Don’t Worry, Everything Will Get Back to “Normal”

           When will things get back to normal? Everyone is asking.

            The economic lockdown prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a mass unemployment shock, forced countless businesses into bankruptcy and is driving many Americans crazy. But this shall pass.

            The good old days will be back.

The coronavirus worried city officials. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers were sleeping “head-to-toe in dormitory-style shelters” for homeless people that were “vectors for widespread COVID-19 infection.” So New York’s mayor invited some of the homeless to move out of shelters and off the streets into some of the city’s 100,000 vacant hotel rooms at city expense. New Orleans, Los Angeles and San Francisco have followed suit.

Do not worry! Tourism will resume, hotels will full up and those rooms will be needed for capitalism’s winner class. The homeless will resume their rightful place on the streets and/or crowded into squalid shelters. With an average life expectancy of 50, they will die bereft and alone, their bodies unclaimed before being dumped into mass graves. No more fear that their vulnerability to virus imperils us, no more there-but-for-the-grace-of-God sympathy, no recognition of coexistence. It will be as it was in February 2020.

COVID-19 replaced the post-9/11 pantheon of heroic workers—cops, firefighters and soldiers—with employees who earn far less while taking much bigger risks. Now we thank workers in hospitals and nursing homes, those who prepare food, deliver mail and drive trucks “for their service.” Grocers are offering hazardous duty pay.

Not for long.

After it’s deemed safe, furloughed bank analysts and efficiency experts will return to their climate-controlled corporate suites to resume their job: maximizing the short-term returns of equity investors. They will pore over Excel spreadsheets displaying payroll records, draw the capitalist conclusion and issue their usual recommendations that salaries be reduced, hours lengthened and benefits curtailed in service of company bottom lines. With the hazard of coronavirus gone, the extra $2 an hour will vanish as well. Those who care for the infirm and make our dinners will return to their previous state of diminished socioeconomic status, a role reinforced by orders to wear ugly frocks adorned by ID badges. No longer heroes, zeroes once more to be ground up by the gears of the machine—certainly no thank-yous or scheduled shouts of gratitude from open windows.

Desperate to avoid a Soviet-style economic collapse, politicians of both parties graced the unemployed with an extra $600 a week for a national average total weekly jobless benefit of $947. That’s roughly the same as the national median income.

Here too, we will return to normal.

Once the ruling elites have determined that the danger of collapse and with it the loss of their real estate and securities assets has passed, they will order their pet Congressmen to allow expanded unemployment benefits to lapse. Those who are out of work will again try to make do with $347 a week, taxable. When they fail, which is inevitable, the jobless will be slammed with months of back rent and mortgages, plus interest and late fees, plus all the other bills that had been deferred yet unforgiven by landlords, telecoms and other owner-class types during the COVID-19 lockdown. Homelessness and poverty will skyrocket.

Like before.

Fear not. Factories will go back to cranking out Yobama action figures, mint-flavored condoms and Mercedes SUVs that retail for $220,000 while getting 12 miles a gallon. Choked highways will slow to a crawl. Skylines will plunge back under a sea of haze.

Coyotes and mountain lions will scamper back into the mountains. The birds will fly away again.

No one will check on grandma or grandpa.

There won’t be any need.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)


  • alex_the_tired
    April 20, 2020 1:38 PM

    Well someone sure is a sourpuss!

    I was reading The Limits of Growth yesterday. You know, to cheer me up. Their fundamental point was sound. Population growth will eventually produce more people than can be fed. That isn’t some sinister plot or James Bond-style villainy. It’s math and economics and reality. Whatever is the most finite element in a production run will be the determinant in how many items the run produces, and that production bottleneck will arrive before we can reduce the population. If it’s a food bottleneck? It doesn’t mean a slow tapering of food. It means food prices will suddenly soar. Only the rich will eat. Many poor people will starve, and a new below-peak level of food utilization will be achieved.

    This current crisis has an unemployment figure of 20 million. So far. The “best” estimate I’ve seen is that we’ll hit 47 million. Maybe well be lucky and it’ll stop at 40 million. That’s like arguing about whether the patient’s temperature will reach 113 or 110 degrees. Past a certain point, the extra doesn’t matter. Oh, thank God, the unemployment rate is only 27 percent. Whew! We sure dodged a bullet there. Imagine if it’d hit 32% like they predicted?

    Our unemployment safety net is the finite resource in this equation. if 30% of the population loses its jobs, do the thought experiment. Imagine the cascade failures from a 30% economic contraction. How many businesses can stay open with 30% fewer customers? However long you spend constructing the brave new world? You left out details.

    I have in my version. I keep fine-tuning it, like a fractal. I think that this is the one that leads to riots in the streets because the only way forward for the economy is to simply cut away that 30% and let it die. Either undertake a massive redistribution of resources and prop up the 30% or line ’em all up and shoot them because there’s too many of them to keep an eye on this time.

    And a lot of it will be the suddenly militarized soft, white middle class. Once we’ve exhaust our meager benefits, that’s it, we’re on our own. And enough of us will suddenly discover that yes, we really won’t mind setting fire to that bank. Or torching 40 or so SUVs. What’s the Klingon proverb: an unemployed running man can key 1,000 Mercedes in a single night?

    Eventually, lower-tier crimes like trespassing and shoplifting will begin to draw prison sentences because shopkeeps can feel bad for you, but they can’t just give you things for free. And there’ll be no other way to empty the streets of the newly homeless. Charitable groups? They aren’t cut out for the numbers involved. These won’t just be single men who can’t find work (a bad patch). This time, it’ll be families. Kids who’ve developed emotional problems due to their sudden status as refugees. They’ll be going to prison for whatever mayhem them get up to, following shoplifter mom and dad who snuck into a Planet Fitness to grab a shower. Parents who will simply crack under the pressure will produce cracked children. You think opioid addiction was bad?

    You can avoid becoming an opioid addict by not taking them. Maybe at first some people didn’t realize how addictive they were. But now? We’ve still got addicts. More every day. Everyone knows they’re addictive. Just like cigarettes. Don’t want to get hooked on smoking or pills? Just don’t touch ’em, you’ll be fine. You can’t say the same with unemployment. “Just don’t accept that pink slip. You’ll be fine.” Doesn’t work that way.

    And this time, the numbers will simply be too vast. There’ll be no sense of there being any way out. And no one will help you. Most of us can’t. I fully expect “rational” acts of obscene, horrific violence, and once the acts start, the media won’t report them, but we’ll all, somehow, know they’re going on.

    Again. A thought experiment. Imagine you finally reach the end of your rope. But you got to pick who comes along with you on that long trip down with the sudden sharp stop at the end. Who did you pick? And, tell the truth now, don’t you wish you could have fit more necks in the noose?

    That’s what’s coming. Not Charles Manson’s race war. It’ll be the 99% vs. the 1%. A rat race war.

    Ted’s very precisely furious description? If anything, it’s a soft landing.

  • Have no fear Granny and Grandpa will be checked on, if they are alive family members may need to head to the old family home to survive hard times, even if the jobs and the schools in Grannie’s neighborhood are not great a free roof will be hard to pass by….result slower economic recovery.

    If granny and grandpa passed their assets will be targeted by bill collectors and if anything, is left family members needing funds to survive. Vultures will be circling to grab homes and business for pennies on the dollar.

    • alex_the_tired
      April 21, 2020 11:02 AM

      Wait for the newest wholesale obscenity: when the elderly die, they will quietly be disposed of in unmarked graves — not without deep regret by the family — so that cash-strapped families can continue to collect pension and social security benefits. People will get caught because almost no one will work it flawlessly; they’ll leave gaps. “So your grandfather, who had diabetes and stopped picking up his prescriptions in 2021 just disappeared yesterday, June 3, 2026? Ma’am, do you realize how much trouble you’re in right now?”

  • Re: ” … those rooms will be needed for capitalism’s winner class.”

    Rather than “capitalism’s winner class” it should be called “the class capitalism has not yet a) felt the need to, or b) seized the unexpected (if irresistible) opportunity to, destroy … for its own profit.”

    Note added in support. The hardly debatable, predicted outcome of the much sought return-to-normalcy: “Homelessness and poverty will skyrocket.”

  • All I have is a voice
    To undo the folded lie,
    The romantic lie in the brain
    Of the sensual man-in-the-street
    And the lie of Authority
    Whose buildings grope the sky:
    There is no such thing as the State
    And no one exists alone;
    Hunger allows no choice
    To the citizen or the police;
    We must love one another or die.


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