Public Health Trumps Economic Growth

Funny how a little thing that a microscope has trouble seeing can turn our world upside down. OK, maybe not ‘funny’ when it’s making so many so sick and killing some of us.

Every election, the economy trumps every other worry. Now the public’s health trumps economics. COVID-19 has paralyzed the economy. Both the US and Canada are bailing out businesses with relief packages of one sort or another.

The Fed in the US is pouring money into the market by buying Treasury and mortgage-backed securities. And the Republican’s $5 trillion relief packages favour corporations over citizens. Some of the corporate welfare will go to companies that pay their employees no sick leave.

The Canadian government is said to be preparing a bail-out for big oil. But Canada is doing a much better job of getting money to workers laid off because of COVID. And provinces are changing the law to help people cope. (Go here for Ontario’s: https://stepstojustice.ca/covid-19)

COVID is showing us the inequities in an economy that puts so much stock in, well, stock. But the market is not the economy and it’s certainly not a measure of the well-being of citizens, most of whom can’t afford to play the Big Casino.

Our addiction to economic growth at any cost includes public subsidies for private profit and absurdly low taxes on corporate wealth. And it has beggared our social and health care systems. The cracks – the lack of personal protection equipment, ventilators, beds, our failure to enforce workers’ rights – are now beginning to show.

We are learning that the truly essential folks are not our politicians or the men and women on the top floors of corporations. They are truck drivers, cleaners, nurses, personal support workers, garbage collectors, grocery store clerks – all those who are taking care of us at risk to themselves. Of course, many of these folks must keep working, even when ill, because their companies pay no sick leave and nowhere near a living wage.

They are our real heroes. But will their employers realize their value and start paying them what they are worth?

My guess is no … unless we begin to see what inequality does to people … unless we see the underbelly of our economic system more clearly … unless we all insist we do right by the people who helped keep us alive in the time of COVID.

Of course, on the bright side (if there is one), CO2 levels are slowly dropping. Air pollution is clearing and we can see a little more clearly that unmitigated economic growth is not the goal we should be striving for. Yes, the world has turned upside down – or is it right side up?

David McLaren
Neyaashiinigmiing