Surprise! Surprise! The capitalist god is greedy!

See update for May 25, 2020, at end of post.


I’ve been hinting at knock-on effects from the COVID-19 lockdown for a while. In one post, I wrote that “this entire neoliberal house of cards, in which the rich have gotten richer by subjecting workers to low wages and usurous debt slavery, is set to fall. Unless we sate that capitalist god’s appetite [for human sacrifice].”[1]

As contrary to medical advice (and yes, I know the politicians say they’re acting on such advice), we rush to reopen, it’s starting to look like the capitalist god’s appetite will be sated anyway,[2] and all for naught. At the Wall Street Journal, Eric Morath explains that about half of the folks who’ve been laid off for the COVID-19 lockdown will find their layoffs are not in fact temporary, but permanent.[3]

Morath’s arithmetic, by the way, seems off: According to the Associated Press, via the Los Angeles Times, “[r]oughly 38.6 million people have now filed for jobless aid since the coronavirus forced millions of businesses to close their doors and shrink their workforces, the Labor Department said Thursday [May 21].”[4] Morath wrote his story on May 23 and I’m writing this on May 23, but Morath limits his analysis to losses that occurred in March and April, which presumably accounts for the discrepancy. He might also be assuming that some twenty million folks will be hired for other jobs, but he only writes that “[m]any will find positions elsewhere, perhaps moving from stores and restaurants to online retailers’ warehouses and delivery services.” (Really? Twenty million?) If indeed half of the layoffs that led to unemployment insurance claims are permanent,[5] that’d be more like twenty million permanently lost jobs, not ten million and, to the extent that some folks do indeed find other work, the number presumably falls somewhere below twenty million. (And none of this accounts for the claims yet to be filed.)

For that matter, Morath simply relies on “experts” to assess that half of job losses will likely be permanent.[6] Given that this is an unprecedented situation, how do they know? It could be there’s some decent methodology here, but we don’t know.

All of this is profoundly sloppy thinking; Morath needs to account for May losses as well and to be clear, rather than hopeful (as if jobs at Amazon and Walmart are hopeful), about where all these replacement jobs are coming from. But let’s go on:

The ripple effects of 10 million or more jobs permanently lost rule out any hope of a quick economic bounceback. People who aren’t reporting to work don’t pay for child care or gas, skip eating out or making big-ticket purchases, such as a new car. And many won’t go on vacation even when travel is allowed again.[7]

There are a few other things laid off folks won’t be paying for. Leave it to the Wall Street Journal to omit that many, unable to pay their debts, will be forced into bankruptcy; and many, unable to pay their rent, will become homeless. I’m guessing also that Morath has neglected the effects of eviscerated downtowns as employers discover that maybe working from home isn’t so bad.[8]

This is all brain-dead obvious stuff and to call these effects “ripples” understates it, even if you neglect the cost in wrecked and lost human lives, and you focus only on the financial cost: Lots of capitalists are going to lose lots of money. Lots of landlords might—emphasis on might—have to cut the rents they charge, that is, if they want to make any money at all,[9] because they will have evicted their nonpaying tenants and will suddenly discover that replacement tenants who can pay current rents are scarce.

Now, you or I might look at all this and find the level of delusion that sustains a lack of serious action on a stimulus astonishing.[10] But remember, these are the same folks generally who continue firmly to believe in an intellectually utterly discredited neoliberalism.[11] The delusion amongst capitalists and their enablers is strong.


Update, May 25, 2020: A long-suspected second wave of the novel coronavirus is already appearing in places that had escaped relatively unscathed before. Healthcare systems in these areas are already stretched thin and higher proportions of their populations are vulnerable. The article uses the term ‘checkerboard’ to describe the pattern; I might suggest the term ‘hopscotch’ instead, as the virus does not spread uniformly across the country.[12]

This hints at three things: First, the notion of a ‘second wave’ is itself dubious. It suggests that even if this is not “one and done,” it might be “two and done.” But this is starting to look rather like an ongoing transmission of the virus from places where it has already struck to places it has not. Even with this ‘second wave,’ there are a bunch of those.[13]

Second, to the extent that the coronavirus may mutate, the longer it is in the wild, the greater the chance it will do so. And to the extent that the oft-seen analogy with the Spanish Flu of 1918 is accurate, a mutated version may be more deadly than the first.[14]

Third, the so-called ‘first wave’ appeared mostly in cities. The so-called ‘second wave’ is appearing in rural areas.[15] The former tend to be associated with support for Democrats and the latter tend to be associated with support for Republicans. Donald Trump may have decided that COVID-19 was just fine as long as it was killing Blacks.[16] We’ll see what happens as it affects more rural whites.

  1. [1]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/
  2. [2]Joel Achenbach et al., “Coronavirus hot spots erupt across the country; experts warn of second wave in South,” Washington Post, May 20, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/coronavirus-hot-spots-erupt-across-the-country-experts-warn-of-possible-outbreaks-in-south/2020/05/20/49bc6d10-9ab4-11ea-a282-386f56d579e6_story.html; Adam Cancryn and Nancy Cook, “Health officials want Trump to ‘double down, not lighten up’ restrictions,” Politico, March 23, 2020, https://www.politico.com/news/2020/03/23/coronavirus-economy-trump-restart-145222; John F. Harris, “Admit It: You Are Willing to Let People Die to End the Shutdown,” Politico, April 30, 2020, https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/04/30/coronavirus-shutdown-altitude-ethics-223569; Chong Koh Ping and Matthew Dalton, “Coronavirus Case Count Tops Five Million World-Wide,” Wall Street Journal, May 21, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/coronavirus-latest-news-05-21-2020-11590043161; David Wallace-Wells, “We Are Probably Only One-Tenth of the Way Through This Pandemic,” New York, April 17, 2020, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/04/we-are-probably-only-a-tenth-of-the-way-through-the-pandemic.html; Margaret Sullivan, “Trump wants America to ‘normalize’ coronavirus deaths. It’s the media’s job not to play along,” Washington Post, May 10, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/media/trump-wants-america-to-normalize-coronavirus-deaths-its-the-medias-job-not-to-play-along/2020/05/09/72de4c32-9090-11ea-a9c0-73b93422d691_story.html; David Wallace-Wells, “There Is Still No Plan,” New York, May 7, 2020, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/05/white-house-plan-for-ending-coronavirus-stay-at-home-orders.html; Holly Yan, “5 common arguments for reopening the economy — and why experts say they are flawed,” CNN, May 11, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/11/us/reopening-the-economy-flawed-arguments-trnd/index.html
  3. [3]Eric Morath, “The Job Market’s Long Road Back,” Wall Street Journal, May 23, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-job-markets-long-road-back-11590206400
  4. [4]Associated Press, “2.4 million Americans sought jobless aid last week; 39 million since coronavirus struck,” Los Angeles Times, May 21, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2020-05-21/coronavirus-jobless-unemployment-benefits
  5. [5]Eric Morath, “The Job Market’s Long Road Back,” Wall Street Journal, May 23, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-job-markets-long-road-back-11590206400
  6. [6]Eric Morath, “The Job Market’s Long Road Back,” Wall Street Journal, May 23, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-job-markets-long-road-back-11590206400
  7. [7]Eric Morath, “The Job Market’s Long Road Back,” Wall Street Journal, May 23, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-job-markets-long-road-back-11590206400
  8. [8]David Benfell, “COVID-19 points to a future gone entirely wrong,” not Housebroken, May 20, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/05/20/covid-19-points-to-a-future-gone-entirely-wrong/; Jeff Horwitz, “Facebook to Shift Permanently Toward More Remote Work After Coronavirus,” Wall Street Journal, May 21, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-to-shift-permanently-toward-more-remote-work-after-coronavirus-11590081300; Noor Zainab Hussain, “Mastercard won’t send staff back to office without coronavirus vaccine,” Sydney Morning Herald, May 21, 2020, https://www.smh.com.au/business/banking-and-finance/mastercard-won-t-send-staff-back-to-office-without-coronavirus-vaccine-20200521-p54v12.html; Heather Kelly, “Twitter employees don’t ever have to go back to the office (unless they want to),” Washington Post, May 12, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/05/12/twitter-work-home/; Dana Mattioli and Konrad Putzier, “When It’s Time to Go Back to the Office, Will It Still Be There?” Wall Street Journal, May 22, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/when-its-time-to-go-back-to-the-office-will-it-still-be-there-11589601618; Ishaan Tharoor with Ruby Mellen, “The pandemic may forever change the world’s cities,” Washington Post, May 20, 2020, https://s2.washingtonpost.com/camp-rw/?trackId=5a39652eae7e8a58807f9446&s=5ec4aa54fe1ff654c2e1eea0&linknum=4&linktot=72
  9. [9]David Benfell, “When nothing happened next,” Not Housebroken, March 29, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/03/29/when-nothing-happened-next/
  10. [10]David Benfell, “Yet again, a season for cynicism,” Not Housebroken, May 10, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/05/10/yet-again-a-season-for-cynicism/
  11. [11]Mark Blyth, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Oxford, UK: Oxford University, 2013); Amir Fleischmann, “The Myth of the Fiscal Conservative,” Jacobin, March 5, 2017, https://jacobinmag.com/2017/03/fiscal-conservative-social-services-austerity-save-money; Jason Hickel, “Progress and its discontents,” New Internationalist, August 7, 2019, https://newint.org/features/2019/07/01/long-read-progress-and-its-discontents; Daniel Stedman Jones, Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, 2012); Robert Kuttner, “Austerity never works: Deficit hawks are amoral — and wrong,” Salon, May 5, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/05/05/austerity_never_works_deficit_hawks_are_amoral_and_wrong/; Dennis Loo, Globalization and the Demolition of Society (Glendale, CA: Larkmead, 2011); Thomas Piketty, Jeffrey Sachs, Heiner Flassbeck, Dani Rodrik and Simon Wren-Lewis, “Austerity Has Failed: An Open Letter From Thomas Piketty to Angela Merkel,” Nation, July 6, 2015, http://www.thenation.com/article/austerity-has-failed-an-open-letter-from-thomas-piketty-to-angela-merkel/; John Quiggin, “Austerity Has Been Tested, and It Failed,” Chronicle of Higher Education, May 20, 2013, http://chronicle.com/article/Austerity-Has-Been-Tested-and/139255/; David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, “How Austerity Kills,” New York Times, May 12, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/13/opinion/how-austerity-kills.html; David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, “Paul Krugman’s right: Austerity kills,” Salon, May 19, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/05/19/paul_krugmans_right_austerity_kills/
  12. [12]Reis Thebault and Abigail Hauslohner, “A deadly ‘checkerboard’: Covid-19’s new surge across rural America,” Washington Post, May 24, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/05/24/coronavirus-rural-america-outbreaks/
  13. [13]Reis Thebault and Abigail Hauslohner, “A deadly ‘checkerboard’: Covid-19’s new surge across rural America,” Washington Post, May 24, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/05/24/coronavirus-rural-america-outbreaks/
  14. [14]Dave Roos, “Why the Second Wave of the 1918 Spanish Flu Was So Deadly,” History Channel, March 30, 2020, https://www.history.com/news/spanish-flu-second-wave-resurgence
  15. [15]Reis Thebault and Abigail Hauslohner, “A deadly ‘checkerboard’: Covid-19’s new surge across rural America,” Washington Post, May 24, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/05/24/coronavirus-rural-america-outbreaks/
  16. [16]Kenya Evelyn, “‘We’re expendable’: black Americans pay the price as states lift lockdowns,” Guardian, May 25, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/25/covid-19-lockdowns-african-americans-essential-workers; Adam Serwer, “The Coronavirus Was an Emergency Until Trump Found Out Who Was Dying,” Atlantic, May 9, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/05/americas-racial-contract-showing/611389/

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