Friday, May 15, 2020

COVID-19 both exposes and provides cover for the precarious nature of western economies

Inside the wall, apartment buildings similar to the one they observed earlier line the streets and there are people everywhere. Sisko explains that the place is a Sanctuary District, but Bashir concedes that 21st century history is not one of his strong points, as it is too depressing. While Sisko admits that the citizens of Earth made some ugly mistakes, he says they also paved the way for many things he and the doctor take for granted in their century. The Sanctuary Districts are one of the worst mistakes; as he explains the situation to Bashir, they see that trash is everywhere and dirty people fill the streets, with an older couple sitting in a tent and a family of three literally living in a cardboard box. By the early 2020s, Sisko says that there was a Sanctuary District like this one in every major city throughout the United States of America, but Bashir fails to understand the purpose and asks what the people did to deserve such treatment. Sisko tells him that people with criminal records are not allowed in the sanctuaries and those who live here are simply people without jobs or places to live. Vin instructs Bashir and Sisko to stop and tells Bernardo to go home to his wife and kids, out of both compassion for his partner and visible annoyance at the ramblings of the two new arrivals. Bernardo thanks Vin and takes off. Gesturing forward, Vin sarcastically asks Bashir and Sisko, "Shall we?" 
-- From Act I, Star Trek Deep Space 9: Past Tense
The rush to re-open is real, and likely to end in disaster. If there is one thing that COVID-19 has exposed it is that western economies are designed to operate only under optimal circumstances. This has resulted in a renewed push globally for a UBI (universal basic income).

Even the Alberta Liberals think it should be implemented, temporarily of course.

I'm going to be a contrarian here and say something that may not be too popular with the left: COVID-19 is the last reason a UBI should be implemented and in fact may be incredibly detrimental in gaining critical mass in effective opposition.

So why do I say this?

A UBI under the right circumstances is a good first step towards freeing ourselves of the system's currency ponzi-conomy by freeing people from mundane tasks that could be easily automated and allowing them to focus on more productive ventures. This could in theory lead to a conscious awakening that the UBI is actually unnecessary and redundant. But as I said... right circumstances.

COVID-19 is not those circumstances. A UBI so you can continue to pay your bills and loans because the system is broken and can't handle one of the oldest disasters mankind has encountered is not that circumstance. In the circumstance of COVID-19 the UBI can't help free people from the system, in fact the implementation of a UBI frees the system of taking responsibility.

Instead of asking for UBI now is the time to point out that our house of cards financial system and infinite-growth economy is flawed. Here is an example:

The irony of Krause, that is constantly fighting on behalf of those privatizing our resources such as petroleum which the right is fond of pointing out is using for masks, wanting the government to hand them out like Hong Kong is not lost on me.

The capacity of China to rapidly build hospitals (even if they just ended up being prisons) is another example in contrary to our own lackluster response. Not that I'm saying we needed to, but if they can build hospitals without a second thought surely we can give out some free masks?

So what is the difference between a place like Hong Kong, or China? Most will probably point to the totalitarian nature of their government, which is true to a point. It certainly allows them to deploy resources without opposition but that's not why they're able or willing to deploy those resources in the first place.

The real reason other nations have been able to deploy a response in a coordinated and resourceful way is that money and the economy isn't their primary concern: sustaining the nation is. There's a big difference in the way these other nations and western economies see "money" and "economic return". This was perhaps exposed around a year ago in an article describing China's troubles getting oil out of the oilsands.

Unlike our oil companies, and American oil companies that are turning tail to run the Chinese are sticking it out despite taking losses. This isn't because the Chinese are rich (which they are), it's because the Chinese understand that money is a tool, not the endgame. China wants to secure resources for their future sustainability, they don't care how much useless paper virtual USD they have to spend in the process, their citizens don't eat USD and they don't fly around on magic dollar carpets.

The same thing goes with their response to the pandemic. They're in this for the long haul, they don't want to shutdown again and therefore they're not in a hurry. The government, however totalitarian it is, is there to protect the sanctity of the country. Compare this to western nations that have their attention split between trying to respond to the pandemic and how to still make money because if they don't they can't pay their loans or bills, which is someone elses loans and bills and so on and so on. That's our concern.

When you see people pointing out that the shutdowns may kill more people than the virus they're not entirely incorrect but then going on to demand everything reopen rather than stepping back and asking why is it our advanced industrial economy can't take a 5 minute break is a fatal mistake.

The UBI in this circumstance simply allows the system to avoid responsibility for the precarious situation we're all in.

But maybe that's the point?

One of the things I'm asked most is "what's in store?", "what does the future look like?" -- and I have to say I don't know because I'm not from the future! I have some ideas what's coming but describing a world that doesn't exist yet with no frame of reference provides little value.

I can say if we allow a UBI to cover for the flaws in our system, without changing the system, the future depicted in Star Trek Deep Space Nine's Past Tense is a possible scenario.

(I've found the episodes on DailyMotion though they've been mirrored likely to avoid algorithmic detection - it doesn't affect the ability to watch though if you can i suggest watching this on Netflix instead, shh don't tell CBS)

(UPDATE: Looks like part 1 has been removed, however ironically one has been left in it's place that shows exactly the part I quoted up top. I'm going to take this as a sign from CBS I'm doing good work lol)

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Richard Fantin is a self-taught software developer who has mostly throughout his career focused on financial applications and high frequency trading. He currently works for CenturyLink

Nazayh Zanidean is a Project Coordinator for a mid-sized construction contractor in Calgary, Alberta. He enjoys writing as a hobby on topics that include foreign policy, international human rights, security and systemic media bias.

1 comment:

  1. Someone else who gets it.

    I might have put it differently, but it amounts to exactly the same thing. Canada (and all the other Western countries) has little pride in itself. No government defined our strategic minimums, what we simply had to do in our own country without shipping the job off overseas to the lowest bid contractor, just to be a COUNTRY. We have no pride in ourselves in that we let business sweet-talk us into letting them run the show, and thence failing us all.

    Look at the floundering around Trudeau exhibited at the beginning of this crisis, without the faintest effing clue of the capabilities of our businesses already existing here to make ventilators. The bureaucracy had done SFA in keeping tabs on our capabilities, cataloguing them and keeping up-to-date.

    Two months into the plague, and as a senior I can't even buy a cheap surgical mask locally. Christ, over a month ago, I saw video of Istanbul, where they GAVE patrons a new one when they entered the supermarket. In Turkey!

    Nothing in sight in Canada, we're that thinned out in manufacturing, we leave it to sewing bees to make face masks. Pathetic.

    That's only one thing. Free trade, sold us by Mulroney and the neoliberals, was supposed to be nirvana where every country did what it did best and shared.

    The end result is torn down and burned forests in Indonesia to put in coconut plantations over thousands of square miles to make coconut milk and fatty palm oil. Madness.

    Canada returned to being hewers of wood, drawers of water and mass exporters of unfinished raw resources - harper was a shovel man to his core. Welcome to 1910.

    Since 1985, South Korea with no resources has made our lazy fat-ass country look like the country hicks we so undoubtedly are.

    No planning, no pride, no responsibility. Yup, this is a sad sack place all right. The profits have flowed to the rich and we sit here dumb with CBC interviewing kids about Tik Tok or some other useless thing we get to waste our childrens' minds.

    We'll either wake up or let the rich ride us into the ground.