Turns out, it's OK to override private interest in the name of social need after all

March 20, 2020
Used with permission of Alan Moir moir.com.au

When faced with a global pandemic that is shutting down whole nations, knowing your fate is in the hands of a system like ours is as reassuring as finding out your open-heart surgery will be performed by Freddie Krueger. 

But — and it maybe due to a COVID-19 induced fever — I’m getting a bit confused by things right now.

One minute, any suggestion you use wealth and resources to alleviate some of the extreme social ills we face causes right-wingers to scream about Communist dictatorships and centrists to wring their hands about the “electability” of someone who suggests everyone has the right to not die from a lack of health care.

Next minute, US President Donald “Screw You Poor Loser” Trump is essentially seizing control of the means of production while also, for good measure, declaring a ban on evictions. 

It is amazing what can be achieved by a potentially uncontrollable pandemic that doesn’t discriminate between rich and poor, doesn’t respect national boundaries and will destroy a global economy quicker than I’ll destroy a bottle of gin if forced to stay at home without sport to watch for more than a day.  

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was recently attacked for having pointed out Cuba eradicated illiteracy and has a higher life expectancy than the US and treated like he had been caught sexually interfering with the corpse of his grandmother at her funeral.

Now, the rich are like, “Screw the sanctity of private property, have you seen the state of the Dow Jones?"

It isn’t that Trump, or any other government, has developed a conscience. They are just worried about their beloved system.

And, to be clear, this is a system that, in Australia, throws many millions of dollars at corporate interest in hand outs, but forces unemployed people to continue fulfilling "mutual obligation" while looking for non-existent jobs, even at the risk of their health, just to receive below-poverty line income.

This is a system that sees libraries and museums close down, but authorities grant permission to a huge casino, whose largest shareholder is billionaire Jamie Packer, to keep running with only minimal “social distancing” measures. In this way, the mass pokies emporium can continue draining more wealth from poor people’s pockets into Packer’s.

This is Australia. We might not need books or culture, but if you have a go at losing a fortnight’s rent in an hour or two when you are about to be laid off due to the coming recession, then you’ll get a go at losing your rent in an hour or two when you are about to be laid off due to the coming recession.

And Trump’s role has hardly been heroic. At first, he denied there was a crisis at all. Then, as infections spiked, he declared it was serious and called … a National Prayer Day. 

This was a step up, at least, from actively blocking the World Health Organization’s (WHO) attempts to give the US testing kits. I was just amazed he didn’t go on to say that mass prayer is only really effective if you gather in large crowds while holding hands.

He did combine the National Prayer Day with more material measures, announcing an initial package of US$50 billion to fight the virus — which is only 15 times less than the annual US military budget of US$750 billion.

That really puts it into perspective: Trump was willing to spend one 15th of the amount the US spends killing people to try to not kill people. 

Then, as the situation spiralled out of control, he finally announced more drastic measures.

But, like an alcoholic who announces they are quitting booze while on the phone ordering an extra bag from their crack dealer, Trump has combined measures to tackle the crisis with some familiar bullshit.  

He is enforcing controls on private business in the name of social need while trying to block any asylum seekers entering the country, continuing to persecute undocumented migrants and calling COVID-19 “the Chinese virus”, despite the WHO asking him not to on grounds it’s racist. 

That’s without even mentioning the unspeakably evil decision to ramp up sanctions on Iran as it faces devastation from the virus, in a move that will condemn god knows how many people to death.

In Australia, the news is also mixed. On the one hand, the government has done fuck all to help anyone. But on the other, I’ve been able to get a seat on peak hour trains this week, so it’s good and bad. 

Then there’s the fact federal minister Peter Dutton tested positive for COVID-19, causing such a pandemic of schadenfreude that “There is a God” began trending on Twitter. 

Some said that joking about Dutton contracting a potentially life-threatening illness was uncalled for. So, I want to emphasise that, personally, I would never say anything about Dutton that I wouldn't also say about Adolf Hitler.

Others suggested this was evidence that Dutton doesn't clean his hands. But in his defence, it is really hard to wash off that blood. There just isn’t enough hand sanitiser in the world to leave his hand’s hygienic.

The measures some governments are taking, like nationalising private health care in Spain or enforcing big restrictions on corporate interests in the US and elsewhere, are no doubt needed to seriously combat an emergency.

But there is no reason to limit this to COVID-19.

Why stop there, when the climate crisis demands similar measures in fields like energy and transport, and the daily emergency of global hunger and death from poverty demands it of finance and food production? 

In short, human civilisation surviving this century demands measures that pursue social needs against private interest.

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