I fear for our world

Update, April 10, 2020: As I expected, Donald Trump is indeed pushing for an early re-opening of the U.S. economy. The ghost of the 1918 influenza pandemic, in which a premature re-opening led to a second peak in cases and deaths, may haunt,[1] but the capitalist god demands human sacrifice and soon.[2] This is how we run the world and never forget that money counts for more than human life.[3]

Update, April 15, 2020: I have added citations[4] further buttressing my claim below that “there is considerable uncertainty even in the data we have, so much so, that general claims are unsupportable.” This is a more complete picture of the uncertainty, specifically that, to quote one of these articles, “[t]he actual number of cases is likely higher, experts say, due to lack of widespread testing, false negatives and differences in reporting standards.[5]

Update, April 17, 2020: Governor Tom Wolf has reiterated the vagueness of his plans for re-opening Pennsylvania, stating he has no specific timeline and blaming an absence of widespread testing,[6] which is indeed problematic for determining what portion of the population remains to be infected (assuming immunity for this virus even exists), and therefore the potential for overwhelming hospitals,[7] such as happened in New York City[8] and Wolf has said he means to avoid happening here.[9]


The Washington Post reports, “Janet L. Yellen, one of the world’s top economists, said U.S. unemployment rate has jumped to at least 12 or 13 percent already, the worst level of joblessness the nation has seen since the Great Depression” and the article reports mass layoffs (over 17 million unemployment insurance applications have been filed in the last four weeks despite still-overwhelmed state unemployment systems) across multiple industries; a failure of programs enacted with the $2 trillion stimulus package to stem those losses with a decimated social safety net; and “[m]odern day ‘bread lines.’”[10] Even successfully implemented, the stimulus would have fallen far short of what is needed,[11] but we are, so far anyway, failing even at this. Take a step back and it looks a lot like collapse.[12] And it does indeed look a lot like the Great Depression.

It’s still hard to know how all this plays out. First, there is uncertainty around spread of COVID-19 as an antibody test that can help to assess “herd immunity” in the general population has only very recently been approved[13] and hasn’t even remotely had time to be widely deployed even if such an effort were under way (if it is, I haven’t heard about it). Assuming such immunity exists for this virus, which is uncertain, that might limit the spread of the disease leading to a “flattening of the curve.” But there is considerable uncertainty even in the data we have, so much so, that general claims are unsupportable.[14] We can take numbers of “confirmed cases” and deaths only as minimums; true numbers are almost certainly higher.[15]

Second, the economic pain is real, not only as described most recently,[16] but in the enacted neoliberal attitudes that richly reward exploitation and relentlessly punish exploited workers and the poor.[17] And we see that even now, the capitalist gods demand the sacrifice of potentially millions of lives in the U.S. alone, in a rush to “re-open” the economy on the threadbare pretense of concern for exploited workers.[18] In this, we should not but probably will confound the pretense of concern for workers with sheer capitalist greed.

The impulses are contradictory and would be difficult even for an enlightened political class to weigh: There is the fearful side with the spread of a too-often horribly lethal disease—as I write this, the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 map has counted over 432,000 “confirmed cases” in the U.S. alone and over 4,500 deaths in New York City alone.[19] There is a social side as people too often defy social distancing rules meant to limit the spread of the disease to something the healthcare system can handle.[20] There is the economic side as the most vulnerable people in our society wonder how they are to survive and their plight rationalizes and enables the aforementioned sheer greed.[21] And there is the chaos already seen in overwhelmed New York City hospitals,[22] where too little social distancing came much too late.

It hardly bears repeating that we do not have an enlightened political class. We need universal healthcare, so people can be diagnosed and treated rather than spreading the disease. We need a social safety net that doesn’t force people to work even when they’re sick, spreading the disease.[23] Instead, we may be getting Joe Biden, who somehow thinks “Medicare for all” is an insult to his dead son,[24] whose attitude toward the social safety net generally is exemplified in his willingness to cut Social Security and Medicare,[25] and who ludicrously claimed it was safe for Wisconsin voters to stand in long lines to vote in a primary election.[26] And we have Donald Trump and his allies, who were more concerned for the stock market than they were a terribly lethal pandemic,[27] and—the timing is damning—may even have diminished the threat to cover a retreat from the market by the rich and powerful and allow time for Republicans to prepare a proposal.[28]

I fear we will embrace the thinnest indications of good news to rush back to “normalcy” killing many more people than needed to die. I am convinced that we will never properly take care of the people hit hard by the economic shutdown.

But a glance back at that map also shows that the pandemic appears most devastating in the most powerful countries in the world, the U.S., Europe, and China,[29] the countries that militarily and economically dominate the rest, the countries that, in critical theory, we have no difficulty labeling even today as “colonizers.” Our socially constructed system of social organization, which had previously demonstrated its failing with the climate crisis and now more dramatically fails with COVID-19, endangers our species and the world it dominates.

I fear for our world.

  1. [1]Matt Zapotosky et al., “Trump administration pushing to reopen much of the U.S. next month,” Washington Post, April 9, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/trump-reopen-us-economy/2020/04/09/10d42b4a-7a7b-11ea-9bee-c5bf9d2e3288_story.html
  2. [2]David Benfell, “The capitalist death cult,” Not Housebroken, March 27, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/03/27/the-capitalist-death-cult/
  3. [3]David Benfell, “Paying for money with human lives,” Not Housebroken, February 18, 2015, https://disunitedstates.org/2015/02/18/paying-for-money-with-human-lives/; David Benfell, “The worst of times and the worst of humanity,” Not Housebroken, April 2, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/04/02/the-worst-of-times-and-the-worst-of-humanity/
  4. [4]Jennifer Levitz, Mike Cherney, and Daniel Michaels, “U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Passes Italy, Becoming World’s Highest,” Wall Street Journal, April 11, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/health-officials-plead-for-public-to-observe-a-locked-down-easter-11586592822; Wall Street Journal, “Testing for Coronavirus: What We Know About Covid-19 Tests and Treatment,” April 14, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/who-has-covid-19-what-we-know-about-tests-for-the-new-coronavirus-11585868185
  5. [5]Jennifer Levitz, Mike Cherney, and Daniel Michaels, “U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Passes Italy, Becoming World’s Highest,” Wall Street Journal, April 11, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/health-officials-plead-for-public-to-observe-a-locked-down-easter-11586592822
  6. [6]Natasha Lindstrom, “Gov. Wolf: No specific date for ending covid-19 shutdown, getting ‘back to life as we once knew it,’” TribLive, April 16, 2020, https://triblive.com/news/pennsylvania/gov-wolf-no-specific-date-for-ending-covid-19-shutdown-getting-back-to-life-as-we-once-knew-it/; Kara Seymour, “Gov. Wolf Lays Out 3-Stage Plan To Fight Coronavirus,” Patch, April 14, 2020, https://patch.com/pennsylvania/baldwin-whitehall/s/h2z32/gov-wolf-lays-out-3-stage-plan-to-fight-coronavirus
  7. [7]Carolyn Y. Johnson, “Testing coronavirus survivors’ blood could help reopen U.S.,” Washington Post, March 31, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/03/31/coronavirus-serology-blood-tests/
  8. [8]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/
  9. [9]Natasha Lindstrom, “Pennsylvania reports 103 new covid-19 cases, large clusters in Allegheny County,” TribLive, March 21, 2020, https://triblive.com/news/pennsylvania/pennsylvania-reports-103-new-covid-19-cases-large-clusters-in-allegheny-county/
  10. [10]Heather Long and Andrew Van Dam, “6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, bringing the pandemic total to over 17 million,” Washington Post, April 9, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/04/09/66-million-americans-filed-unemployed-last-week-bringing-pandemic-total-over-17-million/
  11. [11]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; 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/; 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/
  12. [12]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/
  13. [13]Apoorva Mandavilli, “F.D.A. Approves First Coronavirus Antibody Test in U.S.,” New York Times, April 2, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/02/health/coronavirus-antibody-test.html
  14. [14]David Benfell, “When ‘good’ news might not be so good,” Not Housebroken, April 2, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/04/02/when-good-news-might-not-be-so-good/; Jennifer Levitz, Mike Cherney, and Daniel Michaels, “U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Passes Italy, Becoming World’s Highest,” Wall Street Journal, April 11, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/health-officials-plead-for-public-to-observe-a-locked-down-easter-11586592822; Yascha Mounk, “This Is Just the Beginning,” Atlantic, March 25, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/national-shutdown-least-bad-option/608683/; Wall Street Journal, “Testing for Coronavirus: What We Know About Covid-19 Tests and Treatment,” April 14, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/who-has-covid-19-what-we-know-about-tests-for-the-new-coronavirus-11585868185
  15. [15]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
  16. [16]Heather Long and Andrew Van Dam, “6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, bringing the pandemic total to over 17 million,” Washington Post, April 9, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/04/09/66-million-americans-filed-unemployed-last-week-bringing-pandemic-total-over-17-million/; 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/
  17. [17]David Benfell, “The worst of times and the worst of humanity,” Not Housebroken, April 2, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/04/02/the-worst-of-times-and-the-worst-of-humanity/; Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, Winner-Take-All Politics (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010).
  18. [18]David Benfell, “The capitalist death cult,” Not Housebroken, March 27, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/03/27/the-capitalist-death-cult/
  19. [19]Center for Systems Science and Engineering, “Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases,” April 9, 2020, Johns Hopkins Universityhttps://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html
  20. [20]David Benfell, “As we cower in our apartments,” Not Housebroken, April 6, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/04/06/as-we-cower-in-our-apartments/; Hailey Branson-Potts, “Pastor who refuses to cancel Sunday services because of coronavirus greeted by police,” Los Angeles Times, April 5, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-04-05/pastor-who-refuses-to-cancel-sunday-services-greeted-by-police; Laura Kalmes, “It’s our fault young people refuse to stay home,” Ozy, March 26, 2020, https://www.ozy.com/news-and-politics/its-our-fault-young-people-refuse-to-stay-home/293136/; Ewan Palmer, “Middle-aged crowd break COVID-19 stay-at-home order to watch Pink Floyd cover band, chant ‘f*** the police’ as officers arrive,” Newsweek, April 6, 2020, https://www.newsweek.com/coronavirus-new-jersey-concert-rumson-1496282; William Wan and Aaron Blake, “Coronavirus modelers factor in new public health risk: Accusations their work is a hoax,” Washington Post, March 27, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/03/27/coronavirus-models-politized-trump/
  21. [21]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 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/; 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
  22. [22]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/
  23. [23]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/; 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
  24. [24]Tim Marchman, “Joe Biden: It Would Be an Insult to My Dead Son for Everyone to Have Healthcare,” Vice, August 27, 2019, https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/vb5d7y/joe-biden-medicare-for-all-would-be-an-insult-to-my-dead-son
  25. [25]Glenn Kessler, “Sanders versus Biden on Social Security: a guide to the claims,” MSNBC, March 9, 2020, https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/factcheck/sanders-versus-biden-on-social-security-a-guide-to-the-claims/ar-BB10TIMr; Branko Marcetic, “Biden Says He’s the Workers’ Candidate, But He Has Worked To Cut Medicare and Social Security,” In These Times, April 26, 2019, http://inthesetimes.com/article/21856/joe-biden-cut-medicare-social-security-retirement-age
  26. [26]Scott Bixby and Hunter Woodall, “Biden: Voting in Wisconsin Is Safe. Locals: It Could Kill Us,” Daily Beast, April 7, 2020, https://www.thedailybeast.com/joe-biden-says-voting-in-the-wisconsin-primary-is-safe-locals-say-it-could-kill-them; John McCormick and Alexa Corse, “Wisconsin Voters Go to Polls Despite Coronavirus Pandemic,” Wall Street Journal, April 7, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/wisconsin-holds-election-despite-coronavirusafter-efforts-to-delay-failed-11586270200
  27. [27]Aaron Blake, “The timeline of Trump’s coronavirus response is increasingly damning,” Washington Post, April 7, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/04/07/timeline-trumps-coronavirus-response-is-increasingly-damning/; Dana Milbank, “For Trump, a reckoning has come,” Washington Post, February 28, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/02/28/trump-reckoning-has-come/; Ashley Parker, Yasmeen Abutaleb, and Lena H. Sun, “Squandered time: How the Trump administration lost control of the coronavirus crisis,” Washington Post, March 7, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-coronavirus-response-squandered-time/2020/03/07/5c47d3d0-5fcb-11ea-9055-5fa12981bbbf_story.html; Paul Waldman, “How coronavirus has deeply flummoxed conservative media,” Washington Post, February 28, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/02/28/how-coronavirus-has-deeply-flummuxed-conservative-media/
  28. [28]David Benfell, “Why do Republicans seem better prepared to present proposals on coronavirus relief than Democrats?” Irregular Bullshit, March 20, 2020, https://disunitedstates.com/2020/03/20/why-do-republicans-seem-better-prepared-to-present-proposals-on-coronavirus-relief-than-democrats/; Michelle Ye Hee Lee, John Wagner, and Teo Armus, “Sen. Richard Burr, head of powerful committee, sold large amount of stocks before sharp declines in market,” Washington Post, March 19, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/sen-richard-burr-r-nc-head-of-powerful-committee-sold-large-amount-of-stocks-before-sharp-declines-in-market/2020/03/19/6cf4b25a-6a31-11ea-9923-57073adce27c_story.html; Jeff Stein et al., “Senate Republicans release massive economic stimulus bill for coronavirus response,” Washington Post, March 19, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/03/19/trump-coronavirus-economic-plan-stimulus/
  29. [29]Center for Systems Science and Engineering, “Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases,” April 9, 2020, Johns Hopkins Universityhttps://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html

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