A New Economy Envisioned?

Against the Current, No. 206, May/June 2020

Dianne Feeley

WITH OVER 27 million jobs lost in five weeks and the economy crashing, Trump of course wants to “reopen America” to what existed just a couple of months ago. But that economy’s not coming back.

As so much production grinds to a stand­still, people are discovering that essential work is less about producing commodities than ensuring a place where they can safely shelter, with access to food and water, and health care.

Under capitalism in its neoliberal phase, workers are driven to produce at top speed and all “excess” has been eliminated. Now, as people no longer drive to work and much of industry has been shut down, we are suffering — yet also breathing cleaner air, noticing rivers running clearer.

As we see nature begin to repair itself, and as Medicare for All suddenly seems like a no-brainer, why should we want to return to an economy driven by Wall Street? Yes, we need food, shelter and security. But how to provide that, and at what cost?

• An economy that would end the massive destruction of the earth and its resources is often called a Green New Deal. It’s the logical way to restart the economy.

• In fact, retooling to make what is needed in order to effectively fight the COVID-19 virus is already underway. UAW workers now producing ventilators and PPEs, and liquor industry workers contributing hand sanitizers, show what can be done to develop what is needed — rather than the imperative of production for profit.

• With almost three million testing positive for the virus, we still have little idea of how widespread the virus is, or how often tests must be administered in order to rebuild social life. Many facilities could be retooled into producing high quality tests.

• But more than tests. Once a reliable vaccine is developed, we would need to scale up production so that everyone would have access to the vaccine once, or possibly twice, a year. Testing and the vaccination must be free and available to all.

• We need to design the health care system so that it can handle emergencies. This means “excess capacity” in hospital beds, ventilators, dialysis machine, and personal protective equipment (PPEs). It requires more doctors, nurses and technicians — and cross-training so that instead of being laid off, health care workers can be redeployed.

The already noticeable improvement in air quality suggests an alternative to resusci­tating transport and fossil fuel industries we can no longer afford for our health and environment. Instead of the individual car, luxury cruise boats and planes, we need a mass transit system that includes electric buses, vans and bikes, trains and trams.

Even the mainstream media are reporting that the virus kills people of color at two or three times the rate for whites. Not only is there discrimination in access to health care, but in every other aspect of life. To end racial injustice would mean, for starters, building quality social housing and establishing free childcare and quality education.

Retooling can best be undertaken democratically, when workers develop the plans and proceed to carry them out. That’s socialism — but even short of that, retooling today for what we need builds the solidarity that humans and nature alike need.

May-June 2020, ATC 206

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