Germs, Guns and Steel

14-05-2020

My mother calls, worried. She has seen on the news that Americans are stockpiling guns and that violence is on the rise. Living in a suburb of New York, I’ve witnessed the spread of Covid-19 firsthand. Of course, gun stockpiling doesn’t take place in urban America, but mostly in rural places that you or I would never even consider visiting. So, what is the reality of Corona in the U.S.? Well, that reality is not great – Covid-19 has laid bare the fundamental weaknesses of a capitalist society gone too far, and of a constitution that is too weak.

Let’s start with the latter. Covid-19 requires federal, or nationwide action, not divergent local initiatives. In that sense, the U.S. is not unlike Europe. Connecticut, for example, responded aggressively to Covid-19, but federally, the U.S. turned out to be too weak, without sufficient sway over individual states. As state borders are not real borders, Covid-19 could spread freely as individual states implemented a patchwork of different rules and regulations.

More fundamentally, Covid-19 has had, and continues to have, a devastating impact on people in the U.S., and disproportionally on the already disadvantaged bottom 50 per cent of society. This further fuels income inequality, which was much too high to begin with. In Europe, social safety nets and near-universal healthcare protects incomes and offers access to care. In the U.S, you can be fired right here, right now. As a result, 33.5 million people have already registered for unemployment benefits – that’s 20 per cent of the labor population! These are mostly blue-collar jobs, as well as jobs in the ‘support economy’ (e.g. retail, hotels, bars, restaurants). At the same time, access to Covid-19 testing and treatment remains challenging, as many of most-affected parts of the population (still) don’t have health insurance. That means the impact of Covid-19 is again much higher for the ‘have nots’ than for the ‘haves’. 

So, don’t be overly worried about the rise of guns in the land of the free. Rather, be worried about rampant inequality, and what that ultimately means for America. It feels like capitalism is slowly crumbling.

Nils Kok, associate professor in Finance and Real Estate

Germs, Guns and Steel
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