Wall Street Wants To Let Us Die So They Can Profit

Because self-isolation hurts corporate profits, billionaires are calling to end the too-limited public health measures taken so far by the US government. Unless we take action, Trump might heed their advice — and enormous numbers of people could die as a result.

Eric Blanc March 24, 2020

Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs Lloyd Blankfein speaks onstage during The New York Times DealBook Conference at One World Trade Center on December 11, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Thos Robinson/Getty Images for New York Times)

First pub­lished at Jacobin.

It’s hard to imagine a starker illustration of the contradiction between public health needs and capitalist profit-making.

Last week, the Wall Street Jour­nal edi­to­r­i­al board argued for quick­ly lift­ing social-dis­tanc­ing health mea­sures because these were hurt­ing the econ­o­my” — i.e., cor­po­rate prof­its. On Sun­day, Gold­man Sachs chair­man Lloyd Blank­fein echoed this call. And now it appears that the White House may be will­ing to heed their advice: On Sun­day evening, Pres­i­dent Trump announced that he’ll soon con­sid­er lift­ing our country’s already inad­e­quate social-dis­tanc­ing measures.

It’s hard to imag­ine a stark­er illus­tra­tion of the con­tra­dic­tion between pub­lic health needs and cap­i­tal­ist prof­it-mak­ing. The US government’s too-delayed, too-lim­it­ed response to the coro­n­avirus poten­tial­ly put mil­lions of lives at risk. For weeks, Trump down­played the virus and delayed tak­ing action because he didn’t want to take any mea­sures that might dis­rupt the econ­o­my. As the New York Times reports, only when the dis­rup­tion came any­way, in the form of a his­toric stock mar­ket sell-off, was he con­vinced to act.”

Those delays have cost count­less lives. We have now reached the point where, accord­ing to some experts, only a five-week nation­al lock­down can avoid a pub­lic health cat­a­stro­phe. Yet the Wall Street Jour­nal and the Lloyd Blank­feins of the world are propos­ing the exact oppo­site: end­ing lock­downs rather than extend­ing them. Even the lim­it­ed gov­ern­men­tal mea­sures tak­en so far are appar­ent­ly too much for Wall Street to stomach.

Vice Pres­i­dent Pence dis­closed yes­ter­day that some peo­ple exposed to the virus will soon be allowed to return to work if they wear masks. And accord­ing to Trump,

WE CAN­NOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROB­LEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERI­OD, WE WILL MAKE A DECI­SION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!

 — Don­ald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 232020

This dis­re­gard for pub­lic health is being sold through rhetoric about pro­tect­ing the liveli­hoods of ordi­nary Amer­i­cans. As the Wall Street Jour­nal edi­to­r­i­al put it,

If this gov­ern­ment-ordered shut­down con­tin­ues for much more than anoth­er week or two, the human cost of job loss­es and bank­rupt­cies will exceed what most Amer­i­cans imag­ine. This won’t be pop­u­lar to read in some quar­ters, but fed­er­al and state offi­cials need to start adjust­ing their anti-virus strat­e­gy now to avoid an eco­nom­ic reces­sion that will dwarf the harm from 2008 – 2009.

It’s true that a loom­ing pan­dem­ic-induced eco­nom­ic depres­sion could inflict tremen­dous dam­age upon mil­lions across this coun­try and the world. But allow­ing the virus to con­tin­ue to spread not only threat­ens the phys­i­cal sur­vival of these very same peo­ple — fail­ing to flat­ten the curve could result in the break­down of essen­tial sup­ply chains and even deep­er eco­nom­ic and social crisis.

Bil­lion­aire rhetoric about pro­tect­ing jobs is a smoke­screen. There’s no rea­son to believe that the Wall Street Jour­nal, Gold­man Sachs, or Don­ald Trump actu­al­ly care about the well-being of ordi­nary Amer­i­cans. If they did, they would have already sup­port­ed Bernie Sanders’s plan to issue month­ly cash pay­ments of $2,000 to every per­son in this coun­try and grant paid sick leave to all, or pro­pose some­thing like the Unit­ed Kingdom’s plan to cov­er 80 per­cent of all cit­i­zens’ income.

Instead, cor­po­ra­tions are prof­i­teer­ing off the cri­sis and the Repub­li­cans are propos­ing a tril­lion-plus bailout for cor­po­rate America.

They don’t care if we lose our jobs — and they don’t care if we die. As always, all that mat­ters for them is their bot­tom line.

If Trump or Wall Street actu­al­ly cared about us, they would have already advo­cat­ed using the Defense Pro­duc­tion Act to ensure that large indus­tries imme­di­ate­ly start pro­duc­ing the masks, ven­ti­la­tors, and pro­tec­tive equip­ment we so des­per­ate­ly need to avoid a health cat­a­stro­phe in the com­ing weeks. Instead, the pres­i­dent at Sunday’s press con­fer­ence explic­it­ly reject­ed this pro­pos­al, argu­ing that the con­cept of nation­al­iz­ing our busi­ness­es is not a good con­cept.” He left out who exact­ly it’s not good for: cap­i­tal­ists and their profits.

Unless we take action, Wall Street may get its way. Stop­ping Trump from scrap­ping our exist­ing pub­lic health mea­sures is lit­er­al­ly a mat­ter of life and death. We need to do every­thing pos­si­ble to force the White House and its cor­po­rate back­ers to take the urgent mea­sures that experts agree are nec­es­sary to pre­vent a pub­lic health cat­a­stro­phe. Our lives are on the line.

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