Like everyone else I am having trouble thinking about anything other than the coronavirus pandemic and the shockwaves it has sent, and will continue to send, through the system. As it began to unfold I found myself thinking, talking, and posting about it fairly constantly. In an effort to try to keep it confined to a given time and place, both physically and psychologically, I am keeping a diary of it all.
April 14: This morning, right about when the second cup of coffee was kicking in, I was overcome by a fairly strong feeling of loss stemming from our inability to go anywhere or do anything. Then I began to examine it and ask myself what it is that I miss specifically.
The first thing seemed legitimate: I miss being able to meet people for a drink or a meal. The second one seemed legitimate too: I miss being able to just go someplace, anyplace, with Allison or with the kids even if it’s just walking around the mall or going out for ice cream or something.
But then I realized that, as far as socializing with others go, it’s not a thing I do very often. Then I realized that I am still able to spend a ton of time with Allison and the kids. More time than usual, actually. Hmm. Think harder, Craig.
Beyond that I considered various other things. Movies. Concerts. Baseball games. I quickly realized that I can watch most movies at home and I rather like watching movies at home. I realized that while I enjoy some concerts, they’re not such a part of my life that I’m feeling their loss yet. I mean, I’ll go a couple of months without seeing a show in the normal course. I go months in the offseason without baseball and, even if I had already done that this past offseason, it’s not like I’m tortured by its loss. The dynamic is not that different yet anyway and the weather is not yet warm, so I can pretend it’s February.
The same general dynamic applied to all manner of other activities I could think of. I miss things, but my life is not miserable without these things. It’s certainly OK enough to where I should not be feeling much loss or deprivation to be without them for just a month and, say, another month or two or three after that if need be.
As I was a few sips into my third cup of coffee, I began to wonder if I miss actual things at all or if I just miss the ability to do actual things should I want to. Is the loss really just a loss of choice, or do I truly miss the social things, even if they’re a bit rare in my case. Then I began to wonder if I was simply taking those things for granted and if, maybe, my “this isn’t such a big loss” thoughts weren’t kind of callous, actually.
I didn’t reach a satisfactory conclusion to that line of thought before another intruded, so I decided to just say “yes” and put a pin in it for later. I’ll probably be repeating that whole cycle every few days for the duration.
Amazon announced it will be creating an additional 75,000 jobs to meet increased demand in the face of COVID-19 crisis.
Jobs are better than no jobs, but Amazon’s labor track record is deplorable. Their warehouse workers are treated like robots, their drivers are, often, not actual employees with any rights or benefits at all, and their anti-organizing tactics and their harsh retaliation against internal criticism is well-documented.
Jeff Bezos’ billions were built, primarily, from imbuing shopping with a speed and convenience that, previously, was impossible to deliver in an economically efficient manner and subsidizing consumers’ resulting expectations — which would previously be impossible to meet — via the exploitation of its workforce. Which suggests to me that, the eventual recovery, like most economic recoveries in the post-Reagan era, is going to consist of a general downgrade in the quality, security, and pay of available jobs even while employment metrics improve superficially.
Either way, I guess being in the delivery business is everyone’s future. That, combined with mass unemployment, our lives all being lived online, a viral disease ravaging the country, and the federal government basically abdicating its authority, causing others to fill the vacuum, makes me feel like I’ve been dropped into the middle of Neal Stephenson’s novel “Snow Crash.” I liked it and everything, but I never really wanted to live it.
Meanwhile, in Congress, a GOP congressman from Indiana named Trey Hollingsworth said today that more people dying from COVID-19 is “the lesser of two evils” compared to damaging the economy.
I wish I could have bet on the proposition that “the next Republican Congressman who will say its better to let people die if it means the economy will improve will be named ‘Trey’ and will have made his fortune via private equity aided by his father’s money,” but all the casinos are closed right now. Damn my luck. It was a sure thing.
I just read that President Trump has insisted that his signature appear on the $1,200 stimulus checks that are, eventually, being released. According to the Washington Post, it will be the first time a president’s name has appeared on an IRS disbursement. Custom is that a civil servant’s name or some mark of the Treasury Department appears on the signature line so as to assure that the business of government is seen as apolitical. And, in fact, that will happen with these too. Trump’s name won’t be the official signature: it’ll just appear on the memo line.
Trump is doing this because he no doubt thinks that cash payments “from him” will benefit him politically. I think he’s miscalculating.
For one thing, sources of the Post in the Treasury Department are saying that putting Trump’s signature on the checks is delaying them, so that’s not gonna go over well.
Mostly, though, I think that the entire $1,200 stimulus checks thing is going to backfire as a political act.
Money is better than no money, but given the scope of this disaster — given that people have already lost their jobs in massive numbers and given that even more pain is likely in the offing — I’m gonna guess that this particular effort will, over time, be seen as weak and ineffective in the face of COVID-19’s economic fallout. I mean, people are already making memes and jokes about it:
Herbert Hoover did stuff after the 1929 stock market crash too. He signed a $160 million tax cut, for example. He made some efforts to get the business community to retain workers and guarantee pay checks. There were various “relief acts” which, while far short of the sort of direct relief that FDR would later enact as part of the New Deal, was unprecedented in American history to that point. He also, like Trump, spent a lot of time claiming that the downturn was all just temporary, that normality was just around the corner, and all of that. He was wrong about all of that and all of his efforts, such as they were, proved utterly ineffective in the face of the Depression.
One of the more visible responses to Hoover’s impotence: his name began to appear on all manner of things.
An old newspaper used as a blanket became a “Hoover blanket.” A “Hoover flag” was an empty pocket turned inside out. Cardboard used to line a shoe when the sole wore through was “Hoover leather.” A “Hoover wagon” was a car with the engine removed and horses hitched to it. Most famously, of course, were the “Hoovervilles.” Shantytowns that popped up in cities all over America, housing the homeless and bringing the impoverishment of a nation into stark relief.
Again: money is better than a kick in the teeth, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, a month or three from now, when the unemployment rate remains in double digits, the economy remains ravaged, and 10,000 people are applying for every one job to go work on Jeff Bezos’ farm, people are going to make dark jokes about how high they lived on their “Trump Bucks” before getting back to the business of figuring out how they’re going to survive all of this.