Ralph Lopez majored in Economics and Political Science at Yale University. He has been published in the Boston Globe and the Baltimore Sun.
There is a way for the U.S. to avoid the economic and social chaos that is unfolding before us. As the U.S. economy is threatened with collapse, a cycle of terrifying dimensions awaits. In fact, the Fed has forecast as much as 32% unemployment.
When someone like Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel predicts on MSNBC, as he did this week, that "the crisis is not going to go away in a few weeks or after the 30-day plan comes to an end," and that "a lock-down must go on for the next 18 months or more," something is badly off-kilter.
Eighteen months or more of lockdown? What are people who work for a living supposed to do? People at "non-essential" jobs do not work for fun, or to fill their days. They go to work because they need to earn a paycheck to buy food and necessities. They're just trying to stay alive!
When we talk about people who will lose their jobs, we are not just talking about Starbucks baristas, most of whom are self-supporting young adults. We are talking about the construction industry and the millions of small businesses that comprise the backbone of the U.S. economy. Although they are small, together they employ millions upon millions of full-time workers.
Given the seriousness of the times, what should we do to stop our country from falling into economic collapse? One solution, The Occupy Corona National Survival Plan, advocates for full jobless benefits for the duration of the lockdown, paid for by a temporary wealth tax. I believe this plan has become necessary. It's time to take action.
5 Key Points of the #OccupyCorona Plan
- Long-term jobless benefits at 100% of recipients' paychecks
- Essential workers can enroll in medicare
- Keep the food banks open
- Ramp up victory gardens
- Pay for public projects with a temporary tax on extreme wealth
1. Long-Term Jobless Benefits at 100% of Recipients' Paychecks
First, slam the brakes on long-term economic uncertainty and anxiety. If Dr. Emanuel says this lockdown must go on for 18 months, then workers must know that their unemployment benefits (at 100% of their paycheck, or close to it) will go on for the duration of the national emergency, until the day it is lifted. The $2 trillion CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, signed by President Trump in March 2020, uses a different formula, adding $600 per week to normal unemployment benefits paid by the states' average weekly unemployment check of $985. This exceeds the median weekly earnings of $936 in the fourth quarter of 2019.
2. Essential Workers Can Enroll in Medicare
We should offer workers who are deemed "essential services" workers the immediate opportunity to enroll in Medicare, regardless of their age. These are sanitation workers, grocery chain workers, food processing plant employees, hardware store employees, and other workers whom the government has already ascertained are essential to keeping society running. They have earned this. They cannot get sick and then get thrown under the bus.
3. Keep the Food Banks Open
Establish a 100 million dollar fund to staff and keep U.S. food banks stocked and running for anyone who meets the qualifications. These would be people whose regular food pantry or meal program has closed until further notice. People who have lost their job or part of their income and cannot afford groceries at this time. People who are homebound due to illness, disability, or quarantine and do not have support that can bring you food. People who are at high risk for COVID-19 and do not have access to a regular food source. People who would like to donate to food banks on their own can refer to the New York Times' Neediest Cases Fund.
4. Ramp Up Victory Gardens
In order to further strengthen the nation's level of food security, use the pulpit of government to encourage new Victory Gardens, which were an important part of the World Wars I and II war efforts. The government encouraged gardens planted at private residences and public parks, in order to reduce pressure on the public food supply. President Woodrow Wilson said, "Food will win the war." To start a local match-making thread to match owners of property willing to let someone grow food on it with people who want a garden, but have no space for it, use a neighborhood posting service like NextDoor.com.
5. Pay for These Plans With a Temporary Tax on Extreme Wealth
Without revenue offsets, these budget-busting initiatives would endanger the U.S. Dollar and threaten the economy with yet another nightmare: the collapse of the currency and runaway hyperinflation. The solution is to impose a temporary tax on extreme wealth. It has been estimated that a two percent tax on individuals with more than $50 million in assets and a three percent tax on those with more than one billion dollars would raise just under $300 billion dollars per year. This would easily cover the cost of a full year's worth of unemployment benefits at 100% recipient's normal paycheck.
Food Pantries Are Emptying
Food pantries are emptying, unable to keep up with need. Now, grocery supply chain workers are balking at risking their lives for low wages. Here's the simple truth: no grocery chain workers means no food. We are looking at disaster full in the face, and that face is ugly.
Desperation-related crime is already rising, and we are only one month into the total lockdown. Police in some cities, like St. Paul, have openly stated they are not responding to theft or some other property crimes. We are seeing the tip of law and order breaking down.
We Might Descend Into Economic and Social Chaos
The descent into economic and social chaos has its own logic, which has been seen by reporters in war zones many times before. Economic desperation breeds crime and lawlessness. Lawlessness causes essential service workers to be afraid to go to work. During the Los Angeles riots of 1992, fires could not get put out because mobs would attack firefighters. Garbage did not get picked up. When garbage does not get picked up, rats and vermin proliferate. You are in the middle of a social breakdown when you notice rats where you have never seen them before.
Social Chaos Is Especially Bad for Women
We are only one month in and, in the cities, some women are afraid to go out of the house for fear of being victimized on streets devoid of small business activity.
New Dangers Will Arise
It is not only ordinary people, who have been driven to desperation, who become dangerous. As cities go bankrupt, their tax bases are decimated. This causes trouble funding public services. With lagging police coverage and empty streets, the worst elements in society become emboldened. Not surprisingly, criminal gangs really do not care about COVID-19, and neither do sociopaths and neo-Nazis.
Throughout history, societies have fallen into chaos overnight. It can happen faster than you'd think. It happened in Baghdad and Venezuela, but it doesn't have to happen here!
With farsighted, clear thinking we can throw the switch and divert the oncoming freight train. So, given the seriousness of the times, what should we do to stop our country from falling into economic ruin? One solution, The Occupy Corona National Survival Plan, advocates for full jobless benefits for the duration of the lockdown, paid for by a temporary wealth tax. I believe this plan has become necessary. It's time to take action.
President Theodore Roosevelt
Republican President Theodore Roosevelt, who declared war on concentrated wealth in America (although he himself was heir to a fortune) proclaimed:
This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in.
— President Theodore Roosevelt
Many of Teddy's wealthy peers hated him, seeing him as an enemy to their class. Not a typical upper-class patrician, Roosevelt was a decorated soldier and a man's man, whose idea of fun was hunting dangerous big game and running the Amazon River (where he once had to sweat out malaria). We need to meet this moment with the same kind of passion that Roosevelt had for breaking up monopolies.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
As President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt inherited the office during the Great Depression. In response, he declared, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
Since suicides are now rising, leaving hotlines overwhelmed, and drug overdoses are skyrocketing, never were FDR's words about "fear itself" more prescient.
Looking away at the scary thing in the dark does not make it go away. We must face it and attack it with the courage and determination of our forefathers. Those who stormed beaches laced with machine-gun fire understood that democracy itself was at stake. It could be again.
We must heed FDR's words, when he said in his 1933 inaugural address:
We must act. We must act quickly. And finally, in our progress towards a resumption of work, we require two safeguards against a return of the evils of the old order. There must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments. There must be an end to speculation with other people's money. And there must be provision for an adequate but sound currency.
— President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
How Can We Afford It?
We can pay for these plans by cutting the Pentagon budget by 30%, while preserving and enhancing troop benefits. We could also close bases, bring troops home, and suspend major weapons programs. (We don't need to be building F-35s in the middle of a global pandemic.)
Why We Need a Strong Middle Class
If we still had a healthy middle class, rather than so many people living one paycheck away from financial crisis, we would not be teetering on the brink of disaster so soon.
There are many fearsome ways to die, and all of us must grapple with meeting our Maker someday. But, in the most fabulously wealthy nation the world has ever seen, no one should ever have to worry about starving.
We Must Avoid Authoritarianism
That said, we can't let our government become authoritarian. I've read about some people getting citations by overzealous cops for sitting in a closed car by the beach and watching the sunset. We have to do this right so that we don't generate more excuses for authoritarianism and institutional corruption.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2020 Ralph Lopez
Prateek Jain from Madhya Pradesh, India on April 11, 2020:
This is a hard time for sure. Not only america but india is also have some. Same plans for their citizens. You listed dome really valuable information in this.
Nathan Bernardo from California, United States of America on April 09, 2020:
I'm all for the rich finally contributing something and I'm all for us finally getting something. So, good plan!