By Byron MacDuff
One city, one night. Repeated with different names, different bruises, across an entire nation. Then a second night, and a third.
Medical costs and student debt based on how clever you are as a negotiator and how lucky you are in family history; federal watchdogs removed to allow corporations to maximize profits without delivering goods, with the unintended side effect of removing any stamp of guarantee that citizens can rely on these groups; state actors who cannot connect cause and effect from one moment to the next or one neighborhood to the neighboring one. Social media intended to share information filled with propaganda with no attempt to use the vast resources of the internet to provide easily found facts, with less insight than a kindergarten class with a substitute teacher or a small fire in a dark movie theater. America, 2020.
It might not be your first reaction, but somewhere in the first moments of thinking about this, you must have the thought "This makes no sense."
Looking out for our fellow man has become a fraught ideological position, and working together for the greater good has been reduced by some to a "snowflake" dream. Part of this fracture is the admission, finally, early into the 21st century, that when we say we are working for the good of all, we have had a narrowly defined definition of all, and usually it's rich white men. (I say this as a moderately comfortable white man.) The concept of the United States, I suggest, is a sound concept, but have we ever really practiced it.
"All men are created equal." Much has already been written and said about the limitations in the original intent of these words, but we can choose not to live by the original intent but by the literal meaning. We have incrementally increased our understanding of the phrase over hundreds of years, but now is the time to fully embrace it. All Americans, all races, all genders, all levels of economic struggles, education, intelligence, physical abilities. "We must hang together, or surely we will hang separately."
During the time of coronavirus, one of the essential questions has been how parents can return to work if the schools are closed and their children must stay home. We have a long tradition of letting individual families sort this out on their own, with the poorest struggling the most but many families affected across the board. Now it affects everyone, not just individuals. The rich, whether they realize it or not yet, are affected by this: Their food supply, the goods they buy, the private planes they fly, the airports where they keep their planes, the entertainments they stream, even the people they employ to keep their own kids away, are affected. The Trickle Down Theory has become a Trickle Up Theory.
Medicare for All, or whatever version of the concept you prefer to call it, has been painted as a crazy left-wing progressive idea, based on ideology and not economics. But why, exactly? The cost of the coronavirus is economically ruinous to the world economy and to individuals who catch it. We can't just let every individual shoulder the cost on their own. That could be said to be a liberal, compassionate (or at least not Republican) argument, but consider the logical consequences of treating these patients as separate, one-off cases that need not concern us. Millions of people will be infected, hundreds of thousands will die, hundreds of thousands more might be permanently disabled (or orphaned) and the rich will see the cost of a hamburger rise from $8.95 to $58.95 to cover the increased costs of virus safety, medical insurance, and the labor shortage (or the cost of new robots to perform these functions. Robots will not be cheap.) It would be more logical -- and economically feasible in the long run -- to work out a way of sharing the costs. If there is a medical tax on middle-class people, logically there would be less of a need to pay medical insurance, or none at all. (Medical insurance would not go away, but become more specialized to cover things the basic plan doesn't, the way dental insurance works now when you want a specific type of filling, for instance. Social Security has not eliminated retirement investment funds.) The legendary upper 1% would pay more in taxes, but that does not have to be onerous; Amazon, one of the richest companies on the planet, pays 0% tax. Even if they paid 2% that would provide, at a minimum, basic emergency room care for everyone, including their own warehouse workers who get shit coverage from their employer now. And there are many other large companies besides Amazon paying 0% tax.
Asking corporations to pay more -- anything -- in taxes sounds like an idealogical, radical left-wing idea, but, logically, why not? Logically, how much do they need? No one is proposing an onerous tax rate as high as 3%, but why exactly do we indulge this ideologic fantasy that they must pay nothing? In a famous court decision years ago, corporations were declared "people." If they are "people" they are very dumb people. It is the job of a corporate structure to always demand lower costs and higher profits for the stockholders. It is not a requirement for the rest of us to always give in.
The argument against climate change has shifted from claiming the costs of new technology are too high to claiming it will eliminate jobs in the coal and oil industries. The wind power industry alone employs five times as many people as the coal industry, and many at comparable or higher wages. If we continue to support coal at this point we might as well provide a subsidy to the horse buggy industry and the incandescent light bulb manufacturers, if you can find one.
This is not a screed about corporate profits, nor a Marxist call for capitalism to tumble. This is a pro-capitalist call to action. My point is that there are connections in society that ripple through us all, and we can no longer afford to indulge our fantasy that All Created Equal means we only define the All as our immediate family. If we are to be a United States, we must all do our part and look out for each other. It is not a liberal fantasy to say we have been racist, and we should not be; to say we do not cut costs by sacrificing the poor and ill but only shift the costs from one pocket to another; to say we can no longer keep kicking the can down the road to let a future generation handle it, because we are the future generation and if we are not awake now there will be no future generation.
Like it or not, look to the person to your left, to your right.
We must hang together, or surely we will hang separately.