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Starving the Cities and States

Photograph Source: Angel Talansky – CC BY 2.0

Disaster capitalism is in high gear. The stock market plunged, so Trump, hysterical, whipped out the federal checkbook. The result? Unlimited bailouts of shoddily-run corporations, criminally managed banks and other assorted oligarchs with their hands out. But hey, it got the stock market soaring, because now investors know Washington will rescue them, whatever idiocies they commit. Everybody else is on their own. After they cash that one-time stimulus check, they get to join the rest of the unemployed in the line at the food bank. Meanwhile the lifeline for the 22 million people who have lost their jobs is their unemployment check. For that they turn to their state. And guess what? The Covid-19-caused economic shutdown is bankrupting the states.

Governors have been open about this. Washington Governor Jay Inslee said back in March that the stimulus for the states was not enough. Andrew Cuomo was on television recently telling Trump New York State needs more money. The $150 billion in the last stimulus bill won’t cut it. So congressional Dems tried to add more money for state governments to the small business loan program, but no luck. The Republicans don’t like it. They say do it later, which is code for never. The message from Washington to state and municipal governments couldn’t be clearer. It is: drop dead.

Not that the money’s not there. Oh no. The Fed has turned on the cash spigot for Wall Street and will buy stock in corporations going bankrupt because well, their customers went bankrupt. The Fed’s not so concerned about those customers. Who needs them? They’re the little people who fly coach, not business class or on a private jet. So what if they can’t afford it anymore? The main thing is making sure those bankrupt airlines can still pay their ceos.

A trillion here, a trillion there, before you know it, as the saying goes, we’re talking about real money. But that doesn’t matter to the Fed, congress or Trump, so long as that real money is showered on corporations, Wall Street, billionaires and other plutocrats. No, no. They are the deserving rich. But those tens of millions who lost their incomes because if they didn’t practice social distancing they could catch Covid-19 and die? They are barely on Washington’s radar. They are, at best, an afterthought. They are incidental to the form of capitalism being developed here: actual corporate socialism – the genuine article – that leaves everyone not in the 1% destroyed by debt.

That includes cities and states. Take New York City. Comptroller Scott Stringer told the Atlantic that the pestilence has drained the city’s funds: “New York City stands to lose $4.8 billion to $6 billion in tax revenue. The money helps the city fund schools, repair roads and pay off debts.” The same thing is happening at the state level. But congressional Republicans and Trump are just as happy to watch cities and states go broke. It proves the discredited theory they’ve been shoving down everyone’s throat since Ronald Reagan started it – that governments don’t work because governments are, by definition, broken. No matter that these elites are the ones who broke them.

Congressional Democrats are hardly saviors. If what they’ve negotiated for most of us is any example of their capabilities, we’re in for really tough times. And when it comes to health care – a crucial concern in a pandemic – so far, they’re to the right of Trump, if such is conceivable. Biden said he’d veto Medicare for All if it crossed his desk. Then Trump quietly arranged for the government to pick up the tab for Covid-19 treatment of patients without health insurance. So Biden hastened to tell us that everyone sick with this disease should be covered. His corporate health-care backers probably didn’t like that too much, but they can take comfort in the fact that with Biden, as with Trump, anyone unlucky enough to need heart surgery while un- or under-insured will be bankrupted by their medical bills.

Just last week a group of governors asked congress for $500 billion, because states have shelled out all they’ve got to cover costs of Covid-19. Maryland governor Larry Hogan wrote that without this federal support “critically important services” will suffer. That translates to schools, roads, Medicaid, rental assistance programs and more. Governors quoted by the Washington Post “said the most recent federal rescue package contained no money to help states balance their books.” This, folks, is called austerity. And it is the road to ruin.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Birdbrain. She can be reached at her website.

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