How We Roll

I use a nifty little service called Nuzzel, which allows you to create a semi-curated news page of links from your own Twitter feed. If more than a couple of people all share the same link in your feed, Nuzzel picks it up as important enough to show to you in this curated news feed. It’s a great way to see what people whose opinions you value are talking about, and to keep from missing articles you might otherwise have not seen.

This beautiful Sunday morning of Memorial Day weekend, I awoke to three that were all different but seemed to share a common thread: the differences in how America has dealt with the coronavirus, both from a public health standpoint as well as an economic one, versus how other countries have. It’s not a pretty picture. 

First up was Nick Kristof in The NY Times, who notes that the CARES Act has a provision in it that provides 43,000 wealthy business owners an estimated $1.6m tax break each. Total cost is estimated somewhere around $135bn when all’s said and done. For the already rich. In a pandemic. This is the same CARES Act that allocates a one-time payment of $1,200 for an ordinary worker — say, a single mother with two kids who’s lost one or all of her jobs due to the virus.

Hanlon’s Razor has it that we should “never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by incompetence,” and heaven knows, the Trump gang are incompetent almost beyond words. But the kind of fuckery described in damning detail by the page to which Kristof links (Americans For Tax Fairness’ “PRESSURE BUILDS TO REPEAL $135 BILLION MILLIONAIRES GIVEAWAY IN THE CARES ACT”) isn’t accidental and it’s not explained by incompetence (except perhaps on the part of the Democrats, for allowing this to be passed in this form). 880-page legislation isn’t an “oopsie” like stubbing your toe or forgetting to take out the trash – this was what Congress and the President actually intended. Keep that in mind, because Kristof’s observation that the unemployment rate (thought to already be near 20% in America – is approaching FIVE percent in Denmark and Germany) figures strongly in the next article.

Next up was an April 30 article from The Washington Post: Coronavirus hits European economies but governments help shield workers. Heck, you may not even need more than the title there, but let this make your blood boil a little:

Compared with the U.S. jobs carnage for the same time period, when jobless claims spiked to record levels, the European situation appears far more contained. The U.S. unemployment rate increased from 3.5 percent in February, before the pandemic hit, to 4.4 percent in March. Analysts estimate that the current U.S. jobless rate, which will be released May 8, is 10 to 15 percent.

The philosophy in Europe is that the financial blow of the pandemic can be softened if workers are able to keep paying their bills and if businesses do not have to hire and train an entirely new set of employees as the crisis abates. Many European governments have implemented a subsidy program, pioneered by Germany in the last global recession, under which they pay up to 87 percent of salaries for workers sent home but kept on payroll.

Again, these are intentional choices – but also basic economics. People who are laid off or are terrified of becoming so, aren’t good consumers. They don’t spend. The economy contracts further. Keeping workers in their jobs through direct subsidies saves employer AND employee heartaches and turmoil, and it prevents the secondary economic effects. Europe does it. We don’t. Intentional choices, both ways. And each choice carries with it the intended (or at least foreseeable) effects:

But much of the damage may have been done already in the United States. Layoffs are hard to undo, and Europe was able to move quickly because many countries already had similar programs on the books in more limited form.

And finally, Nuzzel gave me the heads-up from Business Insider that Roughly half the Twitter accounts pushing to ‘reopen America’ are bots. Color me unsurprised:

Carnegie Mellon University researchers analyzed over 200 million tweets discussing COVID-19 and related issues since January and found that roughly half the accounts — including 62% of the 1,000 most influential retweeters — appeared to be bots, they said in a report published this week.

In other words, if you’re consuming a steady diet of social media during this time of shelter-in-place, you’re probably under the impression that there is an enormous rising force pushing for “Reopening America.” And yes, there are some people genuinely pushing for reopening. But if half of them are bots, it begs the question, who would have the organization and resources to undertake such a comparatively massive operation? If you said “Russia,” you’ve spent too much time watching MSNBC the past three years. No, not them.

Regardless, the reason most real-people-who-are-not-Koch-hires might be pushing for “reopening” is because they’re afraid of losing their jobs, of having no money, of being evicted or foreclosed-upon. If we as a country made different choices, none of those fears would be as strong or as valid — and you’d see a lot fewer people having to make the choice between economic ruin and risking potential death from COVID-19. We could choose differently, we just don’t. That is the lay of the land, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world: do not disrupt oligarchic profit-making, at any cost. Make the workers choose between risk of death and penury. Whatever you do, for GOD’S sake, do not allow people to realize from our collective government actions that “the way things are” is a construct of our policymakers, something that can be changed to benefit citizens instead of afflict them, in times of crisis and otherwise. 

This is where we are.