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The coronavirus end of lock-down migth be driven by a simple cost-benefit economic analysis

The coronavirus end of lock-down migth be driven by a simple cost-benefit economic analysis The coronavirus end of lock-down migth be driven by a simple cost-benefit economic analysis
Source: Tomasz Bolek via designideas
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For the past few days we have been hearing this little song: that the lockdown must end as soon as possible, for economic reasons. It’s a simple idea, based on the economist’s favourite tool: cost-benefit analysis.

On one hand, people dying from coronavirus. On the other, the costs of the drop in GDP and the economic crisis, which will also result in people dying. The scales seem to tilt in favour of restarting the economy. We could once again turn to the infamous ‘herd immunity’ strategy, and tolerate covid casualties to prevent heavier casualties caused by an economic disaster.

The dilemma is remarkable in what it reveals about our capitalist economy. […] This ghoulish bookkeeping places two distinct realities on an equal footing: one is a natural phenomenon that people are subjected to, a virus against which we have no weapons, at least for now, and which directly kills men and women. The other is humanity’s own creation, the market economy, which now imposes its law on its creators to the point of directly killing them.

This is not to deny that economic crises cost human lives. But these crises are not natural phenomena that men are subjected to. They are the product of our social organisation, of our activities and of our choices. It is entirely up to us to find other forms of social organisation which preserves lives and whose occasional crises are less lethal.

The truth hiding in plain sight in these economistic discourses that deplore the lockdowns is that the victims of the future recession won’t be collateral victims of our current choice to save lives, they won’t be the victims of our decision to curb the pandemic; they will be the victims of our economic system based on market worship and ghoulish bookkeeping.

We understand the economists’ ire: suddenly, within a few weeks, we realised that we could stop the flight forward of our market economy, that we could focus on the essentials: the sectors of health, food, and care. And—how supremely strange—the world did not stop spinning, nor did humanity cease to exist. Capitalism is frozen in its most bare-bones state: it only generates the most minimal surplus value, not enough to feed the flow of capital. And humanity lives on. Capitalism is separate from human existence. […] When the market ceases to “create wealth”, hardly anything happens. 

This is why we are now hearing threats aiming to maintain the myth of the intrinsic capitalistic character of human existence: we will all pay for this, we will pay dearly. In human lives. A 30% drop in GDP cannot go unpunished. Except we are precisely seeing evidence to the contrary, to the fact that human lives, rather than commodity exchanges, might be at the centre of things. […] This is deeply unbearable to economists and they cannot wait to end a lockdown that sheds light on many inconvenient truths. We might end up picturing a different social organisation, different priorities, we might end up redefining our essential needs […]. But then, we wouldn’t need all this hodgepodge: competitiveness, GDP, returns on investment, dividends—which ensures that our job market remains under the heel of the exchange value. We might democratise the economy…

This is exactly why it is urgent that we move on to this foretold recession that will be allowed to run rampant to teach us a lesson about the foolishness of putting human lives before market abstractions. Everything will be done to ensure that the lockdowns result in a violent economic crisis that will, indeed, cost human lives. This will be done very simply: by merely “freezing” the economy and avoiding at all costs to take advantage of this pause to implement any reforms. Once unfrozen, the market economy will do its worst—its mechanisms will unleash their wrath, and we will be asked to accept this as unavoidable divine retribution.

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Source : What the lockdown teaches us about economics (french), April 11, 2020, Médiapart, translation by exhaled-spirals via Tumblr

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