Monday, April 13, 2020

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Tobias Jones discusses how COVID-19 has emphasized the importance of social interaction to human well-being:
It seems callous to suggest that this tenebrous pandemic is letting the light in, and daft to offer immediate consolations amid so much grief. But there is a sense that, with the world having ground to a halt, our fantasies are finally taking flight.

Much of what we have always been told was impossible is actually happening: the homeless are (in some places) being housed in hotels while prisoners are (in others) being released. Kids are told not to go to school and to forget exams. Massive government spending is ensuring that people are guaranteed an income even if they can’t work. Private hospitals in Spain are being nationalised. A hospital has been built in London under a fortnight. In Portugal, tens of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers have been “regularised” and given full rights. It’s not quite a revolution, but it’s an epic conceptual awakening.
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The penny has also dropped that wellbeing isn’t individual but social. We are not actually independent at all, but dependent. We can make each other sick and we can try to make each other well. We’ve understood that a healthy community (as Wendell Berry wrote in his essay Health Is Membership) isn’t merely human, but also “its soil, its water, its air”.

It has been fascinating to see the speed at which other attitudes have changed. The indignation expressed towards people not respecting social distancing (from those who would never normally describe themselves as moralists) has been understandably shrill: here too we’ve suddenly realised that the wellbeing of the group is endangered by indifferent individuals, and that community – for which we’ve yearned for so long – means originally simply a pooling of duties.
- Laura Spinney writes that inequality doesn't just exacerbate pandemics, but also plays a role in causing them. Don Pittis writes that the coronavirus pandemic offers an important test of a government's willingness to invest in avoiding impending catastrophe - and that the results so far look worrisome based on the even larger threat of climate breakdown. And Gregory Beatty discusses how the U.S. in particular is seeing greed and political posturing overwhelm even the most basic of responses to COVID-19.

- Robert Reich points out how many of the "philanthropic" announcements made by billionaires in response to COVID-19 represent little but self-aggrandizement on the part of people who are actively exacerbating the crisis through their mistreatment of workers. 

- PressProgress calls out the Fraser Institute's attempt to use a pandemic to justify the long-term use of environmentally-destructive plastic bags. And Regan Boychuk argues that the oil companies who have made billions polluting Alberta shouldn't be allowed to "dine and dash" as part of a recovery effort.

- Finally, Sara Mojtehedzaden reports on the payday lenders exploiting a mass crisis with the explicit encouragement of the Trudeau government. Rupert Neate and Jasper Jolly note that hedge funds are extracting huge amounts of wealth betting on chaotic markets, while Lawrence Delevigne exposes one investment firm's attempt to abuse relief funding to take in windfall profits. And J. David McSwane and Yeganeh Torbati report on the Trump administration's choice to dole out sole-source contracts.

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