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October 20, 2020  
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The Barbarians at the Pandemic’s Gates

Richard Gale and Gary Null PhD

Progressive Radio Network, October 20, 2020

 

As we approach the the end of 2020, it is apropos to stop, turn around and carefully and objectively examine how we got fixed into this destructive quagmire of Covid-19 half truths, full lies and manufactured medical science. Historically we are a nation that more often than not has sided with the judgments of our public health officials. We have imbued them with a reverence bordering on sanctimonious adulation. The average person has a difficult time challenging the authorities that run our medical system. Consequently we assume they are more correct than wrong. 

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic and our response has been transformed into a great betrayal. The large majority of the US population has had their lives adversely affected, some to the point of chronic despair leading to suicide. Trump’s “greatest economy ever” is in fact a wasteland of over 122 million Americans closing in on poverty and tens of millions of Americans facing abject poverty. Sixty-six million are food insecure, meaning that they go to bed hungry and are therefore suffering from malnutrition. How much of this economic catastrophe is contributing to the virus’ spread and actual deaths? Stimulus packages are only temporary band aids on what has now become a massive gouging laceration. 

If anyone believes that the US is economically stable and competent enough to tackle these problems without a catastrophic blowback, they are delusional. Fiscal conservatives are angered that the US National Debt has reached $24.5 trillion while at the same time adamantly ignoring that the US Total Debt hovers above $82 trillion, $9 trillion more from a year ago under Trump’s administration. Unfunded government liabilities are at an astronomical $155 trillion.  Neither party shows concern about Americans' increasing personal debt (Mortgage debt: $15.8 trillion; Student loan debt: $1.7 trillion; Credit card debt: $994 billion), nor the rise in corporate debt ($9.9 trillion), state debt ($1.2 trillion) and local debt ($2.1 trillion). When we take into consideration $144.6 trillion in US Unfunded Liabilities, $20.4 trillion in Social Security Liability, and $31.6 trillion in Medicare liability, the nation lingers on the precipice of a total collapse. This is a financial tsunami that can only be curbed by keeping the dollar’s printing machines rolling 24-7 until doomsday. 

But not everyone is suffering equally, especially the nation’s 700 billionaires who average 65 years in age. To the contrary, some are profiting happily during the pandemic. It is in their best economic interests to assure that corporate lobbyists and captive legislators at the federal and state levels act on their behalf. Quite simply, with billions and potentially trillions of dollars being spent on the development and later distribution of drugs and vaccines in the corona war, it would be foolish and naïve to except a higher moral principle to motivate our ship captains’ judgments. Hence, our suffering is their profit. 

To gain a greater appreciation of the dire scenario that we all face, we must pull back and open a curtain to expose something rarely if ever discussed. This is the Pandora box of debt that has become so vast that it will never be repaid.  We have been spending money at the federal, state, local, corporate and personal levels at an astronomical rate while intentionally ignoring to realize we are in no position to repay it. 

For all of the uncertainties the pandemic poses to the world, especially in the US, one thing should now be evident.  Our neoliberal capitalist civilization has proven itself to be unprepared for unexpected crises and catastrophes. For decades, the US has been falling behind other developed nations in healthcare, quality of life, life expectancy, wages, class equality, etc. Not only has the American medical system and our federal health agencies been exposed to be naked, we are also discovering we cannot rely on their epistemological statistics, mathematical computer modeling, the FDA’s latest approved drug and vaccine, and surely not our decrepit healthcare system to account for our flawed health policies. 

Aside from the pandemic's toll on people's lives, there is also its impact upon the national and global economies at large that is rarely discussed. Rather, hopes and wishes are directed towards life returning to past normalcy.  We are expected to believe that our addiction to unconscionable consumerism will be restored, that employment will rise and the American dream can again be mentally photo-shopped into the national psyche. In short, we are persuaded that the comfort of our illusions and the denial of harsh realities will return. These hopes are highly unlikely if not impossible. At the height of the pandemic last spring, former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen warned that the 30% GDP decline is leading us towards Depression. McKinsey predicted 40% of GDP would be necessary to tackle the economic loss. 

In desperation the federal government has already spent $6.5 trillion dollars to frantically keep the economy afloat as a depression far worse than 1932 looms overhead. Some economists believe that this massive bailout is insufficient and upwards to $10-15 trillion may be necessary.  In 2008, with one broad stroke the Obama administration rescued Wall Street. What was believed to be just the TARP bailout of $700 billion was in fact over $4 trillion worth of outlays, including other FED and Treasury expenditures.  The Levy Institute at Bard College calculated the outlays may have been as high as $29 trillion, a number the Sanders' campaign had quoted. 

Before the pandemic, Trump boasted an unemployment level as low as 3.6 percent. But in the US, there are different ways to calculate unemployment. There is the official figure (U-3) that Wall Street and presidential administrations rely upon and then a more realistic statistic or U-6 that includes those underemployed and those only marginally attached to the work force or not at all.  Before the pandemic the "real" or U-6 employment was 8 percent.  Now, unemployment is skyrocketing.  The shadow statistic includes the millions of Americans who have dropped out of the work force because their benefits ceased or because they are homeless or unaccounted for by the Labor Bureau.  When those adjustments are made, the actual unemployment is likely around 27 percent. According to the Commonwealth Fund about 7.7 million works with Employer Sponsored Insurance have lost jobs during the crisis, which totals 14.6 million after including their health insurance to cover dependents. Many of these job losses are permanent. 

The dark side of American employment has been decades of outrageous layoffs, workers being replaced by automation, downsizing, corporate consolidation due to equity partnerships, mergers and off shoring of manufacturing. In addition, tens of thousands of foreign professionals have received work visas and are eager to take the place of middle seniority positions in firms for lower salaries and without full benefits.  The system is so corrupt that the millions of people who work full time for less than a living wage are completely ignored. Hence most Americans are deep in debt and frequently live paycheck to paycheck. The fact of the matter is that there is no security whatsoever for millions of people who may not find work for a very long time if at all.

Even if the lockdown were to end tomorrow, the lights would not immediately switch back on. Throughout the financial news, we are reading headlines of companies eyeing bankruptcy as credit ratings are being rapidly downgraded.  Retail stores are being especially hit badly.According to Global Data Retail, over 190,000 retail stores have closed, accounting for nearly 50 percent of the nation's retail square footage. Forbes has listed Dillards, JC Penny, Kohl's, Levi Strauss, Macy's, Nordstrom, and Signet to likely go under.  Others include Pier 1 Imports, Rite Aid, J Crew that is loaded up with private equity debt, Fairway supermarkets, and niche organic grocer Lucky's. Macy's capital alone dropped from $6 billion to $1.5 billion since February. This trend had already been rising since Trump came to office with large chain companies increasingly closing outlets including Walgreens, Gap, GNC, H&M and Victoria's Secret. For sure, when and if the pandemic ends, there will be far less retail stores. The New York Times predicts very few are likely to survive. And we are not even looking at the hundreds of their vendors that are also being affected.

With 60 percent of Americans eating regularly outside the home, the restaurant industry has also been hit fiercely. Restaurants employ more minority managers than any other industry -- approximately 60% -- and employs almost 16 million people. Between 2010 and 2018, it represented the largest number of low middle class jobs ($45,000 to $75,000), 300 percent more than the overall economy. Now a restaurant apocalypse is underway, with an estimated 20 percent of restaurant operations going under. Larger chains are far better equipped. They are simply closing down dining room facilities and only offering carryout, pickup, delivery or drive-thru. Smaller independent restaurants are at the greatest risk.

Then there are the farms, the concentrated agriculture feeding organizations (CAFOs) and food chain suppliers. In the past it was very rare to enter a large grocery store and find empty shelves. Now it is a common sight because the food supply chain has been upended. Pork and other meat suppliers such as Smithfield Foods, Tyson and Cargill have been forced to close plants. Due to Trump's draconian position on immigration of foreign workers, farm produce will not be harvested. Niv Ellis at The Hill reports that "some $5 billion of fresh fruit and vegetables have already gone to waste."  The pandemic, therefore, is contributing to rising food insecurity throughout the nation. Before the pandemic, Ellis notes, 37 million Americans were already food insecure. Finally, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization expects that the frantic efforts underway by countries to import basic staple foods may launch global food inflation.

Also we might consider the future of 15 million Americans who work in the tourism industry, including hotels, entertainment, parks, museums, etc. It is estimated that 96 percent of global tourism has vanished in the blink of an eye. 

State and local city governments are "staring at budget shortfalls that will substantially exceed what they faced during the great recession." States are reporting significant gaps in their capacity to remain fiscally afloat and are now staring into a deep abyss.

Americans who will either return to a job or seek work when the pandemic slows will be further imprisoned by an economy buried in greater debt.

  • Downsizing will accelerate along with borrowed money to continue operations while the White House refuses to pass a rent holiday, forgive student loans and other debts, cease payday loans, reduce interest rates on credit nor provide free healthcare for those infected with COVID-19;
  • The average person without a steady paycheck is living off savings and credit cards. Therefore, when the economy reopens, large numbers of people will be unable to return to the marketplace to circulate dollars;
  • As corporate debt mounts, the most insidious truth is that the vultures of capitalism are ready profit. These are the great white sharks in the finance industry that smell blood. For the trillions of dollars Trump is dishing out to the 1 percent, these are the first to get the lion's share of the quarry. 

Nobody in the mainstream media has properly criticized the huge monetary allocations being made for the pandemic. The FED is buying corporate debt in order for companies to off load their mistakes and receive fresh, new money. But the average small business receives the left over pennies.  The virus is teaching us the harsh reality about Washington’s pervasive culture of corruption. Neither party has any empathic regard for average citizens and small business owners.  Even the money from Trump's and Mnuchin's stimulus package given to citizens can be confiscated by debt collectors. 

Imagine if you are an average citizen, not an insider, at the conference table with executives from Facebook, Google, the major banks and mega-corporate industries. You have no income or savings and no health insurance. If you are hungry, where do you get money for food? Where do you get money if you are sick or gas for your car?  The unintended consequences of Trump's and the Congress' irresponsible and inhumane policies are literally bankrupting the nation. 

By extension the millennial and iGen generations are the victimized recipients of this debt bequeathed to them by older generations. They are further compromised with the inability to secure jobs equal to their educational level nor secure a satisfying living wage. They are burdened with high interest student loans. They also are far more aware of the impact climate change will have on their futures. Therefore, millions of young adults are rapidly losing faith in America's neoliberal capitalist system and our self-centered culture of predation. 

Similar to waking up the day following September 11, 2001, we are emerging into a new world. The pandemic is not solely a health crisis; it is also an existential crisis, an impasse in the global civilization that is forcing us to realize that our over dependence and perverse reliance upon natural resources, such as fuel, energy, food and corrupt banking and healthcare services, is fragile. We are learning that at every level there are numerous cracks in our structures of governance and our economic and social bases.  Yet the virus did not break the nation; it has been broken for a long time. Only now more people are waking up from their sleep. Furthermore, few people, including the mainstream media, now believe there will ever be a return to the normalcy of life that ended after Wuhan had its first patient infected with the virus. It is time for every individual to reassess her or his priorities. A life full of well-being is more possible today if we realize the virus has also been our teacher. But it is living a life that is founded upon simplicity, insight and wisdom, and community rather than consumption and competitive power. 

Now over 40,000 international medical professionals and almost half a million citizens have signed the Great Barrington Declaration to demand the reopening of national economies and to bring lockdowns to an end. Rather than trying to protect society, first we must break down the restrictions and burdens to free movement. This is part of a larger movement to demand that honest science, objective media coverage and collective compassion can begin to rebuild broken lives and forgive debt. The elite and their political ideologues claim it cannot be done. To the contrary Bush and Obama found it within their means to bail out corporate America, and Trump later followed suit. The scandal that should outrage every citizen is that these are the same privileged elite, their mega-firms and banking institutions who brought the Recession upon us by their own irresponsible debt and foolish decisions; ergo, the Federal Reserve and your tax dollars made them whole again. But sadly no small or personal business benefited from the bailout’s payback bribes.  History is about to repeat itself. It is time we declare we have had enough of our kakistocracy – a government run by the worst, least qualified and most incompetent citizens of the nation – and to sincerely mean it. 

 

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