Home > Uncategorized > Corona: a positive agenda

Corona: a positive agenda

The eight hour working day was a long standing aim of organized labor. For decades it seemed unattainable. ‘International competition’ often was a main reason why countries stubbornly refused to introduce it. But from 1915 on and starting in Uruguay it suddenly spread all over the world. Within a few years, in many countries the six day eight hour working week had become the new normal.

Corona won’t end the world. After World War I and despite the Spanish flu many countries rapidly bounced back to prosperity. The introduction of the eight hour day did not prevent this in any way! Too much of this prosperity was based upon flimsy finance the productive capacity was available – while more robust ways to finance investment are of course possible.  Prosperity never is the problem even when flimsy finance, long working hours or unsustainable methods of production might be.

After Corona, countries can bounce back, once again. Of course, we have to introduce measures like job guarantees and the like during the ordeal and finance these in a sustainable way – which for the time being might well be by printing money instead of issuing debt! Be aware: I did not write: ‘printing unlimited amounts of money’ or ‘competitive printing of money by states of the USA or Eurozone countries’. But for the time being printing money to the tune of 20% of GDP per year might not do any harm even when, this time is different, I do agree with Ted Sargent there has to be a credible exit strategy. Which, by the way, also is the MMT stance. If there is one school of thought which does not promote unlimited money printing it’s MMT!

But: after 1919, not every country introduced the eight hour day. While some countries went down in flames. Success is not warranted. The real exit strategy is a positive post-Corona agenda. A few points:

  • This does give us a real chance to ramp up international disease prevention. Malaria, Dengue, Chagas, Yellow Fever and many others have to eradicated, too. The present feverish international activities to find a vaccine against Corola have to be ramped up to combat other diseases, with a mayor role for massive long term government guidance, property of patents and investments. The long term will be defined here as two generations or about sixty to seventy years. Corona decisively showed that private companies can do great high tech work at break neck speed – but do not have the means and incentives to finance long term research trajects. Much more about this of course by Dean Baker. But the point: nothing has to stop us.
  • Within months, there will be hundreds of millions of unemployed. This calls for a kind of job guarantee. Armies will be probably expanded. But we’re talking about the years after here. What to do? The ‘Green new deal‘ strikes a chord, of course. For the time being countries might stop increasing the pension age – for the sake of social cohesion they have to be clear about this now. This, however, won’t solve the problem. These are just some ideas and responses will have to be national. But the point: we have to think about them now. And as the stunning success of the revolutionary introduction of the eight hour day shows: think bold. We’ll need these hundreds of millions. Now is the time.
  1. Patrick Newman
    April 3, 2020 at 4:16 pm

    Perhaps COVID 19 will prepare people to not think of gas-guzzling private car usage as a ‘god’ given right. Perhaps the public support for a European style national health service insurance scheme will gain big support in the USA?

  2. Ikonoclast
    April 5, 2020 at 3:26 am

    Towards a Positive Agenda.

    In conventional economics the obsession is always with how we pay for things. The assumption is that we have to and do pay with money. Even on the face of it, this is not the real story. We are paying for the COVID-19 rescue with lives, real assets, resources and (only seemingly) money. Lives are real. Real assets are real. Resources are real. Money is NOT REAL. There is no plausible argument against the fact that the most valuable “items” we possess are our own and each others’ lives. Without life no utility. Next, real assets and real resources count as they can be used to save lives, enhance lives and for other ends. Money is of no REAL account. Money is a notional thing, a made-up thing, a fiction, a make-believe.

    We are paying with lives, real assets and resources. Herd immunity is purchased at the cost of some lives; a percentage of those infected. That is the only currency available with which to purchase herd immunity until if and when a vaccine is developed. We can note here that the real world, as in all cases, determines the real “currency” with which we can purchase something. Ultimately it is never money. It is something real. A worker purchases the necessities of life not with money but with the real hours he or she commits his or her real self to a real job. The money received consists simply of chits (or bits these days) operating as permissions to consume.

    The unreality of money has been brought to the forefront by this crisis. Suddenly, extra money is created ex nihilo, i.e. out of nothing. Suddenly, real goods and services can be had for this extra ex nihilo money and even for nothing altogether (like a rent or mortgage “holiday” in Australia currently) albeit still according to rules delivered by state fiat.

    Money does not measure productivity and it does not measure value. Money “measures” the power accorded to people to acquire and possess. It measures the power to do these things because it prescribes how much of these things they can do. This is an identity in logical, mathematical and political economy terms. It is an enforced identity . It is made so because legal law, regulation, custom and finally the state’s monopoly on force and violence prescribe it to be so. This assumes a functioning state. In a failed state, warlords and criminals have the monopoly or oligopoly on force and violence.

    Money is a human construct. The Eucharist is a human construct. Even language and mathematics are human constructs. How do such constructs work? They palpably do work in certain ways. We have to note that all human constructs are not created equal. Firstly, some are entirely fictive constructs and work entirely by social agreement and belief. Second, some constructs work at another level because they refer back to something real in a consistent way. This second kind of construct needs a separate term to delineate it. The best term is the very simple term “model”.

    If a human construct models reality in a consistent way then it has empirical, scientific or pragmatic usefulness. Money does not model productivity or value in a consistent way. Indeed, the case is much worse than that. Productivity can refer to real production for sure: the real production of widgets for example. However, there are many kinds of produced goods and services and if a single unit (the dollar or other numéraire) is used to value disparate products and services we first run into the aggregation problem. The numéraire ostensibly appears to overcome the aggregation problem.

    To aggregate disparate items we need to use a common “dimension” as it is called in science. Mass is a common dimension and it has numerous uses. How do we most usefully mathematically aggregate fuel, humans, baggage and cargo on a jet airliner to see if it can safely take off and gain altitude? We aggregate the disparate items in the mass dimension. We add up the total mass in kilograms. The International System of Units (SI) lists the basic dimension units known to and accepted by science. There are six base dimensions on this list (time, length, mass, electric current, thermodynamic temperature, amount of substance and luminous intensity). There are longer lists of derived units but all can be expressed in base units.

    Nowhere does the dimension “value” or “monetary value” appear in the SI list. This is no mere pedantic point. In science, value is the mathematical prefix placed before a dimension base or derived dimension. It states how many of the base units we have, like 10 meters for example. The value confusion in economics is extreme and indeed ontologically fatal to its claims to accurately or even heuristically measure anything with the dollar or other numéraire. As is often enough noted, “value” is a notoriously slippery concept in both economics and moral philosophy. Values are undefinable in objective terms. They are only definable in subjective terms. The objectively definable (the descriptive) belongs to science. The subjectively definable (the prescriptive largely) belongs to moral philosophy. We certainly do have moral and ethical values and they form our belief systems and operating moral codes.

    Economic value (denominated in dollars) is part of a particular prescriptive moral philosophy calculus and not part of any objective or descriptive rendition of reality. While economics pretends to be objective and sails under the objective banner it has no claim to the objective in ontological terms. The dollar, or other numéraire, does not measure anything clearly, neatly and objectively real. It does measure in its quaint archaic way (money is now arguably archaic to obsolete given our current state of knowledge) many disparate things, some objectively real and some only subjectively real. Then we seek to use it to aggregate and equate all things under the banner of perceived or expected utility. It is a huge grab-bag, and it attempts to take the highly plastic and malleable human desire for utility, generalized expected utility, and make of this a calculus for determining social actions, allocations, rewards and punishments. The calculus falls squarely in the subjective arena and the decision that this money calculus should or should not operate to the exclusion of other moral philosophy considerations, in any particular case, is itself a moral philosophy determination.

    It is not only highly plastic and malleable human desire for utility which moves valuations (the equations of money used to value and compare disparate things) all over the place. There are also differentials and changes in knowledge and information which move valuations around. Finally, there are great shocks, black swans as they are sometimes called, which are unknown until they suddenly burst upon us, like COVID-19. This virus is only recently evolutionarily emergent, at least into human populations so howc ould we have known about it? There also what we can call grey swans. Grey swans are known to science but conventional economics for the most part is blind (sometimes willfully so) to grey swans. Climate change is a grey swan at least to neoliberal economists. Such fools have no idea what it means and portends.

    Money must no longer be the prime tool for evaluation of future actions affecting the real world and often enough real people. Science is the necessary tool for that. Money must no longer be a tool of reward according to supposed productivity or supposed merit. Objectively assessed need and morally determined human rights must be the tool for that. Money must no longer be a tool for assessing values and rights themselves. Moral philosophy and democracy are the tools for that. Money must remain only as chits for permissions to consume. The allocation system for these chits must be progressively withdrawn from markets.

    The facts that we have abandoned standard money rules and operations in some ways already and that we have declared (even temporarily) money as not necessary for some things (rent for the unemployed, childcare in Australia) illustrate that money and its operations are arbitrary because the laws which institute their operations are arbitrary. Our system is built on a certain high current use of money and markets to coordinate and allocate. This system cannot be entirely changed overnight though parts of it indeed can be changed virtually overnight as we have seen. Money and markets are not mandatory social constructs written in stone. They are not based on natural laws (discovered laws of the hard sciences) nor are they based on stone tablets handed down by a supernatural power. They are human inventions.

    We need a progressive, emergent and “systems evolutionary” transition to a new system. Money and markets must be an ever-shrinking part of that transition. We can start pragmatically and practically by shrinking the ambit of market operations. Some of the first obvious cases are regulating out of existence various financial and market instruments at the highly fictitious and derivative levels. We can continue on by only according person-hood and person-hood rights to actual persons, not to corporations. We can remove perverse subsidies of all kinds. We can price serious negative externalities according to the science (this is while price signals are still the main decision-making method) and not by the lobbying of big business and corporate interests. Or we can cut the Gordian knot at a stroke and supersede price signals by mandating targets.

    We must precede in an experimental spirit. We must experiment with how much we can reduce markets and money as our social and real economy organizing principles. Clearly a UBI and a JG must be a part of this experiment. If a measure goes too far and has a negative effects on all or most people and not just on rich vested interests, then we must pull back and reconsider. Was all in place to a make given innovation work or was it fundamentally flawed in design? The real economy and the real biosphere are our laboratory for this endeavor. We live full time in this laboratory so this imposes a critical importance on every step. But in an existential crisis (not just CVID-19 but climate change and everything else) near heroic measures MUST be attempted sooner or later.


    “In medicine, heroic treatment or course of therapy is one which possesses a high risk of causing further damage to a patient’s health, but is undertaken as a last resort with the understanding that any lesser treatment will surely result in failure.” – Wikipedia.

    I owe my understanding of the aggregation problem to Blair Fix.

    “The Aggregation Problem : Implications for Ecological and Biophysical Economics”
    – Blair Fix

  3. April 5, 2020 at 11:59 am

    Iconoclast, at a glance I think I agree with most of what you are saying, though experimenting can be backwards as well as forwards-looking. I’m thinking, though, of that “positive agenda”, and wondering if there isn’t an alternative to your bleak premise that has not been seen:

    “Herd immunity is purchased at the cost of some lives; a percentage of those infected. That is the only currency available with which to purchase herd immunity until if and when a vaccine is developed.”

    I don’t know whether the following argument is true, but if it is it strongly endorses paying the inconvenience cost of social distancing. I would therefore like to know if anyone can confirm it or know how to feed it into what is being investigated.

    Point 1: Some people get the disease symptom-free, others mildly, others fatally. Why?

    Point 2. Those who die seem to do so from an over-reaction by their immune systems, which starts attacking vital organs. Those vulnerable seem to be those with already very active immune systems due to other underlying conditions.

    Point 3. The disease is spread in vapour from “coughs and sneezes” being inhaled, or deposited on adjacent surfaces and picked up by handling and thus via facial touching, or individual viruses detaching and being picked up wind-blown.

    Surmise. The initial infection can be via just one or a few viruses, or an amount the immune system can deal with, or so heavy that the immune system becomes so strongly activated that it goes out of control. This would be more likely where already activated by underlying conditions. The effect of being infected by just a few viruses would be, as in the case of immunisation, to on the one hand to generate sufficient antibodies to deal symptom-free with the infection, but on the other hand to build in a memory of how to generate that type of antibody. A heavier infection would cause the symptoms of the illness, but with same immunising effect (hopefully not like chicken-pox coming back as shingles)!

    If true, “herd immunity” will build up among the self-isolating via a few wind-blown viruses, most probably around the time of the peak infection, so us oldies won’t have to remain isolated for ever in case we catch it.

  4. Ikonoclast
    April 6, 2020 at 7:17 am

    I am not a medical doctor. Indeed, I hold no doctorate of any kind. I hold only a Bachelor of Arts which teaches nothing except possibly how to think critically (and aesthetically). I did do somwe science subjects too. In answer to davetaylor1’s questions, this is my understanding.

    1. Some people get the disease symptom-free, others mildly, others fatally. Why?

    Age of course, due to immunosenesence. Immunodeficiency. Other Individual variations in persons, slight (as yet) variation or mutation in the infectious virus and variations in mode of infection, case situation etc. People have different immune systems based on individual and varietal (so-called race) variation. Some persons might have mutations which mean they do or do not produce a certain antigen. As an example for another pathogen, black people generally fight off Plasmodium Vivax (malaria) better than white people for example and even cope better with Plasmodium falciparum (malaria too), the deadliest of the five human malaria parasites. The reasons for this are beond my knowledge.

    I would speculate that people who handle COVID-19 well already have some generically useful antigens from possible exposure to other coronaviruses… maybe. The (genus?) coronavirus is the cause of about 20% of colds. There are more than 30 kinds (species?), of coronavirus but only three or four affect people. If people have have had and repelled some of rarer ones of these maybe they are primed to fight COVID-19. It seems doubtful any common ones have primed us but I don’t really know.

    2. Those who die seem to do so from an over-reaction by their immune systems, which starts attacking vital organs? Those vulnerable seem to be those with already very active immune systems due to other underlying conditions?

    It seems much more likely that Immunosenescence and immunodeficiency are the main problems. COVID-19 kills by destroying lung cells and causing alveoli to fill with fluid. Immune response could create inflammation which exacerbates the issue in some patients.So perhaps too little and too much immune response can both be problems.

    The fluid in the lungs makes it hard for oxygen to get into our blood and that can cause a whole host of problems. Vital organs like our liver and kidneys need lots of oxygenated blood. Without it, they can shut down. The multiple organ failure appears to be from poorly oxygenated blood.

    3. The disease is spread in vapour from “coughs and sneezes” being inhaled, or deposited on adjacent surfaces and picked up by handling and thus via facial touching, or individual viruses detaching and being picked up wind-blown?

    I would think windblown infection is highly unlikely beyond 10 meters unless a violent sneeze is carried that far by a good breeze. Stay 20 meters away from every person not of your household just for good measure. Self-isolating people in their own residences are unlikely to ever catch it unless there is a breach of isolation. Can air-condtioning carry it? Unknown yet. Can extremely poor high-rise unit sanitation carry it? Unknown but maybe just possible.

    The virus can survive for a few days on some surfaces. It is doubtful it can survive anywhere near that long just blowing on the wind. In any case it would be extremely dispersed. One particle is hardly likely to start an infection. It usually takes a significant viral load.

    But as I said I am not a doctor nor am I an epidemiologist.

    Order in groceries and wash everything washable which are in plastic packets or tins or fruit/vegetable skin. Use soap or the food-safe detergent normally used to wash off insecticide. Wash for 20 seconds per item just like your hands. Rinse thoroughly. Leave other things for a few days untouched before putting them in your pantry. Finally wash hands after eveysuch exercise.

    Be a bit obsessive-compulsive. Over-kill is better than under-kill. It is your life after all. Bad reactions to the virus are not wholly predictable by age and medical preconditions.

    • April 6, 2020 at 10:46 am

      Thanks for this, Ikonoclast. Having watched “the Wizard of Oz” giving certificates to fearful lions, I have more respect for evidence of your critical thinking than I do of our qualifications. I was looking for first-hand evidence or reasoned judgement on a hypothesis I’ve not heard addressed, but it was worth your going over again what the authorities have already told us. I agree that one virus is hardly likely to cause an infect, i.e. symptoms, but that was my question. Can it nevertheless stimulate a normal immune system sufficiently to generate anti-bodies? Again, I agree, hardly likely in anyone with a medically suppressed, deteriorating or otherwise occupied immune system.

      • April 6, 2020 at 11:03 am

        Mixing up tin men and fearful lions? Just testing … ! A medal or a banker’s Nobel is, after all, just another form of certificate.

  5. Ken Zimmerman
    April 16, 2020 at 12:13 pm

    All relevant and correct, merijntknibbe. In following the results of the coronavirus, epidemiologists, like anthropologists follow the relationships. We do not know what a virus is, what infection is, what transmission is, or what recovery and good health are except as these are taught to us through the relationships we observe. If we know the history of past epidemics and pandemics, we might assume this history as a beginning point, but this is only the beginning of our observations. Learning more requires observing more. We must attempt not to reduce our observations to something else. Either from the history of which we know or our visualizations of what might be. What happens when nothing is reduced to anything else? What happens when we suspend our knowledge of what a force is? What an actant is? What happens when we do not know their ways of relating to one another is forever changing? What happens is the birth of an object-oriented science. Through which we have the chance of viewing the relationships of disease, infection, transmission, recovery, and good health. And then applying these experiences to our work. This is how humans first created culture. This is human survival.

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