Musings from the Bunker 4/21/20
That sign is both funny and sad. But also instructive. As much as we have been focused on our world—how we’re all sheltering in place, how other states either acted early or too late, the myriad ways in which our institutions failed us—the “wet markets” have been back in business in China.
GLOBALIZATION—HOW DO WE MOVE FORWARD?
One of the issues that will be subject to greater scrutiny and debate after this crisis is the benefits and challenges of globalization. I don’t want to get too much into the weeds, but globalization has opened up markets, raised people from poverty, forced competition that has lowered consumer prices, and tied together our countries and peoples in ways that hopefully reduce the risk of conflict.
And yet, globalization has allowed corporate America to out-source jobs to countries that don’t afford their workers nearly the workplace protection and wages that are available to our workers here. And the Chinese have been particularly violative of human rights, intellectual property, workers’ rights, and international law. President Trump, in my opinion dead wrong on the trade war and his harmful rhetoric, was not wrong to raise the alarm regarding China’s behavior. The current shortage of critical supplies that come from China has forced a reckoning with the fact that we are beholden to China, with its vast manufacturing capacity, in myriad ways.
There is little question that the United States needs to pursue several objectives, some of which may be anathema to corporate American, consumers, and unions:
We need to reindustrialize. We cannot rely on insufficient “stockpiles” when the next crisis occurs. We need the industrial capacity to provide materiel for our country when it is needed most,, maintain a viable supply chain independent of foreign influence, and generate jobs. We need to be able to compete effective globally (and certainly locally) with goods made by American workers. This will mean goods may cost more, as we no longer pursue the lowest cost producers.
Reindustrialization will bring flexibility and control. The fact that most of our medical equipment and pharmaceuticals come from China, Brazil and India is nuts. When we hopefully have vaccines and treatments for COVID-19, we will need to rely heavily on China for production at scale. The failure to maintain our industrial base is a security threat. America was able to respond to the threat of World War II because it was able to mobilize an industrial base that is missing today.
We need to build our infrastructure. We have heard from most on the political spectrum that we need to work on our infrastructure. But little has been done yet. Watching how woefully unprepared we were for this crisis should be warning enough. But we also have bridges, roads, and dams that are well along their useful life and will need capital improvement or replacement in the near term. Enough talk and inability to generate an infrastructure bill of size and scope. Our legislators and President need to act in our collective best interest and finally get this moving.
We need to employ people. Unemployment after the Great Depression hit 24.5%. Some prognosticators say we’re on our way to 30%. FDR took bold actions to help us out of our economic malaise (yes, I know that gearing up for WWII arguably was as, or more, important). Those actions included the WPA, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and others. We put people to work on a wave of infrastructure improvements and our natural resources (national parks and forests, building schools). We need a CCC and a WPA now.
We need to streamline regulation. One of the curious things to come out of this crisis is the acknowledgement that our regulatory system stood in the way of a number of measures and that, in order to actually move forward, had to be relaxed or abandoned. Most notably of late, the CDCs failure to follow its own rules in producing flawed test kits. Somehow, and I don’t know how, we need to figure out how to “de-regulate” those impediments that seem in place as much to preserve the position of established corporations (particularly with monopoly power) and trade associations, with their armies of lobbyists, as we can.
We need to reengage with the world. Contrary to current policy, we need to recommit to the responsibilities that come with power and wealth—by supporting the institutions that keep the peace and ensure a more stable world. Things like NATO, our presence on the Korean peninsula (which helps enable an uneasy peace and non-nuclearization of both South Korea and Japan), the World Health Organization (despite its flawed response to COVID-19), and international trade pacts that ensure fairness and openness (and elevate workers’ human rights, safety, and income). The President is right that China has not being playing fair for years—but the best way to deal with this is our own industrialization and our enforcement of the instrumentalities that support free trade, including the Trans Pacific Partnership—not through its avoidance.
We need to have “smart” borders. They need to be protective but also humanitarian. They also need to help control outbreaks such as we are experiencing. While the President was right to limit travel from China, that limitation didn’t extend to Americans traveling from China. This simplistic (some might say xenophobic) reaction seemed to assume that the disease only accompanied Chinese nationals and not American nationals. Not so smart.
A fun link to the Broadway and off-Broadway seasons we’re missing: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/15/theater/broadway-cast-album-guide.html?referringSource=articleShare. Thanks, Ed Namias, for instructing me to include this!
IF YOU READ ANYTHING TODAY, PLEASE READ THIS
Sunday I was culling my back collection of unread and partially read magazines. This Brian Doyle piece, republished by the American Scholar earlier this year, is among the most beautiful things I’ve read in a very long time. It’s but two pages long and will take you five minutes…max… I promise it is extraordinary. It is called “Joyas Voladoras,” which means “flying jewels”:https://theamericanscholar.org/joyas-volardores/#.Xpy4cdNKg6g.
GREAT SHORT VIDEO—GOING FOUR MONTHS BACK IN TIME
As good and meaningful as that story is, this is great for different reasons. This is a great video by a comedian who goes back in time to advise her past self about the events that are yet to come: https://mymodernmet.com/julie-nolke-funny-viral-video/. Thanks Ken Kahan for passing it along.
Have a great day,