There’s been a lot of talk lately about ‘reopening’ or ‘restarting’ the economy. A lot of this talk comes from politicians and media pundits. Most are for it, with varying degrees of caution, and very few against it. Almost no one questions who will benefit most from reopening or restarting.
Usually, the argument is framed in terms of being able to get haircuts or sit in restaurants or watch sports. Everyday people kind of stuff. Occasionally there is some acknowledgment that some everyday people – hair stylists, cashiers, childcare workers – might face more risk than others as a result. Many already do. But we can’t be afraid, we’re told. We are warriors. (That last part from a coward who lied his way out of going to war multiple times.)
Even before the current pandemic closed so much down, the economy we are currently told we should be willing to – literally – sacrifice lives for was not working for the majority of people. This is, in part, what has allowed populist movements to take hold in the U.S., Europe and parts of Latin America and Asia. Why would the poor vote for someone like Trump, who clearly does not have their interests in mind? Because the alternative didn’t care about them, either.
The economic system we are all so keen to restart – as soon as it is safe to do so, however we define that – really only ever worked for a very few. The gap between those who have much and those who have little has only increased since 1980. The number of those between those two polls has only diminished – and the majority of them retreated to the latter camp. As corporate profits increased, their payrolls shrank. As the stock markets surged, the real economy of everyday people became ever more tenuous.
Now, I need to be clear: I’m neither an economist, nor a historian, nor a political scientist. I have, however, read the works of economists, historians and political scientists, and not just those with whom I’m likely to agree. I live in this world that we’ve created, and I pay attention to what I see happening around me, and I think about what I observe. I consume facts, and modify my opinions accordingly. These are my opinions.
There are facts here, too. The current pandemic will eventually end, and economic activity of some kind does need to begin again at some point. Those are facts. But, in my opinion, it is time now not to simply ‘reopen’ or ‘restart’ our economies, however tentatively or rashly, but to reimagine them in a way that will benefit more people and harm fewer, and lead to greater freedom and equality for everyone.