Trillions of Dollars

By | Monday, October 05, 2020 Leave a Comment

As I sit here today, looking at a world rocked by the COVID-19 crisis and thinking about the vast sums of money needed to address it, I find myself wondering what it would’ve been like had we had even one trillion dollars to spend on something a few years ago.

What might the world be like now, if four or five years ago we had had $1 trillion to spend on the global climate change crisis? What would have happened if we had $1 trillion for the educational crisis in America? If a trillion dollars had been put towards ending America’s homelessness crisis, what could we have achieved? What about the hunger crisis? Could a trillion dollars have solved with that? America faces, and has faced for many years now, a crisis of structural inequality, income inequality, wealth inequality, and inequality of opportunities. I am betting that if $1 trillion had been used to solve America’s inequality crisis, we could probably have gone a long way towards addressing it. What about $1 trillion to help solve the healthcare crisis? A trillion dollars to build hospitals, buyout insurance companies, and solve any and all other problems associated with a single-payer health care system. Looking globally, America could’ve taken $1 trillion to completely eliminate the world’s refugee problems. Pick the disease or illness of your choice; now imagine $1 trillion focused on solving it. Malaria? Cancer? Infectious diseases? I don’t know, maybe $1 trillion could’ve bought solutions to all three.

Four or five years ago we “did not have” $1 trillion to spend on any of these crises. But crises they were, and crises they continue to be. [Note: Yes, I understand that the government neither has nor doesn’t have any given amount of money. We are not on the gold standard – we don’t have to get more gold in order to print more money. Budgetary deficits of the federal government are not the same thing as household borrowing. The federal government doesn't need to get money from somewhere, it just creates it out of thin air (really!) The act of printing money, or not printing money, effects the money supply. That, plus the velocity of money, impacts inflation or deflation. Four or five years ago the government could have printed a trillion dollars to use on anything it (we) wanted. The decision whether or not to create money was dictated by monetary policy, not by the need to address specific issues.]

The pandemic crisis has been a body slam to America and the world. Yes, America had to spend several trillion dollars keeping the economy together, with trillions more yet to come. We had to provide safety nets for people losing their jobs, facing the loss of a home, and so forth, as well as businesses going under and the resultant collapse of the economy. The pandemic had to be dealt with right now, period. It couldn’t wait. The trillions had to be spent, and they had to be spent right now. But why did we have to wait for a crisis that hits us in the face to spend money on serious problems? 

Meanwhile, all the crises listed above, and more, are slowly destroying our lives. These crises slowly impoverish hungry people, homeless people, people who cannot get an education, and people who are held back in life due to our crisis of structural inequality. Healthcare in this country is a crisis. But clearly we’re not going to fix it until people are lying dead in the streets for want of medical care. Most of the world has known for ages that climate change is a crisis. Yet Americans are barely waking up to the ways that climate change is ruining our way of life and actively killing people, now, not some time in the dim future. How obvious must it be that climate change is a crisis that has to be addressed right now, before people in America are willing to spend the trillions of dollars needed to address it, just as we are spending trillions to manage the effects of COVID-19.

These slow crises lack immediacy, so they are ignored. But they cant be ignored by the people they are killing. If we can spend trillions on our response to the COVID pandemic, then we can spend serious money tackling our other crises too.

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