OUT OF SICKNESS, SOLIDARITY By Jason Sibert

The Covid-19 pandemic proves that our country needs an economy defined by solidarity.

The pandemic puts a strain on the idea that our county can depend on China for manufacturing. It should also change our definition of security.  In a press conference on the pandemic, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo  said: “We need masks, they’re made in China; we need gowns, they’re made in China; we need face shields, they’re made in China; we need ventilators, they’re made in China…And these are all like national security issues when you’re in this situation.”  In 2000, President Bill Clinton spoke highly of giving permanent normal trade relations with China: “Our administration has negotiated an agreement which will open China’s markets to American products made on American soil, everything from corn to chemicals to computers. Today the House has affirmed that agreement. We will be exporting, however, more than products. By this agreement, we will export more of our most cherished values, economic freedom.” Many of the items we could use to fight this pandemic are controlled by Chinese companies.

American companies have moved much of their production overseas to take advantage of low wages and lax environmental standards. The move takes its toll on the financial well-being of working people, their municipalities and efforts to conserve the environment we depend on. In addition, the American political caste thought that China would be happy acting as a platform for low-wage labor and the U.S. could then specialize in high-end knowledge work – the work done in places like Silicon Valley. However, the political caste was wrong, as China now aspires to enter fields such as information technology and biotechnology. This plan was flawed from another standpoint because information technology and biotechnology are not labor-intensive enough to make up for the jobs in manufacturing sector. Manufacturing has become more technology-intensive and does not require the labor it once did. It could become even less labor-intensive if companies invest more in robotics and innovative software. However, hiring cheap workers in other countries represents and easier path, leaving most of today’s workforce today employed in the service sector in areas such as restaurants and retail.

Manufacturing is important in the pandemic because we need to quickly move ventilators and masks to where they are needed. Of course, China quit shipping us those things when Covid-19 broke out. As writer Michael Lind points out on his recent story on manufacturing (“The China Question”, Tablet, May 19), the rich people who control our money-drenched political system do just fine as our manufacturing base goes overseas. They also suffer less in the pandemic.

Alexander Hamilton, America’s first Secretary of the Treasury, delivered his “Report on Manufacturers” to Congress in 1791. Hamilton did not want our country to be dependent on the factories of the United Kingdom, the world’s first industrial superpower, and thought it was best to develop our own manufacturing base. He felt that tariffs could be used to build what he called a “machine economy,” or industrial economy, but he really preferred subsides to the industrial sector. As stated by Lind, all modern economies are mixed economies that feature not only free-market economics but also government provided social insurance – unemployment insurance, age-old pensions, national health insurance, public assistance for the long-term unemployed, and disability insurance – to lift up working people in times of need. Trade policies should be mixed in nature, with nation-states and city-states protecting vital industries and engaging in free trade at the same time.

All countries should keep a manufacturing base for medicine, medical gear, aircraft, machine tools, and consumer electronics and other sectors, as Lind points out.  It would save lives around the world in a pandemic. Corporations like Boeing, who benefit from government military contracts, cannot and should not claim to be, on the one hand,  international companies who need to be freed from the constraints of national government in economic boomtimes and then, on the other hand, portray themselves as national champions that need a bailout in pandemics.

Lind compares a future industrial policy to arms-control deals in which each side engages in a give-and-take agreement where arms are reduced while each country maintains some control over its military spending. In a quality industrial policy, each country should be able to produce some essentials while engaging in some economic competition on essentials and even more economic competition on other items. The ideal of absolute free trade might be the cause of future wars if American companies nudge political leaders into a war with China, or any other adversary, because their factories are threatened by the politics of the nation-state where factories are located. It is hard to imagine any arms-control treaties being struck, with the size of national militaries already being reduced, in that environment!

A future industrial policy would place some controls on the manufacturing tendencies of corporate America, a key feature of a more social democratic America. The federal government could offer companies a subsidy, which Hamilton would approve of, to manufacture some essential items here. We should move money away from the bloated military-industrial complex, which manufactures unnecessary weapons, and toward items that would be useful in pandemics or in fighting or adapting to the greenhouse effect. The strategy would avoid demonizing China and other geopolitical competitors as an evil greater than Nazi Germany and would also reject racist attacks on Chinese-Americans or the Chinese people in general. This limited free trade model would allow each state in the international system a certain amount of security and for a more peaceful international order where arms-control can become a bigger part of our national-security strategy.

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.

TOWARD AN ECONOMY BASED ON PUBLIC HEALTH

By Jason Sibert

Covid-19 pandemic should help our country realize the connection between public health and the economy. Our economy stays vibrant when consumers and workers – the same people – are healthy. In the fight against Covid-19, we do not seem to be making a connection between worker/consumer health and economic output.

Millions of working people are facing the worst of times in the pandemic. The social distancing required to fight the spread of the virus has thrown millions in the restaurant, retail, and hotel and motel business out of work. Some are collecting unemployment, living on savings, and are fearful of the future. I suspect that others will draw public assistance and food stamps as these crises continues.

As of now, President Donald Trump is denouncing Dr. Anthony Fauci’s recommendation against individual states opening too quickly – a decision that could bring dire consequences. Trump defined the doctor’s recommendation as “not an acceptable answer.” A month ago, Trump retweeted a message calling for Fauci’s firing, but later said that he would not be dismissed. Some close to Trump have called Fauci, the country’s top expert on infectious diseases, an unelected bureaucrat granted too much influence on when to open the country.

However, our economy will suffer if we reopen and experience a second wave of Covid-19 that throws more of our workforce in the hospital and sparks another wave of business shutdowns and unemployment.  We need an investment in public health as we reopen. Ramping up our manufacturing sector to churn out testing equipment – at this point in the crises there has been too little testing – as well as masks, ventilators, hand sanitizer, and anything else needed should be at the top of our public health agenda.

China – a geopolitical competitor – manufactures many of the items used in this pandemic. Naturally, when the pandemic broke out, they kept those items within their borders. US companies responsible for distributing needed items manufacture them in China; some of them purchase directly from Chinese factories, because it is cheaper. Profit does not understand public health!  China’s economy features cheaper labor and environmental costs, an economy that destroys the livelihoods of working people in the manufacturing sector and impedes efforts to conserve our environment. American consumers buy cheap consumer goods at Walmart and cheap Apple iPhones made in China but there are other costs paid by our country as well.

Social democrats should demand that the true costs of these companies’ practices be exposed and paid for. We need to revive our manufacturing base and in turn, revive the employment opportunities of those who can work in factories by manufacturing the products needed to combat this pandemic. Some will denounce this as government meddling and use words like “industrial policy,” as if that is a bad thing. Others will oppose this because the cost is arguably prohibitive. However, we already have an industrial policy in our military-industrial complex.

The military-industrial complex is a system that involves the Pentagon and military contractors who spend billions annually on weapons used in a possible ground war with the Soviet Union, a defunct political entity. Let us take some money out of that the military-industrial complex and build a manufacturing sector to protect public health!

 Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.

FROM PANDEMIC TO SOLIDARITY By Jason Sibert

The Covid-19 epidemic gives our country a reason to work for a more solidarity-related economy.

States across the country are cutting back on Medicaid as our country still fights the pandemic and a lack of healthcare threatens the economic security of Americans. Reports said state officials will have to cut back on the program unless they receive more support from the federal government. The program insures more than 70 million low-income Americans. The social distancing required to fight Covid-19 puts a strain on state budgets who collect some of their tax money from sales taxes consumers pay.

Congress already gave states a six-percent increase in federal funding for Medicaid in an earlier Covid-19 stimulus package, said reports. In Georgia, where the need for Medicaid is expected to rise to 567,000 people, Republican Governor Brian Kemp and state legislators have instructed the state to brace for a 14 percent across-the-board cut in Medicaid. Some Republicans have questioned the need for more funding.

Naturally, the fight against Covid-19 has brought about an increase in the number of people who are applying for Medicaid. In New Mexico, where 42 percent of the population is already enrolled in Medicaid, sign-ups have surged by over 10,000 people more than were expected from before the pandemic. The state’s top Medicaid official is worried about this item. New Mexico is heavily reliant on revenues from oil and natural gas, reports indicate.

Our issues surrounding Medicaid are about money and power. The program, unfortunately, is funded by both the federal and state governments. The mixed funding formula allows low-wage, poverty-stricken states to game the system. Low-wage states – often right-to-work states – can attract employers, sometimes foreign auto companies, with the promise that they will be able to attract employees more cheaply than in higher-wage, non-right-to-work states through lower benefit packages. People who work for a discount retailer and like their jobs and can receive Medicaid might stick with their jobs if they keep their health package (Medicaid). If they do not receive Medicaid in a low-wage, right-to-work state, then they might take jobs (perhaps in an auto plant owned by a foreign company) just to have better or just some benefits.

Politicians are rightly worried about funding. There is an area where we can cut to fund Medicaid – nuclear weapons. In the war against Covid-19, public health means everything and nuclear weapons mean nothing. President Barack Obama signed off on a $1 trillion-dollar nuclear modernization plan and President Donald Trump increased the amount allocated to modernization and has pushed ahead on developing new nuclear weapons.  With a transfer of funds from nuclear modernization to Medicaid, there can be a renewed emphasis on arms control by extending the New Start Treaty in 2021. This is part of the war against Covid-19.

However, there seems to be a lack of understanding when it comes to linking arms control and Medicaid expansion.  An obstacle to this understanding is the sheer power of the military-industrial complex. Nuclear weapons, and the other items produced by the military-industrial complex, mean profits for the companies that make them. In a money-drenched political system, these companies have a voice. However, the people who qualify for Medicaid don’t have the money to buy a voice, even though public health and security are joined at the hip in the pandemic. What is needed to draw the connection between public health, Medicaid and the power of the military-industrial complex is a new social democratic movement that would work to give a voice to low-income and middle-class people in our system. Otherwise, the power of money will continue to rule.

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.

HOW COVID-19 UNMASKS THE CLASS DIVIDE by Jason Sibert

The Covid-19 crisis reveals the class divide in the United States of America.

The divide in our county calls for a redistribution of power, as working people need more power and corporate America and the military-industrial complex need less.

Today, on International Workers Day (May 1), workers in essential industries – restaurant, retail, and healthcare – are scheduled to march in downtown Los Angeles, Calf. to demand better health and safety conditions and hazard pay. Essential industry workers complained of not being provided masks, gloves, and sanitizer. Organizers said employees who work for companies such as Amazon.com, Instacart, and McDonalds will demonstrate. Nurses are scheduled to join in the protests, reports said.

Even before the pandemic, some have been organizing working people in new ways. The Mobile Workers Alliance (MWA) is working with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to mobilize Lyft and Uber drivers in Los Angeles. SEIU, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCWU) and the retail-oriented United for Respect (UfR) have mobilized grocery store and fast-food workers. A coalition called Athena targeted Amazon.com with strikes and press conferences highlighting the company’s safety practices. Some call such efforts the alt-labor movement because some of the organizations involved – the MWA and UfR – are not traditional unions.

President Donald Trump recently ordered meat packing companies to stay open during the COVID-19 crises via executive order because some are worried about the supply of meat in retail outlets. The UFCWU stated the Trump Administration should issue firm orders on social distancing, protective equipment, daily testing, and sick leave in a display of opposition to the President’s order, reports said.

Essential workers are on the front lines in the pandemic, as they prepare food for grab-and-go and drive-up services, stock shelves in grocery stores, run cash registers, haul goods to grocery stores and provide healthcare at hospitals and nursing homes.

The above scenarios would be less severe, or would not exist, if working people wielded more power. Our country needs to use its democratic traditions to increase their power. We must look back to the early New Deal when President Franklin Roosevelt instituted the National Recovery Administration, an experiment in business, labor, and government cooperation that the Supreme Court unfortunately declared unconstitutional. Each industry formed boards and the government facilitated these boards. Employers and employees negotiated production codes on items such as wages and working conditions. All companies that joined the NRA placed the Blue Eagle on their company logo to signal participation. In order to be a part of the NRA, a company had to allow employees to join a union.

Writer Michael Lind suggested a return to an NRA-type arrangement in his new book “Saving Democracy from the Managerial Class.” A new version of worker-business cooperation would allow workers in the service sector, and other sectors, to elect a leader to a board that sets industry codes. The baristas, healthcare workers, restaurant workers, and others would have a say in their pay and conditions. Companies and consumers would also have a representative or representatives on these boards.

Military budgets are under strain in economies around the world due to the spending allocated to fight COVID-19. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute stated that global defense spending reached $1.9 trillion, as China and the U.S. represent 52 percent of global military spending. Nan Tian of the Stimson Center said that there is a downward pressure on defense budgets around the world largely due to the fight against the pandemic, according to reports.

Large defense budgets do no good in a fight where service and healthcare workers are on the front line. Scientific workers will be important in the battle for a vaccine. The large budgets also represent a power-balancing act between geopolitical competitors like China and the U.S. However, COVID-19 knows no boundaries and requires that the world work together for a victory. This makes Trump’s right-wing populism a wrong fit for our times.

A downsizing of the military-industrial complex and a redirection of funds toward research and development (a vaccine) and an increase in the power, health, and safety of America’s working people are the key to a new, more social democratic America!

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.

SOCIAL DEMOCRATS USA Supports ENVIRONMENTALISM AND FOOD JUSTICE

At the last National Executive Committee meeting, the SDUSA leadership passed the following resolution by a vote of 4 to 0, with one abstention:

Spinning out of SD USA’s support for the Green New Deal, we adopt the following ten-point plan to deepen our outlook on global warming and climate change:

1) Hunters for Regulation & Environmental Protection is a group dedicated to conservation and protecting the Earth from climate change.  Its Facebook page spotlights progressive hunters and concerned citizens, and it should become a caucus within SD USA. Just as the Red Falcons of America were created by the Young People’s Socialist League as the left alternative to the Boy Scouts during the 20th century, Hunters for Regulation & Environmental Protection is the 21st century left alternative to the National Rifle Association.

2) We adopt and respect gun safety measures to ensure public health, including bans on military grade firearms and assault weapons put forth by Congress and enacted by state legislatures. Traditional firearms such as shotguns and non-military grade rifles are to be reserved for hunting and target shooting only, where local hunting is to be geared for the cultivation of food. 

3) We adopt and respect conservation efforts. The Endangered Species Act is to be strictly enforced. Globally, comparable acts should be enacted and enforced to preserve dying species such as the African elephants, lions, bonobos and gorillas.  Moratoria on whale hunting must be supported. We defend and encourage the anti-poaching efforts undertaken by women warrior units in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

4) Global warming is to be curbed by not investing in factory farming and big agriculture. Nearby rail traffic must be ecologically sound. Ethical farming practices must be encouraged. Small farmers are to be rewarded for helping the environment.

5) We support the formation of a green hunters coalition ranging from conservationists and environmentalists to followers of entertainer and climate activist Willie Nelson and progressive hunters like ex-astronaut Mark Kelly (husband of shooting victim, former Rep. Gabby Giffords), currently a Democratic candidate for the US Senate. 

6) We must respect the rights of indigenous peoples at all times, recalling that land that is being borrowed for the purposes of hunting was once theirs. The National Park Service’s bison hunting program, where penned-in bison are shot without mercy, should be cancelled. In its place, the distribution of extra herds of bison, elk and buffalo to native tribes is to be promoted.  Such distribution would accommodate the tribes’ work in prairie restoration, reviving bison ranching as a major factor in food cultivation and generating sorely-needed revenue for all native American reservations. 

7) We must counter climate change denialism, originating primarily from the Republican Party, that serves to accelerate climate change and its immediate danger to our agriculture, especially in its promotion of factory farms.

8) Few encounter climate change more directly than hunters and fishermen, and their insights must be sought after in this struggle to preserve our environment.  

9) We respect and work to preserve the fragile ecology of Earth – the nature, environment and climate in which we live. We are forever obligated to protect it.

10) We work to create a better tomorrow so that the youth can inherit a world worth living in. We support the kids at March For Our Lives, who are to be saluted as the youth of tomorrow.

We resolve that Social Democrats USA will assist in whatever way it can to promote environmentalism and food justice in a principled manner.