Recent events provide a good idea of how those in power want to structure the post-2020 economy. One is the announcement by the governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, that sections of the state's economy will be re-opened to consumers (barbershops, massage parlors, tattoo joints, and the like) on April 24. Another is the rash of anti-lockdown protests in a number of state capitals. Yet another is captured by an April 21 headline in the Dallas Morning News: "Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick praises economic restart, says ‘there are more important things than living.’"
Dan Patrick, who is 70, and who would likely not live if he contracted the virus, felt vindicated that he asked, on Tucker Carlson's Fox News show, people of his age to sacrifice their lives for the economy.
"And what I said when I was with you that night, there are more important things than living and that’s saving this country for my children and my grandchildren and saving this country for all of us... I don’t want to die, nobody wants to die, but we [have] got to take some risk and get back in the game and get this country back up and running.”This statement makes it clear that necro-economics has arrived and will inform US policy in the coming months. I will, however, save an explanation and analysis of necro-economics for another post. For now, I want to compare Patrick's position with that of the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
Brazilian President Bolsonaro greeted a few dozen supporters protesting quarantines in Brasilia today. He told them that 70% of the country was going to get sick sooner or later so everyone should just get back to work. #coronavirus #covid19 #Brazil pic.twitter.com/mMmfZR5Rsj
— Michael Fox (@mfox_us) April 18, 2020
The most revealing contribution to what I call necro-economics (roughly: when the conatus of an economy becomes more important than the actual lives in the economy) went almost unnoticed in US's mainstream media. It is found in an impromptu speech made on April 18 by the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (the Trump of South America) to a group protesting quarantines in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil.
He basically told his supporters that 70 percent of the population is "going to get sick [from COVID-19] sooner or later, so everyone should just get back to work."
Now, I will be frank from this point on. That the leader of a developing country is saying such things is not one bit surprising. Poor life is worth next to nothing in a country with a high poverty rate. One penniless person in a Third World nation can be replaced by another with less effort or thought than it takes to blink. This does not make it right, but that's the reality for much of the labor that produces cheap products for consumers in the West. To get a better sense of my meaning, one should watch the 2003 film Blind Shaft. Or read Deepa Bhandura's article on two of the three most-prominent South Asian Americans in the Pacific Northwest, the Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant and the Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
The PNW CEO:
The Indian society in which Nadella grew up may be particularly good at producing the technocratic mentality that 21st-century capitalism requires. With more than one billion people crammed in a space one-third the size of the United States, India is a sea of humanity. A quarter of the population lives under the global poverty line of $1.25 per day, and crushing poverty is an inescapable sight for all segments of the population.
The PNW Socialist:
Sawant grew up in Mumbai, and when I interviewed her last fall, I learned that poverty in India played a formative role in her political awakening. She told me she was “not able to stomach… the ocean of poverty” that surrounded her... The devastating poverty that plagues India made her more sensitive than insensitive. She is just as driven as Nadella, but her drive is rooted in another and more humane way Indians might respond to the mass misery around them.
What is hard to stomach in a Third World country is the disposability of the poor. That's how it goes there. Sorry. No rosy painting here. But what do we find with the president of Brazil and the lieutenant governor of Texas? A convergence. The leader of a low-income country is saying exactly the same thing as a leader in a high-income society.
What this means is that there is no difference between Bolsonaro, the head of a $1.869 trillion economy with a population of 209 million, and the second-in-command of a US state with a GDP that's almost the same as Brazil's but with one-tenth of its population. You would expect these different economic realities to speak a completely different language. Texas has the financial resources to deal with COVID-19, but the subjects of that state are no better than Brazilians.