Last week, I saw the U.S. fed chairman Jerome Powell utter these absurd words on the news in response to the precipitous decline in the stock market and the swelling ranks of unemployed people.
No, it doesn’t.
[Tl;dr: capitalism sucks. If you have money, give some away right now.
Here are some organizations I like. Find your local equivalents.
Montreal Rapid Response Fund “for sex workers, service industry workers, freelancers, and those who are most affected by COVID-19” (please note on this one: the anonymous nature of the project precludes full accountability so there’s a slight risk here in giving, but they really do seem on the up-and-up)
So…”the economy basically works”? Powell was talking about the stock market plummeting, specifically. His assumption is spectacular for its willful ignorance: the 2008 crash was some kind of “flaw” in capitalism, but the 2020 crash is a result of circumstances “outside” the economy and so it’s not the economy’s fault.
The idea that a natural cause, like a virus, is an externality to the economy is part of the problem as we look forward to what will happen to capitalism in the 21st century. Beyond the coronavirus and whatever other epidemics will happen (and they will), environmental catastrophes are already happening, and will continue to happen. These are not externalities to the economy, but rather the results of that capitalist economy. Yes, the virus is actually killing people and the solution to that problem is not entirely economic. But the economic havoc currently being “caused” by the virus is mostly human made: capitalists and corporations have no savings despite squeezing workers, consumers and citizens for profits (see: airlines); states have insufficient safety nets limited by false choices about what they can and cannot “afford”; and even in countries with socialized medicine, hospitals have been run according to cost-cutting measures rather than the mission of serving people (to be clear, I’m talking about budget decisions here, not the everyday work of hospital staff, most of whom care profoundly about the people they see). Even the mass firings are a result of how the economy is set up: it is “better” for even small businesses to fire their workers so their workers can collect unemployment rather than keep them on the payroll when they can’t pay them.
Better universal healthcare, real disaster planning, resource stockpiling, universal basic income, real estate markets regulated according to the right to affordable housing would have cushioned the blow for a lot of people. It won’t protect them from the virus, but it would help protect them, somewhat, from the economic cost of the virus.
The idea that the stock market is any indicator of general economic health should be thoroughly discredited by now, though it’s reported that way on a daily basis by almost all mainstream media outlets. It is true that far more working people are invested in stocks than, say, 1929, where it took up to four years for people to feel the full effects of the crash. But even that reality is the result of socializing risk and privatizing benefits. Where before middle class jobs came with pensions, now retirement is a form of investment for which each individual is responsible, even though there is no way most individual investors could possibly compete with the people at the top of the market. It’s something like a socially enforced gambling addiction.
And capitalism itself, as we well know, is a kind of Ponzi scheme. I read a letter to the editor this week where a retired person argued against a rent freeze because rent on the units attached to his were his only income. If we had real old age pensions and a right to decent housing, that would not be a problem either.
In case you are wondering what has occasioned this rant, it is not that I saw these two things in the news. It is that I just paid my bills for this month. For a lot of people, this month’s round of bills will be where the shit starts to hit the fan. I am incredibly privileged. I don’t have to worry about any of these things myself.
But so many people have to. It is just wrong.
In the meantime, if you’ve got money, spend some of it to support local business, and give some of it away.