Ideas About the End of the World

1.

I’ve maintained for years, and am on record as saying that the amount of jobs that are truly necessary to keep society running is probably only about 25 percent, and the rest is useless busywork that exists for no other reason than the fact that we must earn a paycheck to justify our continued existence on this planet; i.e. be economically useful to someone else in order to survive.

Events of the past few weeks have mostly borne that out, although maybe that number may be closer to 50 percent. Perhaps 75%. It is certainly less than 100%.
It’s a really grim way to run an experiment, and I would never wish it to happen the way it did, but there it is.

What this means is that much of the amount of economic activity that is going on most days is counterproductive and useless.

If we only need 75% of the economic activity that goes on, we should share that activity among 100% of the workforce. That means people will be able to work a lot less.

What we shouldn’t do is just toss 25% on the unemployment lines and tell them to go fend for themselves.

In other words, it’s not the work that’s necessary but the jobs.

And the only point of the jobs is to make sure the people who have them can pay for food and shelter (at least).

This is insane! There’s got to be a better way.

It reminds me of the dystopia envisioned by Nick Bostrom:

Bostrom [raises] the possibility of a dictatorless dystopia, one that every single citizen including the leadership hates but which nevertheless endures unconquered. It’s easy enough to imagine such a state. Imagine a country with two rules: first, every person must spend eight hours a day giving themselves strong electric shocks. Second, if anyone fails to follow a rule (including this one), or speaks out against it, or fails to enforce it, all citizens must unite to kill that person. Suppose these rules were well-enough established by tradition that everyone expected them to be enforced.

So you shock yourself for eight hours a day, because you know if you don’t everyone else will kill you, because if they don’t, everyone else will kill them, and so on. Every single citizen hates the system, but for lack of a good coordination mechanism it endures. From a god’s-eye-view, we can optimize the system to “everyone agrees to stop doing this at once”, but no one within the system is able to effect the transition without great risk to themselves…

The implicit question is – if everyone hates the current system, who perpetuates it? And [Allen] Ginsberg answers: “Moloch”. It’s powerful not because it’s correct – nobody literally thinks an ancient Carthaginian demon causes everything – but because thinking of the system as an agent throws into relief the degree to which the system isn’t an agent.

Meditations on Moloch (Slate Star Codex)

Perfect description of late-stage capitalism, don’t you think?

2.

And who are the most important people?

It’s not the celebrities and CEOs. It’s not the “visionary” entrepreneurs. It’s not corporate executives. It’s not the Wall Street financiers, hedge fund managers, bankers, and other assorted “Masters of the Universe” (who are busy scheming up ways to profit off the crisis). It’s not even most of the vaunted Professional Managerial Class (PMC).

No, it’s the people who we’ve always known are the backbone of society: food service workers, grocery store clerks, shelf-stockers, truckers, doctors, nurses, technicians, farmers, butchers, factory workers, delivery carriers, etc.

It’s they who make society run. The people who keep the lights on and food on the shelves. The people who keep order and make sure the sick and injured are treated.

It’s the people who’ve seen their wages stagnate for a generation.

It’s the people whose productivity has soared during that time, yet have seen none of the economic gains.

It’s the people who get the lowest pay fewest benefits in our society, because we say the only things you are entitled to are what you can claw free from the impersonal “free” Market, and nothing else.

In America, the idea has developed over the past few decades that the Ayn-Randian-styled “makers”—the wealthy investors, entrepreneurs and CEOs—are the source of all our wealth and prosperity, while the rest of us ninety-nine percent are merely parasitical “takers” who sponge off their “greatness.” It’s become an article of faith among many segments of society.

This should kill that idea dead forever. Dead, permanently. Bereft of life. Off to join the choir invisible.

In fact, it is the CEOs and financiers who are parasitical on their workers, just as Marxists described. If they “went Galt,” no one would notice. In fact, we might even be better off. Of course, some executives are running critical businesses. But their role as paid managers is still the most critical aspect of their jobs.

It is workers who make society function, not executives, financiers and CEOs. Period. If there are water drinkers and water carriers, the CEOs and the investor class are the drinkers, and the farmers, nurses, shelf-stockers, truckers and technicians are carrying the water for the rest of us. It’s about time they get what they deserve–a bigger share of the pie.

David Graeber noted that under modern capitalism pay and benefits seem to be inversely correlated with how essential your job is to keep society functioning.

Instead, it is the Bullshit Jobs that get the highest pay and benefits (most of which are probably being done from home now). It’s time that came to an end.

In California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and elsewhere, state governments have rolled out increasingly strict orders to enforce social distancing and close all businesses except those deemed “essential” or “life-sustaining.” While these lists vary from state to state, each includes grocery stores, laundromats, restaurants (serving takeout and delivery), factories that produce foodstuffs and other products, gas stations, pharmacies, and hospitals.

What do all of these businesses have in common? They rely on the labor of low-wage workers who, in many cases, toil without benefits, unions, and workplace protections. Public workers are still on the clock, too, cleaning our streets, delivering our mail, and making sure we have access to utilities and other social services. While many government workers have unions, they are often accorded the same lack of respect as their low-wage, private-sector counterparts.

But imagine a global pandemic without postal workers or UPS drivers getting us our messages and packages; without cashiers and stockers keeping grocery stores up and running and full of food; without care and domestic workers providing life-saving medical and emotional support to some of society’s most at-risk people; without utility workers making sure we have a supply of water, electricity, and gas; without laundromat workers enabling us to clean our clothes, towels, and sheets; without sanitation workers collecting our trash and slowing the spread of germs…

…what does it say about our country when the jobs that are most critical to sustaining life at its basic level are also some of the lowest paid and least valued? Grocery store workers and first responders are exposing themselves to a massive health crisis in order to keep the rest of us functioning as normally as possible. Many of them work for minimum wage or close to it — and without health benefits — meaning that they could contract coronavirus and get stuck with either a massive bill or no health care at all. Meanwhile, with many school districts closed indefinitely, parents are missing the critical and challenging work done every day by nannies, childcare workers, and educators of all kinds.

These workers have a right to higher wages, full benefits, health and safety guarantees, and strong unions — just like every other worker.

Workers are More Valuable Than CEOs (Jacobin)

3.

A lot has been written about how ideas previously unthinkable are now considered within the bounds of possibility.

One often-mentioned idea is that of the Universal Basic Income (UBI).

It turns out that society goes on functioning just as well even if a lot of us just say home (as I noted above).

Why not pay people to do that? Why not take all the excess drivers off the road, remove all the excess pollution, alleviate all the excess stress?

We’ve been indoctrinated to believe that every job is necessary simply because it exists. That has been proven to be false.

If society can by on a lot less people working, why shouldn’t it?

And we should find a way to take care of those not working, rather than throw them under the bus. That could be UBI or a Job Guarantee. And it certianly should include working a lot less.

Universal health care, paid sick leave for all, vacation time for all, universal basic income—it’s time these get on the radar. Finally, proponents have more than enough information to insist on the need for them. Maybe it’s time for unions and labor militancy to finally make a comeback. It’s about damn time.

Workers at McDonald’s, Waffle House and other fast-food and retail outlets have gone on strike today across Durham and Raleigh in North Carolina in protest against unsafe working conditions, lost hours and pay cuts.

The workers are demanding increased safety protocols and payment for lost hours as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fast-food companies have been designated as essential services and can remain open, but the strikers say they have treated their workers as anything but essential, failing to protect them against infections and laying them off as soon as they are not needed.

“Frontline workers like us are getting hit the hardest right now,” said Rita Blalock, a McDonald’s cook in Raleigh. “McDonald’s is calling itself an “essential business’ but isn’t providing us with the essential protections we need to be safe at work.”

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/live/2020/mar/27/coronavirus-us-live-news-trump-stimulus-vote-house-thomas-massie-latest-updates?page=with:block-5e7e46fe8f081e5eda238394#block-5e7e46fe8f081e5eda238394

Yet as might be expected, the minions of Kochenomics are arguing that now is in fact the perfect time to lower minimum wages!

Most likely, we should lower current minimum wages. And that is all the more true, the more you have been worrying about coronavirus risk and Trump’s poor performance in response. These are all very simple points, I am tempted to say they are “not even Econ 101.”

Minimum Wage Hikes are a Much Worse Idea Now. (Marginal Revolution)

What an utterly nihilistic, morally bankrupt, sociopathic philosophy. These people really do deserve to be up against a wall.

4.

Will this event finally be the wakeup call that MMT is fundamentally correct?

It damn well should.

How can anyone seriously still continue to assert that taxes fund government spending???

The U.S. government just somehow came up with two trillion dollars in spending! The Fed is injecting, by some estimates, a trillion dollars a day in liquidity and credit to keep Markets afloat.

Where did that money come from? Are they checking the government’s vaults and balance sheets? Are they making sure that the government has enough money stashed away somewhere in its accounts to pay for all of the things that they are proposing? Are they rummaging through the couch looking for loose change?

Are they going to have to wait until April 15th when all the taxes come due to see whether or not we’ve taken in enough revenue from the public to “pay for” all of the things the government is proposing to deal with the ongoing crisis?

Are they going to drastically increase taxes right now in the midst of a pandemic in order to “raise” all the money necessary to accomplish these things? With unemployment at record highs, where are the incomes and private-sector profits supposedly needed to fund all these government initiatives going to come from?
Aren’t we told by the usual choads that the government needs to get money from somewhere “out there” in order to pay for its operations? Doesn’t the government have to “steal” money from private enterprise to do anything at all?

Is the government going to borrow the money from people who somehow magically have money right now available to lend to it? Are they going to borrow money from China—the very place where the virus originated?

Of course not!

All the above notions are absolutely preposterous. Yet we’re constantly told by craven politicians and the corporate media that taxes fund government spending; that the government is just like a household; and that we always need to balance our books.

As I’ve said, when it comes to bailing out the rich and powerful, there’s always an infinite amount of money. When it comes to helping the average American, well then, Howyagunnapayforit?

For example, when it comes to a universal health system in America that will save money and lives in the long run, what do you hear? Howyagunnapayforit?

What have we heard over and over again any time Bernie Sanders mentions doing anything at all? Time and time again, Neoliberal Democratic candidates wagged their fingers at us and assured us that we can’t afford all this “free stuff.” In fact, most of the Democratic candidates explicitly ran a platform of preventing giving the American people the same benefits that that citizens of every other industrialized nation enjoy. Now those very same Neoliberal Democrats are writing blank checks to corporations and the rich along with the Republicans they supposedly “oppose.” Socialism for the rich and “rugged individualism” for the rest of us.

It’s time for this charade to end.

The idea that we are somehow “broke” or out of money is another fairy tale that deserves to die, stone cold dead.

Taxes don’t fund government spending, and the government is not like a household.

Maybe people will finally get the message.

4.

The only thing that matters is resources. Real resources. Money is simply a tool for utilizing resources. That’s what it’s for, not sitting in the accounts of billionaires and bankers, idle. Or inflating the value of choice real estate, yachts, and rare artwork.

No amount of money in the world can get you a respirator when you don’t have one. No amount of money can conjure a vaccine where none exists.

For too long, we’ve obsessed over making the numbers go up, and neglected real resources that money is supposed to enable society to produce—health care, infrastructure, education, etc.

A lot of times MMT gets criticized for being obsessed over money printing in the absence of real resources. But the exact opposite is true! MMT recognizes that is only the resources that truly matter, not numbers on a spreadsheet, and that money is a tool for utilizing real resources, whether those are respirators or solar panels. In fact, MMT is the only economic school of thought that seems to pay attention to real resources above everything else.

5.

Given the fact that we’re entering a dark period very similar to the Great Depression and World War Two, it sure would be nice if there were a transformative political candidate running for office at this time who based his entire career and political ideas on those of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Too bad there’s no such political candidate like that running right now.

Oh, wait a minute, of course there is!!!

Circumstances just keep slapping us upside the head telling us to change course and vote for Bernie Sanders. Will the Democratic voters listen? Even the proverbial “suburban soccer mom” who is the Dems’ idealized voter is not immune to Coronavirus and health care bills.

We need transformative change. If this isn’t a sufficient wakeup call, then what will it take???

Seriously, what will it take????

AHIP confirmed that out-of-pocket expenses for the treatment would not be waived, and could cost patients thousands of dollars. The average amount for someone admitted to the hospital with pneumonia, a respiratory condition that many coronavirus patients are facing, was $20,000 in 2018 for patients covered by private insurance, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Peterson.

That could leave many people falling back on the age-old American dilemma: get healthcare or lose all financial security. And it could leave physicians finding loopholes and workarounds to stay afloat.

“Insurance companies are not beholden to the patient, they are beholden to the shareholder,” Hollander said.

US private health insurance companies clog system amid Covid-19 pandemic (Guardian)

Mass Job Cuts Across U.S. Threaten to Leave Millions Without Health Insurance (Bloomberg)

Teen Who Died of Covid-19 Was Denied Treatment Because He Didn’t Have Health Insurance (Gizmodo)

And yet, health insurance industry profits are higher than ever:

But remember, Bernie is “extreme” and Joe Biden is “electable.” *Sigh*.

5.

Is there anything more ghoulish, more horrifying, than calls to sacrifice human lives for the sake of “the economy?”

Yes, the economic devastation could claim more lives than the pandemic. But that’s up to us. It’s a choice. We have control over the economy. We have no control over the virus.

The rules of money are entirely arbitrary. Money is IOUs enforced by the rule of law. That’s it. Those relations that give rise to money can be conjured, extinguished, and renegotiated. There is no fixed “lump of money” in the world. Claims are not sacrosanct. It’s a game with rules made by us, and they can be altered or changed by us at any time.

Yet people are told they must get “back to work” to make sure that the stock market and economic indicators go up.

Trump seems to have channeled Lord Farquaad: “Many of you will die, but that is a sacrifice I am willing to make.”

I’ve even seen people making an analogy I’ve often made: the Market as a god who demands human sacrifices.

The health of “the economy” is more important than the health of the actual people in it! It’s insane!

The coronavirus crisis in the United States is only just beginning. But it’s not too early for some Americans to flout social distancing and isolation guidelines and return to work, according to some executives.

Dick Kovacevich, the former CEO and chairman of Wells Fargo, told Bloomberg News that healthy workers under the age of 55 should return to work in April if the outbreak is controlled, saying that “some may even die” with his plan.

“We’ll gradually bring those people back and see what happens. Some of them will get sick, some may even die, I don’t know,” said Kovacevich, a current executive at Cisco and Cargill. “Do you want to suffer more economically or take some risk that you’ll get flu-like symptoms and a flu-like experience? Do you want to take an economic risk or a health risk? You get to choose.”

‘Some may even die, I don’t know’: Former Wells Fargo CEO wants people to go back to work and ‘see what happens’ (Business Insider)

A lot of people like to scream from the rooftops and wave the bloody shirt over how many people Communism has killed. But I wonder if the victims of Coronoavirus will be added to the body count of laissez-faire capitalism. Don’t bet on it. The argument was disingenuous from the start.

Now is the time to renegotiate the social contract.

6.

Those of us who remember the fears over Peak Oil are surely reeling from the irony that, even as the worst-case scenario of economies collapsing, mass unemployment, shelves stripped bare of goods, hoarding, ATMs not dispensing cash, people stockpiling firearms, soldiers patrolling the streets, and potential rationing, the price of oil is at an all-time low!

In fact, it’s so abundant that they’re literally running out of places to store the stuff.

Who saw that coming in 2008? We were looking for collapse in the wrong place all this time.

7.

And this apocalypse was totally, 100% predictable.

“Nobody would have ever thought a thing like this could have happened,” Trump said.

In fact, the US intelligence community, public health experts and officials in Trump’s own administration had warned for years that the country was at risk from a pandemic, including specific warnings about a coronavirus outbreak.

When this strain of coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, was identified in Wuhan, China in early January, health experts immediately cautioned that it could turn into a global health crisis.

“This was foreseeable and foreseen, weeks and months ago, and only now is the White House coming out of denial and heading straight into saying it could not have been foreseen,” Marc Lipsitch, director of Harvard’s Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, told CNN on Sunday.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/live/2020/mar/26/coronavirus-us-live-house-vote-2tn-stimulus-package-bill-senate-news-updates-trump?page=with:block-5e7d272b8f0878a2a48ab0ad#block-5e7d272b8f0878a2a48ab0ad

A global pandemic of this scale was inevitable. In recent years, hundreds of health experts have written books, white papers, and op-eds warning of the possibility. Bill Gates has been telling anyone who would listen, including the 18 million viewers of his TED Talk. In 2018, I wrote a story for The Atlantic arguing that America was not ready for the pandemic that would eventually come. In October, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security war-gamed what might happen if a new coronavirus swept the globe. And then one did. Hypotheticals became reality. “What if?” became “Now what?”

How the Pandemic Will End (Atlantic)

Which raises the question: what about all the other crises coming down the pike that are totally, 100% predictable? What about them???

The biggest one is, of course, climate change. We’ve been warned for decades that this is coming. It’s effects are being seen right now. Yet the political class is still in denial.

Another one I’ve seen much more often due to empty shelves is food security. This has exposed just how fragile our food system is.

This week, it’s become clear to many Americans that this highly consolidated, monoculture-based food system is at least somewhat fragile—and thus dangerous in times of calamity. Diversity should not just extend to the types of things we grow in the U.S., but also to the sizes and sorts of agricultural entities we represent. This hodgepodge—farms, dairies, ranches, slaughterhouses, packing and distribution facilities, grocers and markets, delivery services and roadside stands—could offer us elasticity and strength. If Costcos and Wal-Marts are able to bear the brunt of the nation’s panic right now, good for them. But if we could relieve some of that pressure and uncertainty by bolstering local markets and farm sales, it would both increase Americans’ peace of mind and help build resiliency into our food system.

Yet here in the U.S., we’ve used federal dollars to weaken this sort of food system. We’ve encouraged agricultural consolidation since the last century, urging farmers to “get big or get out,” fostering homogenization in the array of foods we grow and the types of farms and agribusinesses we represent.

Imagine, in contrast, the comfort in knowing that five miles from your house, there’s a farm that will deliver a box of vegetables to your doorstep. (And that it is only one of several local options to choose from.) Imagine if, rather than depending entirely on a local supermarket’s freezer section (and thus also on a slaughterhouse hundreds of miles away) for your meat, you already had a half-cow in your freezer right now. Imagine if you could swing by the farmers’ market this Saturday, enjoy some fresh air, and pick up eggs, milk, and butter that had passed through only a few pairs of hands. Many of these markets work to provide fresh local produce to food stamp recipients, so that the food is not too cost-prohibitive. Most depend entirely on a local customer base to flourish and thrive.

Our Monoculture Food Supply is a Potential Coronavirus Calamity (The American Conservative)

It’s not just grocery shoppers who are hoarding pantry staples. Some governments are moving to secure domestic food supplies during the conoravirus pandemic.

Kazakhstan, one of the world’s biggest shippers of wheat flour, banned exports of that product along with others, including carrots, sugar and potatoes. Vietnam temporarily suspended new rice export contracts. Serbia has stopped the flow of its sunflower oil and other goods, while Russia is leaving the door open to shipment bans and said it’s assessing the situation weekly.

To be perfectly clear, there have been just a handful of moves and no sure signs that much more is on the horizon. Still, what’s been happening has raised a question: Is this the start of a wave of food nationalism that will further disrupt supply chains and trade flows?

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread: Coronavirus and Food Security (Naked Capitalism)

For years, many of us have been touting the need to downscale and relocalize our food supply and make it more resilient. We can’t rely on the “3,000-mile Caesar Salad” anymore. We’ve also been calling for a drastic rethink of how we do agriculture.

It also turns out that moving our entire industrial base to the Global South to save money wasn’t such a great idea after all. It turns out the the long, fragile, fragmented, just-in-time supply chains don’t work when there’s a global calamity. And there’s bound to be a whole lot more of the them in the future.

Instead, we spent the last few decades listening to the economics priesthood touting the money calculus. As if the money calculus were more “real” than actual goods.

A large body of evidence is beginning to accumulate showing how climate breakdown is likely to affect our food supply. Already farming in some parts of the world is being hammered by drought, floods, fire and locusts (whose resurgence in the past few weeks appears to be the result of anomalous tropical cyclones). When we call such hazards “biblical”, we mean that they are the kind of things that happened long ago, to people whose lives we can scarcely imagine. Now, with increasing frequency, they are happening to us.

In his forthcoming book, Our Final Warning, Mark Lynas explains what is likely to happen to our food supply with every extra degree of global heating. He finds that extreme danger kicks in somewhere between 3C and 4C above pre-industrial levels. At this point, a series of interlocking impacts threatens to send food production into a death spiral. Outdoor temperatures become too high for humans to tolerate, making subsistence farming impossible across Africa and South Asia. Livestock die from heat stress. Temperatures start to exceed the lethal thresholds for crop plants across much of the world, and major food producing regions turn into dust bowls. Simultaneous global harvest failure – something that has never happened in the modern world – becomes highly likely.

In combination with a rising human population, and the loss of irrigation water, soil and pollinators, this could push the world into structural famine…

Covid-19 is nature’s wake-up call to complacent civilisation (George Monbiot, The Guardian)

A sharp economic downturn was inevitable even before this crisis hit. Everyone knew we were in a bubble, and bad debts had not gone away after the last crisis.

Let’s not forget about antibiotic resistance. That’s not gone away, either.

And Peak Oil isn’t gone forever. The laws of physics have not been repealed. It’s yet another “slow moving catastrophe” that’s totally predictable but we’re not prepared for.

8.

When did political conservatism become denialism?

It seems like leaders on the Right all over the world tend to downplay the potential risks of absolutely everything. We’ve already seen it with climate change. Now it’s the same thing with the pandemic. Right-wing authoritarian leaders like Trump or Bolsonaro were busy denying that there was anything to worry about, and that it was just a media fabrication (“fake news”):

The federal government led by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has been trying to downplay the severity of the threat facing the country ever since experts around the world first sounded the alarm about the highly contagious virus in early January.

So far, the president has claimed that the disease is just “a fantasy” and “a little flu”, accused the media of fuelling hysteria by reporting on the death toll in Italy, encouraged – and even attended – a series of pro-government street demonstrations across the country and supported religious leaders who refused to close down churches and evangelical temples in response to the pandemic.

When it was revealed that at least 23 members of his entourage have been infected with the virus, he not only refused to remain in isolation, but made a point of shaking hands with his supporters and taking selfies with their mobile phones. The president later claimed that he tested negative for the virus, but refused to make the results of the diagnostic test public.

Bolsonaro’s COVID-19 denial will devastate vulnerable Brazilians (Al Jazeera)

Meanwhile, Trump’s response:

1. Call it “fake news” or a hoax.
2. Worry about the Dow Jones.
3. Openly contradict the experts.
4. Promise unrealistic solutions.
5. Set a totally unrealistic, arbitrary date for business as usual.

And right-wing media in this country have been collectively downplaying the virus since it first emerged on the radar. “It’s nothing, just the flu, go about your business as usual,” was the unified message. Either that, or peddling outrageous conspiracy theories about government bioweapons, or how it was all a manufactured media ploy to bring down Trump. Even on the national level, “Red” states are flouting reasonable precautions, while politicians in “Blue” states are doing everything possible to contain the spread and take care of their people.

It’s like the entire modern conservative movement is just an exercise in denial.

And notice how any warnings about potential problems on the horizon are dismissed as “Leftism” in the popular press. Whether it’s food security, climate change, peak oil, political authoritarianism, emerging diseases, antibiotic resistance, or what have you–the people who have been banging the drum about these issues for years are dismissed by right-wing corporate media as “liberals” and “leftists.” The only threat the Right take seriously is terrorism.

So the new definition of “Leftism” is living in reality, apparently. And Right wing “conservatism” is denying potential crises, even as they manifest themselves in real time. I wonder, what exactly are the conserving?

It’s tempting to see this as a modern phenomenon, but as viewers of The Crown might recall, during the Great Smog of London while thousands of people fell ill from air pollution and many died, Winston Churchill dismissed it all as simply “the weather.”

Despite his initial insistence that the crisis was a freak natural occurrence unrelated to human actions and beyond the capacity of policymakers to influence, Churchill quickly acknowledged that the fog covering London in December 1952 was made more intense, and a danger to health, because of the coal smoke it contained. And it was rising coal consumption that provided the final ingredient in the coincidental combination of factors that caused this tragedy.

In 1952, Britain was only gradually recovering from the destruction and debt burden of the Second World War, and many essentials, including coal, remained rationed. Yet just before the notorious fog disaster hit London, Churchill’s government had announced that the poorest and most polluting grade of coal (known as “nutty slack”) could be obtained without ration coupons. Spurred by official advertising that encouraged people to stock up on fuel and burn it without the constraints that rationing had imposed, consumption shot up.

Lessons from London’s 1952 fog could save millions today (Climate Home News)

Why did it finally end? Thanks the dreaded “Leftism” and eeevil “big government”:

UK’s Clean Air Act was really the first sort of overarching federal legislation in the world where you had a government, not just local government or state government, that placed some pretty restrictive rules on industry and on local citizens, and provided subsidies so that Londoners could begin to convert from coal-burning fireplaces to smokeless fuel, which is very expensive. It really was a blueprint for other nations to follow.

It was the pioneer effort that was really only brought about because of Norman Dodds and many people from the Labour Party, who pushed the issue so far and forced the British government to finally act. This was a systemic problem that no one really took seriously in the government because it was just something that was always there and the government was bankrupt.

In 1952 London, 12,000 people died from smog — here’s why that matters now (The Verge)

Churchill’s attitude towards starving people wasn’t all that different, either:

More recent studies, including those by the journalist Madhushree Mukerjee, have argued the famine was exacerbated by the decisions of Winston Churchill’s wartime cabinet in London.

Mukerjee has presented evidence the cabinet was warned repeatedly that the exhaustive use of Indian resources for the war effort could result in famine, but it opted to continue exporting rice from India to elsewhere in the empire.

Rice stocks continued to leave India even as London was denying urgent requests from India’s viceroy for more than 1m tonnes of emergency wheat supplies in 1942-43. Churchill has been quoted as blaming the famine on the fact Indians were “breeding like rabbits”, and asking how, if the shortages were so bad, Mahatma Gandhi was still alive.

Churchill’s policies contributed to 1943 Bengal famine – study (Guardian)

Again, will these deaths be attributed to capitalism? Or is it only communism that can kill people?

Bolsonaro urges Brazilians to get back to work, says concern over coronavirus overblown (France24)

When will we learn???

9.

What is it with the Democrats’ obsession with means testing?

Why must every program come with strict controls to ensure that just a small, tightly targetted sliver of society get any kind of government benefits? Controls that almost certainly ensure that a significant portion of people who need those benefits will not get them? Controls that ensure the people using the program can be depicted as needy “scroungers” receiving “handouts,” giving the perfect ammunition to those who want to strip away such benefits?

Unless that’s part of the plan.

The Democrats are a morally bankrupt party. They need to go. They only survive because any alternative has been suppressed. The two-party duopoly is an abomination. Our ineffective and dysfunctional government has been exposed to the world for all to see. Of course, under neoliberalism, that is by design.

[Senator Chuck] Schumer, who famously pegs his policy positions to appeal to a fictitious Long Island family that almost certainly would have voted for Trump, was by no means the only national Democrat to respond to broad upheaval with this kind of meticulously hedged and carefully tranched language: If you fit into social unit x, then you will be eligible in some circumstances to receive benefit y.

When the House was debating a bill that would have provided immediate cash payments to Americans harmed by the indefinite shuttering of much of the economy, Speaker Nancy Pelosi pumped the brakes. Her aim was not so much to ensure that the maximum aid would reach the greatest number of people but to guard against the prospect that too much federal support might reach insufficiently vulnerable people with untoward quickness. “The Speaker believes we should look at refundable tax credits, expanded [unemployment insurance] and direct payments,” Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff tweeted, “but MUST be targeted.” When Pelosi introduced her plan on Monday afternoon, the benefits were immediate, but also tiered and conditional—more an interest-free loan than an emergency cash disbursement.

…Senator Kamala Harris, whose dud presidential campaign has lately become a slightly more plausible vice presidential one, took the opportunity to reheat her LIFT Act, which would direct preposterously insufficient payments to a narrow subset of Americans who were neither too rich nor, not a little nauseatingly, too poor. (Harris later deleted those tweets.)

When the front-runner for the party’s presidential nomination finally weighed in on the ongoing negotiations over the scale and targeted reach of a bailout at week’s end, it was to ask that the nation’s reigning plutocrats be mindful in processing the bailouts they were about to receive…

All the while, the Republicans did what Republicans do—sought to direct whopping no-strings-attached funds to powerful interests while effectively removing all nonwealthy people from the equation, pausing at regular intervals to laud the integrity and handsomeness that their forgetful and vinegary president had brought to duffing every single aspect of the governmental response to the virus.

The Democrats, in response, did what they generally do. They made clear that they were disappointed in the Republicans; they advocated for something vague and qualified and means-tested that might benefit some people in a clever double-banked fashion; they made sure that it would not arrive too soon, or too generously…

America’s Diseased Politics (New Republic)

10.

And speaking of pollution, the lack of pollution during the shutdown is a vivid example of how we would all be better off if there were a lot less economic activity going on than there is now.

In fact, there will be lives saved from the lack of pollution as surely as there will be lives lost due to the pandemic. Once the pandemic is at heel (if it ever is), will we go back to business as usual? Or will we scale back the useless economic activity we now know is unnecessary (point #1) and enjoy the benefits of cleaner air and bluer skies going forward?

This is something degrowth advocates have pointed out for a long time now. Now we’re being forced into degrowth situation in a way we were not ready for and did not choose. Nonetheless, we are able to observe its effects.

Growth for the sake of growth has always been a mad philosophy. Growth produces pollution which eats away at the benefits. It provides diminishing returns–and we’ve long soared past that point. Now we have hard evidence to point to.

Coronavirus: Lockdowns continue to suppress European pollution (BBC)

Air pollution plunges in European cities amid coronavirus lockdown (Jerusalem Post)

The swans and fish returning to the canals of Venice show us what kind of world we can have, if only we can choose it.

As I’ve maintained for years, what we need more than anything else is not flashy new technology or rockets to Mars, but lifestyle changes.

11.

We’re seeing the results of 40+ years of Neoliberal philosophy of starving the state. I’m hardly alone in making this observation.

The enitre Neoliberal project was designed to establish the supremacy of markets and private wealth over the state and the public good.

Is there a chance this could be “Neoliberalism’s Chernobyl” as Michael Brooks put it? Is it possible that this will finally expose this bankrupt and failed philosophy for what it is?

Rudderless, blindsided, lethargic, and uncoordinated, America has mishandled the COVID-19 crisis to a substantially worse degree than what every health expert I’ve spoken with had feared. “Much worse,” said Ron Klain, who coordinated the U.S. response to the West African Ebola outbreak in 2014. “Beyond any expectations we had,” said Lauren Sauer, who works on disaster preparedness at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “As an American, I’m horrified,” said Seth Berkley, who heads Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “The U.S. may end up with the worst outbreak in the industrialized world.”

How the Pandemic Will End (Atlantic)

Perhaps this crisis will show us the need for competent, collective governance when it comes to certain issues we will be facing in the years ahead. Maybe the “starve the state” headlong rush toward Neofeudalism will finally be halted.

We can only hope people will see the light.

12.

Finally, some personal notes.

After spending the last two and a half years dealing with the fallout from my mother’s death, I thought I had finally put it all behind me. I had spent years getting rid of stuff (turns out I should have held on to the toilet paper), sold the house, and filed the final tax returns.

I was hoping I could finally escape the miserable frozen wasteland that I’ve been trapped in my entire life.

That’s all gone now. All my hope and dreams are dashed.

Imagine you have been held in Siberian prison camp for forty years. The only thing that kept you going was the knowledge that someday your sentence would end and you would be released. It was the only hope you had. It was the one thing that kept you going, against all the day-to-day misery. Then, when the day of your release finally arrives, the warden informs you that your release has been denied, and that your sentence is now for life.

What would you do? Would you give up hope? Would you kill yourself?

Here in Wisconsin, social distancing is just our everyday way of life. I’ve been completely and totally socially isolated for a long time. I mean, it comes in handy during times like these, but it’s kind of like a living death. Most days, I’m just so lonely I want to die.

I have no family. No relatives. I don’t have a single friend in the world.

I guess the only friends I have in the world are you, dear reader. And I don’t get to meet or interact with any of you. I don’t even know who you are.

I guess I’m fortunate in not having to worry about anyone else, with only myself to take care of. Yet the thought nags: why not check out? Why deal with any of this suffering? Why not just end it all? No one would miss me, after all. Literally no one on earth would care. The thought of being trapped here the rest of my life has had thoughts of death going through my head continuously. It could all be over so quickly. It’s just so much easier…

And yet, I know that so may people are suffering all over the world. So may people are so much worse off than I am. Perhaps you are one of them. Perhaps you’ve lost your job. Perhaps you have a health condition that makes you vulnerable to the virus. Maybe your housing situation is precarious.

It feels selfish to revel in my problems when there are so many worse off that me. The scale of the suffering is unimaginable.

I guess that means I’m in dark place and struggling. But we all are, right now. It’s so hard to live with uncertainty. So much grief in such a short span of time. I debated mentioning this. But I might as well be honest–what have I got to lose?

Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually it centers on death. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the normal thought that we’ll lose a parent someday. Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.

There is something powerful about naming this as grief. It helps us feel what’s inside of us. So many have told me in the past week, “I’m telling my coworkers I’m having a hard time,” or “I cried last night.” When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion. It’s important we acknowledge what we go through. One unfortunate byproduct of the self-help movement is we’re the first generation to have feelings about our feelings. We tell ourselves things like, I feel sad, but I shouldn’t feel that; other people have it worse. We can — we should — stop at the first feeling. I feel sad. Let me go for five minutes to feel sad. Your work is to feel your sadness and fear and anger whether or not someone else is feeling something. Fighting it doesn’t help because your body is producing the feeling. If we allow the feelings to happen, they’ll happen in an orderly way, and it empowers us. Then we’re not victims.

That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief (Harvard Business Review)

13.

Back before everything fell apart, I was working on my long-promised book. It was more a test run than anything else. It was intended to be roughly based on H.G. Well’s An Outline of History, updated with the latest information we know about history, anthropology, and human evolution. Sort of that crossed with Hariri’s Sapiens, crossed with Turchin’s Secular Cycles, crossed with Diamond’s Collapse. It was intended to be a “Big History” book looking at the entire scope of humanity through the lens of geography, demographics, social psychology, economics, climate, and energy, rather than just events, names, dates and places. And yes, disease was one factor.

The first chapter was a gallop through human evolution. Near the end of it, I had planned to write this conclusion:

With the rise of humans to the top of the food chain, mankind’s predators now boiled down to just two. One was the microscopic bacteria and viruses which became more common and abundant due to humanity’s changed relationship with the natural world; specifically the keeping of domesticated animals and the switch to living in large, sedentary social communities. These micropredators would kill far more humans that anything else before them. The other predator that man had now worry about due to these large social grouping was his fellow man. Together, these twin predators—macro and micro—would shape the forces of history from this point forward.

Stay safe, and be well everyone.
-CH

14 thoughts on “Ideas About the End of the World

  1. Hello!

    I’m a long time reader, but only a first time commenter.

    I don’t have any practical suggestions or advice for you, but thank you for being so honest about your mental health struggles. You’re definitely not the only one.

    A big thank you as well for writing all your posts on hip crime vocab. I’ve really enjoyed reading them over the past few years. They have given me much fuel for thought.

    I encourage you to keep going forward with your book. The websites no tech and low tech magazines recently published their articles through lulu. This could be an option for you.

    I’m not a religious person, but this time reminds me of a few lines from Matthew 7:13-14 (which I learnt in scripture lessons at school):

    Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:

    Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

    Good Luck!

    David

  2. Hi,
    As another long time reader who has never commented(mostly because I feel my responses would be lame compared to your excellent writting) I say amen to David, Gyrus & Kam’s comments!
    You are one of the few sources of reason & intellect on the web or anywhere, I would gladly pre-pay for your book and would also be willing to make recurring $ donations to help support your hard work.
    Please don’t leave us, continue doing what yo do so well.

    Bill

  3. Long time reader here, reading your stuff has always been something to look forward to, even when times are hard. I definitely care if you ever want to call or email just leave some contact info.

  4. Glad you finally finished with the house thing. I’ve been visiting your blog for many years. Would be sad to see you go but I also understand those feelings well. Hugs

  5. Chad, Escape Wisconsin whatever your calling yourself these days, also long time reader here very long time keep on keeping on, come to NY I’ll show you around-in a few weeks it’s very strange here now. do some kayaking, smoke some spleef, drink a few. Same old same old.

  6. I’ve had trouble getting my comments posted, so I’ll try again with a paraphrase:

    1. I would be devastated if you stopped writing for pretty much any reason. Yours is a voice we all desperately need now.

    2. Please write that book. I will buy it. Please also consider a tip jar or making some of your previous writings available as cheap ebooks so we can support your work.

    3. As terrible as this pandemic is, I am exhilarated at the thought that this crisis will drive real, meaningful change–towards a UBI, debt erasure, universal sick leave, controlled de-growth, whatever. But I’m also terrified that our elites will try to send things back to “normal” as soon as this is over. So I’d love to hear your (and this community’s) thoughts on organizing now to make sure this opportunity isn’t lost.

  7. Just as there is the seemingly unbridgeable gulf between you and us, there is the same gulf between us and you. We’re here, though, and we care, and we’d like to support you.

  8. Your suffering right now is no less than anyone else, you are valid and you are allowed to feel what you feel. To reflect what others have said above, your voice is unique and refreshing in a sea of trash, and you have a community of long time readers eager to support you. I’d pay to read your blog – have you thought of moving to something like Substack? We might not be there with you in person. But please – stay with us.

  9. Dear Chad, forget the writing of books now. i dare you to have a LIVING SUICIDE. what would you do if you didn’t give a fuck?
    plan THAT now with this free time. you’re too smart to die. / i’m a former author who “died” already. i write mostly for myself now. sketches for what’s next… stick around you can kill yourself LATER if you want. but isn’t this all TOO INTERESTING? write me if you must. i’m only here to bring back the Living Dead. other lost artists. i’ve lost too many of us to suicide already, dear one.
    x

  10. I don’t agree with 100% of what you write but certainly do with most of it. Yours is a truly unique voice, and I hope that you will be given (or create!) an opportunity to have it heard still more widely.

    I took a bike ride around my own city’s downtown yesterday. The experience without cars and traffic was truly remarkable. Rather than returning to “normal” they should take away half the roadway for bike lanes and wider sidewalks, and then maybe they could keep the remaining half free of potholes!

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