At the beginning of March, the realization of how much life was about to change because of coronavirus began to set in for me.
With present punk always in mind, it also dawned on me what this would do for our dystopian trends. So I wrote a post on March 10th to air out some fears and mild predictions I had.
Note: I am not trying to crystal-ball this shit. I’m not trying to lord over you that I predicted anything (most of which was easy to see if you paid a bit of attention anyway). I am also not punishing myself for incorrect guesses or things I failed to anticipate.
The reason I’m posting this, and referencing my March 10th post, is because I think it’s useful to have periodic check-ins documenting our journey.
I am proud of my assessment on the transformation of school and work, despite the comment I just made above. To be clear, it’s still too early to tell, but it does seem that coronavirus will push us to virtualize more of our work and education. There are obvious benefits that I won’t knock. There are almost certainly going to be severe mental health ramifications to this as well. (A graphic novel issue on that is coming, by the way).
The other parts of my March assessment, I still believe in, but only time will tell:
- That surveillance will ramp up
- That people will generally be even more glued to their devices than before, and lonelier for it (not simply in work and school)
- That automation will accelerate as businesses are forced to adapt to not employing potentially contagious humans
The first point already appears to be proving true, but I doubt we’re near the end of it. The most visible moment thus far though, has been kind of dystopian:
What I neglected to consider in my earlier post from March:
I did not talk nearly enough about consolidation of wealth and economic power. This is one of the most insane parts of how we’ve responded to the pandemic thus far. God forbid what the next few weeks will hold.
This is the point I want to focus on, because it’s become (to me) the most defining part of the last two months. Primarily these are what seem to stand out:
- Government giveaways and support for the wealthy
- Economic consolidation
- The above, particularly as small businesses die
One would think that the 2008 rescue package taught us some sort of lesson. It’s not that I expected the “next big economic crisis” to NOT have a corporate bailout or giveaway to the 1%, but I expected more resistance to it. Consider how unceremoniously the CARES Act’s corporate giveaway component was passed.
To be clear, I’m not an economist, and I still have a limited grasp of all that’s going on. So don’t take it from me: take it from experts.
This is what award-winning journalist Matt Taibbi had to say about it. You can read more of his work, and the original essay this came from, here.
- Taibbi correctly points out that aid for ordinary people “through programs that are piecemeal, complex, and riddled with conditions,” while aid for the top has been “immediate, staggering in size and scope, and often [appearing] as grants rather than loans.”
- Senate Republicans added tax cuts for top income levels into the CARES act, on top of Trump’s already-drastic tax cuts from 2017. This tax cut effectively costs $195 billion over 10 years. It’s larger than the airline bailout. Or to put it more simply: “’The cost of caring for this small slice of the wealthiest one percent is greater than the CARES Act funded for all hospitals in America,’ says Texas Democrat Lloyd Doggett. ‘It’s greater than CARES provided for all state and local governments.‘”
- The Federal Reserve’s new stimulus measures allow it to effectively purchase indebted companies to keep money flowing from the financial sector. And as Matt puts it: “Many of the Fed programs don’t appear even secondarily concerned with maintaining employment. The basic idea instead has been to hurl money at ‘assets,’ underscoring the bizarre dualistic nature of this rescue.“
This giveaway comes as small businesses die to leave only major corporations left. Sure, there was small business aid–a loan program that ran out of funds immediately and was used by large companies with franchises.
Here’s another expert–another guy named Matt with a Substack, but this time it’s Matt Stoller.
- “It’s not just in the retail space that Amazon is wielding its power, the corporation also radically cut the fees it pays to affiliates and publishers for getting customers to visit Amazon and buy products. An entire ecosystem, which is from what I’m told fairly leveraged up, will now collapse, simply because Amazon is the only game in town for customers and doesn’t need to keep paying for marketing.”
- The Federal Trade Commission recently allowed, with almost no hesitation, Roark Capital Partners to purchase a sizeable stake in the Cheesecake Factory franchise. You haven’t heard of them, but RCP has investments in a large list of chains: Jamba Juice, Arby’s, Sonic, Jimmy John’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Cinnabon, Auntie Anne’s, Carl’s Jr., and others. They’re not small investments: they turn out $41bn for RCP.
- Google making forays into banking software. Stoller suspects that Google aims to be critical digital infrastructure for banks. He’s probably right.
And there have been a few more recent events highlighting this point. The day before I started writing this, Facebook announced it was buying Giphy. A few days before that, reports emerged of Uber trying to acquire GrubHub (doing so would give it a dominant 55% market share).
Another point of online ire: Jeff Bezos. A couple days ago leftists on Twitter determined Jeff Bezos could be on track to achieve trillionaire status in coming years. To be clear, this is not as assured an outcome as you may have heard: it assumes the rate of Jeff Bezos’ current wealth increases will continue til 2026. If his 34% growth rate continues uninterrupted, he’d be worth a trillion–that may not happen.
But whatever. The point stands even with that detail aside–Bezos is rich as fuck, and he is getting richer through all this because Amazon is becoming more of an essential service than ever.
We shall see what happens in the coming months, coming years. But at the moment, the outlook isn’t too good. Wealth is being firmly redistributed upwards, and as businesses die, the few big players seem poised to emerge larger than ever. Corporate-friendly stimulus seems to imply any economic recovery would be, like the 2008 recovery, wholly inadequate (perhaps even more so).
To add insult to injury, all of this comes as one of the main signs of hope, Sanders, gets trounced and drops out.
A lot of people are dying, and it would appear a lot more are going to die of this in the next couple months. Let alone what a second wave may entail in the winter. But that’s wildly known and discussed, so I’ll leave it alone.
At the moment, the state of dystopia for May is almost comically bad: even worse than it looks.
Don’t worry, I won’t leave you on that note. There are some points for CAUTIOUS optimism.
- Acceptance of universal cash payments. We can’t call it basic income yet, since so far the payments have been one-time, and these are admittedly not fully universal either. I also worry these may simply show the effectiveness of universal income in placating the masses, and that future employment of these payments would translate to: enough to avoid riots, enough to prop up consumption of billionaires’ production, enough to let us get away with funneling money to said billionaires, not enough to give people a decent standard of living. But hey, it’s something.
- Possibility of some mass uprising. Emphasis on possibility–this is mostly speculation. And even if there were a mass uprising, there’s no telling if it would end up in a positive outcome. But I’m a populist, and I’ll take it. As Saagar Enjeti put it in The Hill’s show Rising, Millennials were already entering one of the worst job markets post 2008, and now Gen Z is entering the workforce in another once-in-a-lifetime economic calamity. That’ll probably lead to something.
- Research, into the virus and the race for treatments and vaccines, seems to be highlighting how much progress we’ve made in health and science. One wonders if it may lead to further progress in medicine, in general.
That should cover everything for now. Stay healthy and optimistic (not too much of that last one though).