This Is A Test/This Is Not A Test

Yesterday I posted an essay about the spiritual aspects of the pandemic. Today, my topic is political: how addressing the future of democracy and a livable economy are one and the same.

I will start with immediate action, then move on to a brief look at the longer term.

Last week people were rightfully up in arms about Congress members’ insider training and self-dealing to profit from the suffering of others. Today, the contrast between caring and corruption is even starker. People across the U.S. are calling for a #JustStimulus that puts resources where they are most needed, rather than lining the pockets of travel and hospitality industries that have been raking it in for years, which just happen to be those in which #IMPOTUS has a personal stake.

It’s imperative to support humane expenditures that really help people. Here are two counter-proposals: the Progressive Caucus proposal and Rep. Maxine Waters’ proposal.

You can find help to contact elected officials and get the word out at

Once a #JustStimulus is passed — and there is an excellent chance now that the House is writing its own bill to correct the administration’s misdeeds in the original legislation — two big questions are on my mind.

First, how to support democracy in the face of impending damage, even martial law. I don’t see the world precisely as Yuval Noah Harari does, but I recommend you read his piece in the Financial Times, “The world after coronavirus.” He talks at length about biometric measures that may be taken to track virus carriers and about actions justified in an emergency that have lasting repercussions. These two passages stood out most powerfully for me:

Many short-term emergency measures will become a fixture of life. That is the nature of emergencies. They fast-forward historical processes. Decisions that in normal times could take years of deliberation are passed in a matter of hours. Immature and even dangerous technologies are pressed into service, because the risks of doing nothing are bigger. Entire countries serve as guinea-pigs in large-scale social experiments. What happens when everybody works from home and communicates only at a distance? What happens when entire schools and universities go online? In normal times, governments, businesses and educational boards would never agree to conduct such experiments. But these aren’t normal times.

In this time of crisis, we face two particularly important choices. The first is between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment. The second is between nationalist isolation and global solidarity…..

You could, of course, make the case for biometric surveillance as a temporary measure taken during a state of emergency. It would go away once the emergency is over. But temporary measures have a nasty habit of outlasting emergencies, especially as there is always a new emergency lurking on the horizon. My home country of Israel, for example, declared a state of emergency during its 1948 War of Independence, which justified a range of temporary measures from press censorship and land confiscation to special regulations for making pudding (I kid you not). The War of Independence has long been won, but Israel never declared the emergency over, and has failed to abolish many of the “temporary” measures of 1948 (the emergency pudding decree was mercifully abolished in 2011).

We have an administration in the White House that has shamelessly and overtly endorsed ideas that would negate all constitutional protections. I can only imagine the eagerness with which #IMPOTUS is contemplating the actions that will amplify and consolidate his power, precisely as Senators Burr and Loeffler leapt to profit from the pandemic. Money isn’t the only currency that is traded in such times: the market in power is even more robust. And the U.S. isn’t the only country governed by a bully who will use anything to seize more power.

Second, how to resuscitate the economy before a Great Depression or something worse exacerbates the suffering beyond imagining. I recommend two articles that propose responses, not because I endorse every point each makes, but because the overarching point is critical and essential. As Robert Kuttner explained in the New York Times yesterday, subsidy for industries is a woefully insufficient response to economic collapse, and if allowed to stand as the centerpiece of public response, will lead to further disaster. Instead, he advocates for public spending on clear priorities such as repurposing manufacturing to provide urgently needed medical supplies and equipment, drawing an analogy with the way public spending on World War II ultimately reversed the Great Depression:

Direct public spending is more effective than other forms of fiscal relief because every nickel gets spent and jobs are created directly. What is today’s equivalent of the World War II buildup, minus the war?

There’s another such proposal from Paul Romer and Alan M. Garber in today’s Times, entitled “How to Prevent a Coronavirus Depression.” The lead should get you interested enough to read on:

Covid-19, the most threatening pandemic of the past century, has precipitated both a health crisis and an economic crisis. The strategies that governments have adopted to deal with each crisis separately are contradictory and risk catastrophic, long-term failure.

There’s a ton of information — true and false — flying around, and that would be confusing in ordinary times. But some things are simple. What’s needed is known: people need quick, reliable tests; those infected must be quarantined and treated; money must be gotten into the hands of ordinary people who have lost work, both in the form of a moratorium on critical expenditures such as rent and via direct subsidies; and the economy must be supported by the public sector to shift nimbly to what ought to be our top national priorities: ensuring health, addressing climate crisis, and so on. And while that all happens, our commitment to civil liberties must be strong and steadfast, for what we allow to be taken from us today is unlikely to be returned tomorrow.

Didn’t It Rain” by the Klezmatics with Joshua Nelson and Kathryn Farmer.

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