Structural inequalities by design, lessons in leadership from the past facing forwards, always look on the bright side of life
“Many of us are getting a glimpse of dystopia. Others are living it.”
—Viet Thanh Nguyen, Op. Ed. writer, New York Times
If we were to live with this economic lock- down for another year or more, what other consequences might there be, connected to the widespread havoc already caused by Covid-19 illness and death? What about the effects of Depression era levels of unemployment, or worse, on our overall social well-being? Particularly for the poor or disadvantaged. The burden on hospitals may be easing for the time being, but there were close to 1-million applications this past week for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). Regrettably, some of our neighbours among them.
Who decides who will be first to be hired back after long layoffs and industry shutdowns, and who will wait in line? Who gets a test, a bed in intensive care, or a ventilator when they need one? By whom, how, why, and when will this be decided? Not everyone will experience whatever recovery may be at hand, fairly and evenly.
“The presence of disease kills people; the absence of livelihood also.”
—Amartya Sen, Indian economist and philosopher
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Even in the short-term, we’re likely to pay some serious tolls and tariffs in terms of the misfortunate side-effects of suicide, depression, abuse, distress due to heart disease, and other conditions related to increasing debt and poverty. How might these be eradicated? Where’s the vaccine for socially transmitted community spread, infectious diseases like debt and insolvency? Due to the seven deadly sins—eight if we go by the Greek and Latin inclusions of Ἀκηδία (acedia) or tristitia, each rendered for dejection, despair, or despondency—acting socially in tandem with this deadly virus.
Lockdowns, quarantines, and social distancing appear to be having constructive, demonstrable effects at stopping the spread of the disease. The longer we persist in these measures the better our chances of a reasonably safe recovery. To the same extent, however, the longer we persist in these measures the more critical the loss of our jobs, and perhaps our occupations in the new economy.
Cutting Closer to Home
I suppose we in Canada should be grateful we have a kind of quasi-universal health care—it sure beats the States’—but one that forgives rich corporations and shareholders in the pharmaceutical industry for ripping our eyes out.
Establishing a universal program for prescription medications would amount to about $4.2 billion in annual savings in Canada, the Parliamentary Budget Officer said in a recent report. The report was requested by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. So far, neither Liberal or Conservative administrations have responded. They’re probably busy entertaining lobbyists in perfectly legal tax-sheltered villas in Provence, muses the cynic in me.
Structural Inequalities by Design
Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes; Those who do not read history are doomed to repeat it.—Jorge Santayana y Borrás, Spanish poet, philosopher, novelist
There is nothing new except what is forgotten.—Marie-Jeanne Rose Bertin, dressmaker to French Queen Marie Antoinette
Structural inequalities as to who gets what share of our collective gross national product can be viewed as being caused by the lack of a living wage or having enough leisure time to enjoy any recreational health benefits. All on account of needing more than one job to survive. Some estimates put the number of deaths- per-day in the US from the effects of poverty at 700, without Covid-19. (758 people died with Covid-19 a couple of days ago in New York.) Both are morally preventable injuries that warrant outrage.
A recent report by Statistics Canada highlights how income inequality is directly linked to the premature deaths of no less than 110 Canadians each day. Equal to a Bombardier CS-100 jet airplane full of passengers falling out of the sky every day for a year. 40,000 Canadians in total. Near twice as many as have died from Covid- 19 in the USA already.
New Deal—Just Like the Old Deal, Light
After the boom and bust of the Roaring Twenties in 1929, by 1932 almost a quarter of all workers in Canada were suddenly jobless. As an uncharitable stop-gap measure, Conservative Prime Minister R.S. Bennett created labour camps to provide unemployed single men with a subsistence living. The men were paid 20 cents a day in return for a 44-hour work week of hard labour.
Canadians looked at the portly, tough-talking millionaire who lived in top hat and tails style at the Château Laurier Hotel, and wondered how he could even pretend to understand the extent of their misery. Mr. Bennett finally took action by shoplifting good ideas from US president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. He developed his own watered-down Canadian version of how to combat the ill economic effects of the Depression.
In 1935—in a complete departure from his true, underlying free enterprise beliefs—under pressure, Bennett called for greater government oversight and regulation in Canada’s social and economic arenas. Bennett’s new deal promised more progressive taxation, unemployment insurance, health insurance, closer regulation of working conditions and social reforms. None of which he delivered.
By the time the October 1935 election rolled around, his opponent Liberal leader Mackenzie King offered Canadians the choice of “King” or “Chaos”. Canadians chose King, and handed him a majority government.
Through a Glass Darkly
Every country has the government it deserves; If there was no moral evil upon earth, there would be no physical evil.—Joseph de Maistre, 18th century French diplomat
The Great Depression brought FDR’s New Deal to the United States, but it gave Germany Adolf Hitler, Italy Benito Mussolini, and oppressed Spain under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco—authoritarian political leaders like we see today in Russia, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere. As we’re seeing in the United States too, with Attorney General William Barr seeking emergency powers for his office, and Trump claiming absolute authority and control over every living soul. Gods only know what next the president and his puppeteers may be trying to get away with.
For instance, what diabolic ungodliness may be darkly hidden in that $2.2+ trillion dollar “art of the deal” rescue package, I wonder. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s smirks and big thumbs-up cannot hide how crippled he must be inside. President (Non-Sequitur-in-Chief) D.J. Trump signed this huge gift of relief in the Oval Office on March 27th 2020, with all the pomp and circumstance of a skull and bones Masonic observance.
When people are unemployed for more than six months or a year—it could take many times longer then that to recover. “It takes a long time to die a death of despair,” said Princeton professor emeritus Anne Case to New York Times Magazine, April 10, 2020. But let’s look at the bright side.
Always Look on the Bright Side of Life
For life is quite absurd—Eric Idel, Monty Python singer/songwriter
And death’s the final word
You must always face the curtain with a bow Forget about your sin
Give the audience a grin
Enjoy it, it’s your last chance anyhow…
In 1918, the Spanish Influenza – infected cities that put public health measures like social distancing in place, tended to have both lower mortality rates—but also higher, faster rates of economic recovery, and signs of lasting resilience when it was all over. Likewise, fewer people died during the Great Depression than during the boom years that preceded it in the Roaring 20s. Fewer drunk drivers for one thing. And in 2008-2009, mortality rates in Spain and Greece fell by a third, when a third of the people were left unemployed by the Great Recession.
Not as many people die during recessions as in boom times. When the economy is booming and everybody’s buying a new car—or drinking Swarovski Crystal on the job while building another high-rise condominium—accidents happen. As we see this happening all over the world at this very moment—from the northern provinces of Italy to the interior LA basin—pollution decreases for one thing, which is especially good for innocent children, the elderly, and infants.
Speaking on behalf of protecting our children, another of the fortuitous side- effects of this recession—besides dramatic reductions in are air, noise and water pollution—are far fewer reported accidents involving distracted-by-cellphone motor-vehicle drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians.
Lessons in Leadership from the Past Facing Forwards
Let’s be brutally honest. Like it or not, the United States of America is the epicentre of this global pandemic, most likely in more ways than one. As of this hour (12:20 pm, April 14, 2020), the USA has 583,220 confirmed Covid-19 cases, and a rising death toll of 23,654. There are close to two million (1,942,360) cases worldwide so far, with more than 121,726 lost souls already.
Not one knows for sure what super-wicked messes await us, or what we might hope for in terms of relief. Perhaps out of this anguish we’ll learn enough not to slump back into accepting our negligent past with an unsafe return to the malignant normalcy of “das Herd.” Let’s not go back to a “new normal” that won’t work any better than the old normal that got us into this pile of ordure to begin with.
If our society looks the same a year from now as it did last summer—to my mind that would suggest further disaster. If we’re restored to the way things looked before—we’ll be taking further steps back blindfolded, until we reach the edge of the abyss and fall over backwards.
Unlike the 1918 influenza, a Covid-19 vaccine will likely be available soon, albeit four to six months after the next novel pandemic starts. Similarly to 1918, the challenge for us will be in designing and executing an orderly and ethical distribution of scarce commodities and services. Here’s a brief checklist of some lessons I’ve made note of that I’d like to share with you.
- Prior planning, clear orders, as well as consistent and transparent information and recommendations to the public made a significant difference in response.
- As part of maximizing human resources it is imperative that the safety of health-care workers is insured. The number of nurses and physicians who risked their lives and took ill themselves, scared other nurses and physicians away from attending.
- Clear explanations of the reasons for isolation and closures; generous employer support; and ample food, medicine, and social services to those in isolation may mitigate fears and increase cooperation.
- Approaches, plans, and predictions should be scientifically accurate, understandable, clear, and useful. Finally, we need to take careful note of local and national lessons from the past so we do not repeat them.
It would be a mistake in my view to leave decisions about who get what, how, and when—when it comes to vaccines, intensive care, and ventilators entirely to scientists, economists, and accountants. Especially not TSX/Wall Street insiders and their sideshow political/media barkers putting another one over.
“The metrics ’re right here,” the American president says, tapping his forefinger on the side of his pumpkin, and pronouncing, “that’s my metrics.” This is the response he gave to reporters’ questions about what criteria he intends to use to decide the fate of the world we currently live in. It’s only a matter of fate and time.
My prayer: Goddesses from the Seven Hills of Rome to Mount Olympus on high, protect us.
Next Time: Why don’t we talk about the real 2020 Leviathans: Capitalism versus our climate and the environment, the ethics of biased, cluttered discernment, and the surrender of culture to technology.
Until then, amor fati,
Peter Chiaramonté, PhD