COVID-19 and Class in the United States

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made. — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

In the United States, #COVID-19 began with globalization and globalizers. One thing we can be of is that grovery workers — to whom the virus will “trickle down” soon enough — didn’t create the conditions for it, or introduce it. Let’s take a look at the grocery workers before dollying back to the global. From the Los Angeles Times, “Column: How coronavirus turned supermarket workers into heroes“:

Today supermarkets are playing a ground-zero role in our struggle to adapt to restrictions imposed by COVID-19. And grocery workers are bearing much of the the brunt of our anxiety and frustration, as we [who?] descend on depleted stores.

Without masks or barriers, employees are working long hours, risking infection and battling exhaustion to do their jobs. They connect us to material essentials, like bread and toilet paper. But they’re also part of the social fabric that holds us together in unsettling times.

That friendly chat with the guy restocking the egg case this morning might be my only social interaction on this shelter-at-home day. And I feel better whenever I see my favorite cashier at her register. There’s something reassuring about the familiar in a world where everything has changed.

Markets are about the only place we’re still allowed to gather en masse. And their employees — pressed into service in ways they never expected — are our new first responders. They’re apt to see us at our worst, and they aim to ease our strain.

“They’re dealing with a public that’s fearful, apprehensive and frustrated, and it gets hostile,” [said John Grant, a former meatpacker who is president of the union that represents grocery employees in Southern California]. “This wasn’t what they signed up for, but they realize it’s their responsibility. They’ve cursed how vulnerable they are, and yet they keep going out of their profound dedication to their communities.”

Funny thing. The people who “connect us to material essentials” are suddenly more important than Senators and Represenatives (who can fly home), or all the MBAs in the head office, or the CEOs. Heaven forfend they collectively decided to withdraw their labor!

“Vulnerable” as the grocery workers are, they didn’t bring #COVID19 on themselves or us. First, I’ll look at how globalization made the “material essentials” to deal with #COVID19 so hard to obtain. Then, I’ll look at how globalizers were vectors for the diseases spread.

Globalization

The story of how the United States 1% deindustrialized American by moving our manufacturing base offshore (mostly to China) is well known and I will not rehearse it here. From the New York Times, “How the World’s Richest Country Ran Out of a 75-Cent Face Mask“:

The answer to why we’re running out of protective gear involves a very American set of capitalist pathologies — the rise and inevitable lure of low-cost overseas manufacturing, and a strategic failure, at the national level and in the health care industry, to consider seriously the cascading vulnerabilities that flowed from the incentives to reduce costs.

(By “reduce costs,” of course, we mean “increase profits.”) The shortage of masks has been the dominant narrative, but we don’t make anything. If masks had not been “the long pole in the tent,” as project managers say, something else would have been or will be: ventilators, gloves, nasal swabs for testing, extraction kits and pipettes, reagents, whatever. The real issue is not a shortage of this or that material essential, but a forty-year policy of globalization, supported by the ruling class as a whole, that has led to a shortage of all material essentials (and that’s not even taking austerity and the general gutting of public services into account). I have altered the famous “flattening the curve” chart (here with “dotted line to show capacity”) to show the effect”

Lack of “material essentials” reduces our capacity (“How many very sick people hospitals can treat”); it pushes the dotted line down. So we either have to flatten the curve further than we would otherwise have to do, or we don’t, and lose lives. Thank you, globalization! And with that, let’s turn to the globalizers.

Globalizers

By globalizers, I mean the 1% on down, plus the PMC (Professional Manager Class) who own and manage our globalized system. One effect of globalization has been the vast expansion of air transport and international travel, so that globalizers can do their jobs. And that’s how SARS-COV-2 was brought to the United States:

The man who would become Patient Zero for the new coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. appeared to do everything right. He arrived Jan. 19 at an urgent-care clinic in a suburb north of Seattle with a slightly elevated temperature and a cough he’d developed soon after returning four days earlier from a visit with family in Wuhan, China.

(I’m not blaming any individual; I travel internationally myself, and there are many good reasons to do it. But international air travel was the vector that brought the virus to the United States. That is the system. I’m assuming Patient Zero travelled for professional reasons, since Wuhan is an unlikely tourist destination.)

We can make a highly suggestive correlation between globalizers and COVID-19 if we look at two simple maps. First, as is well known, one of the main distinctions between the places that are “optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward” (i.e., globalizers) and the dull provincials in flyover is the possession of passports. (A passport is a likely marker for the sort of person who asks “Why don’t they just leave?”; “front-row kids,” in Chris Arnade’s parlance, as distinguished from, say, grocery workers, who he calls “back-row” kids.) Here is a map of passport ownership by state:

And here is a map of COVID-19 outbreaks:

The correlation is rather neat, don’t you think? It makes sense that the first case was in a globalist, passport-owning city like Seattle on the West Coast; and it makes sense that the world capital of globalization, passport-owning New York City, now has a major outbreak.

Oh, and the ability to travel by air correlates to income (a proxy for class):

If one hypothesizes, as I am doing, that COVID-19 will trickle from globalizers downward, we might ask ourselves how that will happen. One answer, of course, is social interaction between the globalizers themselves. The New York Times describes “Party Zero: How a Soirée in Connecticut Became a ‘Super Spreader‘:”

About 50 guests gathered on March 5 at a home in the stately suburb of Westport, Conn., to toast the hostess on her 40th birthday and greet old friends, including one visiting from South Africa. They shared reminiscences, a lavish buffet and, unknown to anyone, the coronavirus.

Then they scattered.

The Westport soirée — Party Zero in southwestern Connecticut and beyond — is a story of how, in the Gilded Age of money, social connectedness and air travel, a pandemic has spread at lightning speed. The partygoers — more than half of whom are now infected — left that evening for Johannesburg, New York City and other parts of Connecticut and the United States, all seeding infections on the way.

Westport, a town of 28,000 on the Long Island Sound, did not have a single known case of the coronavirus on the day of the party. It had 85 on Monday, up more than 40-fold in 11 days.

It is the globalizers’ ability to “scatter,” in other words — both internationally and domestically — that made them such effective vectors. The Westport hot-spot was innocent, since nobody knew enough about COVID-19. Other examples are not innocent at all, where globalizers infect all those around them by trying to escape the disease. The Hamptons example is famous. From the New York Post, “‘We should blow up the bridges’ — coronavirus leads to class warfare in Hamptons“:

Every aspect of life, most crucially medical care, is under strain from the sudden influx of rich Manhattanites panic-fleeing, bringing along their disdain and disregard for the little people — and in some cases, knowingly bringing coronavirus.

The Springs resident says her friend, a nurse out here, reported that a wealthy Manhattan woman who tested positive called tiny Southampton Hospital to say she was on her way and needed treatment.

The woman was told to stay in Manhattan.

Instead, she allegedly got on public transportation, telling no one of her condition. Then she showed up at Southampton Hospital, demanding admittance.

“Someone else took a private jet to East Hampton and did not tell anybody ’til he landed,” the resident says. “That’s the most horrendous aspect. The virus is already here, and we don’t have any medical resources.”

Everybody loves a “rich people behaving badly” story, but here’s a second one. From the Los Angeles Times, “Some of Mexico’s wealthiest residents went to Colorado to ski. They brought home coronavirus“:

The frantic effort to find the ski trip participants has highlighted an uncomfortable fact: It is people wealthy enough to travel outside the country who have brought the coronavirus back to mostly poor Mexico. Yet if the disease spreads, it is those with the least who will probably suffer the most.

“The virus is imported by people with the economic capacity to travel,” wrote actor Tenoch Huerta on Twitter. “Those who ask that everything be closed and all economic activity stop, hurting the people who live day-to-day, why didn’t they voluntarily isolate for three weeks so as not to spread it? Or should only the poor be responsible?”

The same dynamic can be inferred in Blaine Country, Idaho, home of ski resort Sun Valley:

Idaho has 123 confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the state’s coronavirus website. That includes 37 in Ada County and eight in Canyon County. Blaine County, where Sun Valley is located, has the most confirmed cases at 52. Idaho’s first case was reported 12 days ago, in Ada County. The number of people tested in the state is now up to 2,188.

(Many of the cases around the state came from travel to Blaine County.)

Finally, Berkshire County, MA:

Conclusion

Of course, this rough-and-ready, anecdotal analysis is no substitute for formal, scientific contact tracing. But I don’t think, at this point, we will ever be able trace the original outbreaks. And I didn’t see anybody else making this argument, so I thought I’d throw it against the wall and see if it sticks. All I can say is that when I think of the grocery workers — and all the workers — in the Hamptons, Mexico, Idaho, and Massachusetts having COVID-19 brought to them, I become very ticked off. For pity’s sake, at least can we practice social distancing by traveling only when it’s essential?

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

72 comments

    1. Bill Carson

      I don’t buy it. There’s people with agendas who want that new report to be true so that they can get the economy running and let people die.

      There are a lot of people who want this to be true, and (as we all do to some extent) they will leave no stone unturned and no inference interpreted in their favor in order to confirm their biases.

      Note, however, that the lower numbers presume that the lock down will remain in effect and that people will obey, and this report will have a negative effect on that compliance.

      Reply
      1. Monty

        What about the data showing the virus is far less lethal than had been speculated. 60% of test positive Octogenarians from the diamond princess developed no symptoms. CFR was 0.06%. The diamond princess seems like useful data because they could test and follow up with the entire captive population.

        If this is the case everywhere, what should they do? All death is tragic, but we are not immortal. People die in large numbers every day, covid 19 or not.

        I’m starting to think governments have known this for a while, but had their agents in the media whip up some hysteria, so as not let a good crisis go to waste. What a heist! After ignoring the whole thing for 2 months, it’s been non stop empty shelves, Gurney’s and hazmat suits 24/7 in the tv news ever since.

        Once the ink is dry on the bailout, watch the narrative change on tv news.

        Reply
        1. Bill Carson

          Let’s do look at the Diamond Princess.

          712 Cases
          10 Deaths
          597 Recoveries
          105 Active Cases
          15 Serious/Critical

          Source

          If every one of the 105 active cases recovers, then the death rate is 1.4%, which is 23 times more lethal than the 0.06% CRF you cite.

          If the 15 serious/critical cases all die, then the death rate is 3.5%, which is in line with China and South Korea.

          Either of those numbers is much higher than your stated 0.06%.

          Reply
          1. Monty

            You’re right of course. I was meaning to write 0.6, which I think I gathered from the Stanford professors article, it was the mean of his projections. In all honesty I found myself dwelling on some rather dark stories in my mind earlier this week, which are of no service to myself, or the world. I have been trying to focus on the better outcomes we might achieve, instead of letting myself go there. I apologise for this accidental exaggeration!

            Reply
        2. Edr

          The media whips up hysteria without help. Hysteria means clicks and viewers for them. The problem is there are no trusted voices of calm that restrain the mainstream media. They’ve gone from being some form of check on power to profit crazed hysterics, fear mongering 24/7..

          I completely agree that 2_3 weeks of closings is reasonable and enough and should not have driven any corporation to require government help if they were healthy to begin with.

          Reply
    2. Ignacio

      These 20k deaths are for “Episode 1” when only about 2 million out of 67 have been infected. The larger number is estimated on the basis all UKers pass it.

      Reply
    3. c_heale

      Being a UK citizen, and following the UK response closely, I really doubt anything coming out of UK official sources. You can’t go to hospital and/or get a test unless you have breathing difficulties (and even this is not enough in some cases). The modelling they have done has been heavily criticized. They have no idea what is happening, because they don’t don’t test enough. They have reluctantly brought in social distancing measures, including closing schools, since people were doing it themselves. From the start they have only been interested in the economic impact, and even now the figures for known COVID-19 infections are only being released in the early hours of the morning, and I think they are a day behind too (they were definitely held back by a day at the beginning of testing).

      Reply
  1. Clark

    Lambert – This is a great post and I’d like to share it amongst my “persuadable set” of friends. But they can be prickly and often look for any excuse to disregard the message. So, please correct the errors in the opening paragraph: “… can be [sure] of …” and “gro[c]ery.”

    Reply
    1. mle detroit

      And re “patient zero,” please fix “a visit with family in Wuhan,” then 5 lines later, “for professional reasons” and “tourist.”
      I would also add that the passport map might also correlate with frequent visits to Canada and or “have (or had) enough retirement savings for that dream trip of a lifetime.”

      Reply
  2. judy2shoes

    Lambert, in the paragraph about Patient Zero, it says this:

    “….he’d developed soon after returning four days earlier from a visit with family in Wuhan, China”

    Apparently, he wasn’t there on business.

    Reply
      1. flora

        “probable conclusion” We don’t know that. There are now large contingents of Asian college students in the US from China, S. Korea, and other countries. He might be a college student from China who went home to visit over winter break, then few back to begin next college semester. I’ve no idea about his particulars of course; this is one possibility. This doesn’t in anyway contradict the ‘globalization’ point.

        Reply
        1. periol

          Odds are if he was here for college, it was with business in mind, not for fun. If he was here for college, we know he’s not poor…

          Let’s be honest, far-and-away the most probable likelihood is that the first carrier was here for some business-related reason.

          Reply
    1. Katy

      I am a University of Washington student. On Jan. 26, my school announced via email that 3 students had returned from Wuhan and were ill with flu symptoms. All three tested negative for COVID-19. We received regular email reports every week or 2.

      We got the “wash your hands and stay home if sick” admonition constantly. If there had been additional COVID symptomatic cases, we would have known, because everyone was on high alert.

      In fact, the school only reported 5 confirmed cases of COVID-19 by the end of the quarter.

      My school’s winter quarter started Jan. 6. The school’s 40,000+ students probably got lucky that students came back to the US before the virus had spread very far.

      Reply
  3. Grachguy

    I’d like to echo Clark and judy2shoes in the request to fix these rather simple errors. I thought this was an excellent article that offers an important perspective and I would like to share it with friends and family, many of whom are likely to be looking for a reason to throw out the whole argument over the slightest lack of polish.

    Reply
  4. Bill Carson

    I’ve always thought that COVID was an upper-middle class virus because it is that strata who would travel widely on business or pleasure, or who would hobnob with people who do.

    Unfortunately, the disease won’t stay among the upper middle class for long.

    Reply
    1. Samuel Conner

      “the rich do what they can, and the poor suffer what they must”

      I wonder to what extent WTO rules allow nations to implement policies that would claw back manufacture of “material essentials” within their own borders to develop some minimal level of resilience to future disasters of this kind.

      Or are we permanently shafted?

      Reply
      1. JBird4049

        How Roman of them. Makes me think of the Roman Republic’s Proscriptions.

        On the WTO, we do not have to follow them. Dismantling it would be a problem, but whatever its original function, it is now an enforcer of the Gods of Neoliberalism.

        Reply
  5. VietnamVet

    An excellent overview of the cause of a pandemic in the 21st century. Just like the deaths of despair, it is due to the degradation in the West of government, the loss of family supporting jobs and the conversion of healthcare system to for-profit wealth extraction.

    The Wuhan coronavirus outbreak is a story of how ideology and greed created a global pandemic and how everyone now is trying to hide the causes (cost cutting and air travel) and ignoring a strategy of how to contain the virus before a treatment or vaccine are developed. This is a consequence not one credentialed manager foreseeing that the coronavirus could spread asymptomatically. As a result, death is now stalking the Hamptons.

    Based on the fatality rate on the Cruise Ships, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Germany, coronavirus in healthy populations with a public health system doing contact tracing and a functioning healthcare system, the death rate is around 0.2%. When the system breaks down like it is doing right now in the USA, the death rate climbs above 6%. The hospitalization rate of the infected in NY State is 15%. The spread is not being contained and NY hospital systems are being overwhelmed.

    The only way out is what I call universal testing. Barrack Obama calls it comprehensive testing. Identify and isolate the infected, ill and asymptomatic.

    The overwhelming tragedy of is that if the USA started right now to test everyone and quarantine the infected at home or in safe facilities, the pandemic and follow up waves would be contained. But this requires a functional White House and government to direct a Manhattan/Moon Shoot level federal public health project to contain the Wuhan Coronavirus and save American lives. Instead rescuing corrupt Boeing and Wall Street executives is the first priority over having a healthy workforce that is necessary for a running economy.

    Reply
    1. Massinissa

      Great post, but I highly doubt Germany’s numbers, that’s my only caveat. They’ve listed ‘severe cases’ at 23 for several days despite deaths going up. I don’t buy it. I don’t think they’re underreporting deaths, but I
      do think they’re under-reporting ongoing cases.

      Everything else in your post was great and I agree with all of it. +1

      Reply
    2. Carolinian

      The test only tells you if the person is infected on that particular day. So for your/Obama’s plan to work the entire country would have to be tested on the same day and the infected packed off to virus hotels. It’s true Korea tested 10,000 per day but their goal was not to eliminate the disease–which seems to be what you are suggesting–but to make it manageable–to turn a “pandemic” into an “epidemic.” We are not going to stop the disease or keep people from dying no matter what we do. The goal has to be to get it under control.

      Therefore a different approach which has been talked about–focus on the clusters–makes a lot more sense. Start out by testing everyone you can in NY city and the other high rate of contagion areas. Of course even that won’t work if you don’t then isolate the infected because the number one way of contracting the disease is from a family member. Will the general public go along with this given that they are highly fractious Americans rather than Koreans? I highly doubt it. And bear in mind you’ll be isolating lots of young healthy people who barely have symptoms and taking them away from jobs, children etc.

      The reality is probably that we are just going to have to ride this out and do what is currently being done. Older people with other problems should definitely isolate themselves–perhaps until the pandemic has passed. Masks and other protective gear may give them more options.

      Reply
      1. VietnamVet

        Individually, the disease lasts a month. One class of tests determines if the individual is infected (shedding virus) or virus free. A second class determines if the person has antibodies and thus has recovered. Used together they determine the degree and extent of the epidemic. Quarantines isolate the infected away from the uninfected. If every infected individual in a population is quarantined, transmission ends, and the epidemic is over when the last infected person dies or recovers. The problem is scofflaws who break the quarantine. Legal punishment and safe shelters that feed and pay the infected and group bonding can keep the escapes to a controllable few. This is reason contact tracing is so important. It and virus testing are needed to detect new cases in the population and track down the escapes and infected outsiders who enter the containment zone and put them back into quarantine. In parts of China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, using containment and mitigation together, their public health systems controlled the epidemic. That American states have given up on contact tracing is an indication the coronavirus epidemic is out of control here and won’t end anytime soon.

        Reply
        1. anon in so cal

          It all hinges on testing, no? Singapore, I believe, implemented mass testing and intense contact tracing using data from individuals’ cell phones. This probably won’t work in the U.S. both because of the culture and the greater population size. Every day, the Los Angeles County Dept of Public Health posts an updated case count along with case locations. The data show the emergence of mini-clusters. For example, since reporting started, the case number in Brentwood, CA has continued to expand and now has the highest count in the county at 34 cases. Brentwood has plenty of rent-controlled apartments as well as pricey single family homes. So, what is going on there? And, wouldn’t it be great if known cases could be isolated. Maybe they are, who knows. Of course, the data hinge on who gets tested. To get an idea of the total number infected, I believe one applies a multiplier of 10 or is it 100?

          http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/phcommon/public/media/mediapubhpdetail.cfm?prid=2282

          Reply
          1. wilroncanada

            Could it be that the privileged classes have maids, cooks gardeners, pool cleaners, and so on? They are forced by fear of job loss with no references (self-censorship) or coercion by the privileged to keep them attending to employers while sick, or threats of expulsion from the country, or simply fear of having no medical care without exorbitant cost, to continue working.

            The higher orders infect the lower orders.

            Reply
    3. Ian Ollmann

      I just do not understand why we are still allowed inside the grocery store. Many stores have the capacity to take online orders. It is probably more efficient, certainly more sanitary. Order online, Drive up, have your trunk loaded, drive off.

      “Oh but grandma can’t master the website!” If she wants to eat, she will.

      Reply
      1. JBird4049

        And the large parts of the population or the large areas of the country that does not have access to the internet? We are not like Korea with its first world internet infrastructure. Our internet is an insult.

        Reply
  6. Mikel

    Everyone is passing through the same event, but with different experiences. In these times, those experiences are more fragmented.

    Reply
  7. Carolinian

    Well aren’t plagues always a global affair and not necessarily modern? Columbus brought a variety of plagues to the New World which got its revenge by sending the “great Pox” back to Europe. The famous black plague came from Asia. World War helped to spread the Spanish Flu. Perhaps the lesson here is that when it comes to medicine we should be more globalized rather than less which makes Pompeo’s desire to use Covid as a weapon against Iran doubly disgusting. Nobody wins a bio-war.

    And yes the grocery workers deserve our thanks (apparently some were being harassed and abused by hoarders for limiting their quantities). Intererstingly when I was in Walmart the other morning there were hardly any employees to be seen. It looked as though they had shut down the curbside pickup and associated product pickers and had one human check out lane and the usual two banks of self checks with an employee each. They’ve gone to closing at nght and that’s probably so they can stock the shelves and clean the store with no public present.

    So another way grocery workers may be suffering is by getting less work.

    CoV=national character test. Here’s hoping we don’t flunk.

    Reply
    1. wilroncanada

      Grocery stores are hiring right now, just about all across Canada. Filling online or phone-in orders is time consuming and needs workers. Curbside service, especially at the volume that has exploded, requires workers. Real Canadian Superstore (the Loblaws (Galen Weston, billionaire) chain has increased store workers’ salaries by $2.00 an hour, at least in BC.
      In addition, store workers have not, until recently, had nearly enough equipment to protect themselves. So workers off sick require replacement workers.
      Some stores here on Vancouver Island have now installed plexiglass shields to protect cashiers against coughing sputterers.

      Reply
  8. SKG

    While I think your point is completely correct (look at all the celebrities, politicians, and other jet setters testing positive), I think your map of the cases mostly reflects population density.

    Reply
    1. BillC

      “… [Johns Hopkins CSEE’s] map mostly [emphasis added] reflects population density….” I’d say,

      equally reflects population density

      … which strengthens Lambert’s argument!

      Multiply population density by % of passport holders (as a proxy for wealth and, once removed, travel propensity) and you come up with the conclusion that the US population is optimally maximized to spread contagion. Add our fragile global supply chains and a health care “system” that excludes or underserves 25-50% of the population, and you could hardly have designed a nation to better amplify a pandemic.

      Reply
  9. clarky90

    I fear for the social cohesion of the USA.

    Pay every USAian citizen and permanent resident $1,000 per month (more or less). So, a couple with two kids would get $4000. A single person, $1000, A mom or dad with one dependant, $2,000…….

    Even Jeff Bezos, Elizabeth Warren and Jamie Dimon…. would each get $1000.

    It could all be taxable income. Being universal, it is simple and fair. Just prove citizenship or residency, and bingo.

    This would keep the economy ticking along, and everybody feeling supported and safer. Most of the money would be spent locally. Keep up the payments (a month? Three years?) until the threat is passed.

    In NZ, many wealthy (jet setting) city people have holiday homes in the countryside. Ordinarily, country people are fine with this, BUT, there is now growing resentment to the well-off outsiders, potentially bringing disease to what had been, “safe” communities. Also, rural healthcare is already stretched (most young doctors don’t want to live and work in the backcountry).

    Suddenly, remote “safe bunkers” or “bug out cabins” are probably not a great idea. Most local people (truck drivers, digger drivers, carpenters…) will know exactly where they are, no matter how big a secret. For instance, one month ago we were celebrating cruise ship visits in my town. Now they are an anathema, and totally banned!

    Reply
    1. JBird4049

      > I fear for the social cohesion of the USA.

      So we’re assuming that “they” want social cohesion? Maybe they do not.

      Social and economic collapse as well as violent conflict is more without it; however, it is easier to create a political economy of societal suppression or control to enable a group to control whatever is valuable.

      I don’t know whether it is a conscious strategy, but the destruction of the unions was done to get cheaper, more obedient labor.

      Reply
    2. Amfortas the hippie

      cousin and i were talking about this this afternoon.
      in normal times, i don’t leave the farm but maybe once a week.
      but i know where all the new rich compounds are. these started springing up out here after 9-11…oil money, mostly, according to the robust rumormill.
      I count maybe 12 of these in my county…they can be distinguished by their elaborate gates…wrought iron, rockwork, landscaping and enormous lighted flag displays…very ostentatious for being on a dirt road,lol.
      the houses(mansions? manors?) can’t usually be seen from the county road that they’re on…but often can be seen from other county roads.
      the giant, solar panelled “houses” are all on hilltops(inefficient(the wind, and water pumping), and not really easily defended, without an uncomfortably large defense force)
      these folks rarely go to town when they’re here…few have met them in person.
      I count that as a blessing, these days…perhaps they brought their own provisions…or stocked up beforehand(the jungle drums indicate that they’re generally of a doomerish mindset, some with religious trappings, others with that bug out bunker mentality.)
      I doubt those people will be able to become the local warlords, however.
      too much unit cohesion among the locals…as well as far too many small arms.
      the one specimen that is close to me…i can see the yard light through the hills, about a mile and a half away….seemed a decent sort the one time i met him. he’s distantly related to my neighbor(3/4 miles away at end of my dirt road), and “saved” that old family’s large homestead(4 Sections, between 4 brothers, 130+ years ago) by buying a big chunk of it and hiring a permanent groundskeeper. oil money…a billion or two if my neighbor is accurate.
      in normal times, they come up for holidays.
      been trickling in for a week or so.

      this has been happening a lot in my area and points west for at least twenty years…rich folks and corps buying up large, distressed ranches…thousands of acres…and turning them into doomsteads with exotics and cows and permanent staff, and lots of improvements. they keep the fencing companies busy, and the plumbers and welldrillers.

      Reply
  10. Wukchumni

    Resort skiing was the perfect vector for Coronavirus and for the vast majority-a pretty spendy gig-and white as the driven snow in terms of who plays on the piste. Everybody is glommed together with so many chances to be within a half a ski length while waiting in lift lines, catching somebody’s breath as you drift into it on a chair going up, or mingling with hundreds in close quarters at lunch.

    There’s another vector though, it’s not uncommon for 20’s-30’s Argentines , Australians & Brazilians to be working at North American ski resorts, so they may have spread it as well, being in close contact with everybody.

    Reply
  11. BobWhite

    These are very interesting and plausible points, I would add some other contributing factors…

    Big international airports = NYC metro, Chicago, LA, San Fran, Miami, etc.
    Easy to spread – through aircraft, staff, airport, taxis – a lot of people intersecting
    The outliers would be Houston and Atlanta, maybe numbers are lower due to less testing?

    For New Orleans = Mardi Gras (+conventions)
    Millions of visitors from everywhere, now the numbers are skyrocketing, since testing has increased.
    We warned a lot of our friends at the time, but most were not worried… now they are.
    (the first Mardi Gras we did not go to any parades)

    Reply
  12. rjs

    in case anyone missed it, we passed Italy and China this afternoon & we’re now the most infected country on earth..

    Reply
    1. Samuel Conner

      Yes, and the daily fatalities, annualized, is now above 100,000.

      Hopefully the “like the flu” meme will perish.

      I’m guessing that daily fatalities will be approaching 1000 by the arrival of the “imaginary clock” Easter target for declaring “mission accomplished”.

      Does the President feel any regret over his prior preparedness policies?

      Reply
      1. John

        The president does not feel regret because he has amended his earlier remarks to show that he was correct in the first place and his response was beautiful.

        Reply
    2. Synoia

      Comparing the US as a Country with other smaller counties is not a real comparison.

      Comparing NY state with Italy is a reasonable comparison.

      I don’t know how to compare China with the US.

      I’d suggest comparisons of areas with similar population densities is probably the best comparison.

      Can Wuhan be compared to NYC?

      Reply
  13. sd

    Garcetti urges garment industry to make 5 million masks against coronavirus for those on non-medical frontline
    https://www.dailynews.com/2020/03/26/garcetti-urges-garment-industry-to-make-5-million-masks-against-coronavirus-for-those-on-non-medical-frontline/

    Mayor Eric Garcetti announced on Thursday, March 26, he was recruiting local garment workers to take part in an effort to manufacture 5 million masks, and eventually other life-saving health supplies. […] Garcetti said that he is working with garment manufacture Reformation to produce general use masks to take the strain off of supplies of medical-grade N95 masks needed by doctors, nurses and others working directly with patients sick with COVID-19.

    Link tot he website with information:
    https://laprotects.org

    Reply
  14. db

    Bill Carson you always have a lot to say. Where did you get the data claiming 10 people died on the Diamond Princess? The World Health Organization stats as of today say it is only 7 so far.

    Reply
  15. John

    There is another category of international traveler that is crammed in the back of the plane every seat filled. It is the economic refugee diaspora of many countries around the world. The lucky ones end up with enough extra money to just afford family visits once every couple years. An artifact of globalization and that just barely affords itself. The wiki on diaspora informs on the shocking numbers. Outsourcing household help to get cheaper more submissive (desperate) servants. I wonder if it was all peers who passed the virus or someone back in the kitchen preparing the lavish spread. Much irony there.

    Reply
    1. anon in so cal

      My thought, also. The elite international travelers get a lot of media attention, but what is the case load among the working class who service them. Apparently, Queens, NYC, is the hardest-hit borough. A coincidence that it is the locus of JFK? Queens has some upscale neighborhoods but it is, I believe, predominantly middle- and working-class.

      This is also why I am unable to fathom the advice to get restaurant take-out food. Granted, it’s a desperate strategy to keep restaurants from going under. But who is preparing and packaging the food for take-out? Restaurants are notorious for failure to provide sick-leave and for using undocumented workers in the kitchens. Speaking of which, in California, at least, a huge segment of the working class that keeps the state running is undocumented. What happens to them? The $1200 checks go to those with IRS accounts only. Who is providing for the undocumented workers?

      Separately, really enjoyed reading the OP! Very thought-provoking and many interesting and valid points about the consequences of globalization.

      Reply
  16. Sancho Panza

    That “material essentials” line and explanation is so money. Very interesting analysis. Also, we do ourselves no favors when we make graduate business programs single disciplinary…managers (“globalizers”) are taught economic and financial mechanics but not how to integrate risks from social sciences and other disciplines in their viewfinder. We are taught a narrow point of view. (Oh, yeah, and Go Blue.)

    Reply
  17. ambrit

    Some of the more nuanced expressions of ‘class’ in our local half-horse town:
    The local municipality has already passed laws limiting numbers of customers allowed into retail establishments at the same time.
    They have also codified the six foot rule. (All the groceries I visited this afternoon had six foot lines taped down on the floors in front of the check out lines.)
    There were armed coppers at all of the “lower class” venues. No coppers visible at the “upper class” retail outlets. (Said ‘Organs of State Security’ were not wearing any protective equipment.)
    I no longer got ‘funny looks’ when I wore my mask and gloves. I was not the only person so attired. Alas, less than half of the people in the grocery stores I visited were wearing any protective equipment.
    All of the ‘Fast Food’ outlets I passed by were doing take out or drive through orders only. (I checked, out of curiosity.)
    The smaller Thrift Shops were all closed. The Goodwill was open. I did not pass by the Salvation Army.
    The streets were very quiet and had less than half the usual traffic load.
    The only store that I visited today where the employees were wearing masks and gloves was the liquor store. When I asked the counterman if business was better or worse than usual, he replied that they were all sold out of Everclear and the State warehouse was also out. “I’ve been told by several who bought it over the past week that they are using it to make hand sanitizer. Mix grain alcohol with aloe vera juice.”
    Stay safe in these interesting times.

    Reply
    1. Carolinian

      I don’t understand the six foot line. So the line keeps anyone other than the customer who is checking out six feet away from the register? How does that protect the cashier who is still close to the customer when they finally get to the front?

      Myself I only go in stores with self checkout lately. I’d say at least during virus time this technology has come into its own. But then I don’t wear a mask. It may come to that.

      Reply
      1. ambrit

        I’m sorry. I expressed myself badly. I should have said, “…keep customers six feet away from each other.”
        The poor checkout droid is still two to three foot from the customer at the point of check-out. So, imagine a string of lines, six foot apart, stretching back from the register along the checkout line proper and into the store.

        Reply
        1. anon in so cal

          I think in some areas, Ralph’s and Albertson’s will install plexi-glass partitions around the check-out clerks. Not sure what good this does because the a/c systems can circulate the virus. But they are certainly the heroes, along with the most heroic–the healthcare workers. Truckers perhaps aren’t getting much attention but they are also keeping things going, alone out on the highways and apparently encountering closed truck stops.

          Reply
  18. ChrisAtRU

    Yep. The story of rich Los-Angelinos and Seattle-ites heading up to Idaho; anecdotal confirmation from a friend living in Woodstock NY; the story about high net worth people trying to buy ventilators; all interconnected. The correlation between the passports & COVID-19 heat maps rings true. The second ill wind then borne by the business travel class (no passport required) as airports basically became petri dishes.

    #Bonus:
    Did you read about the Spanish designer who essentially brought COVID-19 to Uruguay [Guardian]? She defended her decision. #Yikes.

    Reply
  19. Rattib

    I spend enough time in the warehouse/ manufacturing neighborhoods in and around my own city (Seattle) to be aware that some small scraps of manufacturing, for whatever reason, have not moved overseas. One question that I have had during this crisis, as someone who is very much not an economist, is whether the state governors currently being spurned by the current president in their requests for supplies could form some sort of alliance and coordinate their own efforts, (maybe even issue scrip?) to inspire/compel local manufacturers to produce the necessary supplies. I realize raw materials are a big issue, but if an effort was truly coordinated…

    Reply
  20. cripes

    As I write, Nightline is actually running a segment on farm labor, truckers and grocery workers who keep the nation fed during the pandemic.

    No Bullshit Jobs there.

    Reply
  21. MLTPB

    I wonder also about young college voters and non voters scattering to and from spring break, before many fun places imposed shelter in place.

    Did they add to or subtract from the spread?

    Or those who went to Mardi Gras.

    We don’t consider all or many of those college kids or party goers at New Orleans in the 1% PMC class.

    Reply
  22. David in Santa Cruz

    During the current pestilence I have made it a point to express my empathy and gratitude to grocery store workers. I regularly spread my custom between three supermarkets in town — mainly because certain specialty items are only obtainable at one or the other of them.

    It’s been interesting to see the different responses. One store serves wealthier newcomers with a wellness/New Age bent. The customers and staff have become pathologically paranoid — many items have been stripped from the shelves by hoarders and there’s a minder at the entrance and regimented circles enforced at the check-out line. The checkers seem genuinely fearful.

    Another store that I frequent has been in business at the same family-owned location for over 80 years and the customers tend to be old-timers/locals. The customers skew older and seem relaxed and the staff are cheerful. Nobody stops you at the door (there has never been hand-sanitizer) and there are no markings to enforce spacing at the register.

    The third market is owned by Sauron and I haven’t been back since the shelter-in-place.

    I think that it’s too early to tell which approach is correct. I only mean to describe my observations; in the end the different emotional reactions mean nothing to the virus. The staff at grocery stores are bearing the brunt of the anomie at the moment, but unlike restaurant workers at least they’re getting paid.

    Globalization and neoliberalism are to blame for this pestilence, but I’m not sure that class-baiting advances the discourse in this moment. There will be plenty of time to analyze the role of class later.

    Reply
  23. ambrit

    I beg to differ. Now is the time to bring the class aspects of the differences in response to the Dreaded Pathogen to the forefront. After the crisis has passed, some “new” shiny object will be manufactured to distract and lull the masses into yet another false sense of complacency.
    The Neo-liberal Dispensation has had much success with the strategy of never letting a disaster go to waste. We do not have to adopt the philosophy of the Neo-liberals to use the tactics that they have done the beta testing on.
    If it works for “them,” it can work for “us.”
    Politics ain’t beanbag.

    Reply
  24. Biologist

    Great post, thank you.

    In Europe, I don’t think it’s the 1% or even 10% that do the all of the travelling. It’s very common for people to travel all across Europe with cheap airlines for e.g. beach holidays. These are not just the domain of the upper class, you can get all in one flight + hotel packages to go to resorts in Greece, Spain, Turkey etc without having to break the bank, sometimes even with unlimited food included.

    Generally, many countries in Europe are less unequal than the US (exception is UK), so a larger part of the population goes on holiday, and these days that means flying all over Europe, and even to places like Thailand. I’ve heard that some Thai holiday resorts have Finnish language food menu in their restaurants.

    I know this sounds elitist and out of touch (“doesn’t everybody go skiing”), but Ryanair and Easyjet literally let you fly for less than $100 to many cities in Europe.

    Reply
    1. vlade

      When I was flying to/from the UK on the budget airlines (easyJet, Ryanair), I’d say that at least 50% of the passengers were blue collar.

      When a flight from Birmingham to (say) Prague costs you less than a train ticket to London, why not?

      Reply
    2. Abi

      To be honest, in Europe I think everyone travels. Most people start going on school trips or group holidays in sixth form. Most kids work part time from 16 or get supported by govt so they have money and then holidays are so cheap. You can literally go to Paris for the day from London on Eurostar. Or go to Italy for 3 days on some package that cost maybe 200 quid. Not to add the older people who go on family holidays or try older older couples who go to retire in the sun. Easy and affordable transportation is very very very important to Europe.

      Reply
  25. Expat2Uruguay

    Of course it’s not just the United States. Here in Uruguay we had our first four cases on March 13th. Very unfortunately one of those cases was a socialite who had returned from Milan on March 6th and immediately went to a wedding with 500 people. Thanks to her lack of any consideration of quarantine, we had 135 cases by March 21st, the day her quarantine would have ended had she taken one. As of yesterday we have 274 cases. Thanks to Carmela Hontou we hit the ground running!

    Reply
  26. notabanktoadie

    The real issue is not a shortage of this or that material essential, but a forty-year policy of globalization, supported by the ruling class as a whole, that has led to a shortage of all material essentials … Lambert

    Our unjust finance and economic systems have greatly contributed to this:
    1) Positive yields on the inherently risk-free debt of the US allow foreigners to buy welfare proportional to account balance in exchange for the dollars we pay them.
    2) Government privileges for private credit creation allow businesses to bypass the need to share power and wealth (i.e. equity) with their workers.
    3) No limits to private land ownership, including by foreigners, and interest rates suppressed by unethical means* allow rentiers to prosper at the expense of citizens.

    This isn’t a problem of greedy people per se but of a system that enables and rewards ruthlessness and net punishes those who can’t or won’t use it themselves to oppress others.

    *e.g. assets purchases by the Federal Reserve from the private sector.

    Reply
  27. Futility

    On this very topic :Brazil’s upper class doesn’t want to stop traveling, risking to infect their maids, cooks,.. who keep the households running and who go back in the evening to the slums which will be devestated if the virus spreads there. Unfortunately, in German, though.

    Reply

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