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OP-ED: The New Abnormal

NEWSWEEK FEB. 16 COVER

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Gonna be doing a weekly OpEd for Philly Mag until this shit show is over and I can go back to my day job. Whatever that is. Here’s the first one.

PHILADELPHIA MAGAZINE: At a press conference back in 1986, President Ronald Reagan famously declared “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help’” setting into motion the austere neoliberal in-free-markets-we-trust, get-a-job-you-bum zeitgeist that held sway for the next 34 years. That is until the COVID-19 pandemic finally breached the walls of fortress America and quickly metastasized into a full-blown national epidemic that, worst case scenario, could kill 2.2. million Americans and inflict untold and unprecedented financial pain and suffering on hundreds of millions more.

Overnight we became one nation under quarantine, cowering in our sweatpants while staring into the abyss, praying that disease can’t pick the locks of our pitiful wash-your-hands-and-hide safeguards, instantly crash the stock market and send the American economy into a death spiral that could make The Great Depression look like an ice cream social. (Consider this: In 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, unemployment peaked at 24 percent. But it took four years of economic collapse for the unemployment rate to reach one-in-four-Americans depths. This week a Federal Reserve Bank president predicted that we could be at 30 percent unemployment in a matter of weeks, if not sooner.)

For the first time in my 54 years on this Earth, I wake up every day with a very rational fear of impending societal collapse, that this could all go Mad Max in the blink of an eye. It really all depends on what the federal government does next. If they don’t get their shit together and sign into law the stimulus package currently on the table and instantly pump at least two trillion dollars into the economy, much of it directly into the pockets of once-working Americans (which is prudent fiscal policy given that consumer spending accounted for about 70 percent of our economy’s growth last year), we’re staring down a deep doomsday depression so deep, so severe, and so unrelenting that nobody now living will ever get back to where they were financially a month ago in their lifetime.

After 40 years of cutthroat, Gilded Age, winner-takes-all free-market evangelism — and the gold-plated cruelty and ruthless class warfare that goes with it — we’ve become a nation of New Deal Democrats overnight. Starting today, the era of small government is officially over. Because we’re all wearing barrels and burning our stocks. We’re all looking for a handout now. Because, just as there ain’t no atheists in foxholes, there ain’t no libertarians in a pandemic. Just ask Rand Paul when he finally gets out of isolation after receiving the best Senatorial healthcare that taxpayer money can buy. MORE

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