Reopening Isn’t Reopening—It’s Cutting Off Unemployment

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Yves here. This post illustrates why the propaganda misrepresenting both the death rate cost and the poor economic performance of Sweden, which has imposed few coronavirus restrictions, is being weaponized. The spin is that workers are suffering economically. While that is true, reopening won’t restore old normal levels of activity, and many enterprises will still be struggling. Nor will reopening necessarily lead employers to make conditions safer for their workers. But as this article points out, it would allow states to cut benefits.

By Peter Dorman, professor of economics at The Evergreen State College. Originally published at Econospeak

Donald Trump, cheering on his “warriors” who demand that states lift their lockdown and distancing orders (where they have them), would have you believe this is about bringing the economy back to life so ordinary people can get their jobs and normal lives back.  Elitist liberals who work from home and have country estates to retreat to don’t care, but “real” people do.

The reality is different.  The shuttering of stores, restaurants, hotels and workplaces didn’t begin with government orders and won’t end with them.  If the rate of new infection and death is too high, a lot of people won’t go along.  Not everyone, but enough to make a huge economic difference.  Ask any small business owner what it would mean for demand to drop by 25-50%.  Lifting government orders won’t magically restore the economic conditions of mid-winter.

So what’s it about?  Even as it makes a big PR show of supporting state by state “liberation” in America, the Trump administration is advising state governments on how to remove workers from unemployment insurance once orders are lifted.  Without government directives, employers can demand workers show up, and if they refuse they no longer qualify.  And why might workers refuse?  Perhaps because their workplaces are still unsafe and they have vulnerable family members they want to keep from getting infected?  Not good enough—once the state has been “liberated”.

How should we respond to this travesty?  First, of course, by telling the truth that an anti-worker, anti-human campaign is being conducted under the guise of defending workers.  If the Democrats weren’t themselves such a tool of business interests we might hear that narrative from them, but the rest of us are free to speak out and should start doing it, loudly, wherever we can.

Second, one of the laws of the land is the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which gives workers the right to refuse imminently hazardous work.  This hasn’t been used very often, nor is there much case law around it, but the current pandemic is a good reason to pull it out of storage.  If there are public interest law firms looking for something useful to do during distancing, they could advertise their willingness to defend workers who need to stay home until work is safe—while still getting their paycheck.  If employers thought the choice was between public support for workers sitting out the pandemic or their support for them we might hear less about “liberation”.

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  1. none

    They want to throw people off of unemployment while using the virus threat to stop any serious protests against that. It is literally biological warfare against working people. Same class war as before, but now with CBW.

    1. jackiebass

      It seems like it is no different from an act of Genocide. Get rid of a class of people by killing them. We practice a type of Capitalism where money is our God. People are expendable. Especially if the belong to a class without connections.

  2. Rod

    Taught it for years. This is the biggest net and is the # 1 Cited Violation for 1910/1926 and MSHA–ever.

    OSHA 654 5(a)1 The General Duty Clause.

    OSHA Laws & Regulations OSH Act of 1970
    OSH Act of 1970
    Table of Contents
    General Duty Clause
    Complete OSH Act Version (“All-in-One”)
    Each employer —
    29 USC 654
    shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees;
    shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.
    Each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this Act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct.

    And ‘Recognized’ totes a lot of water.

    1. Rod

      Quick Take–Two way street.
      Employers must mitigate hazards. Employees must comply with mitigation.
      No Employer Mitigation=Breaking the Law=No Employee requirement to work in Unsafe Conditions.

      1. Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg

        People are generally woefully uninformed about what rights they still have. This shoul be widely propagated.

    2. jackiebass

      Would any person with the ability to think logically believe the Trump administration will enforce OSHA laws to protect workers?

  3. Ignacio

    A luxury yacht wrecks, you spend whatever in the rescue. A boat filled with migrants sinks, go die!
    Same applies in dry land.

    Interesting how it has been completely abandoned that old economic concept namely ‘lifting all boats’.

    1. L

      “Lifting all boats” was always a lie. It was simply a way to sell trickle down by claiming that the objectively observable inequality it produced would somehow help everyone, eventually, sort of. There was not and has never been a plan by the Conservative Movement to lift all boats. Only a plan to feign interest in doing so.

        1. orlbucfan

          That pattern has appeared throughout recorded world history. How is it peacefully stopped?

        2. ambrit

          Like the raft built of bloated human bodies in “Tales of the Black Freighter.”

        3. Ed Miller

          I see the current situation more like the sinking of the Titanic (whether caused by the virus or shady financial dealing, it doesn’t matter). The rich passengers get the lifeboats and the rest of the passengers get the ice water. A few survived in the water, so it’s time to look to the future. Crony capitalism in a nutshell.

          1. JBird4049

            IIRC, there was not enough lifeboats even just for the 1st/2nd class, certainly not to include the steerage, and many of them sailed partially filled because of panic, fear, and arrogance. About the only good thing was that those male passengers who slipped onto the boats got a bad social reputation. Of course, some of them apparently didn’t care and some of them had unhappy lives.

    2. SAKMAN

      If you want to fix things, fix education. Then perhaps, the people sinking wont be in such a bad boat! But wait, who has the responsibility to educate the people sinking?

      I’m sure the people saving the yacht are motivated by money. I get it.

      You are really taking a look at the origins of motivation. You need to ask what would it take for society to respond to the sinking boat?

      It cant be, society just pays. . .If thats the case, you are just bailing out ANY person that sinks in any boat. It might be a society that has a core value to help others. . . but the question is this. Does that fictional society compete well against what we have?

      I think not. As far as I see, with the limitations of humans only being capable of knowing around 150-200 people. What we have is the best we’ve figured out so far. The people in the boat that sink get to do so mainly because they havent become useful enough for anyone to care.

      What Europe has is great, they help people sinking. We will see soon how competetive that approach was.

      1. Henry Moon Pie

        And just what is the basis of this “competition” between societies/regions? For GDP growth? For military power? For moral superiority?

        Are you implying that cruel, heartless societies are somehow better?

        1. Ed Miller

          Not better (from a neutral POV), but the winners. Winners write the history books – until they don’t.

          1. SAKMAN

            Yes, the winners, the people that wrote the history. They won in the environment that brought them to power. They stay until they reach a part of their life cycle where they deteriorate and potentially go away.

            As far as a quick internet search serves me. . . San Marino has the oldest currently active constitution at 1600ish CE. Then? The United States is next. . .

            The US is getting a bit long in the tooth by those standards. . . so I cant be surprised that it might be time for something new.

            And no, just by suggesting that I imply that cruel is better you are building a strawman to attack. I’m suggesting that its always been about competition, and ignoring that reality is ignoring the facts of the situation.

  4. Mel

    state by state “liberation”

    The policy that’s shaping up is to kick the states into the gutter. If that plays out then the states will be cutting benefits whether they decide to or not.

    The U.S. is re-inventing the Euro on this side of the Atlantic.

    1. Susan the other

      More likely the individual States will go full socialist. At least 2/3 of them. So what then does the Federation do to keep laws consistent? The Federation also goes socialist. If it doesn’t it does a faceplant because a federation cannot survive without its members. It was a foregone conclusion that neoliberalism was not designed to survive – it was just a temporary grab for all the wealth all the time. So, time’s up.

      1. ambrit

        You underestimate the power of greed.
        Also, greed reemerges with every new entry into the Casino. An endless supply of suckers, trying to beat the Three Card Monte Economy.
        The ‘elites’ can also hold on long enough to wreck the entire system. Then they go off to their bolt holes while the rest of us suffer the consequences of their nefarious malfeasances. “Swingin” Ayn Rand made exactly that point with her creation of Galt’s Gulch in her book. There is a long history of “intellectual” support for Elite Exceptionalism. What else is the “Decameron” but a compilation of stories about that class of exploiters?
        I am not at all sanguine about our future.

        1. HammerPig

          Agreed, but we also grossly underestimate the power of compassion and empathy. I think what you are saying is correct (and intelligent and informed), but already it’s sort of a long and tiring kind of a thing that people get carried away by elitist, corporate, and media trains (yes, propaganda) that career down the rails like rabid raccoons jumpin’ the fence and invading our lawns. Yes, they shovel that “diasporatic” view constantly, like carpet bagger shills descending on your local southern village. Doesn’t mean we need to watch it, or worse, pay for it and then, even worse, believe it.

          Where I grew up in my little town in Northern Iowa, we used to go the orchard and pick berries for pies. This does not make me a liberal elitist or special in any way. It’s just where I was a little kid and the elders led the way. But we used to take these berries and sometimes, I got lucky, and we’d make rhubarb strawberry pie, all from our garden. And then sometimes a new neighbor would move in down the street, and we took a pie or two to welcome them.

          1. ambrit

            I really wonder if “compassion and empathy” scale well. I think I understand your point about community supporting and enabling the group, one individual at a time. However, I see large supposedly “compassionate” enterprises like Goodwill or The Salvation Army being turned into downscale Boutique Emporia. The ‘management’ drives the organization in these cases. The small and local Thrift Shops I have patronized are much closer to your ideal of “compassion and empathy.”
            So, a decentralization of American culture can lead to a more “caring” society, but it also can lead to insular and suspicious ‘in-group’ behaviour.
            I do not have the answer. I just do what I can and hope for the best, while preparing for the worst.
            Stay safe and enjoy life!

      2. Massinissa

        How the hell can states go ‘full socialist’ without MMT? They do not have access to their own currencies, they are tied to the dollar.

  5. WheresOurTeddy

    Keep pushing, oligarchy. You’ll never get pushed back by those whose backs you live upon.

    I mean, probably not. 1789 was a long time ago and you’re way smarter than everyone else.

    1. Bugs Bunny

      1793 was even better. Citizen Capet met his maker Place du Carrousel. Often mistaken for the Place de la Révolution today Place de la Concorde – where many many met the guillotine.

          1. JBird4049

            Don’t forget the rule of thumb for military casualties of 2-1 pre modern medicine. Two injured for everyone killed. Varied actually but close enough. So 625,000 dead would get you 1.5 million casualties.

            Actually, every generation or two, there are some people who make a career of rechecking the Civil War numbers and of others rechecking the rechecking. I know of at least three separate counts. It is not something I would want to spend thirty years on. It is possible that the combined dead from all causes, military and civilian, was closer to one million.

            Apparently, in the South the standards of being good looking was changed to include the ones missing body parts as so many men were missing them. The standard of treatment for a limb shot was almost always amputation, as beyond the medical “care” available, the regular .58 caliber Minié ball just obliterated the bone. There wasn’t anything to put back together except for splinters. So out came the bonesaw.

            The whole United States was just filled of crippled veterans and people generally enduring the physical, mental, and emotional trauma.

    2. Librarian Guy

      I agree with most of your comment except the “smarter” part.

      They don’t seem smart to me, they openly plunder and loot and spit in the populace’s faces. They don’t even pretend to believe in or work for a “common good” anymore, really. That is the story of the 21st Century in the US, starting with Baby Bush II. (Okay, I get that the Obama crew seemed “smart” or sophisticated to the PMC and comfortable liberals, but how smart were they if they led to the open Kleptocratic Disruption of Trumpism and the God Emperor?)

      What the Elites have that the proles don’t is in-group solidarity. (And a captured Media establishment.) They protect their own, while the hoi polloi fight one another for scraps.

  6. Arizona Slim

    I’m old enough to remember that 1960s expression, Long, Hot Summer. I think we’re about to have another one.

  7. Hoppy

    What is the death rate among the working age population?

    Seem like a tough hill to die on given the curve has flattened, hospitals are not overflowing, and the economy is teetering on the edge of depression.

    No one has a vaccine, this isn’t going away any time soon. It’s time to focus on protecting the most vulnerable instead of pretending this effects everyone equally.

    Allow states to cut benefits? Come on, UI benefits are taxed for pete’s sake. ‘Available to work’ basically means you have start at 8am the next day which is doesn’t align with any reality of hiring except in low end service sector jobs.

    1. campbeln

      > and the economy is teetering on the edge of depression

      This was baked in the cake already, COVID was simply the spark that ignited all that dead wood on the forest floor.

      1. cripes



        I thought the quiet transfer of trillions in helicopter money to the banksters in the last half of 2019, way before the covid craze was telling.

        How convenient.

  8. Wally

    The other really significant thing is that ‘re-opening’ doesn’t necessarily mean returning to business. For example, Musk insists on re-opening Tesla… the assumption being that sales are there to be had if they re-open. But if not… no sales, no need for employees… back down the drain we go.
    Same for restaurants. retail, hotels, transit and white collar jobs – attorneys, architects, CPAs…

    1. DHG

      Yup, the smart and shrewd will conceal themselves as much as possible and live, the stupid will rush out and most likely die.

      1. JBird4049

        The poorest and the most desperate actually. Some people still have not received any money from the state or federal governments. The quarantine started about two months ago. So no job, no income, no money, and no joke. No matter how shrewd or smart you are sometimes you are not making the decisions. Reality makes them for you.

  9. KFritz

    There’s another possible reason to reopen. If the country officially reopens, there’s no need for any more federal stimulus!

      1. J.k

        Well till the markets crashes again and they need to save the assets of the wealthiest.

        I just got a text from a buddy who is an electrician. His company just told him they are not expecting to take any major work till second quarter of next year. They will only be taking emergency calls. This is in Chicago.

        1. LawnDart

          Your buddy might be able to use this link:

          Granted, it’s a union site, but one point that they make is how union saturation raises the wages for all workers within a given region.

          In Appalachia, I was offered $15hr. to work as an electrician. In Chicagoland, starting wages were close to or more than double that. Guess where I went in order to establish a salary history? And no, the cost of living is really not too different between those two places, but opportunities sure were.

          (moderators: in response to an “Eat the Rich!” comment, I posted a link with recipes: I apologize for this. Admittedly, it was in poor taste.)

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