Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down

Roland Stahl
May, 2020

     Oh, these are crazy times, and we haven’t seen anything yet.  It is becoming evident that the looming world-wide economic catastrophe will surely dwarf the current public health crisis in severity and long lasting negative consequences.  But what else can we do?  No one wants to die.  

     I remember in earlier days I had taken the position that endless deficits and ever lengthening debt will inevitably undermine economic stability, leading eventually to insolvency and bankruptcy, whether we are talking about personal debt, corporate debt, or government debt.  Now it is the fashion for governments to shovel out money in buckets to all comers as “fiscal stimulus,” and the chorus of economists are loudly exclaiming that, yes, yes, governments can just create money by the trillions of dollars without fear of inflation or the boogeyman, so pump it up and keep those checks coming.  

     There seems to be abundant evidence, or at least a general consensus, that such a fiscal policy can actually restore productivity and prosperity to a lagging economy.  Perhaps my earlier criticism of such profligate spending needs to be reconsidered.

     But the discussion seems to present the matter in overly simple terms ~ “Is massive government spending, in times of economic crisis like the present corona virus, an effective and useful tool ~ or not?”  But that entirely misses the crux of the whole problem ~ how the money is spent!  I return to my ideas about “reality economics” to seek clarity on this matter.  So long as this massive government spending is all going down the toilet ~ or worse, much worse ~ it will only lead inexorably to continued economic decline.  

     The biggest white elephant in the room is endless foreign wars.  The US government has spent astronomical trillions of dollars fighting wars all over the planet, blithely tossing the bills onto the back of the National Debt.  All of this military activity has only increased the widespread opprobrium which most of the world feels towards the capitalist adventurers and their wars.  The formula for success is very simple ~ the more American capitalists can ratchet up the levels of international tension on every front, the more business accrues to American arms manufacturers (which are about the only products Americans make any more, apart from airplanes, white elephants with wings).  

     However, this is a very shaky hand to play, as it keeps American taxpayers shoveling more and more money into the maw of the Pentagon for their war games, which not only risk economic upheaval and ruin, but they risk escalations of conflicts all over the earth that threaten the survival of life.  

     No, if we want to have the massive spending of government money to have positive benefits for the economy, as well as for the quality of life of its citizens, their expenditures must stop promoting international conflict, and they must also stop passing out goodie bags of money to their fellow wealthy plutocrats who already have most of it, anyway, but don’t want to stop until they have it all.  

     No, all of this massive government spending and “fiscal stimulus” must be carefully directed into valuable projects that will enhance the prospects for the survival of life, instead of inhibiting them.  To me that means, of course, planting trees everywhere.  There is no excuse for anything less than 100% employment of every healthy and able-bodied man and woman who wants to work.  Of course, the entire Green New Deal can be fully funded, to the enormous benefit of everyone, stimulating the economy as well as enhancing the quality of life and the prospects of survival.  There are no limits to the numbers of workers who could be profitably employed planting trees all over the planet.  And still, every available shoulder to the wheel may yet not be enough to stave off the extinction of the human race.  

     So, go ahead, my dear government ~ go ahead and spend those trillions of dollars.  Just be sure you spend that money on projects that will bring favorable consequences, instead of wasting it on projects that bring us ever closer to the brink of disaster, collapse, and death.  

     Sometimes capitalism and big industry seem to keep things humming along pretty well, so no one dares to object too much about the system, even though the side effects of the destruction of our human habitat are pretty severe.  It is true, of course, that this “pretty well” business only really applies to those on the top of the pile.  However, the lower down you are in the wealth pyramid, the less your opinion (or your life) matters.  I hate to break the news, but Black lives don’t really matter much, which isn’t news to the Black community.  (I am being ironical here, in case explanation is needed.)

     But it is during such an alternative reality as the present public health crisis, that the utter failure of free market capitalism to control unfolding events in the world effectively becomes blindingly apparent.  What is needed now is the total opposite of what we have.  We need the whole earth to be cultivated as a garden, and we need it now.  

     The people of the earth can no longer tolerate having our world run by the Sharpeners.  We must set up a world-wide government to protect the entire earth and its biosphere.  The Sharpeners and their Corporations must be restrained from their rampage.  Not only must their wealth be taxed to fund the cultivation of the earth and the feeding of its people, but a vigilant application of resource depletion tax must inexorably wind down their ongoing destruction of the earth as soon as possible.  

     During a public health crisis like the present, no one should have to worry about having to work to feed their family and (or) pay their rent.  Everyone should simply stay at home, while the government makes sure everyone has access to food, while they are trying to contain the virus and find vaccines and treatment.  Food distribution and other essential services have to be maintained, and volunteers who perform those services must earn generous hazard pay.  Even a restoration of the “new normal” (less human contact than ever before) will only happen once all outbreaks are contained and there are both vaccines and treatments available.  

     None of these mitigation measures for spread of the virus should be mandated by law and enforced at the point of a gun.  It is the responsibility of public health departments to provide information as accurate and up-to-date as possible.  If everyone understands the scale of the problem and wants to survive, he or she will want to curtail as much contact with other people as possible, at least during the hottest part of the pandemic.  There will be very few persons seeking social contact in places of entertainment (or worship).  The few who do turn out for any public gathering will probably maintain as much distance as possible, so that the “new normal” will be nothing like the “old normal,” and probably far less contagious, if not as much fun.  Virus outbreaks will rise and fall along the way of the world finding its way along the edge between fire and ice (a pretty literal metaphor).  

     Everything I have written in response to climate change is all just as appropriate for mitigating pandemic outbreaks.  The true causes of this virus spreading so quickly out of control can be easily identified ~ the airplane and the automobile.  If most people remained in residence on their family or community farm, growing most of their food, limiting their typical mobility to a day’s bicycle ride, any outbreak of epidemic anywhere in the world would be easily and quickly contained.  

     I am not advocating that we return to 1885 ~ what I am suggesting is a careful review of all the changes that have been happening since then.  I want to retain all of the real improvements which have been made, such as laptop computers and unprecedented world-wide instant communication.  But I want to reject those innovations which turn out to be hazardous to the survival of life.  Certainly flying around the world in airplanes is great fun, but when we consider the cost to the earth, we must lay them down.  

     The bicycle has been greatly improved since 1885, so let us keep the bicycle (and a few other useful things) with us as we go back to grandfather’s farm.  

Albert Fitch Bellows: The Village Elms (Sunday Morning in New England), 1878.

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