I read an article in the Financial Times earlier this week (September 23, 2023) -…
I usually use Wednesday to write less here. But because sometimes a data release is on Wednesday, Thursday then becomes my lighter day. And I also have to travel a lot today. But there is a relatively important issue to address. I have been receiving a lot of E-mails over the last several months that question me about my position on government restrictions with respect to the Covid pandemic. Apparently, it has seeped into the debate that the mainstream Left have been silent while governments around the world have imposed draconian social control on their citizens, which have been targeted against the workers. The questions all seems to suggest that I have been silent on that issue, which is indicative that I have adopted the ‘woke’ Left position. I beg to differ.
Before I start I decided to check my – Political Compass score – one of those things that one should periodically do to make sure they haven’t turned into a rabid Right lunatic.
Things are stable.
You can check my history – HERE.
As of December 2, 2021, this was my outcome:
Some questions and answers
Now, let’s ask some questions first and I will provide the answers:
1. Is the pandemic real or is it a construct of our governments designed to do something about social control or something?
Answer: I accept the epidemiological evidence that Covid is not the Flu, it is real and deadly for many segments of the population.
I do not consider the science to be fake or part of a conspiracy controlled by corporations or financial markets.
Conspiracies are difficult to maintain when there are tens of thousands of people involved in the ‘secret’. I also know people in science, obviously, and they would never sign up to a conspiracy about state control etc and are smart and know how to interpret data and research findings.
I also don’t subscribe to the view that data from national statistical agencies and health departments are forged. I also know a lot of statisticians in different countries and they would blow the whistle if the governments started dictating what data is published.
It would get out, that is!
I realise that corporations have vested interests in controlling information and pushing their products.
But I don’t see that being the dominant theme in this pandemic.
2. Are vaccines sensible?
Answer: Eminently so.
I was a child when the polio epidemic raged in Australia.
We were saved from debilitating illness by the vaccines, first the Salk injection and then the oral Sabin dose, which, effectively eliminated the disease from our shores.
Was that beneficial? Very beneficial.
The current vaccines for Covid seem to reduce the severity of the disease which is about all we know at this stage. Balancing risk.
3. Do restrictions on human mobility help contain the spread of the virus and reduce the death rates?
The evidence is overwhelming across the globe.
4. Were governments using restrictions like lockdowns for some ulterior purpose not linked to reducing the spread of the infection?
Hard to fathom.
Most citizens embraced the restrictions because they feared the spread of the virus and the consequences of that.
5. Do the anti-vaxxers have a point about freedom?
It is a strange (neoliberal) version of freedom that they preach.
I haven’t seen widespread violation of red stop lights at intersections up until now.
We accept restrictions for the greater good.
They also rail against rules that stop them entering buildings etc. But then they claim they should have freedom to choose. Well the person who is responsible for the building is choosing. Double standards. What they really want is their right to do what they like irrespective of the rest of us.
I am a collectivist – which is a good Left position to hold. Which means the ‘greater good’ is important.
6. Has the Left let the workers down while the ‘woke’ professional class, who comprise the intellectual Left, were protected by Zoom?
This is an interesting question and relates to the accusation that the progressive Left has been mute during the pandemic because those among this group that have political voice (the educated Left) have been protected by technology and have been able to continue working while the less well-off workers have been exposed to income loss, high infection rates and death.
First, when we talk about the ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ we need to understand the evolution of the nomenclature.
The terms did not enter the lexicon with the introduction of Marxist thought.
Where did the terminology Left and Right come from?
We learn that the – Left-right political spectrum – terminology emerged in the Northern Summer of 1789, when the Bastille was stormed and the National Assembly became the revolutionary government of France with the aim of writing a new constitution.
The burning question was the power of the monarchy in the new constitution.
Those who supported the king having absolute veto over legislation and maintained religous loyalties in the new legislative assembly consorted with each other and sat on the right of the chair.
The republicans congregated on the left.
While these differences were only expressed in terms of attitudes to religion and the monarchy, it eventually emerged that the terms Left and Right indicated ideological differences with the Left taking up the socialist cause and the then reflected different things in different countries.
For example, the terminology became common in Britain in the 1930s as a means of distinguishing attitudes to the Spanish Civil War.
My interpretation of the distinction starts with a recognition of the role of class – which I take to be a Marxist category rather than a sociological classification along the lines espoused by – Max Weber – or – C Wright Mills.
The term ‘middle class’ is a sociological reference and has no place in a Marxist discourse.
We think of the ‘woke’ Left as being the middle class and in this era of identity politics that post modernism spawned the middle class gets chopped up into a minutiae of other groups based on gender, sexuality, colour etc.
And loses meaning as a consequence.
By then we are so far away from understanding ‘class’ in the economic sense – in the sense that a worker is a person who does not own the material means of production and has to sell their labour power in order to eat.
The ‘woke’ Left are members of the working class typically.
I am a professional person on a relatively high income given the way in which the academic hierarchy is organised and paid.
But I am as much a member of the working class as the carpenter who saws the wood or a cleaner who keeps us safe from infection.
Sure enough, the capitalist system rewards different members of the working class differentially and that is a scandal.
Sure enough, the working conditions for some are much better than for others. That is a scandal.
Dangerous, dirty jobs should be rewarded much more than clean, safe jobs.
Those on the front-line protecting us from disease should be at the top of the pay scale if a pay scale is in place – and I support flattening it anyway.
So, sure enough, Zoom has allowed a significant segment of the working class to continue working during the pandemic and has also significantly changed the relationship between workers and bosses – to the extent that we now have more scope to work from home and network outside of the built environment of the bosses’ offices.
There has been good and bad in all that.
And, I am ‘Zoomed out’.
But small mercies.
And the lockdowns have been devastating for those workers that could not enjoy this technological income protection. Of course.
Workers in essential industries who have to do face-to-face to earn their incomes have been significantly disadvantaged and exposed.
Workers in industries where the lockdowns forced them into unemployment – whether formally or via the numerous furlough, JobKeeper etc schemes that were introduced – or without adequate income support – were devastated by the lockdowns.
Performing artists, musicians, etc were unable to work. Some innovated using technology, but many couldn’t. Shocking.
Small businesses (cafes, etc) were devastated particularly those who could not avail themselves of government support.
Income and wealth inequalities have risen during the pandemic as a consequence of these differential impacts of the restrictions and the technological inequalities that the information age has created.
We now have an additional driver of poverty – a lack of information and IT access.
All of that is true but does it mean the lockdowns and restrictions were wrong and that the ‘Left’ should have opposed them?
I supported the lockdowns.
I support mask wearing and sanitary practices.
I understood that the death rate among workers would have been much higher without those restrictions. That is what a virus does – spreads through human contact.
I don’t believe the governments used lockdowns in some sort of selective way to punish a segment of the working class and bring them into line.
I believe they used them to confront a very uncertain environment where the downside risks were massive loss of life and illness.
It is possible that the professional segments of the workforce would not have gone along with the restrictions had the technology not been available to protect their incomes.
But that is a separate point and doesn’t open that segment to criticism that they have been complicit in the attacks on the workers. They are workers!
I have long been critical of the traditional Left for abandoning their class origins, and, instead, becoming engines for neoliberalism.
That is what the book – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, September 2017) – which is co-authored by Thomas Fazi was about.
Which really is what this is all about.
Where the Left has really let us down
It is not the lockdowns that the organised and ‘woke’ Left should have been attacking as part of their working class solidarity.
Where the Left has let us down is their embrace of mainstream macroeconomics as a sort of uncontested truth which then leaves identity and other policy issues as the terrain they will contest with the conservative (Right) parties.
The fact that many Left governments were the first to adopt Monetarism and its subsequent variants marked a turning point in their legitimacy.
Where the Left has let us down is in failing to use their political voice to insist that governments accompany the lockdowns with (among other things):
1. Full income support for workers unable to ‘work from home’.
Rather than the piecemeal and inadequate support that was provided in various ways to people, the governments should have guaranteed all incomes for all workers.
They should not have given the employers the handouts (wage subsidies, etc) but just paid the workers directly.
2. Any worker who was forced to isolate, quarantine etc should have been received full income support so that there was no incentive to evade the restrictions and keep the testing rates high.
Too many low-wage workers were forced to continue working in high risk situations because otherwise they lost income and could no longer subsist.
3. Much higher pay for workers on the front-line.
4. Introduction of a Job Guarantee where the job would be to stay at home and isolate if that was the preferred health option. That is, the governments should have eliminated mass unemployment during the pandemic.
Then the restrictions, while onerous would not have had the devastating economic impacts on the low-wage segments of the workforce, that has transpired due to policy failure.
5. Coordinated pressure to force the authorities to overturn the patents etc protecting the profits of the vaccine makers. They should be produced under state contracts and no profit made.
6. Advanced nations produce as much vaccine as is necessary to protect everyone. The idea that the advanced nations have grabbed stacks of the vaccine while other nations have little is a disgrace.
7. Providing low-income families with high-speed free Internet and equipping their children with the necessary IT equipment and other study aids for free so they are not at a disadvantage when their schools are closed.
Ensuring there are safe spaces for children to study in if their homes are too small to facilitate effective study environments.
8. Providing state-of-art ventilation in schools and public buildings to reduce the spread of the virus.
These are just some of the things that the Left should have been pushing the governments to do while we were being protected by the restrictions.
That is, instead of devising ‘tax the rich’ schemes to pay for hospitals or attacking governments for running large deficits with lame comments about the need for fiscal repair or ‘what have we got for all this debt’ jibes.
That is the failing of the Left.
Not the fact that most of us have supported restrictions because we understand what a pandemic actually is.
I have to run today so that will be it.
Music – Some protest music
This is what I have been listening to while working this morning.
It was made famous in 1969 by – Roberta Flack – which marked her early days as a protest singer rather than the slicker singer she became as her days with Atlantic records unfolded.
Their playing at the festival was sensational.
They released it on their 1969 album – Swiss Movement – which was the live recording from their festival show.
Essential listening regularly.
That is enough for today!
(c) Copyright 2021 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.