In a classic piece of deceptive argument, some people are arguing that the covid response of places that are successfully managing the disease, including NZ and, increasingly, Victoria, is disproportionate. That we are protecting a few old people who were about to die anyway, at the expense of the future of our young people.
This is a classic strategy because it asks you to make a clear choice. Do you want to save some near-death old people, or do you want our young people to have a future? That’s surely a no-brainer! Well, no brain is exactly what’s involved, as it turns out.
And there are several reasons why this is an argument with zero logic attached. Firstly covid does affect young people, and sometimes quite seriously. Many people who become infected with covid suffer severe damage that could, indeed, compromise their future dramatically. It’s difficult to put numbers on that whilst in mid-pandemic – we have no idea what happens to a covid19 patient one year on, because a year ago we didn’t even know this disease existed – but we know it’s a common outcome.
Also, and it is disturbing that this needs to be said, older people are not worthless. Having just turned 49 I have a vested interest in not being considered disposable quite soon, so perhaps this is bias of the most personal form, but the idea bears some examination. At what age are you going to declare people expendable? Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing at 87 may have catastrophic results. Life would certainly have been less traumatic for many if she had not died so soon – even though you could certainly argue that 87 is old.
We have also seen that places like Sweden, who did not go into lockdown and had a much more relaxed attitude to the spread of the virus, have not escaped economic damage. In fact, they have suffered damage just like the rest of us. In other news, it turns out that it’s not lockdowns that cause economic damage. It’s the pandemic.
Another argument against lockdown has been around mental health. True, lockdown has been tough on many, and there is currently a mental health crisis. But how much of that is from the stress of the pandemic and the people dying, and how much the lockdown? It is probably impossible to say. What are the mental health impacts of losing your parents? Or your partner becoming seriously ill? Or losing a child to covid?
But the most serious logical flaw in the whole thing is that idea that this is a binary choice: “Lockdown for covid OR protect the future of young people”. The idea that we have no choice, from here on, but to accept that young people are doomed. Their future, their careers, their earning potential, are all casualties of covid and our response to it, or so the story goes.
But it’s very clear that they are not. Young people’s futures are, in fact, casualties of an extraordinarily toxic form of capitalism which allows workers to be exploited while their companies’ owners become unconscionably rich. Amazon, for example, has done phenomenally well out of covid, but those profits are lining the coffers of Jeff Bezos and his fellow investors, not the workers who are risking infection for below minimum wage and no sick leave. Our economy puts no value on community, on the environment. On healthcare or education. It puts no value on happiness or safety.
What if we had a universal basic income that ensures that everyone has what they need. Shelter. Food. Education. Healthcare. These are all human rights, and our society has the collective wealth to ensure that everyone has access to them. We simply choose not to.
Trials of universal basic income have shown that, far from stopping people working, it allows people to become more entrepreneurial. To volunteer more. To contribute more to their communities. And we could afford it if we closed company tax loopholes and introduced a wealth tax.
And I understand why the likes of Scott Morrison, Josh Frydenberg, and Rupert Murdoch encourage us to choose “the free market” at the expense of the vast majority of the population. They and their friends directly benefit from it. What I don’t understand is why so many other people buy it. Maybe it’s because we all secretly hope to be Jeff Bezos one day. Sitting like dragons on our hoards of gold, extracted from the blood of expendable workers.
Maybe it’s because it’s easier to get angry with the poor and think that the idea of someone getting something they might not be entitled to is more of a threat to us than our very planet being strip mined for anything of value to make the one percent richer.
It’s clear to me that we do have a choice. Lots of choices, in fact. 2020 could be an opportunity to remake our world. To examine our priorities and choose the way we want the future to look. We seem to be currently on track for gated communities for the 1% and slums for the rest of us. We could fix that.
How about, instead, we choose to make sure that everyone gets what they need. To make sure that we prioritise the environment that sustains us. To choose compassion over billionaires. Imagine what it would be like to live in a world like that.