Fantasize for a moment that we could set aside politics and operate based upon common sense. What would the federal government do to best mitigate the devastation that this pandemic will visit upon human beings? It would, first of all, provide free healthcare to everyone. It would distribute medical resources nationally based on the greatest need. Then, to protect people from the necessary economic deep freeze we are all in due to social distancing, the government would pursue measures that would get everyone through this time in one piece: It would subsidize the nation’s payrolls, so that workers could stay in their jobs and businesses could restart easily; it would suspend rent, for people and businesses alike; it would send everyone a monthly basic income to pay for necessities until this is over; and it would avoid allowing small businesses to go bankrupt, because those represent millions of jobs that people need to return to.
Those are all obvious steps to take if your goal was to protect humans. But imagine, instead, if you had an entirely different goal: protecting capital. What would you do then? Well, you would prioritize the health of corporate balance sheets, rather than human bodies. You would keep the healthcare industry, now booming, in private hands; you would stimulate consumer demand via unemployment benefits, rather than by keeping workers on existing payrolls, in order to create an enormous pool of cheap and desperate labor; you would pursue tax cuts for the investor class; you would welcome the opportunity to allow debt to pile up on individuals; and you wouldn’t be too sad about small businesses going bankrupt—they are, after all, just ceding market share to bigger, richer businesses. You would use this crisis to create a greater, not lesser, concentration of wealth. You would emerge on the other side with more, not less, inequality. The truth is, it would be easy.