I recently celebrated a birthday. Growing up, summer birthdays sucked. Your friends always seemed to be out of town on vacation, or maybe that’s just what they told me to spare my feelings. The point is I was born on July 14, which to many Americans holds zero significance. But to the French, it signifies a very important event, Bastille Day. Bastille Day is kind of like our 4th of July, in that it was tied very closely to a fight for independence and is currently looked at as a day to celebrate freedom in their respective countries. Albeit instead of signing a Declaration of Independence, they stormed a prison to raid it for weaponry and to free political prisoners (of which there were seven) and ignited the metaphorical and literal powder kegs that set off the 10-year French Revolution. Said revolution was all based around wealth inequality between the working class and the upper class, finally realized into physical violence when the former concluded they outnumbered the latter by a somewhat dramatic amount.
Fast forward to present day, and Americans are staring down the barrel of the last week where unemployment will be supplemented by the government with a modest extra $600 a week. Unemployment in the country is at a dramatic all-time high, and for many, this last week is nerve-wracking. As far as anyone can tell, there aren’t any solid plans to adjust or correct this. When the money stops, it fully stops. Here’s the issue: We’ve been given a single check of $1,200 each, if we weren’t subject to owing back taxes, child support or some other form of debt collection that prevented it. In New Mexico, that’s a bit of money that can move. But it only moves so far, and with no foreseeable rent/mortgage freeze, the prospect of that being a stimulus is all but gone. In theory most New Mexicans had that money go straight to a landlord who sent it straight to the bank, and now it’s done and gone. So how exactly are we going to get the economy going again?
Some may say that the unemployment money would be the big push to help reopen things, but there’s still uncertainty about what will and won’t reopen. Within a four-hour period on Monday, restaurants in our state had dine-in given and taken away again. We genuinely have no idea what stage of this pandemic we’re in and cannot feasibly guess when things will be able to safely reopen. Furthermore, businesses left and right are permanently closing, and to expect anyone to start a new venture anytime soon is a wild concept. With all these jobs vanishing and so few appearing in order to take their place, we’re facing a long-term scope of shortfalls when it comes to available workers against available jobs.
What do we do then? There isn’t a great answer. This isn’t going to magically get better when it’s done. I don’t mean to sound like a doom and gloom naysayer, but what follows is a dramatic long-term downfall. Many have yelled that the government should just reopen everything and let the bodies lie where they fall. For that we look to Sweden. While the rest of the world followed more or less the same guidelines (some better than others), Sweden took a different route and chose the option of aiming for herd immunity at the cost of more lives, in hopes the economy would handle it better. Unfortunately, that is not what happened.
The New York Times did a piece on how things played out in Sweden, and the news was not great. “Per million people, Sweden has suffered 40 percent more deaths than the United States, 12 times more than Norway, seven times more than Finland and six times more than Denmark,” Peter S. Goodman writes. They had expected their economy to grow by 1.3 percent, yet it instead contracted by 4.5. The issue at hand is, regardless of things being open, people still were aware a virus was out there and could potentially kill them. Their shopping habits, like many of us, changed accordingly. Sure, things were open and people were still working, but all of a sudden, going to a crowded bar seemed far less appealing when your friends were dropping dead around you. The experiment showed that there was no safe way to maintain your economy. Even now the potential of getting reinfected and not gaining an immunity is proving to be a sticking point, showing that until an effective vaccine is ready, we may truly have to ride this out for the long haul.
Where does that leave us? I don’t know. Seriously. The amount of information that comes out and shifts around on a day-to-day basis is honestly dizzying and exhausting. My hat goes off to Gov. Lujan Grisham, who has done an amazing job so far of keeping our state healthy. Using all the information she has on hand, she has allowed us to avoid a death toll that sits in line with the rest of the country, while keeping our economy somewhat stable. It’s not perfect, but man am I thankful we aren’t Texas or Arizona.
Here’s where we’re at. Our government needs to step up and ensure people have some semblance of protection right now, or we’re looking at another Great Depression. We can’t expect everything to just kick in to full again, so maybe another New Deal is in line. If there aren’t jobs, we create them through public works projects and updating our cities. We create a new rail system to encourage cheap, high speed travel across the country. (Think Japanese bullet trains, but American!) We find ways to get our workers back into jobs that can help rebuild the country so we don’t look so desolate and rough around the edges. It’s been 100 years. Let’s do it one more time.
So why was Bastille Day such a marked thought for me, besides the solo celebration of another year trapped in this hellscape? Well, that’s where trends begin to factor in. You see, when Marie Antoinette uttered, “Let them eat cake,” the wealth gap was skewed. With roughly 75 percent of the country's wealth owned by 20 percent of the people, most were so poor while others lived in prestige that frustrations boiled over and 17,000 people lost their heads to a guillotine. As of 2016 data showed in the US that 90 percent of the country’s wealth was owned by the top 20 percent earners. I’m no mathematician, but I can tell you that doesn’t look great for anyone. In doing some reading, I found that Vice did an article in 2012 about what the death penalty costs tax payers and explored cheaper alternatives to costly lethal injections. Ironically, one of those options was a guillotine. What was the cost of materials and labor to make one? Just around $1,200. Local craftsmen looking for work, I hear there might be an expanding need for these. Just saying.