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.

Redefining Security during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Covid-19 crisis should change our country’s consciousness when it comes to how we define security. 

It’s revealed our flaws in terms of defense spending and the conflict between private profit and the public good. The working people of America, first responders, healthcare workers, and retail workers deserve much credit. Information technology, partially developed in our country’s technology centers but also built on the back of government-sponsored research and development, has also played a positive role in the crisis. It would be a much tougher crisis without personal computers, cell phones, and internet access. Some are even able to work at home and earn a paycheck using these technologies.  

The internet is so important that it can’t be left in the hands of the private sector. It’s a public good and using it shouldn’t depend on one’s ability to pay for it.  The digital divide has been a political issue in our country for some time.

The Covid-19 crises makes municipally owned WiFi more important than ever. Some cities, New York City and Tampa, Florida in the United States, and Paris in France and Tel Aviv in Israel, have already introduced municipally owned WiFi. A reporter who is delivering important information on a pandemic or a health care worker who must communicate with a superior quickly shouldn’t have to worry about how or if they can connect to a WiFi network.

A segment of the old Socialist Party, Socialist Party of America, defined themselves by a program called “sewer socialism.” This approach supported city-owned sewers, water systems, public parks, public libraries, and improved education systems. The aim of the sewer socialists was to make city life livable for the industrial working class. Mayor Frank Zeidler in Milwaukee and Mayor James Maurer in Reading, Penn. represented this school of politics. A new sewer socialism would provide public parks, libraries, and city owned WiFi for the expanding class of service workers.  Internet access will be a right and not a privilege.

During President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, the government created the Rural Electrification Administration and the Lower Colorado River Authority. These agencies started cooperative utility companies for rural Americans, many didn’t have any electricity at the time. A new Municipal and Rural WiFi Administration would set up consumer cooperatives for cities and rural areas and deliver public WiFi. The security of Americans depends on this public good.

Some will wonder how our government will pay for something like this. Lt. Col. Daniel Davis recently penned a wonderful story “How Covid-19’s Fiscal Impact Might Ironically Strengthen National Defense.” Lt. Col. Davis said that cutting back on our obsolete defense structure – designed to fight a ground war with the Soviet Union in a post-Soviet world – is essential to fund the war against Covid-19. He warned that the defense industry, sometimes filed under the category military-industrial complex, will use the weapon of fear to try and prevent this from happening. He also advocated ending the foreign wars our county has been engaged in for so long.

Fighting the power of private interests – the military-industrial complex and private interests that oppose municipal WiFi – and defending the public interest will be a priority in the fight against Covid-19!

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

HOW OUR SOCIETY MUST RESPOND TO THE CORONAVIRUS

For the past several weeks our country, and our world, have been fighting a global pandemic – COVID-19.

We’ve learned how flawed our conception of defense really is. Our country, like other nation-states and city-states, have practiced social distancing. Businesses have closed to keep the virus from spreading. Workers in the healthcare, electronics-oriented and retail sectors (at least those that sell groceries, cell phones, and computers) have stepped up to help the public. However, there are problems with the response – one of them being that our country doesn’t have the ventilators, masks, hand sanitizer, or testing kits that it needs.  

Some have directed criticism at President Donald Trump for not taking advantage of federal powers to manufacture needed items in the crisis. Others have pointed out that China has a greater capability when it comes to manufacturing such items and our lack of capabilities puts us at an obvious disadvantage. Many companies want to manufacture in China, or purchase items for manufacturing made there, because of its cheap labor, low environmental costs, and state-owned industries that make for cheap overhead for private companies and create bigger profit margins. Naturally, China isn’t exporting masks, ventilators, and respirators like they did before the crises. The pandemic forced us to realize that social needs and profit margins aren’t always compatible.

The United States needs a manufacturing policy geared to fighting pandemics. An expanded United States Public Health Service should have the power to direct a plan to manufacture anything and everything for COVID-19 and do the same in future pandemics. The service should also have the power and resources to contract with businesses that make anything of use and maybe build its own factories in partnership with private business.

Our forefathers overthrew British colonialism and it wasn’t long before Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton published his essay “A Report on Manufacturers”. This was a plan to turn the new country from an agricultural nation to a manufacturing powerhouse. Hamilton didn’t want us to be dependent on the British for industrial goods, as the industrial revolution started in Great Britain and the country was the world’s manufacturing center at the time.

Such a plan will be denounced by two different arguments. First, some denounce “industrial policy” and say it amounts to the government, an inherent evil, picking winners and losers. However, we already have an industrial policy for a certain segment of our economy – the military. The government regularly directs money to defense contractors for military items of all sorts – tanks, missiles, nuclear weapons, ships, and other things that are beyond the scope of this story. Some have called this the military-industrial complex, a term coined by President Dwight Eisenhower. COVID-19 revealed our country’s flawed defense structure – a structure designed to fight a ground war with the defunct Soviet Union. The second argument that will be made to counter the argument for a health-oriented industrial policy will be on the grounds of cost. However, our government already spend billions on the military-industrial complex.

The military-industrial complex’s vast resources give it a lot of pull. Companies such as Boeing and Lockheed-Martin use their profits to land contract after contract. These companies, as well as the military itself, create jobs in various communities across our country. The manufacturing of pandemic equipment doesn’t have a similar economic reach.

There must be a demand from our citizenry for a stronger PHS and for the ability to manufacture health-related equipment here. Jobs would be created in the manufacturing process and some of the companies that manufacture arms could move to manufacturing healthcare equipment. We must put public needs above the private profit of companies that want to offshore manufacturing and continue with the cycle of economic activity related to the military-industrial complex. This simple thought represents an idea that a more social-democratic America should embrace!

Jason Sibert is the executive director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis. He was elected to the SD USA National Committee on April 15.  Congratulations, Jason!