archive: March 2020

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.

13 March 2020

While the AFR is advising its parasitic readership on how to profit from the coronavirus crisis, John Quiggin hopes the broader public will rethink some of the conventional so-called wisdom of recent decades: “Looking ahead, the crisis response should kill off not only the idea that a surplus is the hallmark of responsible economic management, but also the absurdity of extending the standard four-year forward estimates period to ten-year projections, which formed the basis of tax cuts legislated years ahead of time. As the current crisis and the global financial crisis have shown, even an annual budget can be derailed by an unforeseen shock. Attempting to fix policies ten years in advance is a fools’ errand. More broadly, this is yet another instance in which policies influenced by the market ideology that took hold in the 1970s has damaged us. The economic impacts of coronavirus will be made worse by the casualisation of the workforce and the decades-long freeze on Newstart and other welfare payments. A modern society can only function properly with a strong government and a commitment to looking after everybody. Perhaps the enforced isolation we are likely to face in the coming months will give us time to rethink.”

12 March 2020

Douglas Macdonald (writing about Canada, but with equal applicability in Australia): “To achieve any goal, we set targets and then measure our progress in achieving them. Simply saying, ‘I want to lose some weight’ is much less useful than adopting a specific goal, such as losing four pounds a month for six months. If at the end of the first month I have only lost two pounds, I can make further changes to our diet and so keep on track. … Surely, [governments] can do the same thing. We can set targets, such as those for 2030 and 2050, monitor emissions and then, as necessary, change our reduction programs to be sure the targets are met. … While successive governments may have thought they were using targets as part of a rational planning process, in fact the targets were distracting attention from our failure to make any progress at all in reducing emissions. When governments monitored progress towards emissions targets and found they were going to miss a target, they did not introduce additional reduction programs (change their diet). Instead, they set another target! Should I have this extra piece of chocolate cake? Yes, of course, but first I have to change my target. Next month, I will lose five pounds instead of just four pounds — which means I can have this delicious piece of cake today. … Instead of gazing off to the distant future, [government] needs to look hard at what can be done today.”

11 March 2020

Thomas Piketty endorses Bernie Sanders, not only for his policies, but also because his nomination would represent a necessary realignment of the Democratic Party: “Generally speaking, voter turnout has always been relatively low in the United States: just barely above 50%, whereas it has long been between 70%-80% in France and in the United Kingdom, before falling recently. If we examine things in greater detail, we also find that on the other side of the Atlantic, there is a structurally lower participation amongst the poorest half of the voters… To put it clearly: this electoral alienation of the American working classes is so long-standing that it will certainly not be reversed in one day. But what else can we do to deal with it than to undertake a far-reaching re-orientation of the election programme of the Democratic Party and to discuss these ideas openly in national campaigns?  The cynical, and unfortunately very commonplace vision amongst the Democratic elites, that nothing can be done to mobilise further the working-class vote, is extremely dangerous. In the last resort, this cynicism weakens the legitimacy of the democratic electoral system itself.”

Damian Carrington: “You may have read that there are just eight, or 10, or 12 years to save the world from the climate crisis. There are not. It is already here, gaining strength every day as carbon emissions pour into the atmosphere. It is a slow-motion disaster. Action to avert the worst should have started last week, last year, last decade. This is not a message of despair, though, but one of measured hope. The gap between the action we could take to reduce global heating and the action we are actually taking can be measured by a brutally simple metric: human suffering. That means every action that closes that gap, however small, is meaningful. … With a problem to solve, setting a timeline feels necessary. But Greta Thunberg, with characteristic clarity, recently spelled out the mistake: ‘It’s never too late to do as much as we can, every fraction of a degree matters,’ she says. ‘There are of course no magical dates for saving the world.’ … [It is] imperative that every decision taken every day by governments, businesses and communities must pass the climate test: will it cut emissions?”

10 March 2020

The Australia Institute’s Ebony Bennett: “The surplus the Coalition boasted about delivering looks to be cactus, but that’s good, delivering a surplus amid an economic downturn is about as useful as having 1000 toilet paper rolls in a flu pandemic. Now, the risk is that the Coalition will listen to its own rhetoric instead of expert advice, undercook its stimulus package, and potentially send Australia into recession. … The Coalition is quite capable of targeting its spending, judging by the precision used to target marginal seats for a $100 million cash splash in recent the sports rorts scandal. It has however, shown less aptitude for targeting money where it’s needed (as opposed to where it’s electorally advantageous). … [T]here’s no point giving business money if people won’t buy anything. That’s why targeting the majority of stimulus at business is risky; business won’t invest if there’s no demand. … That’s why a stimulus package that supports households, such as by increasing Newstart, has a double benefit.” I’m now expecting to see permanent benefits for business, and one-off payments to needy people.

8 March 2020

The DSA’s Cinzia Arruzza: “[T]he Socialist Party USA first established a day of education and action around women’s rights called ‘Woman’s Day’ in 1908, and the following year US socialists held demonstrations in several cities to demand women’s suffrage. In 1910, German socialist Clara Zetkin proposed the transformation of the US Woman’s Day into an international day of action — International Working Women’s Day — which, in 1914, started being celebrated on March 8. Three years later, on March 8, 1917, Russian women workers took to the streets in St. Petersburg, organizing a strike to demand bread and peace. It was the beginning of the Russian Revolution. When the United Nations declared IWD in 1975, it took care to remove the word ‘working’ from the title. This was only a first step toward the transformation of the day from a demonstration of working women’s struggles to a day of festivity in celebration of ‘women’ as such, returning to an essentialist or biology-based identity of women as natural mothers and caregivers.” International Women’s Day must be reclaimed as a day to honour the work — paid and unpaid — of all women, and to support their ongoing struggle for equality and control of their lives.

6 March 2020

The University and College Union is currently striking at 74 UK universities over pay, job security, and workload issues. In support of the campaign, History Workshop crowdsourced suggestions for a Strike Syllabus: “texts (of all sorts) to inspire and galvanise; texts to stir righteous anger or provide necessary solace.” The result is an excellent list of resources organised by topic: Strikes in Theory and Practice; Strikes in History; Strikes in Fiction. Definitely worth bookmarking for when you can’t decide what to read next.

4 March 2020

The New Economics Foundation’s Aidan Harper: “Coronavirus isn’t just a disease — it’s a test of the systems that are part of our everyday lives. In the recent guidance it released to the public, the [UK] government said it would encourage self-isolation as the primary way to contain the spread of the virus. Yet for many of the low-paid workers in Britain who look after your parents, deliver your food or drive your Uber, self-isolation means forgoing wages in order to protect others from disease. … The government’s advice to self-isolate seems tone-deaf to the reality of many British workers. Precarious work, where employees can’t afford to take sick days for fear of losing their wages, impedes what is needed most when containing a pandemic: acting with other people in mind. This is why public health policies must place the interests of the least well-off at their centre.” The same goes for Australia. The union movement’s call for unconditional financial support for coronavirus-affected people [$] must be supported.