archive: March 2020

26 March 2020

Paddy Manning: “Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s instincts are more autocratic than democratic, more corporate than official. The new National COVID-19 Coordination Commission (NCCC), chaired by former Fortescue Metals chief Nev Power, will coordinate advice to the government on ‘actions to anticipate and mitigate the economic and social effects of the global coronavirus pandemic’. What Power would know about managing a pandemic is unclear, but what is obvious is that the handpicked mining executive will be unconstrained by the codes and traditions of the public service, and will owe his loyalty to the PM alone.” Alex White: “There is a genuine and urgent risk that the crisis will be used by Morrison and the corporate elite to restructure our economy. As we’ve seen already, major and seriously regressive changes have already started to be implemented — the attack on superannuation is just one example, as are the ‘no strings attached’ bailouts of airlines. Cuts to various taxes on business are also at risk of being made permanent — a change that would structurally change our state and federal govt. revenue system and achieve the long-term right-wing goal of ‘starving the beast’.”

25 March 2020

This is awful: “More than 2 million Australians could be out of work, with unemployment expected to soar as businesses begin shutting their doors and standing down or sacking workers because of the coronavirus pandemic. Queues of laid-off staff snaked around blocks in Melbourne and Sydney on Monday in scenes reminiscent of the Great Depression. Under unprecedented sudden demand, the Centrelink website crashed and phone lines jammed.” As Greg Jericho points out, this context “highlights the absurdity of the actual term [‘unemployed’]. To be unemployed is to be ‘actively looking for work’. But just what work is there to look for right now? Not only are businesses not hiring, many are being forced to not operate. Around 10% of job vacancies each month are for retail trade and 7% are for accommodation and food services, and another 1.5% for arts and recreation. None of these industries is hiring — other than a few supermarkets looking for some extra staff to help pack shelves.” Yet the government has only suspended so-called mutual obligation requirements for a week, until its website is accessible again!

Please: The Australian Unemployed Workers Union does an excellent job representing and campaigning for the rights of unemployed people — everyone who remains in work should join as a supporter and set up a recurring donation.

22 March 2020

Jennifer Cooke: “I spent four years researching a PhD on plague—as a disease and as a metaphor for all sorts of things, including other infectious diseases, real and fictional. … I know an awful lot about contagious times and how people behave in them. … What can I tell you about contagious epidemics? What will happen to us? … There will be social unrest. There will be cult weirdos and strange beliefs, doomsters baying about the end of times. There will be exploiters, quacks, and fraudsters. But there will also be simple kindnesses, more phone calls between family members, between friends. We will all work less, if at all. There will be absurdity. And there will be incredible community support, for the people by the people. There will be ingenious new forms of entertainment and the revival of older forms that we have forgotten or stashed at the back of the cupboard. … Facebook groups have started for postcodes or streets or villages. Lists are circulating for you to sign up to help those in your area by shopping for them, collecting medicines, or simply to chat on the phone to assuage some of the loneliness for those unable to go out. People are doing this themselves. People, it turns out, know how to organise themselves. … At this moment, as we lockdown, we need creative, generous, supportive thinking about how we want to restructure the future. Everything is thinkable. Everything is on the table.”

20 March 2020

Shahar Hameiri: “The real story behind panic-buying and hoarding is the collapse of trust in the state’s capacity to address serious societal problems. Many people can no longer see an alternative other than market or barbarism. Either they look after their families’ own needs, or no one will. In this context, hoarding appears rational. This much-bemoaned collapse in public trust did not occur all on its own. It is a result of decades of piecemeal changes to the role of government and public institutions, accompanied by constant messaging from political leaders urging people to become self-reliant in the market — ‘lifters’, not ‘leaners’ in former Treasurer Joe Hockey’s formulation. … In response to supply shortages in supermarkets, for example, the Australian government has largely attempted to cajole private companies and individuals. But why should individuals stop hoarding? For decades they have been told not to expect assistance from the state. It was up to them to gain sought-after qualifications to be competitive in the job marketplace, find a place to live, look after their retirement and so on. And their suspicion of the state’s impotence, if not indifference, is not unfounded. It was created by design.”

“We have been arguing that conventional capitalism is dying, or at least mutating into something that will be closer to a version of communism,” Macquarie Wealth Management told its clients this week [$]. “Ultimately, a fusion of monetary and fiscal levers will lead to MMT-style policies, effective nationalisation of capital, universal income guarantees, and deep changes in work practice. … Today’s economic and investment strategies are built around concepts of a monetary world and the ultimate primacy of the private sector, and its ability to navigate well-defined business and capital market cycles … Alas, the world has already moved far away from these principles. … Unlike natural sciences, economic rules are not immutable, but rather bend under the pressures that societies face. What is regarded as acceptable in one era is disregarded in another & therefore prescriptions from one period will be unacceptable in another, even though some might actually yield more efficient outcomes. Unlike physics, economics does not progress according to well-known rules but rather attempts to satisfy prevailing societal mood. Homo Economicus is not a rational agent, but a confused beast, and economics is an outgrowth of societies, rather than a conventional science searching for truth.” Welcome, comrades!

18 March 2020

“Unskilled labor does not exist,” observes Lizzie O’Shea: “[RAFFWU’s Josh] Cullinan points out that the modern fast food worker uses skills that are foreign to most workers from generations past. A fast food worker in the average drive-through window will be doing multiple tasks simultaneously. She will take orders from customers via an earpiece, enter them into a program that conveys the orders to the kitchen, collect and hand bags of food to customers, and take payment on electronic systems, all within strict deadlines. On top of this, she is expected to be polite, despite working long shifts that can be physically and emotionally exhausting. … In the same way that care workers are underpaid because they draw on skills that the market has not traditionally valued, the skills required of workers to cope in unskilled jobs are considered unimportant. This framing allows employers to monopolize the gains of intense exploitation and defray the emotional, physical, and spiritual costs of it back onto the workers. … One fact remains undeniable but bears repeating: without the work done by people in unskilled jobs, society would cease to function. … People who stock our supermarket shelves, who help us to access food and clothing, are essential to our survival. … Workers at unskilled jobs deserve solidarity and dignity, and we should support them however we can as they organize to fight for recognition and respect.”

Jeff Sparrow: “Capitalism must expand or lapse into crisis. But an economy dependent on perpetual growth must, at some stage, come into conflict with the limits of the natural world. The characteristic ineptitude of today’s politicians — the deep rottenness pervading our societies — reflects, in part, the impossibility of squaring that circle. In developing nations, for instance, the relentless expansion of capital means that cities now encroach more and more on wilderness and peasant holdings. With factory farming replacing traditional agriculture, viral outbreaks become more likely. … The emissions pumped into the atmosphere represent another facet of the same problem: an increasingly obvious incompatibility between economic and natural cycles. Scientists tell us that, if we continue on this path, extreme weather events and other disasters will become more and more common. The experience of the past weeks shows precisely what that means. Capitalism pits humanity against nature. It will destroy both, if we let it.”

16 March 2020

Judith Butler, in her new book The Force of Nonviolence (excerpted here): “To link a practice of nonviolence with a force or strength that is distinguished from destructive violence, one that is manifest in solidarity alliances of resistance and persistence, is to refute the characterization of nonviolence as a weak and useless passivity. Refusal is not the same as doing nothing. The hunger striker refuses to reproduce the prisoner’s body, indicting the carceral powers that are already attacking the existence of the incarcerated. The strike may not seem like an ‘action,’ but it asserts its power by withdrawing labor that is essential to the continuation of a capitalist form of exploitation. Civil disobedience may seem like a simple ‘opting out,’ but it makes public a judgment that a legal system is not just. It requires the exercise of an extra-legal judgment. To breach the fence or the wall that is designed to keep people out is precisely to exercise an extra-legal claim to freedom, one that the existing legal regime is failing to provide for within its own terms. To boycott a regime that continues colonial rule, intensifying dispossession, displacement, and disenfranchisement for an entire population, is to assert the injustice of the regime, to refuse to reproduce its criminality as normal.”

(I came to this after hearing an excellent interview with Butler on Politics Theory Other.)

14 March 2020

Jedediah Britton-Purdy: “‘Wash your hands’ is good advice but also a poignant reminder that this is not the sort of problem that personal responsibility can solve. Epidemiology is a political problem. It’s not hard to sketch the steps that would ease our cruel situation: a work stoppage, massive income support (unemployment payments with some universal basic income in the mix), a moratorium on mortgage foreclosures and evictions. Treatment for coronavirus and potentially related symptoms should be free and comprehensive, no questions asked (about immigration status, for instance), so that no one goes untreated because of fear or poverty. This is all, in the most straightforward sense, good for everyone. It is also how people look out for one another’s vulnerability and need when they see one another’s problems as their own. … An injury to one actually is an injury to all; it doesn’t just sound good to say so. … It’s worth remembering that our alone-together world of individualist ethics and material interdependence didn’t just happen. … The hands and minds that built up this order are not powerless to make one that puts health first, at every level: of individuals, communities, the land, and the globe. That is a different, deeper resilience, though to get there requires a political fight over the value of life itself, whether we are here to make profits or to help one another live.”

Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos: “[A]t this stage, CoViD-19 is mostly a developed-world disease that threatens the elderly and the vulnerable in terms of either underlying health issues or repeated exposure to the virus. This means that the majority of the population… can afford to ignore it. … So we are mostly ok. Right? No. Because if we think like that, we have failed. We have already succumbed to the disease. The challenge of Covid is monumentally ethical. … Covid demands an ethics of self-positioning (physically and at the same time ethically) in relation to other bodies, of removing ourselves from the collectivity that we might harm despite our best intentions, of thinking beyond the edge of our skin. Covid must be stopped from reaching the vast refugee camps across the world. Covid must remain a developed country disease where national health systems are generally better equipped to deal with the crisis. … The ethics of withdrawal before Covid is a show of a planetary collectivity, where we finally understand that our bodies are all connected, and that taking precautions in London will mean that more people will survive in the refugee camps or in the less developed world with more fragile health systems. It is ultimately a show of removing oneself from the mania of ‘progress’, with its global pollution, climate change and anthropocenic irreversibility, and allowing the planet to take a breath.