2021 Lockdown — Day 9

In the 1930s there was an epidemic raging throughout America and Europe killing and devastating hundreds of thousands. Western nations were being ravaged by a virus called Greed. It crashed stock markets and led to a depression the like of which wouldn’t be seen for another 90 years.

It stirred a US president by the name of Franklin D Roosevelt (FDR) to introduce what he called the New Deal. The corporatists and business leaders had no choice other than to agree to his demands. The only alternative was to face the wrath of the people. Under the deal the rich would face punitive taxes while the poor would receive benefits where needed and infrastructure would receive investment. This would result in mass employment and an increase in wealth for working people.

Roosevelt famously welcomed the hatred of his opponents and earned the respect of Americans across the nation. A decade later the people of Britain decided it was time they had a land fit for heroes and threw out the Prime Minister who had led them through the war years. Within 5 years Britain became a welfare state with a National Health Service, free at the point of use. It too invested in infrastructure, put its people to work and made its working class wealthier than it’d ever been before.

Both countries carried out programmes of taxination, injecting the economy with money clawed back from greedy industrialists and making the nation healthier and more balanced. Unfortunately the virus took hold again in the 1980’s as politics was infected by greed and corruption. The virus wiped out regulations that would otherwise curb the proclivities of the rich, killed unions, diluted environmental protections and infected working people with a disease rampant among the rich. Very few were immune to the Greed Virus and society became crippled and divided because of it.

Déjà vu

The crash of 2008 was a direct result of corruption in the financial sector and the response by most governments was to protect those who’d caused the crash and punish those who were innocent. Both the Conservative government in the UK and Democratic government in the USA followed the path of re-inflating the financial sector and defunding social programmes. At the same time interest rates were slashed, a move that only helped the wealthy. The world was crying out for a green new deal but the corporations were in charge and they were having none of it.

The result was that the gears that keep our country going were not oiled and the excuse was that there was no oil left in the can. Except there was plenty of oil in the barrels of the rich; they just didn’t want to share it. So, awash with free credit, those who could borrow at 0% interest went on a spending spree, investing in property and hyper inflating the housing market. Rather than using the bailout money to invest in small to medium businesses, the banks kept the cash to cover them for the next rainy day.

Corporations bought back their own stock which inflated their worth and gave the stock market a huge boost. In effect this took wealth out of the economy while making it look good. To add insult to injury our governments gaslit us, with the likes of George Osborne persuading us that the deficit was very bad and the treasury needed to be in surplus — the opposite of the truth — and that the national economy was like a household budget or a credit card, which is an out and out lie. All the while our government told us about record investment in the NHS when the current increase in spending was the lowest on record.

It became perfectly clear, when the Covid outbreak began, that the NHS was not prepared and the government were full aware of this. A simulation run a few years earlier told them this. Not only was the NHS not in a fit state to cope, the country’s infrastructure was already in a state of collapse because of under investment. The only sensible thing to do would be an FDR alongside a lockdown. Its estimated that around 20,000 deaths could have been prevented had the lockdown happened 2 weeks earlier and if the government were serious they would work with big business to help the actual wealth creators and support workers rather than doing the opposite.

Its perfectly clear that the government has protected the monied class first and largely paid lip service to protecting the rest of us. Covid-19 doesn’t discriminate on class or colour yet we have seen black and asian care and essential workers bearing the brunt of the deaths. There were no genetics involved, it was that they were on the front line. Poor working families find it hardest to stick to the restrictions in the lockdown. They find it hardest to educate from home and are the least able to work from home.

The current restrictions allow children with access to a laptop or the internet to go into school which means the poorest families are most likely to contract the virus as their children mix in the classroom. If only the 2020 contract to deliver laptops to poor families wasn’t given to Tory donors these children could study from home.

The virus thrives on vulnerabilities. While age is a vulnerability there is nothing the government can do to stop us getting old. Neither can the government magically make us all well. But as FDR and the 1945 Labour government demonstrated, poverty is something the government can tackle directly. So why do the richest countries in the world have the worst performance when it comes to Covid-19?

If now is not the time, never is the time

Many would point out that our first priority is to make sure we comply with the regulations. The problem is that those least able to comply are not being given the help they need to do so. It’s very much like the problem the poor have in accessing money. It’s actually more expensive to be poor. Interest rates are much higher and you have to buy cheap products that are less effective and need replacing far more frequently.

While we can’t fix poverty in a few months we will hopefully get the R rate down in February through restrictive measures. But poverty is definitely a driving factor and even modest efforts to help out those in most need will bring us closer to making the virus manageable. The government are clearly not coping and that’s because they are not tackling the root issues, one of which is poverty. And unless we face up to the fact that our government is dysfunctional primarily because it panders to the rich we will continue to go round in circles.

The New Deal not only addressed the immoral wealth gap, it galvanised the country to work towards a better country for everyone. We not only have a physical health issue, we are in a mental health crisis fuelled by a lack of hope. That’s not only because we are in a third lockdown but because we can’t see life getting better for ordinary people. There will come a tipping point but we can’t survive another 10 years of the rich grinding us into the dust.

By 2030 Coronavirus should be something we survived in 2021/22. But unless we tackle the fundamental root now we will be faced with a crisis that puts Covid-19 in the shade. If now is not the time, never is the time.

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