open letter to politicians, organization leaders, and scientists – covid-19 pandemic
Regarding the “lock-down” to fight the spread of Covid-19 infections, and ‘rescuing’ the economy
Covid-19 is not like flu. Many feel that restrictions that paralyze much of the economy are hardly needed, that the economic damage is worse than the benefits of the measures. Looking at information and videos of hard hit areas for instance in Italy or in New York demonstrate the importance of preventative measures. Thousands of persons of cities that were hit with no warning, e.g. Bergamo in Italy, suffered agonizing shortness of breath and died and there were more bodies than could be cremated. Without preventive measures a significant percentage of people particularly elderly persons are likely to need weeks of ICU care and many will die when the pandemic hits an area.
Rethinking our values, the problems of our economy, and our response to the larger problems of our time. This is a time where we need to focus on what is essential and what is most valuable; artificially stimulating the economy and promoting consumerism and indebtedness is irresponsible. And borrowing money for people to spend when productive work is minimal may cause inflation and have long-term negative effects on the economy.
Proposal for responsible actions:
Freezing much of the economy; little additional debts: Instead of borrowing trillions, we must freeze much of the economy for a few months, letting time go by without workers doing things that are not urgent, without people buying things they cannot afford and do not (or not yet) need, and without the usual monthly bills to pay. Economically, many people may “hibernate” for some time, and contemplate what is most valuable. Related to the temporary freeze of most economic transactions, we must reevaluate needed responses to the climate emergency, which is worse than the Covid-19 pandemic, that should not have caught us by surprise, and the dismally mishandled opioid addiction epidemic; and it is also time and an opportunity to reform financial institutions.
Instead of creating a government debt of many trillions of dollars, trying to keep the economy profitable while few industries are producing, we need to halt and postpone what is not essential and/or cannot be done at home. During the rapid spreading of the pandemic, we need all or most of the country to be in “lock-down” with much of the present economic activities stopped, other than medical and food services, and maintenance of essential infrastructure including water, electricity, gas, and Internet services. Some work should continue, if it can be done safely and/or in workers’ homes, such as engineering work, journalism and other writing, and teaching over the Internet.
During the time of the economic freeze, there must be a hold (not postponement) on all regular payments: temporarily no property tax, insurance, mortgage, rent, lease, interest, and other debt service payment requirements. Utilities may charge a reduced fee for actually consumed gas and electricity, but no base fees for service, and services must not be interrupted if a person cannot pay for an extended time; and there must be no fees for medical testing and treatments that are related to the epidemic-pandemic. Most of what people planned to do in the months of the ‘freeze’ has to be postponed, e.g. getting a new car, appliance, furniture, etc., getting new tires or change oil of a car that is at the time hardly used, making home improvements, going on vacation trips, etc. People that do urgent work and/or keep working from their homes are paid at reduced rates since enterprises have no income and living costs are temporarily much reduced.
As most people have no or reduced incomes, the government must issue food stamps for all that are unemployed, along with a small ‘stipend’ primarily for utility payments, some book purchases, etc. Governments pay for operating costs, including materials and supplies needed by clinics and hospitals.
Requirements to make regular payments will resume after the economy is restarted and payments for consumer goods, cars, credit card debts, mortgages, etc. are extended, making up for the times of non-payment. At the end of the freeze time with its temporary stop on consumerism, governments should use this opportunity to redirect economic developments*.
The economy is not doing well: Contrary to widespread beliefs, our economy is not doing well: the wealthy have been increasing their investment earnings, but the rise in industrial production has halted, and particularly poorly educated workers struggle with unstable work conditions, inadequate incomes, and difficulties to maintain health insurance; most white workers without college education do worse than their parents and have very high rates of premature deaths. Rather than borrowing to maintain the present income distribution and misguided consumerism, we must address structural problems of job markets, health care, and the ‘financial services industry.’ And we must take the accelerating climate emergency much more seriously.
* Redirecting the economy: We must expect major disruptions in the economy as development priorities are shifting rapidly. We must not continue making the mistakes that have been occurring – big investments in what will not be economically feasible and/or sustainable and/or will soon become obsolete: we will hardly have the needed minerals to build the electric cars, large scale batteries, etc. that are suggested as solutions to the climate emergency, and there will hardly be enough electricity to run them. The agriculture, particularly cattle, is producing much more greenhouse gases than the world can handle without catastrophic global warming. In spite of much work, we are far from having adequate carbon sequestration technology. Today’s Green New Deal ideas appear grossly inadequate.
Working on plans to address the climate emergency with bold plans: Governments should use the extended time of economic slowdown to engage/hire engineers, economists, etc. to work on plans for climate emergency related changes and economic disruptions; major economic disruptions are expected mainly due to large investments that will become unprofitable and lose in value (fossil fuel industries and parts of agriculture) and changes in infrastructure. In addition to saving energy by improving and better designing buildings, plans are needed to create a new transportation infrastructure, diet changes, etc. to save much energy – we must not wait until the world is flooded in many and burning in other places, with mass migrations becoming an issue of survival in many areas. We need rail lines (from narrow-track light rail to high speed trains, in metropolitan and all rural areas); planning and building human-powered, hybrid, and electric ultra-light vehicles, with and without bodies, for commuting in metropolitan areas; plans for broad use of hydrogen technologies; safer nuclear power plants; etc. We also must plan to issue information and directives addressing a needed move to largely plant-based food
Addressing relatively poor quality of life in the USA: With the USA lagging severely behind progressive countries in other parts of the world with regard to factors contributing to quality of life and happiness (Scandinavian countries, Switzerland, New Zealand and Costa Rica), it is time to review our systems. We must first develop an effective economic safety net along with steeply increasing taxation of greenhouse gas production (in transportation, agriculture, climate control of buildings, and industrial production). We must address the instability caused by debts and the burden and harm done to heavily indebted individuals and their families. Governments need to reclaim their responsibility to create and allocate the circulating money supply while severely limiting lending and other activities of financial institutions. Broad reform proposals for better economic institutions must be studied and implemented against the narrow interests of economically conservative groups and people who are addicted to wealth and power.