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.