Published on
by

In the Name of Profit and Greed, Billionaire Class Declares: 'Back to Work!'

We must put public health over all other concerns.

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence look over some notes as they participate in a Fox News Virtual Town Hall with Anchor Bill Hemmer in the Rose Garden of the White House on March 24, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence look over some notes as they participate in a Fox News Virtual Town Hall with Anchor Bill Hemmer in the Rose Garden of the White House on March 24, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)

Dick Kovacevich, former CEO of Wells Fargo bank, thinks most Americans should return to work in April, urging that we “gradually bring those people back and see what happens”.

Lloyd Blankfein, former CEO of Goldman Sachs, whose net worth is $1.1bn, recommends “those with a lower risk of the diseases return to work” within a “very few weeks”.

Tom Galisano, founder of Paychex, whose net worth is $2.8bn, believes “the damages of keeping the economy closed could be worse than losing a few more people … You’re picking the better of two evils.”

Donald Trump is concerned that a prolonged lockdown might harm his chances of reelection. “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem,” he said last week. On Sunday he backed off his Easter back-to-work deadline, saying social distancing guidelines would remain in place until the end of April.

But senior public health officials including Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, think this may be too soon.

America already leads the world in coronavirus cases. Dr Fauci believes we haven’t yet felt the worst of the pandemic.

It may seem logical to weigh the threat to public health against the accumulating losses to the economy, and then at some point decide economic losses outweigh health risks. As Stephen Moore, who is advising the White House, warns: “You can’t have a policy that says we’re going to save every human life at any cost, no matter how many trillions of dollars you’re talking about.”

But whose “trillions of dollars” of costs are we talking about?

Workers typically bear the biggest burdens during economic downturns, especially if they lose their jobs and don’t have enough money to pay the bills. Eighty percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.

SCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT

Never Miss a Beat.

Get our best delivered to your inbox.

Late last week, lawmakers made an important step to prevent such hardships. The $2.2 trillion coronavirus bill provides jobless Americans an extra $600 in unemployment benefits per week for four months, and includes contract and gig workers.

The bill was almost scuttled when Republican lawmakers objected that this would boost incomes of some job losers higher than their pay when they worked.

Apparently, these lawmakers hadn’t noticed that the pay of the typical working American has stagnated for decades, adjusted for inflation. So a temporary boost in pay in order to get people to stay home and thereby help slow the spread of Covid-19 is hardly unseemly.

Here’s what is unseemly. The “economy” that the bankers and billionaires are eager to restart had been growing rapidly before the pandemic. But most of its gains had gone into corporate profits, as shown by the meteoric rise of the stock market until a few weeks ago.

The bankers and billionaires now urging Americans get back to work own a huge share of that stock market. The richest 1 percent of the population owns roughly half of the value of all shares of stock. (The richest 10 percent own more than 80%.)

So when they recommend Americans get back to work for the sake of the “economy,” they’re really urging that other people risk their lives for the sake of restoring the bankers’ and billionaires’ stock portfolios.

While it’s true that we can’t save every human life at any cost, and at some point may have to end the lockdown of America and accept some additional coronavirus casualties, we need to keep in mind which Americans we are talking about.

The trade-off average Americans might make between getting back to work and exposing themselves to the virus is likely to be quite different from the trade-off bankers and billionaires make, especially if average Americans have enough income support to get through the crisis.

Even four months of extra unemployment benefits may not be enough. The richest nation in the world surely has enough resources to keep its people safe at home for as long as it takes.

Robert Reich

Robert Reich

Robert Reich, is the Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the the twentieth century. The author of many books, including the best-sellers Aftershock, The Work of Nations, Beyond Outrage and, Saving Capitalism. He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." Reich's newest book is "The Common Good." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Please select a donation method:



Share This Article