All crises, especially economic crises, are political. But this is likely the first time that a crisis of economic production and circulation has been catalyzed by the intentional decisions of elected representatives during peacetime. Lockdowns, commands to shelter-at-home, calls for “social distancing”: all of these were proclaimed directly by presidents, prime ministers, legislatures, governors, and mayors, with full foreknowledge of the devastating economic effects that such orders would bring. Shutting down large swathes of retail and services, maintaining only “essential” production, and closing schools and daycares have together produced staggering collapses of economic activity and equally staggering surges in unemployment.
Covid-19 brought economic chaos to the US, and with that a possibility for huge political policy changes. But if Joe Biden wins the presidential election, he’s promised nothing will change. The best of time, the worst of times.
Today, 50 years after his assassination, Martin Luther King is more glorified than ever. In his honour, the conservative US President Ronald Reagan had already introduced a national holiday in 1983. The memory of the social revolutionary was politically instrumentalized, King was appropriated from all sides. But in order to tell the story of the reconciled nation, the dissident had to be erased from memory.
What remained was a patriot, a founding father, an extraordinary US American, who could only have been produced by an extraordinary country. A black man who dreamed of racial equality and rightly trusted that his countrymen would make it a reality. A man who served his country and recognized its unique democratic potential. On the pedestal of the monument inaugurated by Barack Obama in Washington in 2011 there is no reference to racism or racial segregation. On the capital’s National Mall, where the great American is commemorated, visitors are better off remembering the dream King conjured up at the 1963 rally.
King is immortalized on stamps, above the portals of universities and schools, on the National Mall, in picture books, in nice stories to polish up the image of the USA abroad, in the White House – and in an advertisement for SUVs. That he was a critical mind is buried under the burden of official honors and commercial exploitation.
The rewriting of history began with the fact that the black revolution of the 1950s and 1960s was reduced to the demand for formal equality – as if the blacks in the southern states were solely concerned with the right to vote and an end to legal discrimination. In the end, they were fobbed off with a deceptive package in 1965: They tried to make them believe that with the end of legal discrimination, equality had already been achieved. King was dismayed by this sleight of hand.
When one percent have half of the wealth, mistrust and cynicism drown out public spirit and trust between the generations. A fair tax system means ending tax havens, micro-second trading, stock buybacks and insider trading. Schools, hospitals and community centers can only be funded by taxes, not wishful or magic thinking.
if the government’s response to the debt accumulated during the crisis is austerity, it will make the situation even worse. It is therefore right to call for a more active and visionary state policy that shows a way out of the crisis. But that, of course, raises the crucial question: What form will these policies take? Adam Tooze is a distinguished professor of history at Columbia University.
Corona is the trigger but not the cause of the worsening crisis situation. It will accelerate the disintegration of capitalism. Pragmatism and cooperation on an international scale are called for. Sometimes the state protects life and sometimes relaxes it in the interest of the functioning of the economy. Infrastructure socialism takes health care from the market and obligates large corporations to the common good.
Life in a “fatherless world,” as the English philosopher Shaftesbury wrote around 1700, is cruel and dysfunctional because a person without a father lacks “the relationship to the whole.” A first creeping, then rapid change of values has occurred within our societies from “freedom” as the highest value to “security,” the desire for controllability of the future.
The crisis has brought enormous suffering and even death to many people. Corona has thus raised the urgent question of how to live together on this planet in a good and fair way. A crack now runs through our imaginary space, which shows that we cannot shape and control everything.
The revolution may become conceivable, but it has hardly been thought of so far. The contradictions of the “old world” are deepening, but the contours of a “new world” are not yet emerging, nor is the path to it.
Instead of a positive elimination of conditions, a social regression could also occur: intensified competition in the fight for market share, “exclusive solidarity” (Klaus Dörre) in the fight for jobs and welfare benefits. Will governments master the crisis? Will world society cannibalize itself? Or will social-revolutionary movements form? These are practical questions to which only the real, living people can give an answer.
Now there are exactly two ways to revive the economy. The first and best option is to push back the neo-liberal agenda, strengthen the trade unions…If we do not succeed in pushing companies back into the role of debtors, the economy cannot function without ever new state debts.