History Teaches: Deadly Pandemics Can Topple Whole Economic Systems — Like This Pandemic Is Toppling Ours

From Black Death to fatal flu, past pandemics show why people on the  margins suffer most | Science | AAAS

The right wing and our punditry are beside themselves that Americans are refusing to go back to work. Um, no — they’re not refusing “to go back to work”, they’re refusing to return to work 1) that doesn’t suit them or their skill sets, 2) doesn’t pay what the work should be paid and 3) doesn’t fit into their lives. This is how workers are supposed to think — not as the slave-like drones conservatives want American workers to be. Leave America and you discover that the rest of the world works in order to live. Americans, by contrast, live to work. It’s not because we love our work; it’s because, in essence, we’re meant to be chained to it. Something in conservatism loves the idea of a workhouse where the indigent work for virtually nothing until they drop dead. Their hands or legs are easily replaced by another. The worker herself is irrelevant; all that matters is that “the work” gets done so the bosses atop the food chain can get paid.

The Black Death that blew through Europe in the fourteenth century (Historian Barbara Tuchman called it “the calamitous 14th century in the subtitle of her brilliant book “A Distant Mirror” — her deep dive into the century that, in Europe — produced not only the Black Death but also, during the same time frame, the hundred years war (between England and France) and the papal schism that put one pope in Rome and a second pope in Avignon, France. For a short time, a third pope also entered the picture but he soon disappeared.

The feudal system that dominated Europe worked vertically. Atop it was the king. Below him were all the families that supported his being king. Below them were the far flung landowners of the realm and wealthy merchants and below all of them were the vassals — the dirt poor peasants working the dirt for everyone above. This was economic slavery. No vassal was ever going to get rich and set himself up in business somewhere. Such things didn’t happen. The system wasn’t designed for anything to happen. Money pre-capitalism was undynamic in nature. A country was worth what it could physically produce. Or pilfer in war.

The bubonic plague killed more than half the population in many places — even more in some, less in others. It devastated the work force. Even as the world succumbed to plague all around them, the healthy tried to keep life going. People still had to eat. Crops had to be farmed and, somehow, gotten to market — if there was still a market. The plague pandemic cut down the number of available hands to do that farming to a bare minimum. Now, the peasant who lived on “Sir John’s” land might normally have been obligated to pick Sir John’s crops so that he could generate income for his estate and family by getting that produce to market. But Sir John’s neighbor — Sir Neville — was offering actual cash to Sir John’s vassals if Sir John’s vassals would pick Sir Neville’s crops first. It’s not like Sir John was a prince who treated them like princes.

So, off to Sir Neville’s Sir John’s vassals went. And, just like that, feudalism in Europe died.

In time, the guilds arose — representing the crafts and then labor in general. With the rise of capitalism, labor became a commodity. Industrialization meant mass production which meant the likelihood of abuse on the factory floor. Industrialization became another form of feudalism to the laborers until the unions — based on the old guilds — rose up and demanded fairness in wages and working conditions.

The Black Death gave life to labor.

Though the death wasn’t anywhere near as catastrophic as during the plague, the coronavirus pandemic still reached everywhere with the potential for mass death. If your loved one’s body is in the pile, you’re not going to measure one pandemic’s body count versus another. You’re mourning a loss that changed your world.

The way this pandemic has already changed ours.

We’ve experienced the “for worse part”. There is a “for better” out there. It’s coming and, if the workers of the world unite? We may see the pandemic with mixed emotions. For some people, this new world will be their salvation.

Yeah, It’s A “Small, Small World” All Right…

This week put the icing on the cake we’ve been forced to eat the whole last year. However the coronavirus that causes covid19 got from wherever it originated out into the human population, the transmission that resulted in the pandemic likely started with one person and then spread from there. While we’re now shoulders-deep in variants, they’re all variants of a variant of a variant going back to that first viral load as it immigrated into its human host and began reproducing — using human beings like cheap, edge-of-town, sex motels. We don’t have to know the person who infects us with virus. But the virus bonds us nonetheless. Small world, right? When the container ship Ever Given got wedged across the Suez Canal, that world got even smaller. It isn’t just disease that connects us (good thing!), it’s the very fact of a human being on one part of the planet wanting something that another human on the far side of the planet can procure — and ship (via ship) directly TO that first human. Interrupt that link and we feel it like a punch to the gut.

Computers did not “change” a thing when they were invented — not in a “revolutionary” way. They made various disconnected tasks easier. You could do more work faster. But the work product from a word processing program still had to be printed out and physically handed to someone in order for them to read it. If they didn’t live nearby, you had to pay postage to get it to them. It was no more than a glorified typewriter. The same went for proprietary design software used to create anything visual — the physical product had to be physically produced in order to be shared. But, when you connect computers via an internet, THAT changes things. The internet made the personal computer (and then the smart phone) true instruments of change. The capacity to communicate instantaneously with people anywhere in the world — that’s revolutionary. The capacity to share fully realized ideas be they in the form of words, visuals, sound or video — to move information that rapidly — that was the change agent.

For all its disruption, the worldwide pandemic has already begun to change the world economically just as the Black Death changed the economic structure of Medieval Europe parts of which suffered staggering mortality rates. The remaining people still had to eat. Someone had to grow those crops and farm them and then get them to market. Whereas before the plague, the peasants worked the fields their masters owned, essentially slaves, after the plague, those fields went unplowed unless the masters ponied up cash money to get them plowed. Labor — now in short supply — suddenly had value it had never had before. The master was no longer master in the same way because now the master had to negotiate with the worker in order to get the necessary work done. The worker could always refuse to work — and take their labor elsewhere. That’s what killed feudalism. It also resulted in the rise of the gilds in Europe and, eventually, unionized labor.

What the Republican Party in Georgia did this week also fits into the “small world” mold. Except the GOP is making their world smaller in exactly the opposite way. Whereas the coronavirus and the Suez Canal demonstrate how connected we all are, the Georgia Republican Party wants to believe they are an island. That is, they want to live on an island — a very white island where everyone looks and acts just like them. In the pantheon of “small worlds”, THAT small world might just be the smallest ever.

Let’s be real: we are watching the Republican Party’s death rattle. Just as Virginia went from being the reddest of red states (it’s now solidly blue and Democratic), so, too, will Georgia. Georgia’s Republican Party is about to experience outrage like they never imagined as the citizens of Georgia begin to reel from the boycotts coming their way because NO ONE outside of Georgia now wants to patronize businesses that give money to authoritarian insurrectionists. It’s just how we are. The world for Georgia’s Republicans is about to get shockingly small as they begin to actually feel the white hot rage that other Americans feel — in real time no less!

We’re about to see what happens when the smallest of people experience the smallest of worlds.

Dear Rich Guys: Learn From History! If You Kill Off Too Many Workers, The Workers Will Control The Labor Market!

The current crop of Republicans would have felt right at home in Feudal Europe — all of them vassals to corrupt king Donald who, himself, sold out the Kingdom to the Kingdom’s chief rival, King Vlad The Impaler.

Feudalism relied on having lots of peasants to work the lord’s fields. The Black Plague gutted Europe, killing 60% of its population. In the aftermath, when it came time to plow again, there were now far fewer peasants to do the work. That was true for pretty much every lord around — they needed a hundred plebes, they had twenty. Next thing you know, the lords are fighting over laborers, trying to “grab” their neighbors’ peasants by offering them better deals. Bigger plots of land. A better percentage of whatever the peasant farmed to keep for himself and his family.

For the first time, maybe ever, labor sat atop the seesaw.

The economic system that Europe had lived under for hundreds of years disappeared virtually overnight — because the next harvest had to come in. People were starving. That change in the balance of power killed feudalism dead.

The Trump White House aches to send America “back to work” even as our numbers shoot upward alarmingly. The Trump WH’s own projections call for horrifying numbers that should make the idea of opening the country unthinkable. Yet here we are.

Trump needs to restart the economy because it’s the only argument he (thinks he) has for re-election. It was never a good argument to begin with. It’s even more laughable now. You simply can’t make people want to spend money and buy things when they’re in fear for their lives and the lives of their loved ones. You’ll bankrupt them all first.

Trump doesn’t care about killing Americans. He cares about remaining POTUS.

If he loses this election (he’s going to lose it), he’ll stop being POTUS and the moment THAT happens, his legal problems begin. And once they begin, they may never stop. And the moment Trump’s legal problems begin, so do the legal problems of everyone around him. Right now, that pretty much includes the entire Republican Party.

The Republicans aren’t working toward any grand vision here. They’re on a Permanent Minority Rule Or Bust trip. It’s all or nothing now. When they threw in with Trump, they threw in with Russia (which some of them, it turns out, had already done via Maria Buttina or the NRA). The GOP is in it to win it. There’s no other option for them.

They will go down with this ship — the SS Trump-tanic.

On the other side of this crisis — eighteen months from now, give or take — the RW will get the thing they feared most. Their greed and lust for power is now being revealed. There’s no way to pretty up what the Republicans did and are doing. But there’s also no conservative way out of this. We can only go deeper into the shit by listening to them.

We can fall into a deep, deepening depression that takes longer from which to recover.

THAT’S the conservative way out. Everybody dies except them and their money — they hope. That’s not hyperbole. What else does “There’s more to life than living” mean?

We will emerge from this far more socialized. Of necessity. We must expunge profit incentive from our health CARE system. We need to turn our health CARE system into a care system instead of the health INSURANCE system it now is. As the pandemic makes crystal clear, we are only as healthy as the least healthy person among us.

We will also emerge far more unionized. What the meat packing workers and Amazon workers and others being “essential worker-ed” into the coronavirus’ maw have to endure is horrifying and (if it’s not, it should be) illegal. The Republican Party piling on by insisting that workers refusing to work because of the threat to their lives cannot collect any benefits — in addition to being expected, it’s disgusting.

The lag time between a person’s initial infection with coronavirus and the symptoms it gave the person covid-19 can be about two weeks. Or longer. It’s like when people drink but don’t feel tipsy or happy or drunk right away. They think, “Hey, the booze didn’t work this time — what’s up with that? I better have a lot more right now!”

The issue isn’t the booze, it’s the lag time. Now, in addition to being regular drunk when the lag time finally ends, you’ll be extra drunk because of the chaser you threw down. Ah, but Republicans never learn anything. That’s because they don’t want to. What’s in it for them to learn things? They’re conservatives, remember? They want to conserve — keep things as they are now or, better yet, make them how they were back when white people ruled everything.

Conservatives always have a great sense of history — in that there’s a time in history they want us all to return to. They don’t see history as a teacher of anything. That’s why they keep repeating it.