The discussion about when to reopen the American economy is, pardon the direct language, prima facie stupid. The notion that the American economy can be reopened with things quickly returning to normal, whatever that is, reflects a uniquely American brand of magical thinking. The American economy cannot return to normal so long as a thousand or more Americans are dying from Covid19 every day, while millions of Americans are wisely fearful of leaving their homes any more than absolutely necessary, thousands of small businesses have closed their doors and millions of Americans are out of work. Pronouncements by deluded governors, rallies by loyal members of the Trump deathcult and incoherent press conferences by the President are not going to change that.
Accordingly, the American economy does not need to be reopened; it needs to be rebuilt. Moreover, the economy must be rebuilt not just to recover from the damage wrought by the pandemic but also in a way that addresses very longstanding structural problems in the economy. As there are now more than thirty million newly jobless Americans, it is essential for a functioning American economy to provide millions of jobs, but it must do much more than that. The pandemic should be yet another reminder that an economy is measured by the heights reached by the Dow Jones Industrial Average and even by employment statistics works for far too few Americans.
As there are now more than thirty million newly jobless Americans, it is essential for a functioning American economy to provide millions of jobs, but it must do much more than that
The pre-pandemic economy, despite the President’s endless boasting, was not great for all Americans. It was an economy where unemployment was low, but a job was no guarantee of a decent living, where millions of people were working two or more jobs while not getting healthcare and other benefits, too many Americans had no resources to address an unforeseen expense of even $400, for many a college education meant years, even decades of debt, and public institutions and infrastructure were atrophying and even collapsing because the wealthiest were able to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. These are not new concerns as they have, more or less, dogged the American economy for decades. The pandemic and the Republicans’ avaricious response just highlighted them.
The pandemic has energized progressive economic forces that were already in the ascendancy both in the Democratic party and the American people more broadly. Additionally, among Millennials and members of Generation Z, the economic downturn that has accompanied the pandemic has provided more fodder for the more critical view of capitalism that is reasonably widespread among those generations. That gives us reason to hope that there will be political and economic pressure to rebuild an economy where healthcare and education are understood to the rights of all Americans rather than a resource to which only some have access, where anybody who works full time is able to live well and where those who can’t work or find jobs are still treated decently. Rebuilding an economy that spares millions of Americans the psychological and physical consequences of economic insecurity and worry should be our goal, not simply, and magically, restarting the economy as if nothing happened.
Rebuilding an economy that spares millions of Americans the psychological and physical consequences of economic insecurity and worry should be our goal, not simply, and magically, restarting the economy as if nothing happened
Since the pandemic has begun, we have seen both support for both reworking our economic structures and for continuing the one-sided class warfare that has increased economic disparities in recent decades. Although ideas like Medicare for all and some form of universal basic income have received some increased attention since the economy began collapsing, there is still not enough political momentum to turn ideas like that into reality. However, there are still a few more chapters of this story to be written. There is a real possibility that the Democrats will not only recapture the White House in November, but that they will win control of the senate as well. Although Democratic nominee Joseph Biden is, with regards to economic issues, on the conservative side of the party, the energy and political weight lies with the progressive wing that will push him leftward. Similarly, it is very possible that the economy will continue its downturn despite, or more accurately because of, Republican efforts to reopen the economy now.
If there is a confluence of these two events, the US will be in a very different economic and political context than at any time in recent history. This will create an opportunity for meaningfully rebuilding the economy not just to recover from the pandemic, but from decades of policies that have made generations of Americans more unhealthy and impoverished than a country as wealthy as the US should ever tolerate.
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