The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

May 23rd US Covid Data

Our benefactor notes that there is “a definite increase in the number of cases, but one day is not sufficient to tell what’s going on…yet.”

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Open Thread


Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – May 24, 2020


  1. Tony

    You support policies that have led to mass unemployment, destruction of small businesses, and the working peopel are suffering from massive increases in domestic violence, suicides drug use etc. Meanwhile you favoured policy has led to billionaires becoming richer than ever.

    All this because of a hypothetical reduction in deaths. Nevermind that US total mortality is pretty normal, and there is no statistical difference between lockdown areas and non-lockdown areas in the US.

    Why should any working person consider you anything but an enemy?

  2. js

    because working people sure like the choice of 1) go to work and risk becoming sick and possibly disabled or 2) starve and be homeless,. All with no safety net and no economic mercy or forgiveness ever, and no say in the safety or other operations of their workplaces, and no say in the policies of their government (and maybe with employers given completely immunity from liability if they kill their workers if that bill passes).

    No system but one that hates workers (Crapitalism and of the most evil neoliberal sort) could design that kind of hell system, a Sophie’s choice hell system confronting everyone with impossible choices, and we wonder why they take the 3rd choice and kill themselves. I don’t.

  3. GM

    @ Tony. 100,000+ additional deaths in 2.5 months is anything but \”pretty normal\”. Also, will the 2 million that are pretty much guaranteed over the next 18-36 months be \”pretty normal\” too?

    But more importantly, you are failing to understand that there will be no return to \”normal\” as long as the virus is still around.

    Some people are going back to bars and restaurants but in nowhere near the numbers that are needed to keep them afloat, and even those lunatics will get it once the bodies start to really pile up in their area too, and will then stay at home.

    The societies that approached this in a rational scientifically minded way aimed at complete elimination of the virus from the beginning. China, Vietnam, South Korea, etc. Because they understand that if they manage to do that they will be able to return to normal, and they will also have a huge advantage over those who will have to live with the virus for many years to come.

    Are there comfortable smug white collar workers in secure jobs that are sneering at the plight of the ordinary working person? Yes, unfortunately there are. And this is a class divide that goes back much further than just this crisis.

    But that does not mean that the people advocating for extended lockdowns are your enemies.

    Those people were also advocating for the kind of measures that should have been taken back in January to contain the virus in the first place — shutting down all international travel and closing borders so that the virus does not spread from China to everywhere else, plus urgent implementation of a massive testing and tracing program.

    Was that done? No, because shutting down international travel would have hurt \”the economy\”. But was \”the economy\” saved by closing our eyes and plugging our ears in the hope that the virus will somehow disappear on its own? No, that decision ensured total economic devastation.

    Because once the virus has spread too much the only way to clear it is a prolonged lockdown, and not the pathetic semi-voluntary lockdown that we had in the US (and some states never even did that) but a serious China-style lockdown.

    And this is the rational decision even from a purely economic perspective.

    Because yes, GDP will go down 20, 30, 50%. But so what? If things can go back to normal, that is a necessary price to pay.

    The alternative is:

    1. A decade(s)-long depression, because, as I said above, there will no normal economic activity as long as the virus is around

    2. Why is nobody talking about how much it will cost to treat all the sick? Those are massive costs. And yes, that will actually count as a plus towards GDP, because are that twisted and insane as a society, but that does not change the fact that is a massive drain of real resources.

    3. Nobody is also talking about the fact that at least as many as those will die will be left permanently disabled. Pulmonary fibrosis, permanent kidney, heart, liver, etc. damage. Who is going to be paying for supporting all those people for decades into the future?

    4. Hospitals will completely collapse if this goes on for a couple years. Doctors and nurses are exposed to massive viral loads and are dropping like flies as a result. How many will be left by the time this is over? It will take decades to train replacements. Who will take care of all the regular sick people meanwhile?


    Not doing lockdowns has massive costs associated with it, and it is quite clear that they are greater than the cost of an effective lockdown.

    But an effective lockdown could only be done if it is accompanied by the following:

    1. Government pays people an UBI so that people do not starve for the duration of the crisis

    2. Debts are cancelled for the duration of the crisis

    3. Food and medicine are distributed centrally (e.g. by the army) so that people do not have to go (and work at) grocery shops and pharmacies

    4. Testing and healthcare are free.

    However, these things are completely unacceptable even as a topic of discussion for your real enemies, the financial oligarchy that has taken over the country and has hollowed it out over the last 50 years.

    This millions of dead and a total economic catastrophe it will be instead.

    As long as they stay on top.

    Again, please, please, please, identify and know your real enemies. Scientists are not among them.

    P.S. Note that there is also the view that the virus was deliberately allowed to spread so that the looting of the commons, the treasury and the smaller and weaker private businesses that is happening now could happen. It would not have possible to organize it without the health crisis getting out of control. Given how testing was outright sabotaged for six crucial weeks in January and February, one can\’t help but suspect there might be some truth to that particular conspiracy theory.

  4. John

    Our clueless and craven national government is headed by an idiot who apparently was unaware that the 1918 flu killed his own grandfather. Competent countries like VietNam started quarantine early enough or like the Netherlands have subsidized all working incomes to avoid the worst of health and economic catastrophes. The US, like any self indulgent and entitled trust fund baby, in in the process of squandering all its unearned advantages with thumb sucking denial. The quarantine hardly qualifies as any sort of betrayal of the precariat compared to the predations of the vulture capitalists of the past 150 years.

  5. Joan


    Thanks for your comment. I would also add that a lot of people are unwilling to work at hospitals and that could get worse. A friend of mine left his job wheeling people around and helping them get in and out of bed (an orderly?) and now works in construction. I wouldn’t be surprised if people are looking for ways to leave their hospital job as a janitor or food service worker, etc., and get that same work elsewhere.

  6. krake

    As a working person being forced back to work, come Tuesday, let my assure you I do not want to go.

    My job entails visiting multiple locations on a single day, in high volume environments. Most days, I cross at least one, if not two state lines. It takes about 12 minutes to drive from Mass, thru NH, into Maine. I can be in Boston at 4 am, Nashua at 7 am, Portsmouth at 9 am, Portland at 11 am and home by 2 pm.

    I become the virus’ preferred vector. On a slow day, I may only directly interact with 5 mgrs and a dozen crew, but I will be in closed, small retail locations, all air-conditioned, with scores of customers at each site.

    You want my ass back on the job?

  7. Ian Welsh

    I support policies which would have led to working people being taken care of and the pandemic being crushed. Anyone who thinks otherwise either hasn’t read my writing or is a fool.

    Vietnam crushed this. New Zealand crushed this. South Korea crushed this. Taiwan crushed this. Canada fucked it up, but at least gave workers $2k a month.

    America bungling it is the fault of American politicians. America refusing to take care of people who lost their jobs is American politicians fault (and the fault of those who elected them.)

    It has nothing to do with me. You have enemies, I ain’t one of them. Go say hello to virtually every politician in DC and your state capitol.

  8. Keith in Modesto

    The comment at the top from Tony serves as a wonderful preview of what I’m sure will be a star talking-point of the GOP and the far-Right going into the November election and for years to come. It’s just a more specific (to this pandemic) version of “The Left just wants Big Government, and government is bad bad bad.” Many people in the U.S. fully believe that message already and probably a large majority are sympathetic to it. The GOP and the super wealthy have spent decades putting that messaging out, plus lobbied and sponsored politicians to take (all levels of) government over and enact policies to make sure that their talking point (“Government = inefficient and bad”) is true. They’ve thoroughly poisoned the public discourse on government fostering the public good or really helping people. Now, to many, any large scale government effort to improve social outcomes (such as “millions not dying from a new emergent virus”) just equals tyranny.

  9. Lex

    The right’s cry that positive cases are going up because there’s more testing looks pretty weak when we contend with the fact that individual states *and* the flipping CDC have been combining antibody and viral tests into reported numbers. What a joy to live in a failed state. And here on the edge of civilization the tourists have arrived because we always had low confirmed case counts (it only takes two weeks to get viral test results here so we’re obviously prepared to handle this …) so we got partially reopened. Now there are license plates from Texas, Georgia, NY, and the usual WI and IL. Plus all the SE MI license plates that blend in. I counted at least five parties going on while walking the dog last night. There just ain’t no stupid quite like American stupid.

  10. krake


    I forgot to start my reply with “Tony,…”.

  11. bruce wilder

    The Republicans and right-neoliberals have propagandized the idea that government is bad, inherently inefficient and incompetent. It is a set of ideas that promises to benefit the psychopathic wealthy, reducing their taxes and privatizing resources and economic activities, increasing opportunities for predation. The left-neoliberals emerged to dominate the other Party and to make the nightmare complete, completely precluding the possibility of a politics responsive to the needs and preferences of the great majority, and relieving the sociopathic rich and powerful of the possibility of countervailing power directed by electoral majorities of a voting public.I

    So, here we are. And, government really is “bad”. It has thoroughly bungled the response to the emerging pandemic. The professional elites put in charge, given the badge of “scientific” authority, do not have a clue what they are doing. The political class calmly short-circuit voting to impose as an “alternative” to the hypomanic Trump, the former Senator from MBNA, a fabulist with pronounced symptoms of dementia.

    Dutifully, we peons rail against one another, in response to the propaganda of left and right neoliberals. “Tony” up top frames his anger as he has been instructed, but not without reason. Ian has advocated for a competent policy response where it is not possible. Lockdown in the U.S. came too late, after a failure to test aggressively at the beginning, after a failure to close borders instantly, after a failure to mandate mask-wearing from the beginning. I admit that I do not know what policy should be, now that we are screwed. We have been condemned by the incompetence of elites to a long slog. A lockdown of four weeks duration, hard and backed by testing and tracing, was theoretically possible. We went sailing past that possible. To arrive in a place of much harder choices and harsher consequences.

    The virus is very probably endemic to the U.S. now. The economy is in ruins. And, this state of affairs has been brought about by both Parties, aided by bungling at every level.

    I respect what “Tony” had to say. I do. I am no longer willing to participate in any way in scripted reactions to scripted expressions. I can see the script he is reading and disregard the scripted elements and what is left is his genuine experience of political failure.

    I have experienced a lockdown that did not “crush” anything but the life of my city. We cannot go on with simply preaching a course that does not arrest the reproduction of the virus. This narrative of “too soon” misses the essential point: we are trapped by the consequences of being too late already, of not having, for example, the capability to test at the scale required.

    An incapable government becomes incompetent by necessity. We are seeing the fudging of the numbers, the rationalization of the inevitable, the displacement of professional integrity (little enough of that to begin with). Counterfactual wishes are not helpful, nor are accusations of not clapping loudly enough.

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