On a baffling presumption of goodwill toward ‘essential’ workers

It is fashionable now, in a lockdown meant to contain the spread of COVID-19 that requires most people to stay at home, to call the very workers we have treated as utterly expendable for decades “essential” workers, even “heroes.”[1] These are the people who stock grocery shelves, wipe down shopping carts, deliver food, drive taxis, and drive for ride share companies, indeed, anybody who continues to work in public during the lockdown. The term includes police, firefighters, and medical workers, but the lockdown has highlighted the social inequality that low-paid workers face, both because those who continue to work face inordinate risks from the pandemic and because those who are now laid off have no means to recover the lost income to pay bills which continue to accrue.[2] Read more

  1. [1]Karleigh Frisbie Brogan, “Calling Me a Hero Only Makes You Feel Better,” Atlantic, April 18, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/04/i-work-grocery-store-dont-call-me-hero/610147/
  2. [2]Anne Applebaum, “The Coronavirus Called America’s Bluff,” Atlantic, March 15, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/coronavirus-showed-america-wasnt-task/608023/; David Benfell, “Elite priorities: Why social, animal, and environmental justice remains essential with COVID-19,” Not Housebroken, April 26, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/04/26/elite-priorities-why-social-animal-and-environmental-justice-remains-essential-with-covid-19/; David Blanchflower, “Pandemic Economics: ‘Much Worse, Very Quickly,” New York Review of Books, March 26, 2020, https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/03/26/pandemic-economics-much-worse-very-quickly/; Zak Cheney-Rice, “Even Naked, America Cannot See Itself,” New York, April 27, 2020, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/04/coronavirus-inequality-america.html; Kim Hart, “The coronavirus economy will devastate those who can least afford it,” Axios, March 23, 2020, https://www.axios.com/coronavirus-economy-layoffs-children-families-bad-d588cc93-ff26-4031-8be8-5654cce05a15.html; Zoë Hu, “A New Age of Destructive Austerity After the Coronavirus,” New Republic, April 23, 2020, https://newrepublic.com/article/157417/new-age-destructive-austerity-coronavirus; Sarah Jones, “Dear Rich People: Please Stop Hoarding Things,” New York, March 30, 2020, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/things-are-bad-and-rich-people-arent-helping.html; Hanna Kozlowska, “Coronavirus is revealing ugly truths about social structure in the US,” Quartz, March 14, 2020, https://qz.com/1818548/coronavirus-is-revealing-ugly-truths-about-social-structure-in-the-us/; Eric Levitz, “In the Age of the Coronavirus, Biden’s ‘Results’ Require Bernie’s ‘Revolution,’” New York, March 16, 2020, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/who-won-the-democratic-debate-between-biden-and-bernie-coronavirus.html; Tony Romm, “Uber drivers and other gig economy workers were promised unemployment benefits. It may be a long wait,” Washington Post, April 2, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/04/02/uber-airbnb-lyft-unemployment-coronavirus/; Jenny Schuetz, “America’s inequitable housing system is completely unprepared for coronavirus,” Brookings, March 12, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/03/12/americas-inequitable-housing-system-is-completely-unprepared-for-coronavirus/; Luke Taylor, “When coronavirus is behind us, will you still think of restaurant and bar workers?” Vox, March 21, 2020, https://www.vox.com/2020/3/21/21188210/coronavirus-restaurant-bar-workers-economy-service-industry; Reis Thebault, Andrew Ba Tran, and Vanessa Williams, “The coronavirus is infecting and killing black Americans at an alarmingly high rate,” Washington Post, April 7, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/04/07/coronavirus-is-infecting-killing-black-americans-an-alarmingly-high-rate-post-analysis-shows/; Funda Ustek-Spilda et al., “The untenable luxury of self-isolation,” New Internationalist, March 18, 2020, https://newint.org/features/2020/03/18/untenable-luxury-self-isolation; Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Denise Lu, and Gabriel J.X. Dance, “Location Data Says It All: Staying at Home During Coronavirus Is a Luxury,” New York Times, April 3, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/04/03/us/coronavirus-stay-home-rich-poor.html

We may die at home or we may die alone but we are surely dying

The Washington Post has a story about “excess deaths” in the early weeks of the pandemic, that is, the number of deaths recorded in excess of the number expected given usual mortality rates for the time period. We don’t know that these were caused by COVID-19 but a large number of such deaths in the absence of other causes suggests strongly that they were at least somehow related to the pandemic.[1] This dovetails with earlier reporting that, largely due to inadequate testing, many cases are being missed.[2] Not helping here is that the tests themselves are unreliable.[3] I’m trying—and utterly failing—to wrap my head around what the implications of this should be for states rushing to reopen their economies with what is likely to be undue haste,[4] which, of course, is what politicians, especially those invested in Donald Trump’s reelection, want them to do.[5] But I’m pretty clear at this point that the capitalist god will be receiving its human sacrifices.[6] Read more

  1. [1]Emma Brown et al., “U.S. deaths soared in early weeks of pandemic, far exceeding number attributed to covid-19,” Washington Post, April 27, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/2020/04/27/covid-19-death-toll-undercounted/
  2. [2]Emma Brown, Beth Reinhard, and Aaron C. Davis, “Coronavirus death toll: Americans are almost certainly dying of covid-19 but being left out of the official count,” Washington Post, April 5, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/coronavirus-death-toll-americans-are-almost-certainly-dying-of-covid-19-but-being-left-out-of-the-official-count/2020/04/05/71d67982-747e-11ea-87da-77a8136c1a6d_story.html
  3. [3]Steve Eder, Megan Twohey, and Apoorva Mandavilli, “Antibody Test, Seen as Key to Reopening Country, Does Not Yet Deliver,” New York Times, April 19, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/19/us/coronavirus-antibody-tests.html; Christopher Weaver, “Questions About Accuracy of Coronavirus Tests Sow Worry,” Wall Street Journal, April 2, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/questions-about-accuracy-of-coronavirus-tests-sow-worry-11585836001
  4. [4]William Wan, Carolyn Y. Johnson, and Joel Achenbach, “States rushing to reopen are likely making a deadly error, coronavirus models and experts warn,” Washington Post, April 22, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/04/22/reopening-america-states-coronavirus/
  5. [5]Jonathan Chait, “Trump Wants to Starve the States Into Opening Before It’s Safe,” New York, April 20, 2020, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/04/trump-coronavirus-open-state-governors-protests.html; David Frum, “Why Mitch McConnell Wants States to Go Bankrupt,” Atlantic, April 25, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/04/why-mitch-mcconnell-wants-states-go-bankrupt/610714/; Robert McCartney, “McConnell’s rejection of federal aid for states risks causing a depression, analysts say,” Washington Post, April 27, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/mcconnells-rejection-of-federal-aid-for-states-risks-causing-a-depression-analysts-say/2020/04/26/1fd4731c-8632-11ea-a3eb-e9fc93160703_story.html
  6. [6]David Benfell, “The capitalist death cult,” Not Housebroken, March 27, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/03/27/the-capitalist-death-cult/; David Benfell, “An impatient capitalist god demands human sacrifice. Now,” not Housebroken, April 17, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/04/15/an-impatient-capitalist-god-demands-human-sacrifice-now/; David Benfell, “When confusion starts killing people, it is long past time to recognize it for what it is,” Not Housebroken, April 21, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/04/21/when-confusion-starts-killing-people-it-is-long-past-time-to-recognize-it-for-what-it-is/

Elite priorities: Why social, animal, and environmental justice remains essential with COVID-19

It’s not the sort of thing I expect an omnivore to say:

This [the novel coronavirus] is not nature’s revenge, we did it to ourselves. The solution is to have a much more respectful approach to nature, which includes dealing with climate change and all the rest.[1]

Read more

  1. [1]Thomas Lovejoy, quoted in Phoebe Weston, “‘We did it to ourselves’: scientist says intrusion into nature led to pandemic,” Guardian, April 25, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/25/ourselves-scientist-says-human-intrusion-nature-pandemic-aoe

When confusion starts killing people, it is long past time to recognize it for what it is

I regret Tom Wolf’s decision to begin relaxing Pennsylvania’s lockdown[1] but, driving for Lyft around Pittsburgh, I’m hearing a lot of bullshit from a lot of passengers. Even self-identifying medical workers advocate quack[2] cures for COVID-19 and I simply have neither the interest nor the time to stay on top of it all. I know that the country isn’t ready for these sorts of moves[3] and, all too well, that neither Pittsburgh[4] nor Pennsylvania are ahead of the country, but frankly, my revulsion rises too quickly to the surface and it is all I can do to suppress it with customers in the car.
Read more

  1. [1]Andy Sheehan, “Coronavirus In Pennsylvania: Gov. Tom Wolf Says State Will Start Gradually Reopening On May 8,” KDKA, April 20, 2020, https://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2020/04/20/gov-tom-wolf-reopens-pennsylvania-may-8/
  2. [2]Marilynn Marchione, “Heart woes spur partial stop of malaria drug study for virus,” Washington Post, April 13, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/heart-woes-spur-partial-stop-of-malaria-drug-study-for-virus/2020/04/13/c6460050-7db6-11ea-84c2-0792d8591911_story.html; Paul Waldman, “The real reason Trump is obsessed with hydroxychloroquine,” Washington Post, April 7, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/04/07/real-reason-trump-is-obsessed-with-hydroxychloroquine/
  3. [3]Ishaan Tharoor, “Trump wants to lift lockdowns. Other countries’ attempts show why the U.S. isn’t ready,” Washington Post, April 21, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/04/21/trump-wants-lift-lockdowns-other-countries-attempts-show-why-us-isnt-ready/
  4. [4]Eric Heyl, “Coronavirus: Allegheny County Deaths Up Signficantly,” Patch, April 21, 2020, https://patch.com/pennsylvania/baldwin-whitehall/s/h38m1/coronavirus-allegheny-county-deaths-up-signficantly

Don’t just say #COVIDIOTS

So I found this on Twitter and I’m seeing the hashtag, #COVIDIOTS:

As usual, it all looks so clever, but what’s missing here is that elites have told the poor to do what they simply cannot do.[1] I’m seeing the backlash everyday as I drive for Lyft, as more and more people are out despite the lockdown, as traffic gets heavier and heavier, as people tell me they disbelieve authorities. Read more

  1. [1]Anne Applebaum, “The Coronavirus Called America’s Bluff,” Atlantic, March 15, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/coronavirus-showed-america-wasnt-task/608023/; Jenny Schuetz, “America’s inequitable housing system is completely unprepared for coronavirus,” Brookings, March 12, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/03/12/americas-inequitable-housing-system-is-completely-unprepared-for-coronavirus/; Funda Ustek-Spilda et al., “The untenable luxury of self-isolation,” New Internationalist, March 18, 2020, https://newint.org/features/2020/03/18/untenable-luxury-self-isolation

Don’t bet on ‘herd immunity’

See updates for April 20, 2020, May 14, 2020, and July 12, 2020 at end of post


I’ve been hearing from passengers that they themselves think or they know somebody who thinks they had COVID-19 as early as last November. Obviously, nobody can be sure—these aren’t “confirmed cases.” But the obvious suggestion here is that the novel coronavirus has been in the wild longer than thought and that more people have had it than thought. Read more

An impatient capitalist god demands human sacrifice. Now.

See update for April 17, 2020 at end of post


Everywhere I go around Pittsburgh, I see signs of the sort businesses often put in front, that say, “We will get through this.” They reflect determination and aspiration, more that mandatory optimism that Thomas Frank attributed to authoritarian populists,[1] than a reality in which even people who thought they were “untouchable” are being laid off[2] and in which a lot of people whose subsistence-level incomes have left them without resources even to recover from the last recession, let alone to keep paying bills and rent in this one,[3] let alone to catch up arrears accrued while laid off during this one. Read more

  1. [1]Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas? (New York: Henry Holt, 2005).
  2. [2]Eric Morath, Harriet Torry, and Gwynn Guilford, “A Second Round of Coronavirus Layoffs Has Begun. Few Are Safe,” Wall Street Journal, April 14, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-second-round-of-coronavirus-layoffs-has-begun-no-one-is-safe-11586872387
  3. [3]David Harrison, “Lack of Savings Worsens the Pain of Coronavirus Downturn,” Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/lack-ofsavingsworsens-the-pain-of-coronavirus-downturn-11586943001

Anarchism, speech, and democracy

Update, April 22, 2020: I fully develop my critique of Federalist No. 10, mentioned below in my discussion of republics, in “A constitutional oligarchy: Deconstructing Federalist No. 10.”


Somewhere, I believe in Chomsky on Anarchism,[1] Noam Chomsky offers an example of himself as a grandfather holding out his hand to restrain his young granddaughter from running out into traffic.
Read more

  1. [1]Noam Chomsky, Chomsky on Anarchism, ed. Barry Pateman (Edinburgh: AK, 2005).