People seem to be confounded by Donald Trump’s repeated assertion that more testing for the virus has generated more cases. It sounds incredibly stupid on its face. Even for Trump, it is hard to believe he is that stupid, or that anyone is stupid enough to believe him. Actually, his statement makes perfect sense, in one perverse respect.
When Trump refers to cases, he is referring to the tragedies suffered by other people, people to whose welfare he is explicitly hostile. It is well-known that people of color have been more stricken with the virus, on average. When Trump says more testing brings more cases, he means that more testing imposes a greater communal obligation on the country by revealing more black and brown people requiring medical care, more absorption of hospital capacity, and often depending on subsidies from the government.
Of course, in absolute terms, more white people are getting sick and dying. But as in the debates on poverty, welfare, or food stamps, this reality gets erased, not least by white people at risk themselves. Susceptibility to the virus due to benighted financial circumstances, as with poverty, is a source of shame that needs to be glossed over. The pretense of poverty or the virus being a racial matter helps to insulate the Administration from criticism within its own racist constituencies.
At this writing, in the U.S. there are 157,000 recorded fatalities, with an end nowhere in sight. Without doubt, the actual total is higher, but 157,000 should be quite enough to commend the worst fate possible for our current overlords.
The president’s more recent babbling about saving the suburbs testifies to his dependence on racial politics. And if that isn’t enough, we also have the more recent story of political calculations within the White House associated with the idiot-child Jared Kushner that the virus was mostly a blue state problem that could be discounted in hopes of a more rapid economic recovery.
It is impossible to imagine a U.S. regime deserving of a worse fate than the current one. There is no comparison to Ronald Reagan or George Bush. Suggestions to the contrary reflect profound ignorance. To be sure, previous presidents have visited disastrous harm on other nations, as well as on the original, indigenous populations of the Americas. Under current circumstances, however, these comparisons are meaningless since there is no telling what calamities lie before us. The U.S. is not merely a danger to itself. It is a threat to the world.
The current danger can be tied to two types of error on the part of some on the left. The obvious one is any ghost of an implication that Joe Biden would be no better than Trump. We might ask, is there any fatality count prior to the election that would lead one to reconsider this premise, assuming 157,000 is not enough?
The other is more arcane, the difference between cash transfers and what economists call “public goods.” Most of my career has been about cash transfers, to families and to state and local governments. Without doubt, people need cash. There is no getting around that. But people, especially lower-income people, also need public goods.
What is a public good? It is a good or service that can be shared without any reduction in a given individual’s use. If the government sends you $10 that you spend for personal consumption, nobody else benefits. The money could be subdivided into nickels, but the same stricture applies. But the extent to which that money is devoted to something that benefits many persons at the same time ‘supercharges’ the spending power of the government.
The preeminent public good today is public health. Free vaccines and treatments benefit the community as a whole, as do restrictions on behavior and regulation of commerce that reduce the incidence of the virus. Public goods equalize well-being by raising the floor of consumption, by expanding collective consumption.
Not a few on the left have become infatuated with schemes such as Universal Basic Income. Its other myriad deficiencies aside, no UBI can substitute for public goods. Only the very wealthy can afford to forego the benefits of public services and facilities, though even they are not entirely immune. Rich people have contracted and died from the virus too.
The obsession with cash is a surrender to commodification, a devolution from even a basic idea of communal well-being. Socialism means a lot more than equalization of personal money incomes.