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A Rare Opportunity for the Left

There is one useful by-product of the Covid-19 pandemic. It exposes more publicly, more glaringly than ever, the inherent evils of the capitalist economic system in America. And in doing so provides those of us on the left with an opportunity, albeit undesired, to advance the movement for a socialist America. We must not lose this opportunity, not waste this one saving grace of the pandemic.

As an example of what I am talking about, the lead front page story in the New York Times of April 11, 2020, is all about when Trump will end the Covid-19 shut-down and reopen the nation’s economy. In the lead paragraph, the article states, “Trump finds himself pulled in opposite directions on what to do next. The bankers, corporate executives and industrialists plead with him to reopen the country as soon as possible, while the medical experts beg for more time to curb the coronavirus”. Gosh, what mystery, what suspense! I wonder which of the two groups will win out?

Under our economic system, in the debate between saving more lives or re-opening the economy, money…you’ll pardon the obvious pun…money will Trump lives every time.

Sadly, we know the answer. Under our economic system, in the debate between saving more lives or re-opening the economy, money…you’ll pardon the obvious pun…money will Trump lives every time. Even during normal times in capitalist America, the system works to produce an ever-greater divide among the classes. The rich just keep getting richer while the poor just keep getting poorer.

But the very public way in which this pandemic has taken a higher, deadlier and greater economic toll on the lives and fortunes of most of us, compared to its lesser impact on other, better situated and wealthier people, has been very dramatic. As a result, corporate America’s “cost-benefit analysis”, its desire too quickly re-open the economy, becomes harder to sell to the America people when the disparate cost in human lives of doing so is so public, so obvious.

The Times article goes on to say that, “But if the 30-day stay-at-home guideline is lifted, the death toll could reach 200,000, even if schools remain closed until summer, 25 percent of the country continues to work from home, and some social distancing continues”. And many, if not most scientists think it could be far, far worse. The article points out that even the government’s own new projections this week claimed, “lifting them after only 30-days, as the president is considering, could result in a rash of new illnesses and fatalities that would rival doing nothing to counter the pandemic”.

Nevertheless, now, as the economic impact of this pandemic grows deeper and deeper, the corporate class is openly trying to sell the frightened public on their damnable solution to the pandemic: their solution from a “cost-benefit analysis,” a Social Darwinian analysis. They argue, “look, the longer we keep people in isolation, and the factories closed, the longer we restrict trade, the longer we worry more about saving lives in the short run, the more we end up costing more lives in the long run. Why? Well, it’s simple. If we wait until its truly safe to reopen our economy, the economy will be so broken, so ruined, that it will take much, much longer to get it back on its feet than if we were to reopen it much more quickly, despite the increased numbers of dead Americans that doing so would produce in the short run. If we wait until it’s safe to reopen the economy, by that time it will take so long to get it running again that by then the hordes of jobless Americans and small business owners who can’t restart their businesses; and, those who’ve been left broke, and the homeless and sick, will be so despondent that suicides will mount to historic numbers, and the poor and the sick will die in greater numbers than if we’d done what we want to do now…not wait until we’re safely over the pandemic to reopen our economy, but do it now…do it in a few weeks”!

Yes, that’s Wall Street’s cost-benefit analysis applied to the current pandemic. And it’s becoming clearer and clearer that it’s what the Trump Administration believes is the answer. It’s the market approach at its rawist, crudest level. It’s the willingness to trade untold numbers of lives for a quicker return to profits, to a better “bottom line”. And according to more and more honest economists, it’s not even accurate when it claims opening the economy sooner rather than later would save more lives “in the long run”.

More to my point, all of us on the left know there exists a better and more humane economic system, a system where the only “bottom line” is what works best for all of us, not just for the wealthy. And all of us on the left should be saying so to our friends and co-workers during our Face Time visits, and Zoom meetings, and in passing chats with our neighbors—from a safe distance—on our walks. They, like us, must also be aware of how badly, how unfairly, our current economic system has been shown to deal with the pandemic.

Our message on these on-line chats and emails should be:

  • What if we lived under a socialist, or at least a democratic socialist system?
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  • What if instead of sending folks a few bucks once or twice during the crisis, we sent them enough to live on until this crisis was over?
  • What if everyone had a roof over their head and we stopped evictions and cancelled rent obligations until the economy was up and running again?
  • What if instead of hospitals today discussing “health rationing” protocols we had a system where everyone had adequate health care whether insured, or wealthy, whether old or young, black or white? What if we let those accused of non-violent offenses out of our highly toxic jails?
  • What if we sent extra medical supplies and teams of doctors into black and brown residential areas where the death toll is now the highest?
  • What if decisions about who will live and who will die were not determined by how fully our medical supply cabinets are stocked?
  • What if, knowing this pandemic was coming, as we did, makers of face masks and ventilators and the like had spent the last several years producing the tens of thousands of these items we knew we would eventually need; producing them under a system that did not worry about having a “surplus” that would hurt its “bottom line?
  • What if we refused to re-open the economy until it was truly safe to do so, truly assured doing so was not going to cost more lives than if we had waited?

I think all of us on the left must seize upon the educational opportunities that our inhumane “bottom-line” government is now revealing. We must talk and write about how we need a system with the ability to deal with this pandemic is a scientific, rational, equitable and humane manner. And in addition to on-line writings and chats we must also be prepared to take our message to the streets in protest, using car caravans targeting elected officials and plastered with our demands for action. Our demands being the answers to those hypothetical questions, above, that I suggested we pose to our friends and neighbors and co-workers.

Today, socialism is no longer a dirty word and, in fact, is preferred by a surprisingly high percentage of the American people. Therefore, we must not miss the opportunity this terrible virus presents. The opportunity to educate and advocate for the only system of American governance that could have prepared us for this pandemic and have seen us through it humanely. A socialist economic system.

This is an extraordinary time. Such times cry out for extraordinary actions. If we carry on as usual, the terrible price we will pay is crystal clear. What we will lose, both physically and politically is immeasurable. But if we will find it within ourselves to ramp up our struggle, ramp up our demands; if we will take advantage of this crisis to educate, agitate and protest for the kind of economic system—a socialist system—we need in America, surely we will bring us closer to the day when our struggle is finally victorious.

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Jim Lafferty

Jim Lafferty is the Executive Director Emeritus of the National Lawyers Guild in Los Angeles; Board member of the ACLU of Southern California; Fellow of the Institute for the Humanities at the University of Southern California; and host of The Lawyers Guild Show on KPFK. The views expressed herein are his own.