Let the old folks die

Dan Patrick is the vice governor of Texas, USA. Texas, where you don’t throw your garbage out of the car window, where you don’t leave your house without your gun (but you’re requested to leave it in the car when entering the gas station shop), where the tomato ketchup on your hamburger is sufficient for your daily portion of vegetables, where the majority of the staff prefers some alphabetisation course above a monetary compensation when the local Walmart shuts down. Texas is great! When we did a home exchange almost twenty years ago, and we spent nearly a month in south Texas and around San Antonio, I experienced a culture shock as I never had known before.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is a Republican, who will turn 70 next month and who agrees with Donald Trump’s hope to reopen the country by Easter. “As a senior citizen, my focus is on my grandchildren and your grandchildren and the entire next generation, that we have an America to leave them, » he said. “And on the path that we are on right now, if we close down America, that American dream is going to disappear very quickly.” On Fox News he had said before that the nation should go back to work, while suggesting that “grandparents » should sacrifice to keep the country out of economic turmoil. “My message is that let’s get back to work. Let’s get back to living. Let’s be smart about it. And those of us who are 70 plus, we’ll take care of ourselves. But don’t sacrifice the country.” Consequently he wouldn’t mind sacrificing himself to COVID-19 “in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves” for his children and six grandchildren. “And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in.”

Dan Patrick is not the only politician who thinks senior citizens should sacrifice themselves for a quick exit out of the corona lockdown. German minister of Health Jens Spahn (39) suggests that, in order for the economy to restart as soon as possible, one should request the elderly to stay confined at home for several more months. Why let them flood the hospitals to die from COVID-19, when you can lock them up in their houses to die there from old age?  In doing so, at least they contribute their share to the much-needed economic recovery.

One more. According to the newspaper’s website, Jeremy Warner is assistant editor of The Daily Telegraph, one of Britain’s leading business and economics commentators and a serial winner of awards. He caused some fuss when he stated in his weekly column that Spanish flu had had a “lasting impact on supply” because it killed off “primary bread-winners” by disproportionately affecting young people – while this is not the case now with the COVID-19 strain. “Not to put too fine a point on it, from an entirely disinterested economic perspective, the COVID-19 might even prove mildly beneficial in the long term by disproportionately culling elderly dependents.” (Not really smart thinking by this Warner, since the average reader age of The Daily Telegraph is 61.)

But now seriously. Of course one should start considering in earnest the question at which moment  and to which degree the social, economic, political and psychological damages caused by the lockdown exceed its health benefits. Soon or later that moment will come – inevitably. In media of all types various experts claim that the economy post corona should be and cannot be else than more ecological and equitable, more harmless and friendly, slower and cautious. It should be so, because the corona crisis has proved the final failure of neoliberalism in all its aspects, and it can be so, because the population has proven its social consciousness and its capability to solidarity through their voluntary confinement in order to protect the elderly from (fatal) infection. Hasn’t all this demonstrated that not the markets, but the in neoliberalism so much disdained state appears to be the only effective barrier against the SARS-CoV-2 contagion? And isn’t this a chance to build up a new, green capitalism that resolutely breaks with the ideology of New Public Management?

Well, about that solidarity, I don’t know. If people stay at home in large numbers, this might rather have to do with their fear of being infected themselves, than with a precaution of not infecting others. If someone else coughs, you better run. And the massive hoarding of toilet paper and food – just as well in bio-stores, where the young and ecologically aware do their shopping – is hardly an illustration of societal solidarity. “The rich have taken all they could and have left nothing for the poor”, I remember someone saying, standing in front of empty racks in a supermarket.

Concerning the imminent and inevitable end of neoliberalism, it might be revealing to look for a moment at Le Soir of 4/5 April. Some capital-friendly characters shine their light upon what should happen next – and preferably as soon as possible. Funds manager Etienne de Callataÿ says: “Public debt will be higher. There will be a return to budgetary discipline. I don’t see how one could opt for a general refinancing of public services. On the contrary, one will doubtlessly have to cut further. But the health sector will stay immune.” And the CEO of construction firm Besix explains: “I’m not in favour of further encouraging public services. Economic functioning will have to come back to normal. In Belgium, we live beyond our means, with public instances that are way too much financed. Of course, some services which are managed by public authorities, such as health, transport or education, are clearly underfinanced in relation to the service they have to offer. But I think one should leave the services that have to generate profit to the private sector. It does a better job there.”

The end of neoliberalism? No, the core of neoliberalism: the profits for the private, the costs for the public sector. Now who do you think governments will listen to, the mainstream media and their economic specialists or citizens who envisage a more social and ecological way of living? The same governments that now hail as daily heroes the nurses and doctors, the truckers and garbage collectors, the shop assistants and the people at the food distribution – the same people and services they have impoverished and undermined by their year-long politics of austerity and privatisation? I think you will need to do more than just trust that something like a Green New Deal might rise up spontaneously out of the debris of the pandemic, and that this ‘other capitalism’ will contribute to a just and sustainable society.

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