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Wall Street Is Ready to Work You to Death

Killing myself? For this economy?

Say what you will about Americans, but remember this: our work ethic is so strong — insatiable, really — that after no more than a week and a half of disruption to our job routines, we are begging to get back in the saddle. Even in the midst of a plague. 

Admittedly, I never took an econ class in college, so please sound off in the comments if I run afoul of some elementary misunderstanding. As a layman, though, I’m not quite sure how old folk perishing en masse from an agonizing respiratory disease, either in overwhelmed hospitals or their own homes, will save the U.S. economy? At the very least, this seems like a proposition worth investigating. Unless we’d rather just go for it? 

Okay, but, and I’m sorry to ask again: Is this actually the choice? Because it feels like the family from Succession called Trump the other night and told him that if they couldn’t reopen their cruise lines and theme parks by Wednesday, they’d go public about a couple of bodies buried on his New Jersey golf course. So he made a lot of noise to indicate that whatever the human toll, we’ll soon “be opening up our country for business because our country was meant to be open.”

Excellent tautology, sir, and kudos to the bootlickers who then got #ReopenAmerica trending on Twitter, allowing the COVID-19 skeptics to trumpet a suicidal urge to congregate in cubicle farms once more. 

I myself would enjoy a return to (relative) normality — to stop self-quarantining and start spending time with the people I love, to catch a movie or spend an afternoon in a busy coffee shop. My whole immediate family is 3,000 miles away, in the New York area, which has become an epicenter of the coronavirus; I want to visit them at the earliest opportunity. I just struggle to grasp how doing all that right away — effectively discounting the reality of an accelerating, worldwide, fatal pandemic — will save capitalism as we know it.

Trumponomics is big on the short-term gains, of course, and we might well see those. Long term, however, many more will fall sick, a significant number of them will die and we will hit a level of panic and chaos that makes the current meltdown look quaint. Then you have a cratered financial system and a desperate, ravaged population.         

Besides, I’m not totally convinced, industrious society or not, that store owners will turn the lights back on because President Handshake says it’s necessary, nor that employees will eagerly clock in for factory and restaurant shifts after wall-to-wall news coverage of a public health crisis that he and his cronies tried to spin as a hoax. Trump thinks of everything as “deals,” meaning he’d now like to negotiate with the virus. Wall Street may not be that stupid, yet they’d still have us believe it’s a concrete enemy we can take down with wave after wave of kamikaze attacks: Throw enough hotel maids at the problem, eventually it’ll burn itself out. The alternative is individual bailouts, freezing rent and utility bills, debt forgiveness, etc., and none of that is good for their portfolios. 

This is what money always does, only we aren’t used to such a hurried schedule. The reason we can’t stay home to flatten the curve is the same reason we can’t quit fossil fuels — it jeopardizes the precious framework of the inequitable and finally unsustainable pyramid scheme that is the U.S. economy. The One Percent always tell the rest of us to give up avocado toast if we don’t want to live paycheck to paycheck (as if this horseshit math explains why nearly 80 percent of Americans do), but when the markets take a plunge, it appears they are no better at saving for a rainy day. Won’t we lend them a helping hand? C’mon, let’s go infect ourselves to keep them in the black. Who cares if you’re stuck with a gigantic bill for a lengthy hospital stay. Worth it! 

Except, in most ways, the damage is essentially done. A fifth of households have lost work, and we are positioned to hit a 30 percent jobless rate. We are not even far enough from the initial shocks to measure how bad they were, but signs point to an instant collapse that overshadows any in living memory. None of this can be reversed by forcing workers back into unsafe conditions as the risk of COVID-19 transmission continues to grow.

The ruling class is aware of this, and recovery is not really what they’re after, despite the death cult fanaticism evident in the chorus of Dow Jones defenders. No, what they want is to exploit the small and closing window between here and the peak in confirmed U.S. cases, pull a few last gains from the wreckage by squeezing us for blood.

If we happen not to survive… well, that’s business as usual.       

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