The COVID-19 Pandemic: The Shape of Things To Come

For much of the world, it is obvious that this situation is not improving. Just over three months ago your author (when there were a "mere" 425,000 cases and 19,000 deaths) warned that the cases and fatalities "will double, and then double again, and then double again". If there was an error in that remark it was that it didn't continue for several more iterations. Now, at the time of writing, there are over 11,179,000 cases and over 528,000 deaths. And the previous iterations will continue; it will double, and then double again, and then double again. But even when the world reaches 90 million cases and 4 million deaths, there will be those who, despite all the evidence, will place ideology above reality in their mad worship of power and authority. Simply put, "the worst is yet to come".

At the time the United States, Brazil, and the United Kingdom were identified as three countries that were particularly susceptible to the virus due to political leadership that placed ideology above reality. Predictably, these three countries have suffered catastrophic failures. Continental Europe was, as we know, the first region to be hit very hard and the figures still show that that region as the deaths per million indicates, and whilst San Marino, Belgium, and Andorra still hold the unenviable position of the highest values in that regard, new cases in the EU have flattened whereas in the US, the UK, and Brazil, they continue to rise, to the extent that the US is facing a travel ban to the EU and, in an act of madness, Brazil re-opens its cities.

Isocracy is an Antifa Organisation

A few days ago, in the midst of massive protests against the killing of George Floyd, US President Donald Trump has claimed that he will be designating Antifa as a terrorist organisation. Naturally enough, plenty of people have pointed out that "antifa" is an adjective, not a noun, and there is no "antifa" organisation. Still, if to be "antifa" is to be stridently, even militantly, anti-fascist, then the Isocracy Network, Inc., is an antifa organisation (and as so approved by our committee of management on June 4, 2020). We would encourage other organisations, from those mild-mannered liberals and social democrats to the ultralefts to do likewise; if the organisation is dedicated to individual freedoms and a democratic commonwealth, the bottom-left of the political compass, then you're already the polar opposite of fascism, i.e., anti-fascism. To use the definition of Antifa Lexico: a political protest movement comprising autonomous groups affiliated by their militant opposition to fascism and other forms of extreme right-wing ideology.

Of course, it is necessary at this stage to define fascism. The Isocracy Network has done this in the past with the discussion on Left-Wing Fascism: A Senile Disorder. Drawing upon the actual defining characteristics expressed by self-identified fascists themselves (e.g., Mussolini, Olivetti, Panunzio, Rossoni, Maurras). Murras, a leader of Action Française provided a very helpful pithy definition: What in fact is Fascism? A socialism emancipated from democracy. As the previous Isocracy article stated: Fascism is any political ideology that requires the suppression of individual or co-operative rights to collective ideals (whether a religion, a nation, a class, an ideology). In practise it means the destruction of the private sphere, where dissidends are tortured and executed, where freedom of association is suppressed, where independent unions and political parties are suppressed, where the economy is tightly controlled, collectivised, and corporatised. Whilst commonly associated with the far-right, given the ideal of nationalistic collectivism, the tendancy towards collectivism and authoritarianism also exists in the left, and a point can be made when the left is especially authoritarian and nationalistic, it is very easy for it become part of a "Red-Brown" alliance, such as Strasserism, National Bolshevism, or, on a lesser scale ideologically but a grander scale geo-politically, the Peoples' Republic of China (especially evident in the notorious Document Number Nine.

Libertarian Distributist Social Democracy

Libertarianism is the belief that the goal of civil society ought to be to maximize human liberty. What "libertarianism" looks like will differ significantly depending on how one defines liberty. There are two main traditions of thought on liberty: republicanism and liberalism. Liberalism defines liberty as lack of interference, whereas republicanism defines it as lack of domination. The opposite of freedom, according to liberalism, is interference. The opposite of freedom, according to republicanism, is slavery.

In it's most extreme form, libertarianism becomes anarchism. Liberal-tradition libertarians (descending from classical liberalism) tend towards anarcho-capitalism. Republican-tradition libertarians (descending from classical republicanism) tend towards social anarchism. Anarcho-capitalists want to abolish government and replace it with privatization of everything and pure laissez-faire. Social anarchists want to abolish government and replace it with direct democracy. These are the extremes of libertarianism, but there are many places in-between. For instance, minarchists propose minimal government rather than no government. And there are different libertarian positions as to what the role of the State ought to be (if any). There are numerous centrist libertarian positions that one could hold.

Pandemic Economics

The COVID-19 pandemic has now reached over three million confirmed cases, with almost two hundred and twenty thousand deaths. For the United States, which has shown a not-unexpected failure of policy, there are now more American deaths than the Vietnam war, keeping in mind that the United States had fewer than sixty cases and zero deaths as late as February 28. Whilst some countries - such as Australia, New Zealand, and even China - have had a high degree of success in significantly "flattening the curve" of new cases, the sickness opens up new fronts - now we see the numbers climb in Russia, Brazil, Turkey.

The pandemic still represents an existential risk for much of the world, and of course, that comes with a particular and special priority. But there is also a secondary battle that is being fought; and that is not just to save lives, but also to save livelihoods, with around half the world's workers at risk. That reified abstract noun, the economy, is also subject to critical care attention. As the best form of protection has been the graduated levels of social isolation, to restricted movements, to partial lockdowns, economies have come under enormous strain. Let us consider a report from the respected Grattan Institute in Australia:

Researcher Brendan Coates said the institute's analysis found between 14 and 26 per cent of the entire Australian workforce will lose their job, if they haven't already, as a result of government shutdowns and physical distancing rules... This week, Federal Treasury forecast unemployment would rise to 10 per cent in the June quarter - a figure which hasn't reached double digits since 1994.

Challenges often provide opportunities, and this is no exception. Revolutionary situations, as the name implies, a return to reconsider fundamentals, and in this case, the way that we protect and enhance our economic welfare and security. It is obvious that under our shared radical circumstances that continuing as were did not provide sufficient protection against the shocks that are being experienced. Some new thinking is required, even if this is disruptive to existing vested interests who will inevitably move to protect their power and privilege. The opportunity is taken here to explore some of the approaches being used or advocated around the world; (a) stimulus packages, (b) Universal Basic Income (UBI), and (c) a Job Guarantee (JG).

The Case for a Land-Based Income Tax

A while back, it had come to my attention that the imposition of a conventional land value tax would require a Constitutional Amendment in the United States since there are Constitutional constraints upon the federal government with regard to imposing direct taxes. (Cf. U. S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 2 & Section 9) However, the 16th Amendment allows the federal government to tax income from any source whatsoever without those same constraints. The conclusion that I reached was that a tax on income derived from land — a land-based income tax (LBIT) — may be a more feasible alternative to conventional land value tax (LVT). I discussed this idea in my article The Holy Trinity of Taxes. Recently, it has come to my attention that the case for an LBIT as an alternative to an LVT may actually be much stronger than I originally thought.

The LBIT proposal has four main strengths relative to conventional LVT:
(1) It does not require a Constitutional Amendment and, therefore, would be easier to pass.
(2) It could be used to tax banks on income they derive from mortgage interest.
(3) It would exempt owner-occupants and, therefore, would encounter little popular resistance.
(4) It would effectively constitute a differential tax on land value. The amount of the tax and the rate would be higher on rentiers than on owner-occupants and charitable organizations.

Why Rothbard Is Not Representative of the Austrian School

Modern libertarians and anarcho-capitalists like to play revisionist history with the Austrian School of economics and pretend that Murray Rothbard was a pure Austrian. If you ask modern libertarians, Rothbard is the guiding light of the Austrian School. However, the reality is that laissez-faire fundamentalism is not an essential characteristic of the Austrian School of economics. The Austrian School laid the foundation for "classical neoliberalism," ordoliberalism, and the German social market model. The hallmarks of classical neoliberalism were the rejection of the doctrine of laissez-faire, the insistence on the need for government to create the rules and framework within which a market can function optimally, and the insistence on the need for a welfare state based on social insurance. And F.A. Hayek, the best known of the Austrian economists, was among the founders of classical neoliberalism.

Carl Menger, the founder of the Austrian School, was a supporter of progressive taxation. Friedrich von Wieser advocated government regulation of the economy and a progressive income tax. Carl Menger's brother was the chair of the Habsburg government's tax commission in the 1890s. The commission was overseen by Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, Friedrich von Wieser, and Emil Sax, all of whom supported and wrote in defense of the idea of a progressive income tax. So, the founders of the Austrian School actually gave the Habsburg Empire its first-ever progressive income tax.

COVID-19, Vaccinations, and Politics

The Isocracy Network is dedicated to "liberty and common wealth". We take these principles seriously, that is the equal distribution of individual liberty, both positive and negative, in all its variation and diversity, is established within a commonwealth of democratic management of the productive forces of land and capital. On every possible occasion members of the Isocracy Network have argued for rights of individual self-ownership, even if the actions are destructive to the self. Indeed it is the very first item of "Our Ten Point Plan"; let this repeated in case there is any doubt:

Personal Liberty. Self-ownership, full and exclusive right and responsibility over oneself for adults of adult-reasoning, and by extension, consensus in participation. As John Locke famously wrote, "every man has a Property in his own Person." We are advocates of free speech, within the limits of defamation etc, following Rosa Luxemburg's "Freiheit ist immer Freiheit der Andersdenkenden", ("Freedom is always the freedom for dissenters"), and even includes "destructive" rights (e.g., voluntary euthanasia), as long as third party expert assessment declares the individual as being compos mentis [2].

But what are the limits to this principle individual liberty? This is typically established pragmatically, that liberties are limited to the degree that they directly and physically affect others. As noted, this should exclude all self-regarding actions and other-regarding actions, albeit with some due diligence to ensure that the actors are of sane and responsible minds. But it also means that there are democratically-decided rules - and restrictive rules - for to the "free movement" of individuals in public areas in proportion to the danger involved (e.g., road traffic rules). But to what degree do we restrict individuals where there is contagious outbreak? And do not individuals have the right to refuse vaccinations, something that is very much a self-referential intrusive medical procedure? To what degree to parents, for example, have a right or responsibility over their children?

Andrew Yang is the Champion of UBI

While everyone is praising Bernie Sanders over this pandemic relief stuff. I'd just like to point out that the most important measures are the cash transfers, and what we really need is an emergency UBI. It was Andrew Yang who ran on a universal basic income platform, while Bernie opposed such cash transfers on principle. Bernie opposes UBI because he is fundamentally a supporter of wage-slavery. Instead of UBI, he wanted a Federal Job Guarantee. Even as a temporary emergency measure, Bernie was late getting on board. Donald Trump, Mitt Romney, and Mitch McConnell all got on board with some sort of cash transfer or emergency UBI before Bernie did. Bernie kept dragging his feet because he is opposed to UBI on principle.

It is Andrew Yang who has consistently argued that a universal cash transfer (or universal basic income) is the best measure to guarantee security and stability in the midst of all crises, whether individual crises like losing a job or getting injured or general crises like a recession or pandemic. It’s nice that Bernie and AOC got on board with a temporary UBI as an emergency measure, but Andrew Yang and Scott Santens are the true champions of these measures.

While Bernie and AOC are currently getting credit for the idea of an emergency UBI and expansion of unemployment benefits, it ought to be remembered that one of their core policy proposals during non-crisis times—the Federal Job Guarantee proposal—is designed to replace cash transfers with workfare and is being put forth as an alternative to universal basic income. And we ought to keep in mind that in any other recession—in any recession not caused by a pandemic that requires self-isolation—Bernie and AOC would have preferred a workfare program to cash transfers.

The Fear of Socialism is Irrational

I'm not a socialist, but I'm also aware that your fear of socialism is completely unwarranted. Americans hate "socialism" because they are ignorant of the subject and know absolutely nothing about it. They have been brainwashed by Cold War propagandists and Fox News into hating something they know absolutely nothing about.

Yes, Marxist-Leninism and Maoism suck, but most "socialism" isn't that! Tankies are garbage, but most "socialists" aren't tankies. If you look at libertarian socialism (Kroptokin, Proudhon, Chomsky, Graeber, Zinn, Bookchin) or market socialism (Oskar Lange, Abba Lerner, John Stuart Mill, Richard Wolff, Yanis Varoufakis), it’s actually quite sophisticated and pretty brilliant. Also, it’s worth noting that some socialists see no role for the state in socialism at all, while others see the state as playing a central role in their model. Libertarian socialism and Marxism are basically antithetical models of socialism, and some forms of democratic socialism are quite similar to neoliberalism.

Coronavirus disease 2019 and a Case for Environmental Socialism

Writing about the politics of public health whilst we are the midst of a major global pandemic is a peculiar combination of churlishness and critical necessity. At the time of writing, there are 425,000 confirmed cases, and 19,000 deaths, and in a few days that number will double, and then double again, and then double again. It is worth remembering that the first 100,000 diagnoses took from December to March, the second from March 5 to 17, and the third from March 18 to 21, and the fourth from March 22 to 24. It is the single greatest health risk of this century, in part due to the relatively high rate of fatalities (approximately 4.1% of diagnosed cases), and significantly due to the relative ease of transmission. Most of all, however, the greatest risk is the effects of the ease of transmission and fatality rate combined, that is, how it overwhelms our health-care systems, which are woefully unprepared for an event such as this.

But it is not as if that the knowledge was not there. There have been plenty of warning signs, such the previous outbreaks of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in late 2002 to mid-2003, which is related to COVID-19, to the extent that academics warned of SARS as "an agent of emerging and reemerging infection". SARS had a fatality rate of 9.6% across 17 countries, with approximately 8,000 people infected. SARS was also highly infectious (R0 value of 2-4), but was successfully contained. Then in 2009, there was the Pandemic H1N1/09 virus ("swine flu"), which had a higher infection rate than seasonal influenza, and a similar fatality rate. In comparison Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), also a coronavirus, has a high fatality rate (36%) but a low transmission rate (R0 value of 0.3 to 0.8).

Recognising these rather impressive precursors, certain individuals also have tried to raise concerns. Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota, argued in 2005 that "Time is running out to prepare for the next pandemic. We must act now with decisiveness and purpose", and in 2017 had his book, "Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs" published. Virologist and flu expert Robert G. Webster warned of an upcoming 'flu pandemic, “Flu Hunter: Unlocking the secrets of a virus" late last year. The US Intelligence Team has warned about the possibility of a pandemic for years. Dr. Luciana Borio, once a member of the White House National Security Council (NSC) team responsible for pandemics, warned of pandemic threats; the team was disbanded under the Trump administration. Famously, Bill Gates argued in a TED talk in 2015, that we simply were not prepared.

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