The worst of times and the worst of humanity

I don’t know whether crises are supposed to bring out the best or the worst in humanity. Right now, I’m seeing more of the latter.

Consider, for example, how hospitals are treating their workers, some of whom face truly dire circumstances and unbelievably awful dilemmas as they struggle to save lives,[1] who become infected with COVID-19, by implausibly insisting that these workers must have become infected through “community spread,” partly in order to resist workers’ compensation claims.[2] Then there’s the utter inadequacy of relief and protection for poorly-paid workers who were already in precarious financial situations[3] before an economic shutdown meant to support “social distancing” led to millions of layoffs, virtually overnight[4] and before the failure of economic statistics, some of it ideological,[5] to capture the extent of pain in the economy.[6]

In March alone, 10.4 million Americans lost their jobs and applied for government aid, according to the latest Labor Department data, which includes claims filed through March 28. Many economists say the real number of people out work is likely even higher, since a lot of newly unemployed Americans haven’t been able to fill out a claim yet.[7]

But if you’re already in a precarious situation, because of neoliberal attitudes toward workers, healthcare, and the social safety net,[8] the question will be, how can you ever recover from this?

Your credit rating is being ruined and you are falling behind on bills and on the rent. You simply have no margin to reclaim lost ground.

Carlton Meyer noted that “an honest man would count anyone who would like to work as unemployed”[9] but you can already find folks looking for ways to undercount the unemployed[10] and to minimize the pain, presumably because we absolutely cannot allow even a pandemic to expose the inhumanity of the capitalist system, especially under neoliberalism.[11]

Money and the power associated with money still count for more than human life. Even now. Even as we take measures in the name of protecting human life.

And even in the worst of times, the worst of humanity is in command.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “COVID-19 and the trolley problem,” Not Housebroken, April 1, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/04/01/covid-19-and-the-trolley-problem/; Ariana Eunjung Cha et al., “Faced with a crush of patients, besieged NYC hospitals struggle with life-or-death decisions,” Washington Post, March 31, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/03/31/new-york-city-hospitals-coronavirus/
  2. [2]Jason Pohl, Ryan Sabalow, and Dale Kasler, “Medical employees say they’re getting COVID-19 on the job. Here’s why hospitals push back,” Sacramento Bee, April 2, 2020, https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/health-and-medicine/article241692061.html
  3. [3]David Benfell, “When nothing happened next,” Not Housebroken, March 29, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/03/29/when-nothing-happened-next/; John Cassidy, “What Would a Proper Coronavirus Stimulus Plan Look Like?” New Yorker, March 14, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/what-would-a-proper-coronavirus-stimulus-plan-look-like; Benjamin Fearnow, “Biden, Sanders demand 3-month freeze on rent payments, eviction of tenants across U.S.,” Newsweek, March 28, 2020, https://www.newsweek.com/biden-sanders-demand-3-month-freeze-rent-payments-eviction-tenants-across-us-1494839; James Hamblin, “What Will You Do If You Start Coughing?” Atlantic, March 11, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/03/where-do-you-go-if-you-get-coronavirus/607759/; 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; Michael Hirsh, “Is $2 Trillion Too Little, Too Late?” Foreign Policy, March 25, 2020, https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/03/24/us-congress-2-trillion-rescue-package-too-little-too-late/; Michael Hudson, “A debt jubilee is the only way to avoid a depression,” Washington Post, March 21, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/03/21/debt-jubilee-is-only-way-avoid-depression/; 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; Isabel V. Sawhill, “The middle class faces its greatest threat since the 1930s,” Brookings, March 20, 2020,https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/the-middle-class-faces-its-greatest-threat-since-the-1930s/; Mike Snider, “Work strikes at Amazon, Instacart and Whole Foods show essential workers’ safety concerns,” USA Today, March 30, 2020, https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2020/03/30/coronavirus-safety-drives-strikes-amazon-instacart-and-whole-foods/5086135002/; Ben White, “Great Depression 2? Worries about a coronavirus-induced calamity pile up,” Politico, March 23, 2020, https://www.politico.com/news/2020/03/23/great-depression-coronavirus-induced-calamity-145304
  4. [4]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/; Heather Long, “Over 10 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits in March as economy collapsed,” Washington Post, April 2, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/04/02/jobless-march-coronavirus/; Dylan Matthews, “Coronavirus could lead to the highest unemployment levels since the Great Depression,” Vox, April 1, 2020, https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2020/4/1/21201700/coronavirus-covid-19-unemployment-rate
  5. [5]Dylan Matthews, “Coronavirus could lead to the highest unemployment levels since the Great Depression,” Vox, April 1, 2020, https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2020/4/1/21201700/coronavirus-covid-19-unemployment-rate; Carlton Meyer, “America’s 20 Percent Unemployment Rate,” Truthout, April 10, 2009, copy in possession of author
  6. [6]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/; Heather Long and Alyssa Fowers, “A record 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits as the coronavirus slams economy,” Washington Post, March 26, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/03/26/unemployment-claims-coronavirus-3-million/; Derek Thompson, “All the Coronavirus Statistics Are Flawed,” Atlantic, March 26, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/fog-pandemic/608764/
  7. [7]Heather Long, “Over 10 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits in March as economy collapsed,” Washington Post, April 2, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/04/02/jobless-march-coronavirus/
  8. [8]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
  9. [9]Carlton Meyer, “America’s 20 Percent Unemployment Rate,” Truthout, April 10, 2009, copy in possession of author
  10. [10]Dylan Matthews, “Coronavirus could lead to the highest unemployment levels since the Great Depression,” Vox, April 1, 2020, https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2020/4/1/21201700/coronavirus-covid-19-unemployment-rate
  11. [11]Eric Levitz, “Coronavirus Creates an Opening for Progressivism — Also Barbarism,” New York, April 1, 2020, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/04/coronavirus-undocumented-nationalism-socialism-climate-progressives.html

One thought on “The worst of times and the worst of humanity

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.