The Democratic Party Platform Needs a Pandemic Plank


There are many good things in the report of the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force, but it is fundamentally a fusion of progressive and moderate Democratic ideals from the era before Covid-19. The pandemic figures mainly as an aggravating factor, adding urgency and scale to various proposals. There is a presumption—as there was at the end of the 2008 financial crisis—that the old instincts and time-tested remedies will work as they have in the past, accelerating an economic recovery destined to occur anyway as the virus recedes and the world returns to normal.

In our view, this presumption is wrong at every level.

Absent a new and far more effective mobilization, both medical and social, on current evidence the pandemic will not recede. It will instead wreak havoc on American life for years. Given the lingering effects of the disease on many who recover, the costs in health, as well as lives lost, will multiply.

But even if the pandemic passes, profound damage to the American economy has already been done. Though the Unity Task Force Report shows little awareness that this is the case, we can identify this damage in six areas:

Health care. Covid-19 has wrecked the American system of fee-for-service private health care, and has done so irreparably. That system had evolved to provide individualized health care funded largely by private insurance attached to employment contracts. Now, nearly 40 million unemployed face a transition to costly, time-limited personal insurance, and after that, uncertainty. In addition, US health care faces its own financial crisis. As the population avoids hospitals and clinics, as work and commuting accidents and other infectious diseases fall, as elective procedures are postponed or canceled, less usage means higher unit costs, higher costs mean less usage: a financial-medical death spiral for this system.

Energy and climate. The Unity Task Force plank on climate change makes no mention of the pandemic. It fails to observe that America’s recovery from the 2007–09 crisis was propelled by revolutionary changes in oil and gas production, eliminating the need for imported oil and replacing a lot of dirty coal with relatively cleaner natural gas. The pandemic has put an end to that. With demand off around the world, oil is in vast surplus, the boom is over, and American oil production cannot be sold at a profit. An end to fracking, though good for the climate, will weaken the economy—unless we move strategically to cut consumption where it does the least damage to our quality of life, while at the same time putting the necessary resources toward clean energy.

Services and jobs. The services sector was responsible for almost all new jobs after the Great Crisis—an American success story despite mediocre wages and poor social benefits. But services—restaurants, bars, theaters, concert, hair and nail salons, gyms, coffeehouses, resorts and spas and theme parks, boutiques and craft shops—all involve close personal contact between the served and the server. The pandemic has dealt them a heavy blow. And worse is now unfolding, for consumers, faced with job uncertainties of their own, can and will cut these activities far back. In doing so, they inadvertently but unavoidably deprive their compatriots of income, business owners of profit, and workers of jobs. To bring all those jobs back, people need more than money; they would need to forget what is happening now and to lose the anxieties that the situation has already produced. This will not occur.


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