Remote, Day 47 - Resilience

In our economic system, the lower tier is frequently chastised for a lack of savings. You know the sort of lecture I’m talking about: It’s irresponsible to not be prepared for the unexpected. You should have six months to a year worth of expenses saved, so why don’t you. If you aren’t able to save for those emergencies, then you should go without or hustle more and figure out a way to put aside more money. Doesn’t matter if you’re already working three part-time, low-wage jobs with no benefits or sick pay. It’s still somehow your fault.

The pandemic shows that the lower tiers weren’t the only ones demonstrating this irresponsibility. Those on the higher rungs of the economic ladder were no more prepared when you account for the scale of expenses. Everyone is living paycheck to paycheck at increasing degrees of distance. Tenants aren’t able to pay their rent which leads over-leveraged landlords to not have money to pay the banks. The banks now can’t meet their obligations which introduces additional amounts of risk into an already precarious system. Meanwhile, corporations run by the most wealthy and powerful have shown themselves equally unprepared for an emergency. So much so that many need loans and bailouts from the taxpayers, the very same taxpayers that they just laid off. All that as the top tier seek the most effective way to continue with their own incentive structures while paying less than their share of taxes.

How did we get to this state? It seems that the entire edifice of modern capitalism is nothing more than short term thinking that borrows against the future. A lack of resilience built on debt all the way down. A strong system should be able to withstand shocks. Especially shocks that have known historical precedents. A strong system wouldn’t tie health care to employment. Especially not when faced with a health-related systemic threat. A strong system wouldn’t have off-shored the majority of critical manufacturing to other countries. A strong system would have better managed the levers of the economy during the good times to offset the inevitable bad times. A strong system would have more slack and flexibility. A strong system would benefit everyone.

But we’ve shown that we don’t want a strong system. We want our leaders to play reality TV, us-vs-them politics. We want our tax breaks during boom times. We want to worry about pronouns instead of our manufacturing base. We want cheap goods and services from corporations that we know don’t treat their employees well. We want to disconnect from our neighbors because the vacuous distraction of social media is less effort while still affording a presentable facade of friendship. We want to worry about ourselves and our rights while ignoring our connectedness and our responsibilities. We want to make easy choices, to be less than prudent, and to have everything just magically work out.

This system, this fragile, desperate system, this is ours. We built this. Perhaps not directly, but with our own short-term thinking, decadence, fear, and apathy. And now? Now it’s on all of us to try to hold it together, with the fractious society we tolerate, the inequality we feel powerless about, the information overload we allow to divide and frighten us, and the institutions we have allowed to not serve us. And we can do that. We can do better than that. It’s possible to have a better system, it’s just on all of us to work to make that happen.