When asked to talk about public health needs during the current coronavirus pandemic, Fadhel Kaboub immediately brings up climate change and expands the concept of public health to a degree that some will find surprising. After giving it a moment’s thought you can’t help but agree.
Even if COVID-19 isn’t related to climate change, the effects of the climate crisis will accelerate in the coming years and we’ll see more pandemics and other disasters. We were caught flat-footed this time, but our inexcusable lack of preparedness cannot happen again. As Fadhel warns, there can be no “return to normal.”
This pandemic illustrates why it’s impossible to think of public health needs in narrow medical terms. This kind of crisis requires massive intervention early on. Clearly we need the infrastructure and medical capabilities to handle screening, testing, treatment, and hospitalization of huge numbers of patients all over the world.
To slow the spread of the virus requires decreasing the intensity of human contact by working and shopping from home. Businesses and their customers, schools or universities and their students, all will need broadband internet access as a public utility. Privatization and deregulation of the telecommunications industry will have to be reversed, which means going up against entrenched interests and their representatives in the government.
Everyone deserves paid sick days and universal medical coverage. We need contingency plans across the system, including efficient means of providing goods and services during the crisis. We have to keep the supply chain moving as much as possible, keep the quality of life maintained -- these are enormously complex problems, as Fadhel explains.
An overarching impediment to this level of emergency planning is the fact that the market considers it a waste. To have enough hospital rooms, ventilators, ambulances and test kits during the crisis, they must be constructed beforehand. Capitalism doesn’t produce excess goods out of a sense of civic duty. Only the federal government can afford to do this.
The pandemic demonstrates what MMT has been emphasizing all along: that it's not about having the money. To transform our system to handle public health emergencies, what matters is the real productive capacity of the economy -- the physical and technical resources, human capabilities, and knowhow.
Fadhel says it’s time to reframe our current crisis within the economic policy agenda that we've been talking about for years. Understanding the monetary sovereignty of the US government, we need a three-point program:
1 - Universal public services: education, childcare, healthcare, and broadband access. It’s the responsibility of the federal government to guarantee these things as human rights.
2 - Job guarantee for people who want to work. The program should be resilient and flexible enough that you don't have to be physically present.
3 - Generous income support for people who cannot or should not work.
As always with Fadhel, the discussion covers too much to recount here. He tells us how to address the “cost” of the Green New Deal and what to say to someone who thinks the federal budget should be treated like that of a corporation. He reveals a serious flaw in our understanding of the GDP.
It’s easy to forget that we’re still in the throes of the political primary season, but Steve had to ask him to weigh in on that. Fadhel leaves us with a reason for optimism. Bernie Sanders and his supporters have proven that there’s an alternative to rule by super-PACs and corporate interests. People believe in the transformational nature of the movement and many dozens have been inspired to run for office with a progressive agenda.
Dr. Fadhel Kaboub is an Associate Professor of Economics at Denison and President of the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity.
@FadhelKaboub and @GISP_tweets