Inequality and the Coronavirus: Destroying American Society From the Top Down

Yves here. A point we fell compelled to add every time the topic of inequality and health arises: Highly unequal societies impose a health cost even on the very rich. If you slip from your economic perch, you lose many if not all of your social ties. You are no longer able to afford the same summer rentals or second homes, patronize the same charities, belong to the same clubs. You may even have to move to a less tony neighborhood and take your kids out of private school. Knowing that what passes for your friendships in fact depend upon you being in their spending league exacts a toll. And that’s before worrying that the help or your retainers are stealing from you. That level of underlying stress exacts a toll, believe it or not. For example, Jeff Bezos is the exception to the general rule that a high end divorce will take a big chunk out of the wealthier spouse’s net worth, even before you factor in that rich people can afford to get into protracted and therefore even more emotionally draining legal battles.

That isn’t to say that the very well off deserve all that much sympathy when they take money and status hits, but to illustrate how remarkably short-sighted their desire to remain well apart from the plebes is.

By Liz Theoharis, a theologian, ordained minister, and anti-poverty activist. Director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, she is the author of Always With Us? What Jesus Really Said About the Poor. She teaches at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Originally published at TomDispatch.

My mom contracted polio when she was 14. She survived and learned to walk again, but my life was deeply affected by that virus. Today, as our larger society attempts to self-distance and self-isolate, my family has texted about the polio quarantine my mom was put under: how my grandma fearfully checked my aunt’s temperature every night because she shared a bedroom with my mom; how they had to put a sign on the front door of the house that read “quarantine” so that no one would visit.

Growing up with a polio survivor, I learned lessons about epidemics, sickness, disability, and inequality that have forever shaped my world. From a young age, I saw that all of us should be valued for our intrinsic worth as human beings; that there is no line between the supposedly deserving and the undeserving; that we should be loved for who we are, not what we do or how much money we have. My mom modeled for me what’s possible when those most impacted by inequality and injustice dedicate their lives to protecting others from what hurts us all. She taught me that the dividing line between sickness and wellbeing loses its meaning in a society that doesn’t care for everyone.

Here’s the simple truth of twenty-first-century America: all of us live in a time and in an economic system that values our lives relative to our ability to produce profits for the rich or in the context of the wealth we possess. Our wellness is measured by our efficiency and — a particular lesson in the age of the coronavirus — our sickness, when considered at all, is seen as an indication of individual limitations or moral failures, rather than as a symptom of a sick society.

About 31 million people are today uninsured in America and 14 states have not even expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The healthcare system is seemingly structured in defiance of the people it should serve, functioning as yet another way to maximize profits at the expense of millions. In this coronavirus moment, many more Americans are finally awakening to the bitter consequences, the damage, wrought when even a single person does not have access to the resources he or she needs to live decently or, for that matter, survive. With the spread of a pandemic, the cost to a nation that often treats collective care as, at best, an afterthought should become apparent. After all, more than 9,000 medical workers, many not adequately protected from the disease, have already contracted it.

For decades, both political parties have pushed the narrative that illness, homelessness, poverty, and inequality are minor aberrations in an otherwise healthy society. Even now, as the possibility of a potentially historic depression looms, assurances that the mechanics of our economy are fundamentally strong (and Covid-19 an unexpected fluke) remain commonplace. And yet, while that economy’s productivity has indeed increased strikingly since the 1970s, the gains from it have gone to an increasingly small number of people (and corporations), while real wages have stagnated for the majority of workers. Don’t be fooled. This crisis didn’t start with the coronavirus: our collapsing oil and gas industry, for instance, points to an energy system that was already on the brink and a majority of economists agree that a manufacturing decline had actually begun in August 2019.

The Cost of Inequality

It should no longer be possible to ignore the structural crisis of poverty and inequality that has been eating away at American society over these last decades. Historic unemployment numbers in recent weeks only reveal how expendable the majority of workers are in a crunch. This is happening at a moment when it’s ever clearer how many of the most “essential” tasks in our economy are done by the least well-paid workers. The ranks of the poor are widening at a startling clip, as many more of us are now experiencing what dire insecurity feels like in an economy built on non-unionized, low-wage work and part-time jobs.

In order to respond to such a crisis and the growing needs of millions, it’s important to first acknowledge the deeper history of injustice and pain that brought us all here. In the last years of his life, Martin Luther King, Jr., put it well when he said that “the prescription for the cure rests with an accurate diagnosis of the disease.” To develop a cure not just for this virus but for a nation with the deepest kind of inequality at its core, what’s first needed (as with any disease) is an accurate diagnosis.

Today, more than 38 million people officially live below the federal poverty line and, in truth, that figure should have shocked the nation into action before the coronavirus even arrived here. No such luck and here’s the real story anyway: the official measure of poverty, developed in 1964, doesn’t even take into account household expenses like health care, child care, housing, and transportation, not to speak of other costs that have burgeoned in recent decades. The world has undergone profound economic transformations over the last 66 years and yet this out-of-date measure, based on three times a family’s food budget, continues to shape policymaking at every level of government as well as the contours of the American political and moral imagination.

Two years ago, the Poor People’s Campaign (which I co-chair alongside Reverend William Barber II) and the Institute for Policy Studies released an audit of America. Its centerpiece was a far more realistic assessment of poverty and economic precariousness in this country. Using the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure as a baseline, which, among other things, measures family income after taxes and out-of-pocket expenses for food, clothing, housing, and utilities, there are at least 140 million people who are poor — or just a $400 emergency from that state. (Of that, there are now untold examples in this pandemic moment.)

As poverty has grown and spread, one of the great political weapons of politicians and the ruling elite over the past decades (only emphasized in the age of Trump) has been to minimize, dismiss, and racialize it. In the 1970s, President Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” coded it into Republican national politics; in the 1980s, in the years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, the fabricated image of “the welfare queen” gained symbolic prominence. In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton’s welfare “reforms” enshrined such thinking in the arguments of both parties. Today, given the outright racism and xenophobia that has become the hallmark of Donald Trump’s presidency, “poor” has become a curse word.

It is, of course, true that, among the 140 million poor people in the U.S., a disproportionate number are indeed people of color. The inheritance of slavery, Jim Crow, never-ending discrimination, and the mass incarceration of black men in particular, as well as a generational disinvestment in such populations, could have resulted in nothing less. And yet the reality of poverty stretches deep into every community in this country. According to that audit of America, the poor or low-income today consist of 24 million blacks, 38 million Latinos, eight million Asian-Americans, two million Native peoples, and 66 million whites.

Those staggering numbers, already a deadweight for the nation, are likely to prove a grotestque underestimate in the coronaviral world we now inhabit and yet none of this should be a surprise. Although we couldn’t have predicted the exact circumstances of this pandemic, social theorists remind us that conditions were ripe for just this kind of economic dislocation.

Over the past 50 years, for instance, rents have risen faster than income in every city. Before the coronavirus outbreak, there was not a single county in this country where a person making a minimum wage with a family could afford a two-bedroom apartment. No surprise then that, throughout this crisis, there has been a rise in rent strikes, housing takeovers, and calls for moratoriums on evictions. The quiet fact is that, in the last few decades, unemployment, underemployment, poverty, and homelessness have become ever more deeply and permanently structured into this society.

Covid-19 and the Descent Into Poverty

Over the years, one political narrative has been trumpeted by both parties: that we don’t have enough to provide for every American. This scarcity argument has undergirded every federal budget in recent history and yet it falls flat when we look at the 53% of every federal discretionary dollar that goes to the Pentagon, the trillions of dollars that have been squandered in this country’s never-ending war on terror, not to speak of the unprecedented financial gains the wealthiest have made (even in the midst of the current crisis). Of course, this economic order becomes a genuine moral scandal the moment attention is focused on the three billionaires who possess more wealth than the bottom half of society.

Since the government began transferring wealth from the poor to the very rich under the guise of “trickle-down” (but actually gusher-up) economics, key public institutions, labor unions, and the electoral process have been under attack. The healthcare system has been further privatized, public housing has been demolished, public water and sanitation systems have been held hostage by emergency managers, and the social safety net has been eviscerated.

In these same years, core government functions have been turned over to the private sector and the free market. The result: levels of poverty and inequality in this country now outmatch the Gilded Age. All of this, in turn, laid the groundwork for the rapid spread of death and disease via the Covid-19 pandemic and its disproportionate impact on poor people and people of color.

When the coronavirus first became a national emergency, the Fed materialized $1.5 trillion dollars in loans to Wall Street, a form of corporate welfare that may never be paid back. In the following weeks, the Fed and a congressional bipartisan stimulus package funneled trillions more in bailouts to the largest corporations. Meanwhile, tens of millions of Americans were left out of that CARES Act: 48% of the workforce did not receive paid sick leave; 27 million uninsured people and 10% of the insured who couldn’t even afford a doctor’s visit have no guarantee of free or reasonably priced medical treatment; 11 million undocumented immigrants and their five million children will receive no emergency provisions; 2.3 million of the incarcerated have been left in the petri dish of prison; three million Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients saw no increase in their benefits; and homeless assistance funds were targeted at only about 500,000 people, although eight to 11 million are homeless or housing insecure. Such omissions are guaranteed to prove debilitating, even potentially lethal, for many. They also represent cracks in a dam ready to break in a nation without a guaranteed living wage or universal healthcare as debt mounts, wages stagnate, and the pressures of ecological devastation and climate change intensify.

Recently, news reports have made it far clearer just where (and whom) Covid-19 is hitting hardest. In New York City, now the global epicenter of the pandemic, for instance, the areas with the highest rates of positive tests overlap almost exactly with neighborhoods where the most “essential workers” live — and you undoubtedly won’t be surprised to learn that most of them are poor or low-income ones, 79% of them black or Latino. The five zip codes with the most coronavirus cases have an average income of under $27,000; while, in the five zip codes with the least, the average income is $118,000.

Across the Black Belt of the southern states, the poor and black are dying from the coronavirus at an alarming rate. In many of those states, wages are tied to industries that rely on now interrupted regular household spending. They also have among the least resources and the most vehement anti-union and wage-suppression laws. That, in turn, leaves so many Americans all that more vulnerable to the Covid-19 crisis, the end of which is nowhere in sight. Chalk this up, among other things, to decades of divestment in public insitutitions and the entrenchment of extremist agendas in state legislatures. The Black Belt accounts for nine of the 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid and for 60% of all rural hospital closures.

Nor are these the only places now feeling the consequences of hospitals being bought up or closed for private profit. In Philadelphia, for instance, Hahnemann Hospital, which had served that city’s poorest patients for more than 170 years, was recently bought and closed by a real-estate speculator who then attempted to extract a million dollars a month from the local government to reopen it. Now, as the coronavirus ravages Philadelphia, Hahnemann’s beds sit empty, reminiscent of the notorious shuttering of New Orleans’ Charity Hospital in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In fact, lessons from the catastrophe of Katrina resonate heavily today, as the poor suffer and die while the rich and their political allies begin to circle the ruins, seeing opportunities to further enhance their power. After Katrina, many poor and black residents of New Orleans who had to evacuate were unable to return, while the city became a laboratory for a new onslaught of neoliberal reforms from health care to housing. One state legislator was overheard telling lobbyists, “We finally cleaned out public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.” It hardly takes a stretch of the imagination to envision similar braggadocio in the post-coronavirus era.

Inescapably Bound Together

The dual crises of pandemic and inequality are revealing ever more clearly how the descent into poverty is helping to destroy American society from the inside out. In a remarkably brief span of time, these crises have also highlighted our collective interdependence.

One of my earliest memories is of helping my mom walk when I was younger than my youngest child is now. As we slid down the wintry streets of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, my small hand in hers, she suddenly fell and I went down alongside her. I had been unable to keep us from crashing to the ground.

And yet, even when I couldn’t do what needed to be done alone, I recognized, with the clarity that perhaps only a child can have, how much we as a family (and, by extension, as a people) were inescapably bound together — that when one of us falls, so many of us fall. And that’s why, whatever Donald Trump or Jared Kushner or the rest of that crew in Washington and across the country may think, we can no longer tolerate leaving anybody out.

Hasn’t the time finally come to reject the false narrative of scarcity? Isn’t it time to demand a transformative moral agenda that reaches from the bottom up?

If the wealthy were to pay a relatively modest amount more in taxes and we shrank our war economy to support the common good, then universal health care, living wages, and a guaranteed income, decent and affordable housing, strong programs for the poor, and even more might finally be within reach. This crisis is offering us a striking demonstration of how an economy oriented around the whims of the rich brings death and destruction in its wake.

A society organized around the needs of the poor, on the other hand, would improve life for all of us — and especially in this Covid-19 moment, exactly this might be possible.

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    1. JBird4049

      Italicized for me as well.

      All the ideas and proposals for a better and happy nation are going to be called socialism, communism, and class warfare with countries like Venezuela being used as examples even though the wealthy already have socialism and the United States economically destroyed Venezuela. With the brainwashing against a civil society which includes an unthinking Pavlovian rejection of anything like unions, quality education, taxes, a national healthcare system free for everyone as well as the idolizing of the so called job creators, can we break through the mind screw, and if so, what are the best and quickest ways? The United States, never mind the Earth, does not have much time left.

  1. Amfortas the hippie

    what could be simpler, and more obvious?
    and yet i sit here, surrounded for a thousand mile radius by erstwhile “christians” who have been convinced by billionaires to worship their angry and capricious god, Market….which god now demands even further and more blatant human sacrifice…
    however…when you separate one or a handful of those people from the herd, and talk to them, they agree with the Reverend…it is only when they’re within the warm embrace of the herd that they lose that awareness, and revert like salivating dogs to full-throated support for suffering and death.
    what, if not this catastrophe, can break this spell?

    “What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?
    Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!
    Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!
    Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!
    Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!
    Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smoke-stacks and antennae crown the cities!
    Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind!
    Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream Angels! Crazy in Moloch! Cocksucker in Moloch! Lacklove and manless in Moloch!
    Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom I am a consciousness without a body! Moloch who frightened me out of my natural ecstasy! Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in Moloch! Light streaming out of the sky!
    Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton treasuries! blind capitals! demonic industries! spectral nations! invincible madhouses! granite cocks! monstrous bombs!
    They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pavements, trees, radios, tons! lifting the city to Heaven which exists and is everywhere about us!
    Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies! gone down the American river!
    Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload of sensitive bullshit!
    Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions! gone down the flood! Highs! Epiphanies! Despairs! Ten years’ animal screams and suicides! Minds! New loves! Mad generation! down on the rocks of Time!
    Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the holy yells! They bade farewell! They jumped off the roof! to solitude! waving! carrying flowers! Down to the river! into the street!”

      1. Amfortas the hippie

        like in the feed store parking lot, when a redneck sees a bernie sticker and asks why im a commie and i tell him why im a socialist and he listens and even asks further questions which i answer and he comes away from the encounter with a more nuanced lens to look at the world through.
        I do this all the time….and have only been strangled once, in the last 25 years.
        when within the herd, one must contend with all the herd reinforcement…can’t appear to be out of line with so many of the herd watching.
        might get kicked out of the herd…and that would be lonely and bad.

        1. Billy

          Amfortas, my technique is to ask direct questions of them that require a definite answer:
          “You ever figure how much you are spending on everything medical in a year?’ I mean everything, insurance, doc’s copay, bills you get later, drugs, supplies, eyeglasses, your teeth? That’s how much National Healthcare would save you. Them billionaires would get taxed a tiny percentage more. Why is your family sacrificing for the billionaires?”

    1. JE

      Yes! Exactly. The divide and conquer marketing that has kept the many stultified in place in the “us vs them” bubble to be strip mined by the few is easily pierced on an individual basis but rational thought wiped away under the full throated braying of the mob. How to fix this? Unfortunately we need real leadership, at all levels of society, where today in most positions of power we have craven climbers afraid of losing their place on the ladder. They go along to get along at best and actively stir division and inequality at worst. Media, politics, business, local, regional, national. Everyone is in line for their piece of the pie and they know they have to play ball to get a slice of lucre. Those who step out of line and speak up are marginalized and squashed mercilessly. We need a critical mass of people opening their eyes and seeing the system for what it is, and demanding a new one. Hopefully the dreadful failures, fragility, and cravenness of the CV19 situation, shutdown and bailouts will open people’s eyes before the “China did it!!!” drums of war distract us and consolidate the old system for one last cycle of extraction as the few build their bunkers and private islands hoping to reach the exit in time as the theater eventually burns. What a terrible way to run a country, a world! We can do better!

  2. VietnamVet

    “This is the best of times. This is the worst of times”.

    The writer is a theologian. Other ways of seeing the world are science based, Corporate State PR or evangelical.

    The Pandemic spreading across Europe and North America is aided by anti-science know-nothing greed. The US federal government failed at its basic core function of protecting the lives of its citizens. UK, Italy, Spain and Sweden seem to be following in lock step. Next week, during the months of February, March and April 2020, more Americans will have been killed by COVID-19 than during the decade of war in Vietnam. Like the procurement of PPE for essential workers, everything in the USA has been turned into the Wild West. If the federal government cannot not do the basic public health science of testing, tracing and isolation of the infected; it also cannot feed its people as growing, preparing and distribution of food falls apart due to the infection of workers and fear. Without food, unrest is certain. If you have money and are lucky to be alive, you’ll survive in the communities where the government continues to function, provides laws and protection. If not, starvation and chaos.

  3. Eustache de Saint Pierre

    Excellent article & thank goodness that at least in the UK for the time being anyhow, the shreds of the safety net are providing a vestige of support. I very nearly moved to the US in the early 80’s & still have difficulty comparing what then appeared to be a land of promise as it was for other limeys I knew who did go, to what it has since become.

    Just in case this is of any interest – this is a study from a NYC hospital by the Jama network based on 5,700 patients with Covid-19 – Comorbidities of which the worst offenders were hypertension, diabetes & obesity.

  4. urblintz

    It’s a very good essay and definitely worth reading! But I sure wish Theoharis could have resisted the tired partisanship at the end which implies there’s a good guy waiting in the wings to take on “Donald Trump or Jared Kushner or the rest of that crew in Washington and across the country.” There is not. The reality she describes is decidedly a bi-partisan creation as evidenced by the fraud of Joe Biden’s candidacy and the Democrat leadership’s insistence on returning to mythical good old days which weren’t good, only old… the abundant and painful rhymes of history will continue to be ignored despite the rhetoric of “wouldn’t it be better if.” Of course it would be better if… and it’ll never happen.

    1. Carolinian

      Sounds like you are saying both sides have their narratives and they are sticking to it. As the article says the right believes the poor are all undeserving minorities but it often seems the left believes the same thing only without the “undeserving.” In fact, as the article points out, at least half of those designated poor are white and that’s a proportion that may increase greatly with the coming economic collapse. At some point any leftwing movement is going to have to come to terms with that last respectable prejudice–contempt for the “deplorables” (Hillary) and “bitter clingers” (Obama). The problem with basing a political strategy only on justice for minorities is that there aren’t enough of them. And liberals who live in places where there aren’t many blacks often have a cartoon view of race relations in places where there are significant AA numbers. In my 50/50 black/white town it’s not at all unusual to spot interracial couples among the obviously lower income while among the middle class, never.

      Which is to say it’s a class conflict that is at the root–Thomas Frank’s message in a nutshell–and much less the racial prejudice narrative that liberals imagine. Of course once you start making it about class rather than race then a lot of those rich liberals in places like Hollywood or Manhattan are going to have to start questioning themselves.

    2. Billy

      Asking us to sympathize and share artificially scare resources with
      “11 million undocumented and their children”
      is a surefire way to get her argument ignored.

    3. Grayce

      What is different in “good old days” and the “again” in MAGA? There is only one country and one history.

  5. Justin

    A tragic account, no doubt. At the end I got the impression of a collective clamour to demand more scraps from the master’s table and it makes me, a proud creature, sick.

    The article did not say this explicity, but as “a society organized around the needs of the poor.” Society is organized by class from the top down and never the other way around. The bottom only gets concessions, not a fair or sustainable share, nor for that matter does it deserve such a share.
    If the roles were reversed and the poor were the wealthy (or preferred) we would be in the same friggen boat just the other way around.

    What is needed is to expand our myopic gaze beyond the small borders of society with its worship of some nonexistant powerful elite and the counterpoint of moral shaming and cries for fairness and equality. It is all frivolous nonsense.

    1. Noone from Nowheresville

      April 23, 2020 at 7:58 am

      Society is organized by class from the top down and never the other way around.

      There were societies which much more egalitarian but they were destroyed by outside societies who ultimately controlled access to food along with a willingness to commit genocide if the other society didn’t bend the knee. History at a K-12 level generally teaches us about our current society and makes it seem like there was never an alternative in the past. Cultural whispers now reinforce the notion that nor will there be any alternatives in the future.

      nor for that matter does it [the bottom] deserve such a share.

      Why not?

      If the roles were reversed and the poor were the wealthy (or preferred) we would be in the same friggen boat just the other way around.

      So if the bottom 80% (approx. 264 million in the US) were in the position of the wealthy, we’d be in the same boat? What are you envisioning here?

      What is needed is to expand our myopic gaze beyond the small borders of society with its worship of some nonexistant powerful elite and the counterpoint of moral shaming and cries for fairness and equality. It is all frivolous nonsense.

      Where should our myopic gaze be directed? And then how to we get the rest of society to go there as well?

      1. Krystyn Podgajski

        “There were societies which much more egalitarian but they were destroyed by outside societies who ultimately controlled access to food along with a willingness to commit genocide if the other society didn’t bend the knee.”

        Yes. In a word; Anarchism.

      2. Justin

        Egalitarian societies did exist, but there are few good examples beyond well-knit communes and there
        are no extant ones on a massive scale. I think such a society could work, but not without major shifts in current thinking.

        [Thoutht Experiment]
        I was envisioning a sum of wealth divvied up according to financial success with the lion’s share going to those who best extract it from others. Let us say this extraction is unjust for a vast majority of the population. Adding a clause of redistribution does nothing to address wealth extraction itself, but creates a new form of extraction that I’ll call legal success. This legal success flows in the opposite direction of financial success, rewarding those whose wealth was unjustly extracted.
        To abstract this further, I would use a rough correlation between public sentiment (as a %) and success, with financial success and legal success being inverse of each other. So if 100% agree with finance, everything is tailored for wealth extraction and 100% agree with legal, everthing is about what you are owed for the restoration of injustice, or maybe what you deserve. Either way the goal changes, but the game is fundamentally the same: how much wealth can I get out of the system. At the theoretical extreme, the poor become the new masters. [/Thoutht Experiment]

        Further I say: what makes you deserve something that must be first rewarded to you? In the case of the poor it is only about righting injustice, which is something done to me and not something I do. It is healthy to do and make, unhealthy to have things be done to me. Hence undeserved. Doubly so because I have to petition (beg) someone to do it for me.

        The myopia stems from wealth and status being the ultimate ideal, and the legal/political arena being the ultimate power, with an endless tirade of ‘solutions’ that are no more than reconfigurations.

        1. Noone from Nowheresville

          So let me restate a bit in attempt to get on the same thought experiment game board. I had to take justice / injustice out for the moment to get at the heart of the game.

          1. A game board with rules is created to extract resources from an finite planet with an infinite possible numbers of players and non-players at any given time.

          2. Said system is skewed because a small class of players will always win based on the rules of the game, laws & policies written to change the game if players and non-players figure out either how to create luck, run the table or can simply beat too many of said smaller class in combat (physical, legal, etc.), or if a variable was unaccounted with by the original rules.

          3. This small class of players extracts resources, locks up the food, is willing to commit at least partial genocide by withholding resources or resource futures from the other players / non-players as is their due as winners controlling access to finite resources. They also creates a mythos around why they will always deserve to be the winners and controllers of said resources.

          4. In exchange for stability of the game, some of those resources were graciously offered by the winners to the losers via either a direct exchange (via rules), moved to a charity exchange (as permitted by the rules change committee), or are more likely extracted from other players who are winners of the losers while claiming it comes from their winnings (via the rules change committee).

          5. The rules & rules change committees are primarily from the winners’ team with a nod from the winners of the losers. Rules are to be adjusted when either the stability of the game might be compromised or the stability is ensured.

          Is this an accurate overview of the thought experiment game before we get into questions of justice or injustice?

        2. Noone from Nowheresville

          Justin, without laying out the game board and understanding the parameters of your thought experiment, here’s my question back to you.

          Why aren’t you asking the wealthy what makes you deserve something that must be first rewarded to you? If they really are the best and the brightest and they “deserve” their success / status, then why do they need policies backed by the threat of violence as well as a vast unrelenting safety net to ensure their success?

          1. Noone from Nowheresville

            and a follow-up. Why do they need to “cheat” in order to win (get what they deserve) a game setup to ensure their in-group ultimately wins?

  6. rrennel

    A heartfelt essay. I was especially moved by the comment: “Our wellness is measured by our efficiency and — a particular lesson in the age of the coronavirus — our sickness, when considered at all, is seen as an indication of individual limitations or moral failures, rather than as a symptom of a sick society.” We need to reconsider the meaning of efficiency in our society, and ensure that its definition includes a strong element of humanity!

  7. lyman alpha blob

    Yves’ intro brings to mind the show on netflix we have been watching, Schitt’s Creek, which is the tale of a spoiled rich family who loses it all and has to go live in a rural small town. Very funny show, which goes out of its way to show the cluelessness of the rich. A favorite scene is when one of the formerly rich kids is reduced to selling their clothes at a thrift shop to get money and acts incredulous when told that their $800 shirt is not going to fetch anywhere near its original retail value.

    Plus, it’s Canadian and originally aired on CBC so better than much of the dreck currently infesting netflix. Definitely a good class-based comedy that people here might enjoy.

    1. rosemerry

      Who remembers “The Queen of Versailles” which for a time was free online, about the rich family (timeshare fortune) with the biggest house in the USA, suddenly forced to fly commercial (“Mom, why are all these people on our plane?”) and downsize? Well done-the dad was not pleased with the movie, the mom rather a sympathetic character, but it gave a good idea of how such families live and cope. I think they all returned to “normalcy” soon afterwards, and one daughter died of a drug overdose.

  8. Mikel

    Yes, having money causes stress.
    “If you slip from your economic perch, you lose many if not all of your social ties.”

    And it works the other way too: If you lose your social ties, you slip from your economic perch.

    We are in the world where you don’t talk to the people above you, because they won’t listen (you’re below them) and you don’t talk to the people below you, because you are above them.

    Like in th movie, “Platform.”

  9. Krystyn Podgajski

    Disrupt their power by making it worthless!

    New smartphone? Ha!
    The Joneses? Ugly!
    Inequality? A story!
    Poverty? Only of desire!
    Voting? Food for narcissists!
    Money? I have Dao/God!

    “The supreme good is like water,
    which benefits all of creation
    without trying to compete with it.
    It gathers in unpopular places.
    Thus it is like the Tao. ”


  10. Susan the other

    Clearly the first place to reduce the MIC’s mindless squandering is to deep-6 all aircraft carriers. That’s enough money to pay for M4A – if we ever wanted to “balance” the budget. Jet fighters too. Very expensive pieces of crap. And those embarrassingly clunky tanks that can’t even crawl over a 6-foot berm. Those too. We should make the military stop wasting money just for the sake of wasting money. Who on earth has any respect for that obnoxious behavior? I’d bet that even the fat-cat contractors are feeling foolish at this point. I’m guessing this won’t happen immediately, so in the meantime we should fund M4A with good will toward all. Because that is the only thing we need to do so. What will Mother Mary Pelosi say? Isn’t she the queen of love? Gag.

  11. Noone from Nowheresville

    I wish someone would push back and say okay so give me some breakdowns of how your theory of market pricing works for the citizen vs. the workers providing the services vs. service investment (building maintenance, treatment research & development, equipment maintenance & upgrades, utilities, etc.) vs. system management overhead vs. market management overhead vs. “fictitious” people skimming from the top (e.g., private equity, hedge funds, corporate shareholders, stock buybacks, etc.). Please be sure to include all industries which have a major impact the healthcare services pricing system.

    Now show me the real life reality based examples of the current US system before the Covid crisis, during the Covid crisis as well as that breakdown once the multi-tiered government bailout kicks. Please to include multiple states, multiple hospital systems, multiple insurance companies as well as multiple policies, multiple…

    The truth is such a conversation is nothing more than a distraction. Once you ask them to “prove” their system is legit, you’ve lost because the market system believers/ enforcers/ enablers couldn’t care less about whether or not the system is fair or legit, or even if the majority of the hosts dies.

    Ultimately where I want to get to if the current system must stay in place (not a position I favor) is what’s the maximum percentage of “services” pricing should go to the skimmers? does that percentage mean for the hosts: how many are barely alive vs. thriving?

    What leads to:
    How much should skimmers of any system be allow to keep for themselves and their fictitious personhoods? How often does a system-wide reset have to occur?

  12. Sound of the Suburbs

    Neoliberalism told global elites what they wanted to hear and they found it irresistible.
    The ideology was just a wrapper for some dodgy old economics from the 1920s that is actually pretty bad, neoclassical economics.
    The US used it in the 1920s leading to the Wall Street Crash and Great Depression.

    The economics of globalisation has always had an Achilles’ heel.
    The 1920s roared with debt based consumption and speculation until it all tipped over into the debt deflation of the Great Depression. No one realised the problems that were building up in the economy as they used an economics that doesn’t look at private debt, neoclassical economics.
    Not considering debt is the Achilles’ heel of neoclassical economics.
    The economy ran on debt and the money creation of bank credit made it look as though things were working well before the inevitable financial crisis in 1929, the Minsky Moment.

    Who would come up with something like this?
    Many right wingers didn’t accept there was anything wrong with their ideas from the 1920s, although there was.
    They wanted to bring these ideas back again as they were sure they were very good ideas really.
    They just needed to hide that these were ideas from the 1920s, so people didn’t realise.
    Job done, but I have worked it out.

    What was that dodgy, old neoclassical economics like in the 1920s?
    Mariner Eccles, FED chair 1934 – 48, observed what the capital accumulation of neoclassical economics did to the US economy in the 1920s.
    “a giant suction pump had by 1929 to 1930 drawn into a few hands an increasing proportion of currently produced wealth. This served then as capital accumulations. But by taking purchasing power out of the hands of mass consumers, the savers denied themselves the kind of effective demand for their products which would justify reinvestment of the capital accumulation in new plants. In consequence as in a poker game where the chips were concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, the other fellows could stay in the game only by borrowing. When the credit ran out, the game stopped”
    The problem; wealth concentrates until the system collapses.

    1. Patrick L Kitts

      There were plenty warning signs before the crash of ’29. Investors ignored them.

      1. mary jensen

        The crash of ’29:
        Ignored the “warning signs”? They just rode the wave of greed. Had they been investors in any true sense perhaps it wouldn’t have been as ugly as it was.

    2. Philip Hardy

      Yes, but now they have the FED, since the delinking of the Dollar from gold in 1971 the FED has bailed them out with freshly printed debt to paid for by the masses taxes to keep the rentier class whole; 1987 (Black Monday Crash), 1995 (Mexico peso crisis), 1998 (Russian default, and East Asia Tigers crash), 2001 (Dotcom Crash), 2006 (Housing crash) leading to 2008 (GFC), and the QE1-4 since and now the 2020 Covid19 crash. This will only end when the Dollar is no longer the worlds reserve currency, with it then inflating away to nothing along with the USA’s power. Then the collapse of the wealthy will catch up with the rest of the USA’s population. Point to note, the frequency of the crashes and bailouts are accelerating, is the end point near?

  13. Oso

    excellent article. her lips to God’s ears, Poor Peoples Campaign does good work here in NorCal.

  14. Kevin

    This is an excellent article. The author lucidly and boldly illuminates the field of war between the predatory wealthy and the susceptible poor. However, one point that rings like a cracked bell in the midst of all this tonal refinement is the mention of the ecological devastation of climate change with respect to its detrimental impacts on the poor. I think most agree there is terrible pollution, an eviscerated EPA that serves only Trump and his cohorts; there is the Rentier phenomenon of the wealthy destroying or using for their own individual purposes the land and passing the costs onto the rest of the people; but anthropogenic climate change is a myth told by those same predators to gobble up even more of the wealth of the earth at the cost of everyone else, while wrapping themselves in a glorified flag of pretense that they are saving the world for humanity by fines and austerities around carbon creation (who else is setting policy, in every public sphere, but the same people who just gave the Fed authority to create, out of thin air with no real asset backing, $6 trillion to “bail out” Wall Street again, and who clearly don’t care if that means the regular folks we all know and are may be desolately wandering a whole other kind of street in the next few months?). Please, please, Yves and everyone at Naked Capitalism, be brave enough to do the research on the alternative views that are more scientifically sound by far than what is termed “settled science” as to anthropogenic climate change. This climate change point is the one intellectual concept perpetuated by Naked Capitalism about which I, as a sincere reader of your work, am always surprised and disappointed. Below are some excellent resources with which to break that illusory bubble before it encompasses, cripples, and suffocates the quality of life we now are barely grasping. And don’t accuse me, please, the messenger, of being an idiot before you have sincerely investigated this information. It has convinced me. If you give it time to understand it, it will convince you too. The logic is inescapable. These sources are not “public institutions.” I think that’s why they are often viewed with harsh skepticism, rather than on their own merits. But how many public institutions now-a-days are anything but machines of wealth transfer? The WHO, the UN, the CDC, our gov’t — they serve the predatory class exclusively when it comes to wealth and health creation. But real progress has always come out of the work of formerly unknown and ridiculed folks who have the sense to see things clearly despite (or maybe because) they don’t serve the status quo in an inadequately examined manner.

    Ben Davidson’s full explanation of climate science basics: (executive report of same:
    Ben Davidson on Clouds and climate:

    Ben Davidson 11,000 “Scientists” :
    Ben Davidson on some of the important climate change models:
    Heller on the climate as it is:

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