We Are Out of Ideas

August 12, 2020

This just eats at my soul

Grocery workers across the country say morale is crushingly low as the pandemic wears on with no end in sight. Overwhelmed employees are quitting mid-shift. Those who remain say they are overworked, taking on extra hours, enforcing mask requirements and dealing with hostile customers. Most retailers have done away with hazard pay even as workers remain vulnerable to infection, or worse. Employees who took sick leave at the beginning of the pandemic say they cannot afford to take unpaid time off now, even if they feel unwell.

It’s just such a massive failure of capitalism as the backbone of society. And that’s coming from me, a person who is extremely aware of how much positive social stuff has occurred thanks to capitalism. But this incarnation, this “capital as God” approach to things, it just leaves too many moral holes you can drive a truck through. This isn’t a temporary inefficiency that consumers are going to fix over time as their preferences affect pricing and supply chains. This is just not needing to pay an essential social function enough money to live — this is valuing people on their ability to be replaced like they are shooting guards or product marketing directors when we need this work done and they aren’t making enough doing it to live the kind of life we believe humans should get to live. 

I don’t think government is THE answer to almost anything, but the fact is that it can be AN answer to almost anything. That seems really un-compelling on the surface, especially if you are doing okay and have alternatives. But consumerism doesn’t just lack good answers for this kind of amoral, transactional treatment of essential workers — it has no answers, and isn’t going to come with any, either. Making this situation into something decent and not completely abhorrent is just not in capitalism’s remit, at least not on a time scale that isn’t counted in decades that we don’t have to spare.

I am really okay being talked out of my support for Warren-style “save capitalism with aggressive regulation and distribution”, partially because even though it looks absolutely right to me, it sounds like an incredible challenge to implement in modern America. But we’re not going to suddenly figure out morally virtuous command economies without bread lines or whatever, and the current “hey, maybe YOU’LL be a billionaire someday, and then YOU can have human furniture” fantasy straight out of “The Running Man” is just wrong and gross and I’m not okay with it.