There are those who believe there is a fast track to regain socio-economic normalcy in the country. There are clear signals that this thinking has major flaws.
First, the economy will become significantly different. As noted by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, many Americans who are out of work will struggle to find decent new jobs because industries will likely be smaller than they were before the pandemic. This will be accented by employers who have used the moment to adopt technology to replace workers and that this technology will remain in place.
In West Virginia, the transition from coal mining will cause reduced family incomes, since replacement jobs – if any – will have less pay, fewer work hours, less socialization, lower benefits, and be non-union. Any reduction in income has a multiplier effect on spending, auxiliary employment and volunteerism, meaning evolving jobs will be less local and more isolated. In turn, this will cause a drastic change in the appearance and vibrancy of small towns and rural communities, as well as the quality of life of those trying to survive there.
Second, it is not clear that the pandemic will be over soon. Currently, countries like Brazil and India are reeling with an explosive eruption of Covid cases. In the developing world, vaccinations are low because of vaccine availability and distribution. As noted by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of the World Trade Organization, this could cause the mutation and spread of new virus variants that would block any return to normalcy elsewhere. Even in the United States, there is already talk of the need for booster shots and the frequency of regular injections that will be needed annually. The consequence is that people will be mis-led into believing nothing more has to be done and not realizing that long term total recovery is a false expectation.
In the short term, the stock market is soaring, bolstered by venture capital start-ups. But so are cryptocurrencies and the price of precious metals because savvy folks are betting that a bust is coming. In fact, banks are becoming less important as the financial system pivots toward unregulated players. The scramble in the short run is for the rich to secure as much wealth as possible from the moment. As noted recently in the New York Times, ”while millions of people struggled to make ends meet, many of the companies battered by the pandemic showered their executives with stratospheric riches.” Even the CEO of Boeing, which made faulty planes that killed hundreds of people and plans to lay off 30,000 workers, was rewarded with $21.1 million in 2020. As J.P. Morgan Chase’s chief Jamie Dimon noted, deficit spending, stimulus legislation and euphoria that the pandemic is over will create an economic boom. The race is now “on” for which billionaires will benefit the most as quickly as possible so that they will survive comfortably, even when most people cannot. Egos are intense since Forbes magazine has just revealed that China has overtaken the United States as home to the most billionaires. For the majority here, any salvation will depend on how much updated infrastructure, affordable housing, and expanded services can be quickly implemented before the bubble bursts. The judge will be “time.” The fact is that Sir Isaac Newton’s law which states for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction still has validity.
The time is now for those who deserve economic and social justice to grab that opportunity, because the time will come when the promise of normalcy will implode and only the wealthy will benefit.
— Dr. John David is executive director of SALS, the Southern Appalachia Labor School, whose mission is to provide education, research, and linkages
for working class and disenfranchised peoples in order to promote understanding, empowerment and change.