An Economic Wakeup Call

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Will the world demand a more humane economy after this crisis?

Wherever you stand on the current Covid-19 pandemic crisis, I think we can all agree that life as we know it has drastically changed. We can agree to disagree on whether the types of mitigation deployed by countries around the world, including our own, will work or not. Frankly, that’s for another day.

But the economic reality about to hit us is real and disconcerting. How we deal with the calamity going forward may define our society and culture for generations to come. I want to look at what we’re about to go through from a glass-half-empty, glass-half-full perspective.

The half-empty part of this equation is what we’re about to experience. The economic pain that’s coming is something our country hasn’t seen since the Great Depression. Time is of the essence, and the over $2 trillion dollar rescue package passed last week in Congress, and signed by the president, is on its way to companies–small and large–state and local governments, and individual Americans.

The relief needs to be on a fast track. But make no mistake, there’s going to be a delay in getting the money to the American people. And for so many, that delay is going to be catastrophic. There’s no way of getting around that fact. And let’s face it, the measly $1,200 per individual isn’t going to cut it. We’re going to need more assistance—much more.

This is a government-mandated economic shutdown, no matter how you look at it. Thus, it’s up to the government to make the American people whole again. As with how to deal with the pandemic itself, the economic component poses questions as to how we should proceed. There are no easy answers.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi already reiterated on more than a few occasions that there would need to be additional legislation to deal with the crisis. We can only hope that her counter-part on the other side of the aisle in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, feels the same way. We’ve also seen the Federal Reserve acting with an additional $4 trillion to prop up the markets and banks. That’s over $6 trillion, folks, and it’s still not going to be enough.

So now I’m going to head into the direction of my glass-half-full perspective. Perhaps, and bear with me here, the current pandemic and response to it is the wakeup call the United States so desperately needs. While I thought the Great Recession of 2008 might do the trick, it did not.

Mostly a financial crisis driven by Wall Street greed, we saw our government make sure the fat cats got fatter. The rest of us, however, were left scrambling for crumbs. Outrage from that bailout resulted in two movements: Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party. While Occupy eventually fizzled out due to lack of a coherent message or direction, the revulsion and disgust hurled at the banks, and investors certainly left its mark.

Ironically, the Tea Party movement had longer staying power. While portraying itself as the defender of less government and lower taxes, they were furious at President Barrack Obama’s $700 billion stimulus bill and his enactment of the Affordable Care Act. I’m not sure where the Tea Partiers are these days. With Trump running up debt and deficits as far as the eye can see, they’ve been ominously silent.

Out of the present madness, I hope that we start to have a conversation—a real conversation—on the proper way forward for our economy. The current President, before the pandemic, loved to tout how we had the most exceptional economy in the history of the earth. We did have historically low unemployment before this crisis. That much is true.

But after a $1.5 trillion tax cut, the trickle-down we heard was coming, never entirely made it to millions of Americans. Surveys show that nearly half of all Americans couldn’t even afford a bill of over $400. Paycheck to paycheck is how most of these people live, and that was before this crisis. A recent photo showing a massive traffic jam in Pennsylvania at a local food bank says it all. This economy was, and is, built on false hope.

In a provocative article written by Simon Mair, a Research Fellow in Ecological Economics at the University of Surrey, for the BBC, he argues that the status quo is no longer sustainable. He talks about a series of steps we could take in the wake of the pandemic that would fundamentally change the way we look at capitalism, socialism, and the relationship between workers and employers.

His main argument: Could the huge shifts in our way of life being introduced as part of the fight against Covid-19 pave the way for a more humane economy? One can only hope so. I want to offer the following quote from Mair, which encapsulates the magnitude of what we’re about to go through:

What is hopefully clear is that all these scenarios leave some grounds for fear, but also for hope. Covid-19 is highlighting serious deficiencies in our existing system. An effective response to this is likely to require a drastic move away from markets and the use of profits as the primary way of organizing an economy. The upside if this is the possibility that we build a more humane system that leaves us more resilient in the face of future pandemics and other impending crises like climate change.”

Hope. Yes, I’ve had it before, only to be disappointed time and again. But something tells me this time might be different. Much like what the Occupy movement was trying to do, this time, we’re going to need to take a long hard look at what it is we feel is a moral and just society. No longer can we rely on the markets to get us through something like this. It may take the form of massive protests in the street, the likes we haven’t seen since the 1960s, to demand change from our politicians.

The suffering now is real and is only going to get worse. Are we going to settle for the same kind of trickle-down, tax cuts for the wealthy solutions to save us? Or, will we demand fundamental change to a market-driven system that leaves way too many people lurching in the wind, trying to survive in the cut-throat world of ‘you’re on your own’ economics?

In Mair’s piece, he argues for a more ‘humane’ economy. If this crisis is the catalyst for such a monumental shift, years from now, we can say that in the face of complete societal devastation, we managed to change how everyday people live in the world—for the better. At this point, a little hope can’t hurt.

38 comments

  1. Will the world demand a more humane economy?

    No, sorry, but it won’t. I’ve been around long enough to recognize that people are irrational. The election of Trump in 2016 demonstrated that. And it isn’t just in the USA. We see the same irrationality playing out around world.

    We need an economy that is sustainable, rather than one that depends on continued growth. But people are still ignoring that message.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. So true. Neil. We have such short memories. And, the ruling class have our politicians in their back pocket. Until we change that dynamic, it’s probably status quo.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. You wrote, “I’m not sure where the Tea Partiers are these days. With Trump running up debt and deficits as far as the eye can see, they’ve been ominously silent.” As a former borderline Tea Partier, I’ll say what you’re too polite to say: Most of the Tea Partiers were/are phonies. Their real beef wasn’t with runaway government spending; it was with a black president. With Obama out and Trump in, suddenly, addressing the federal deficit is no longer urgent. Our kids and grand kids can deal with it. “Après nous, le déluge”

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Jerry, you said it! They couldn’t deal with having the black guy in power. And, let’s not forget, much of that movement was funded in part, by the Koch Bros. Not a peep from tea partiers anymore. Gee, I wonder why…

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  3. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    Our friend Jeff over at On the Fence Voters is more of an optimist these days than I am, and has more faith, I think, in the human species, but I like to think that his hopes for our future will bear fruit. Thank you, Jeff … perhaps I need a new glass, for I think mine has a hole in the bottom that prevents the glass from ever getting quite half full. Good post, my friend.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Jill! It’s hard to be an optimist in these trying times. Not going to deny it. But holy crap, when are people going to wake up? Capitalism, as it’s constructed, is not working. We continue to depend on the free market to pick us up. In the meantime, so many are falling through the cracks. The paradigm has got to change. The cracks, in the next few months, are going to be like a fault line on the San Andreas. People will keep falling, the government won’t be able to keep up, and then where will we be? Well, there I go….my optimism instantly turned pessimistic! Removing the idiot from office will be an excellent place to start, though!! Then, we can go from there. My perfect dream, still, is that he resigns in disgrace. I know, fat chance. But I know you and I will do all we can do get rid of his fat butt! My life’s work!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It is impossible to disgrace Little Donnie. He doesn’t have any humanity.

        My question for you, and all the great thinkers of the world, is what can you replace capitalism with? I agree with you, this is our opportunity to get rid of it, but you need something to replace it with?
        Or do you!
        It would be an interesting experiment to see what people could drum up on their own. There would be a period of economic chaos for awhile, but I think left to its own resources the workers of the world might come up with something much better for everyone.
        Or the chaos sends us back to hunter/gatherer days. There are far worse things in the world than starting over. One of them is staying the same.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. My friend, if people haven’t wakened yet (and they haven’t), then I don’t think they will. They will die believing that money was the most important thing in the world and that Trump was the greatest president ever. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. I share your perfect dream … no, wait, mine is seeing him led out of the White House in shackles and an orange jumpsuit, with all the press snapping photos madly! Yes, we will give it our best, my friend, and I’m getting sorely tempted to start taking baseball bats to the heads of those who are too thick to understand what we’re saying!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. How about this one…remember pictures from the old days when they put people in a stockade? How about we put him in one, so every American can come by to laugh and ridicule him before he’s hauled off to jail? Talk about the ultimate fantasy!!! LOL

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hate to burst a bubble, but as long as there are people who think someone like trump is a proper man to have as a president, have it out for the honest media but believe Fox News, are racists and religious extremists, have resentment towards older Americans and have a love affair with “stuff” and money, we are ultimately doomed.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I know Mary. My optimism is muted. But, after this nightmare….if not now, when? I hear what you’re saying though. It’s tough to stay optimistic with the people you mentioned running around America. It’s cultish. No doubt about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Further to my first reply to you, I know you remember reading about the days when their were Master Craftspeople, with journeymen and apprentices. People’s jobs used to give them non-monetary returns, such as feelings of pride and achievement. Those things are barely possible in today’s economic world. And not that I want to go back to those days, but humans need more spiritual (not religious) fulfillment in their lives. This is the opportunity to provide that. What is the good of a paycheque if it is gone the day you cash it? It gives you no satisfaction, especially if you are in debt.
    My number one suggestion: Destroy the financial instititions, espescially the credit card companys. Let them go to hell in their handbaskets. Make everyone debt free, and bank account free, and start over on a truly equal footing. It cannot hurt the wage slaves. As for the wealthy 1%, do we really need them?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think you’re on the right track rawgod. This is the perfect time to reassess the global economy, especially right here in the US. So far, the legislation passed by Congress is but a pittance of what we’re going to need going forward. On the questions you ask? I can’t disagree with any of them. Now, will we do them? Doubtful. But, I’m starting to come around to a universal basic income. I’m going to read more on what it would look like. But if it was adequate, don’t you think people might be a little less panicked than they are now?

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      1. Surely there would be less panic. There would be a lot less of many upsetting things. But can a capitalist society make that change? It would take a complete makeover in political thinking. I’m all for it!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I agree Jeff.
    Regrettably after that I go off on one of my hard line (and sometimes obtuse) UK socialist polemics revolving around state control etc, etc, and people start to nervously back away.
    That said, coming around the other side of the argument.
    Here we are at one of those crossroads. This pandemic was going to happen, it is part of Nature’s Cycle. We could have been prepared….but no, let’s buy more weapons and pamper the wealthy even more……HA!
    It is now to those ‘little folk’, you know the ones who are not leaders of nations, mega churches, ‘freedom groups’ media loud mouths etc etc.
    There is always Hope.
    Good post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know Roger. Hope springs eternal, they say. The economic hardship we’re about to face is going to be horrific for so many. At some point, you’d think the people would say: ENOUGH! But, it’s so hard to mobilize. With the media being so fractured, and social media allowing people to head to their ideological corners, the ruling class knows they have us by the …… I’ll let you fill in the blank. But this one is like nothing we’ve ever seen before…not since the 1930s that is. But back then, we had FDR. Now, we have the most incompetent moron to have ever sat in the White House. Needless to say, I’m not confident.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It is hard to say how this will turn out Jeff, for say example in the USA when you have oafs who claim to be Christain Pastors driving their ‘flocks’ around in buses because they claim the virus is a conspiracy thing and a person in the Whitehouse who isn’t qualified to hold the least of jobs there.
        This one is Nature’s game we’re playing, not ours. You can’t make it go away by
        1. Threatening it with a rifle
        2. Reading out of context a passage from the Old Testament.
        3. Listening to Limbaugh
        4. Blaming it on another political party.
        5. Shouting your mouth of and blustering.
        6. Stocking piling toilet rolls and bottled water.
        7. Being a complete asshat.
        Once more Humanity is reminded its place on this planet is purely conditional.
        God willing (hard-line socialist & Christian- so sue me) we will make it through, sadder and wiser.
        There will be a political and social reckoning though.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Roger, you’re understanding of America is more impressive than the majority of people who live here. And yes, there WILL be a political and social reckoning. I hope it goes in the direction I think you and I hope. But, ignorance is rampant Roger. It’s harder to cure than the virus itself….

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Thank you Jeff for your compliment.
        I was saying to Jill the other day and apologise for any repetition…
        LBJ rode high in the vote of 1964 and the opinion polls. He did some sterling work domestically. Then the bodies bags and coffins kept on coming back home.
        What will happen to Trump, when this time the bodies bags and coffins keep on racking up?
        For a year or so I’ve had this grim satirical comment about not enough research being done into the disease Terminal Stupidity.
        Who’d have thought there would be a stark example?
        Take care Jeff.
        Roger UK

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I wish I could agree with you. Unfortunately it is not within our natures to produce the turn-around you hope for. Never mind Occupy, or the 1960s rebellions, go back as far as you like in history and there have always been those who grab everything and parcel the crumbs out to everyone else. Read the Bible, not for the religion but for what purports to be history. It is a story of people fighting for resources (land). European history is full of civil wars and revolutions none of which produced anything except replacing one elite group with another. Lots of blood shed and lives lost with little to show for it. Against that, look at how much more stuff ordinary folks have than they did when I was a kid back at the end of WWII. And the improvements in the social sphere, too, from women’s suffrage to gay marriage.
    The only way to stop the rich getting richer is for us all to consume less. But that has an impact on the poor, too, because there will be fewer jobs. Why do we value sports people and entertainers above health workers and farmers?
    In the UK some of the richest soccer clubs in the world, with players earning 6 figure weekly salaries and billionaire owners (some of them USA based), are laying off non-playing staff during this crisis so that said staff can claim government support. Need I say more?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Nope, you needn’t say more Frank. I guess what I’m hoping for is an increase, exponentially, in the social safety net. That would include universal health care…cheap or free higher education….hell, maybe even some kind of universal basic income. I don’t know. I’m being very idealistic here. Right now, it seems light years away. I’m not saying we need to do away with capitalism. I’m saying it’s time to even the playing field much more than it is now.
      Do you realize our federal minimum wage is a measly $7.25/hour? Starvation wages Frank. And you know what? The Republican Party still doesn’t even believe in a minimum wage to begin with. Never have, never will. Some are calling for a $15 minimum wage. Some cities and localities have enacted this higher wage. So far, I haven’t heard any horror stories that it was recking those economies. So, I think that would be a great place to start. So much more needs done though. We have to increase the pressure on these weak-kneed politicians. Over and over, until they have no other choice but to submit. I know, I’m being unrealistic. Perhaps. But, like you said, we ARE better off in some ways these days. And yes, blood, sweat, and tears, is the reason why that is. We need more of it. Soon!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Jeff, good post. One of the keys to remedying problems is to identify what they are and what has been successful in the past. It is also imperative to understand the economy of the nation and avoid what is called “the tyranny of the or.” We have people in the US argue socialism vs capitalism, when the US is actually a blend of the both. The US is a fettered capitalistic model (think rules governing bankruptcy, insider trading, collusion, interlocking boards, etc.) with socialistic underpinnings (think Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment, workers compensation, food stamps, etc.). So, the key question is what is the proper balance and what are givens that a society must do.

    I have read the war on poverty from the 1960s was a failure. There are many reasons why it has been less successful, but when you look at people over 65 it has been actually pretty successful due to Medicare and Social Security. We still have work to go on both groups, but we need to understand the pros and cons as we apply the fixes.

    The other point I want to make is America has forgotten how we developed. Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas Friedman (“The World is Flat”) wrote an excellent book that every politician must read, “That Used to be Us: How America fell behind in the world it created and how it can come back.” Simply, the US grew with a blend of corporate, private, venture capital and government investment. On larger projects for a greater good, the government investment would play a heavier hand. On innovation, venture capital would sometimes lead and sometimes government money would lead. My point is most solutions in our country have not be totally solved by government or industry alone.

    One final point is a key benefit has come out of fighting COVID-19. With less travel, the air is noticeably cleaner from the satellites, especially in urban pockets. This shelter at home has reduced carbon output and some fossil fuel companies are in financial trouble when the Russia/ Saudi Arabia oil glut continued until this week. This is where we can make a difference going forward – travel less. Walk more. Push renewables which are more affordable than coal now.

    Keith

    Liked by 3 people

    1. All good point Keith, and thank you. Yes, what is the proper mix? I read where, right now, our economy is about a 60/40 capitalism/socialism mix, roughly, pertaining to GDP. Maybe 50/50 is better? Hard to say, really. We have to be better though. A disaster like Covid-19 highlights the gross inequality of our economy. Remember Hurricane Katrina? I will never forget the abject poverty we saw in the aftermath of that catastrophe. I thought to myself…this is America? The richest country in the world?
      Like I said in my post, there are not easy answers. But, if we can somehow change the trajectory, even a little, it will help immensely. The question is, how do we get back up and running and simultaneously improve peoples lives in the process? It won’t be easy. BTW, yes, our environment is saying “Thank You, I needed this break!” Even in the brink of such a horrific disaster, we can find a silver lining somewhere, right?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jeff, I don’t know, but I think we need to focus on the issues and solutuons and ignore people who don’t have such a focus like the president. We should let people who are willing to help and actually have solutions lead the way. The president just occupies a position of leadership, but does not come close to being one. Keith

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for that. I try to factually inform as best I can. These days, it’s vitally important. And yes, I couldn’t be prouder of those who take the time to read and respond. I appreciate it more than you know.

      Like

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