The coronavirus pandemic has stressed our own country and other countries as well.
It revealed a weakness in our economy. Technology allowed wealthy economies to evolve into human- touch economies where most people are employed in personal services, as the retail industry, the restaurant industry, the healthcare industry, and the hotel/motel industry are our country’s biggest employers. This means that a virus can easily be transmitted with so many humans being in regular contact with other humans.
As stated in numerous media reports, many workers – especially in the above-mentioned service industry – have no sick leave. This gives them an incentive to go to work to make the bills even when they are sick. Of course, sickness is more likely to spread to those around them in our current arrangement. Bars and restaurants have closed temporarily or operating on a skeleton staff with many serving on a grab-and-go basis. The unemployed will not spend money to keep our economy running. Even though the Affordable Care Act expanded insurance coverage, some still don’t have health care and the deductibles and co-pays they face would bankrupt them.
The crises also revealed how unworthy our childcare system is. Public schools are closed because of concern about coronavirus spreading amongst students. Many are faced with taking care of children or going to work and making a living. Many service jobs offer little in the way of health insurance, childcare, or sick leave.
We have a flawed definition of security in our country, something less mentioned in the media. Peace Action Executive Director Jon Rainwater addressed the Donald Trump Administration’s approach to security. The administration’s 2021 budget called for a $3 billion cut to the World Health Organization and a $16 billion dollar cut in the Centers for Disease Control. This year’s Pentagon budget is a whopping $740 billion, as stated by Rainwater.
Trump’s approach to nuclear weapons is also horrifying. The administration has made it a point to cancel arms control treaties that worked toward a vision of security defined by fewer nuclear weapons. Trump cancelled the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action treaty with Iran and the Intermediate Nuclear-Range Treaty with Russia. In addition, he has said he might not renew the New Start Treaty with Russia. The administration has also continued the modernization of our nuclear arsenal started in the Barack Obama Administration. From 2025 to 2034, our government will spend more on nuclear weapons than any time in history – the only exception being the Cold War.
Our country has defined security by how much we spend on arms when out of control arms spending will not keep us safe from global pandemics and global warming. We need to change our definition of security. There is currently a stimulus bill gliding through Congress that will provide $1,000 to every American, a good thing promoted by Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT). There is also money to keep small and large businesses afloat. This is also relevant if those companies can keep some people on the payroll and help the economy.
However, the current stimulus is lacking on key area – protections for working Americans. Rainwater stated a stimulus should provide sick leave for all Americans, offer cost-free pandemic care at all hospitals, and ramp up the production of life-saving technology (ventilators) at domestic factories. We should also expand the United States Public Health Service to build emergency hospitals to treat people free of charge in this time of need. Of course, we should start a national child-care system staffed with well-paid professionals.
Our government could also use valuable resources to secure the health insurance sector even more than they do. We could model our healthcare sector somewhat on Singapore’s. Hospitals will bill the government certain amount for all visits and the health insurance sector would be off the hook for some the costs but would be regulated even more. Let us allow only a small amount of profit (one percent) for heath insurance companies and create a mechanism – like the Federal Reserve Bank – to keep cash flowing to those companies. An insured populace is far more of a security issue than more and more dangerous arms!
Social Democracy is about solidarity and our country needs solidarity right know. As Ben Franklin said, “if we don’t hang together, we will hang separately!”
Jason Sibert is the executive director of the Peace Economy Project. It researches military spending, educates about the hazards of an unchecked military-industrial complex and advocates for conversion from a military- to a more stable, peace-based economy.