American Capitalism is fragile, and the Coronavirus is the latest in-your-face illustration.
Over the last month the stock market’s top indicator — the Dow Jones Industrial Average — has dropped roughly 10,000 points, dissolving the massive gains that have been made during Donald Trump’s Presidency. Just like that, the “booming economy” that everyone talks about, and the “record-low” unemployment numbers some are so proud to cite, have gone (and will continue to go) by the wayside. It was a paper tiger all along.
All of the country’s major sports, from basketball to baseball to hockey, are on hiatus until at least the middle of May. Some industries (including casinos, where I work) have either suspended operations or closed altogether. Still at the early stages of this pandemic, already something like 40% of the American economy has shut down.
If you want to know what the future of the United States is going to be like in the near-term, look no further than California. On Thursday night (as I write this) Governor Newsom ordered “the state’s 40 million residents to stay at home, restricting non-essential movements to control the spread of the coronavirus[.]” He also announced that he will be mobilizing 500 California National Guard troops to help with food distribution and other humanitarian missions. (Since I started writing this, New York has also shut down all non-essential businesses and banned all non-solitary outdoor activities.) Get ready for some good old fashioned video games, playing cards, reading books, and, perhaps worst of all, having to spend some actual time with your family.
For real, though: Because the state of California has the largest economy in the country, the most people, and also happens to have a relatively strong social safety net (at least compared to most states), it makes sense that CA will take the lead. I know a lot of people shit on California for myriad of reasons, but it’s times like these where Californians have to appreciate the fact that healthcare is more accessible here, food is easier to come by here, and unemployment benefits go further than most states. These are only minor victories, of course, but really we have yet to see the worst of this virus. Based on Newsom’s projection that 56% of Californians are going to be infected by the Coronavirus over the next eight weeks, there is a good chance that you, some of your family members, or some of your coworkers will get it.
What’s more interesting to me isn’t the depressing consequences of COVID-19, or the frankly boring reality many (or most) of us will have to endure over the next 2-3 months. It’s how the government has responded. It wasn’t long ago that Donald Trump said COVID-19 was a hoax, and now he is trying to say that he took the virus seriously from the very beginning. I don’t care about either of those things because Trump is a moron and I don’t expect anything better out of him, and I honestly don’t think most Americans are going to care if he follows through on giving everyone a thousand bucks in April and May. It’s an election year, it behooves him to do things like giving cash payments to every American and freezing evictions and foreclosures. And what exactly are the Democrats doing that’s any better? I suppose that’s besides the point.
The proper response would have been to develop hundreds of thousands, or millions, of testing kits. It would have been to build hospitals and fever tents all over the country. Trump opted to hold out as long as he could, until the grim reality was too obvious to ignore. Like I said in the last paragraph: it’s an election year. Trump called it a hoax, and said the virus was a media creation, because he wanted people to keep spending money. He wanted the stock market to stay rock-solid.
As it turned out he made a bad bet. The virus was coming whether he liked it or not — in fact it was already here — and it’s fair to say that his initial inaction will, regrettably, end up costing thousands of people their lives. I’ll give Trump a slight pass, only insofar as him not being unique when it comes to Republican Presidents dealing with a tragedy. After the Saudi-led terrorists attacks on September 11th, 2001, George W. Bush told Americans they should go spend money. From Time Magazine:
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President Bush didn’t call for sacrifice. He called for shopping. “Get down to Disney World in Florida,” he said. “Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.”
When you have a system that values profits over people, markets over individuals, leadership’s solution to everything is to keep spending money. That’s why American Capitalism isn’t prepared for a crisis of this magnitude.
In 2007, the last time the economy crashed, George W. Bush passed a bailout plan for the country’s major banks. Barack Obama campaigned on holding those banks and bankers accountable, but when he made it into office he just did the same thing and continued Bush’s bailout policy. The crooks who crashed our economy last time faced zero repercussions for their shady and unlawful behavior, and the American taxpayer footed the bill. $20 trillion in household wealth vanished into thin air, and people making $30,000 and $50,000 and $100,000 a year paid for multimillion dollar severance packages of the criminal bankers.
This obviously isn’t a moral system we are living in, but you don’t have to take my word for it. It’s what I’ve been writing about for the last five years and all the information I post in this article is readily accessible. Ordinary Americans can’t have decent healthcare, and can’t have affordable education, because the billionaires who have captured our government and who run our country don’t want us to have those things. Everything is, always, about the almighty dollar. The free markets don’t give a god damn about regular working people.
So when I get all crazy leftist and tell you that 40 percent of the country doesn’t have $400 in the bank for an emergency, what do you think that’s going to mean once that particular 40 percent of the population can’t work, and don’t have income, and are forced to try to pay for their rent and groceries? When I tell you that tens of millions of Americans either don’t have health insurance or are underinsured, what do you think that’s going to mean when they get sick?
It means people are going to die when they don’t have to. It means you are going to see videos on Facebook and Twitter of people fighting over basic shit like bread, and eggs, and rice, when in a normal country there would be enough supplies to go around. It means crime is going to go up, because people are going to be so desperate that they have to steal from each other. And, surprise surprise, the U.S. military is preparing to unleash goon squads to break up what they call “civil disturbances.” What could possibly go wrong there?
I’m not an end-times conspiracy theorist. I’m not hoarding toilet paper and guns. I’m not a fucking idiot, basically. I am going to have all the ramen noodles and pizza rolls that my body can handle, and if I run out of the $95 worth of toilet paper that I bought from Amazon last week then I will assuredly be creative enough to figure out how to wipe myself.
I fear the hard times for the average working class American haven’t yet begun. While I know I am not immune to the virus, and not exempt from the consequences this pandemic will ultimately bring, I am fortunate to have a good job and enough money in my savings account to ride this out. But you don’t have to be sanctimonious to imagine what life is going to be like for the single mother, or the guy working his ass off for $35,000 or $40,000 a year. You don’t have to virtue signal to wonder how people with no health insurance are going to afford treatment for this virus. You don’t have to be holier than thou to think about all the homeless, many of them veterans, who are going to die on the streets because they have nowhere else to go.
This is why I write so often about having a country with decent welfare programs. If America had its priorities straight it would do what China did and start building makeshift hospitals all over the country to treat people. They would have Coronavirus testing for every American, for free, and it would be easily accessible. The government would cover the cost of treatment for the virus. They would implement a moratorium on paying rent. They would ensure everyone is able to eat. This ought to be the bare minimum we should expect for the country we contribute to, but in the United States many of these are, at best, going to be a struggle for the average person.
Capitalism fails because in times like these, where the economy is in a downward spiral, we more soberly understand our place in the machine. We don’t have guaranteed healthcare, we don’t have affordable education, we don’t have a guaranteed standard of living. American Exceptionalism is a story we tell ourselves to reinforce an idea that we are the greatest country in the history of the world. But at the end of the day it’s an empty promise. We don’t have what it takes to sustain. That’s why every time shit happens, we always make the taxpayers bail out the ultra-rich. That is what we do. That is our legacy in the modern era.
I think it’s great that Trump is planning on giving everyone a thousand dollars for the next couple months, but while all of us are busy using that money to buy groceries and help pay some rent, the real winners will be multinational corporations. There are going to be massive bailouts to the hotel industry, the oil industry, and defense manufacturers like Boeing. Those companies will not be slumming with common folk like us holding up our thousand dollar checks like it’s some golden ticket. They will be receiving tens of billions of dollars, and it’s going to be on our dime. Our tax dollars will be paying for those bailouts.
If you wanna know, that’s what socialism is in the United States. It’s corporate socialism. As Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, in America it’s socialism for the wealthy and rugged individualism for the rest. When times are going well — as they supposedly have been in the stock market since Trump took office — the winners of the economy were the already extremely wealthy. They prospered in the fruits of capitalism.
Yet when times are bad, as they are now, the billionaires who have had it so good will be double dipping. They failed, they contributed to the uneven distribution of wealth in this country, and they will be the ones receiving the lion’s share of the bailouts. Workers be damned. The thousand dollars you get will get will help, surely, but it’s not even a fraction of a drop in the bucket that the billionaires and corporations will be receiving. The coming stimulus will not be about us; it will be about them.
I realize I’m a broken record about all this stuff, but there’s a point to it. I never advocate for pure, Leon Trotsky-esque socialism. All I say is the free market capitalist way of life is not the answer to our problems. Every country in the world is going to have to deal with the Coronavirus, and it’s an easy wager for me to say that the countries who handle it the best will be those with an ironclad social safety net. They will be the countries with free healthcare, paid sick leave from work, some form of universal basic income, et. al.
Those countries exist all over the world. Everywhere but here, basically. And on the flip side of that coin there will be the United States. A place that doesn’t guarantee healthcare, that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave, that doesn’t have any form of UBI. America’s solution to every problem is for people to go out and spend money to ensure the profit-based economy continues to function.
We are about to see what happens when such a country has millions of people who either can’t work or are too sick to work, and thus will not have any money to spend.