01 June 2020

Eudaimonia and Co: “It’s Not that I’m Negative, America Really is Screwed”

That’s been happening for something like 50 years by now: a cycle of equitable redistribution that became sustained investment and reinvestment. What happens if you invest in a thing like a park, hospital, library for fifty years? It gets better and better. It’s returns grow and grow. There’s more of everything to go around for everyone. The battle for self-preservation doesn’t lock people into poverty, as it has in America. That is what it means to be a truly rich society.

America’s been doing exactly the opposite, for the same fifty years, and longer. See any reinvestment in… anything? Everything’s decrepit, from airports to schools to libraries, precisely because there hasn’t been any. There hasn’t been any — or enough, anyways — because Americans didn’t want to pay those higher taxes Europeans and Canadians did. They believed the strange, foolish, and evidence-free ideologies of trickle-down economics and neoliberalism and all the rest of it — we’ll all be richest if we invest in… precisely nothing together. Nobody should care about anyone else. Nobody should ever support anyone else in the pursuit of anything. Life was to be purely individualistic, adversarial, and acquisitive.

That led Americans straight into a poverty trap. They were paying lower taxes, sure. But their public goods were decaying. Their common wealth was eroding. Their systems and institutions were corroding. What happens to metal that isn’t polished, a street that’s never cleaned, a house that’s never repaired? Well, in the end, you have to pay a bigger bill. But you might not be able to afford it by then. Bang! Then you’re done. You live in that crumbling house until it finally turns to dust, if you can’t pay the roofer, plumber, electrician. That’s where America is now.

Umair Haque

A particularly bleak article about the social and economic situation in The United States, and its long and deep roots. While I have no direct experience there, I wouldn’t have expected such a profound crisis. It is certainly not the only article deploring the failures of the American political and economical system, I’ll share another quote below. Between the incompetent presidency of Donald Trump, the dangers of the pandemic and its economic aftermath, and the recent police violence, the near future does look increasingly bleak for Americans.

We now have two categories of work: essential and nonessential. Who have the essential workers turned out to be? Mostly people in low-paying jobs that require their physical presence and put their health directly at risk: warehouse workers, shelf-stockers, Instacart shoppers, delivery drivers, municipal employees, hospital staffers, home health aides, long-haul truckers. Doctors and nurses are the pandemic’s combat heroes, but the supermarket cashier with her bottle of sanitizer and the UPS driver with his latex gloves are the supply and logistics troops who keep the frontline forces intact. In a smartphone economy that hides whole classes of human beings, we’re learning where our food and goods come from, who keeps us alive. An order of organic baby arugula on AmazonFresh is cheap and arrives overnight in part because the people who grow it, sort it, pack it, and deliver it have to keep working while sick. For most service workers, sick leave turns out to be an impossible luxury. It’s worth asking if we would accept a higher price and slower delivery so that they could stay home.

The pandemic has also clarified the meaning of nonessential workers. One example is Kelly Loeffler, the Republican junior senator from Georgia, whose sole qualification for the empty seat that she was given in January is her immense wealth. Less than three weeks into the job, after a dire private briefing about the virus, she got even richer from the selling-off of stocks, then she accused Democrats of exaggerating the danger and gave her constituents false assurances that may well have gotten them killed. Loeffler’s impulses in public service are those of a dangerous parasite. A body politic that would place someone like this in high office is well advanced in decay.

George Packer

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