was formerly an attorney and chair of the Sierra Club in Washington.
Featured image belongs to the public domain: United States Chamber of Commerce