Coronavirus Gutting Platform Capitalism and Promoting A Real Safety Net

Ideas and Issues

New Orleans        As the virus and its impact spreads, it is creating a new world of unexpected consequences and reckonings for outdated assumptions.

Here’s one that might be uncomfortable news for the White House:  we do live in one world, and walls will not protect us.

Here’s another:  the social safety net in Europe is helping offset the impact of the virus and demonstrating the deficiency of America’s lack of one.

The argument on sick leave has to change, and the virus is giving it a huge boost. Finally. Beware though, because a concept called “emergency sick leave” is trying to blunt its force.  Senator Patty Murray of Washington was promoting this in many forums.  She wants businesses to pay. Walmart is offering two weeks of emergency sick leave to any of its workers forced into quarantine for the full fourteen days that they are unable to come to work.  Pictures of empty stores send a different message.  Walmart is one thing, but what do smaller businesses do that aren’t making any money and are essentially forced to close, rather than just suffering the loss of a few employees?  Where do they get the money to pay their workers without a governmental solution?

The promotion of platform capitalism and app-based work leaves no one responsible for any of those workers either forced to work or finding no income.

Stories abound of the Airbnb hosts with multiple properties in Japan and Italy who are worried about making their mortgages, but how about the little operators who are paying their mortgages by using the app to rent out their double or duplex.  Airbnb has said it is putting up $10 million to help, but that’s a drop of water in the ocean.   Cancellation of conferences and festivals is putting thousands on the wheel.

The pandemic is confronting subcontracting and gig work directly.  The big tech companies like Facebook, Apple, and Google who have as many contractors in Silicon Valley as direct hires under pressure agreed to continue paying them even as they put everyone into telecommuting.  Others won’t be so lucky.  What about them?

The debate over closing schools is not simply about stopping a virus, but also a reckoning with their role in providing a safety net to lower income children and their families.  In districts where half or more of the children are on free or reduced-price school lunches, superintendents are hesitating closing because they know the kids will be in empty houses with empty food cupboards as their parents seek work.  Districts that provide breakfast, lunch, snacks and sometimes dinner and something extra to tide children through the weekend, know clearly that they are the safety net.

While the President pretends this is all just a bump on the road to happy valley, the rest of us are getting a wakeup call about the reality of our shredded safety net and the price we are paying for app-based platform and tech-libertarian capitalism.  The death and despair they bring in inequity will surpass whatever the eventual tally is from the coronavirus.  I’m holding my breath that these crises will tilt the political races this year in the direction of significant reform and rebuilding of a real support system.  Finally.