Last week, the Wall Street Journal editorial board argued for quickly lifting social-distancing health measures because these were hurting “the economy” — i.e., corporate profits. On Sunday, Goldman Sachs chairman Lloyd Blankfein echoed this call. And now it appears that the White House may be willing to heed their advice: On Sunday evening, President Trump announced that he’ll soon consider lifting our country’s already inadequate social-distancing measures.
It’s hard to imagine a starker illustration of the contradiction between public health needs and capitalist profit-making. The US government’s too-delayed, too-limited response to the coronavirus potentially put millions of lives at risk. For weeks, Trump downplayed the virus and delayed taking action because he didn’t want to take any measures that might disrupt the economy. As the New York Times reports, “only when the disruption came anyway, in the form of a historic stock market sell-off, was he convinced to act.”
Those delays have cost countless lives. We have now reached the point where, according to some experts, only a five-week national lockdown can avoid a public health catastrophe. Yet the Wall Street Journal and the Lloyd Blankfeins of the world are proposing the exact opposite: ending lockdowns rather than extending them. Even the limited governmental measures taken so far are apparently too much for Wall Street to stomach.
WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2020
This disregard for public health is being sold through rhetoric about protecting the livelihoods of ordinary Americans. As the Wall Street Journal editorial put it,
If this government-ordered shutdown continues for much more than another week or two, the human cost of job losses and bankruptcies will exceed what most Americans imagine. This won’t be popular to read in some quarters, but federal and state officials need to start adjusting their anti-virus strategy now to avoid an economic recession that will dwarf the harm from 2008-2009.
It’s true that a looming pandemic-induced economic depression could inflict tremendous damage upon millions across this country and the world. But allowing the virus to continue to spread not only threatens the physical survival of these very same people — failing to flatten the curve could result in the breakdown of essential supply chains and even deeper economic and social crisis.
Billionaire rhetoric about protecting jobs is a smokescreen. There’s no reason to believe that the Wall Street Journal, Goldman Sachs, or Donald Trump actually care about the well-being of ordinary Americans. If they did, they would have already supported Bernie Sanders’s plan to issue monthly cash payments of $2,000 to every person in this country and grant paid sick leave to all, or propose something like the United Kingdom’s plan to cover 80 percent of all citizens’ income.
They don’t care if we lose our jobs — and they don’t care if we die. As always, all that matters for them is their bottom line.
If Trump or Wall Street actually cared about us, they would have already advocated using the Defense Production Act to ensure that large industries immediately start producing the masks, ventilators, and protective equipment we so desperately need to avoid a health catastrophe in the coming weeks. Instead, the president at Sunday’s press conference explicitly rejected this proposal, arguing that “the concept of nationalizing our businesses is not a good concept.” He left out who exactly it’s not good for: capitalists and their profits.
Unless we take action, Wall Street may get its way. Stopping Trump from scrapping our existing public health measures is literally a matter of life and death. We need to do everything possible to force the White House and its corporate backers to take the urgent measures that experts agree are necessary to prevent a public health catastrophe. Our lives are on the line.