Quote of the Day - from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
“At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge, … it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
SCROOGE: “Are there no prisons?”
“Plenty of prisons…”
SCROOGE: “And the Union workhouses.” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“Both very busy, sir…”
SCROOGE: “Those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
SCROOGE: “If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
I’lll come back to that quote presently.
Heather Cox Richardson, in her Letters from an American, covers two items of note.
Today, once again, the Senate Intelligence Committee reaffirmed that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help elect Donald Trump president. The Senate Intelligence committee is chaired by North Carolina Republican Richard Burr, and the report released today was approved by the committee unanimously. …
Overshadowing this news today, though, was a razor sharp observation made yesterday by George Chidi, a Georgia journalist and former staff writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Chidi examined Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s decision to reopen gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, tattoo parlors, barbers, nail salons, restaurants, theaters, and massage therapists, among other businesses, next week.
Kemp said the businesses would be required to screen workers for illness, increase sanitation rules, separate workspaces by at least six feet, telework where at all possible, and have staggered shifts. He also said that more restrictive local rules could not override his order.
Kemp told reporters that his concern was to protect small businesses, hurt by the economic shutdown, but Chidi had a different interpretation. “It’s about making sure people can’t file unemployment,” he wrote.
The state’s unemployment fund has about $2.6 billion. The shutdown has made claims skyrocket—Chidi says the fund will empty in about 28 weeks. There is no easy way to replenish the account because Georgia has recently set a limit on income taxes that cannot be overridden without a constitutional amendment. It cannot borrow enough to cover the fund either, because by law Georgia can’t borrow more than 5% of its previous year’s revenue in any year, and any borrowing must be repaid in full before the state can borrow any more.
By ending the business closures, Kemp guarantees that workers can no longer claim they are involuntarily unemployed, and so cannot claim unemployment benefits. Chidi notes that the order did not include banks, software firms, factories, or schools. It covered businesses usually staffed by poorer people that Kemp wants to keep off the unemployment rolls.
Kemp threw onto businesses responsibility for reassuring customers that reopening was the right thing to do. He warned that the “The private sector is going to have to convince the public that it’s safe to come back into these businesses,” Kemp said. “That’s what a barber is going to have to do. It’s what a tattoo parlor is going to have to do.” He also acknowledged that cases of Covid–19 would rise, but noted that the state had expanded its hospital bed capacity.
Chidi’s observations are shocking, and believable. The modern Republican program calls for the end to business regulation, social welfare programs, and infrastructure development, with the idea that freedom from restraint will allow businesses to thrive and the country will prosper in turn.
To bring their ideology to life, Republicans have slashed regulation, taxation, and social programs. Under such a regime, a few individuals have done very well indeed, while the majority of Americans has fallen behind. Georgia has been aggressive in putting the Republican program into action. Now, the lack of a social safety net in Georgia has stripped the veneer off this system. Far from spreading prosperity as “makers” stimulate the economy, it appears that the determination to keep taxes low and social welfare systems small is now forcing workers to risk their lives in a deadly pandemic.
This is the logical outcome of an ideology of radical individualism: as one Tennessee protester’s sign put it “Sacrifice the weak/Reopen T[ennessee].” In 1883, during a time of similar discussions over the responsibility of government to provide a social safety net, Yale sociologist William Graham Sumner wrote a famous book: What Social Classes Owe to Each Other. Sumner’s answer was… nothing. Sumner argued that protecting the weak was actually bad for society because it wasted resources and would permit weaker people to dilute the population. Far from helping poorer Americans, the government should let them die out for the good of society.
And that completes the equation. Republican ideology, realized by Kemp, aims to, in Scrooge’s words, “If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
Sumner wanted the government to stay out of social welfare programs, but thought it should continue to protect businesses, which men like Sumner believed helped everyone.
Today, corporations are asking Congress to protect them from lawsuits from employees and customers who might get infected with the novel coronavirus when they begin to reopen. According to Republican Representative Mike Johnson of Louisiana, a member of Trump’s congressional task force on the economy, “There’s been a lot of discussion among conservative Republicans…. On the Republican side, I think there would be broad support, probably near-unanimous support.”