I’ve recently had a conversation with a person who shall remain nameless, who lives in a country which shall remain nameless. This guy is going to work every day, facing potentially-infected customers who he can’t turn away because no customers means no money and no money means no work. And he is doing his level best to make sure that his staff don’t lose their jobs.
Because you know what happens in this country, that shall remain nameless, when you lose your job? You lose your healthcare. And do you know what you don’t want to do when the entire globe is living in the grip of a viral pandemic? Lose your healthcare.
So, you know. This guy is going to work every day because he’s scared that if he doesn’t, he’s going to have that on his hands (I’m not going to spell that out for you – because I’m sick of spelling stuff out for people, which is apparently what you do when you’re at home with your children all day long.)
But here’s the kicker. See, this guy works in the heart of the capitalist dream: you work hard, you get what you deserve – the fancy cars, the McMansions, the organic vegetables. So even though an entire nation of people are dedicated to the belief that if you just work hard enough, you’ll get what you deserve, there’s a whole bunch of people who are about to get what they don’t deserve. Unless you think that suffocating their way to an undignified death because they haven’t got access to healthcare is what they deserve.
This is not about to turn into a rant about ‘socialised healthcare’. (Haha. Imagine, ‘socialised education’ or ‘socialised fire departments’, cause, you know, the state providing certain things so that all of their citizens can be healthy and well would be communism run amock…) This is actually a rant about something much more insidious, and far more damaging to people’s well-being and life-chances. Capitalism.
See, this guy that I was talking to works for a privately owned company. A company, despite it’s fairly large size, which is still owned and run by a single family. A family who have passed their company (and wealth) down for a couple of generations. And the guy who currently runs this company has no more qualifications than a) a lifetime of hard work (but please, show me a single parent who works two jobs to make ends meet that doesn’t know what hard work looks like) and b) having been born to the right person at the right time (gosh, wasn’t he clever at that?)
Anyway, I’m talking to this guy and he’s telling me about how he’s going to work because he’s worried his staff will lose their jobs if the boss decides their not making enough money – and if they lose their jobs, they lose their… la di da… you get it. And even though they’re dealing with the public all day and this guy risks bringing home the infection to his beautiful wife and children, he’s got to do it anyway because he can’t look back and know that he was responsible for that.
And he says to me, “well, you can hardly expect “boss-man-jack” (my words, not his) to sell his $14 million yacht to fund healthcare for his employees, can you?”
And you know what? I thought…. yes. Yes you can.
Yes, it is possible to imagine living in a world where there was no such thing as $14 million yachts while there were people living in tents under the motorway. Yes, it is possible to imagine a world where inconspicuous wealth had at least the smallest shred of humility that, when faced with a public health emergency, the safety and lives (ffs!) of his employees (those self-same employees who keep him in $14 million boats) come before his own material possessions.
Surely it is possible to imagine that there is enough humility and decency and love and respect in this world that none of us would sit back and do nothing (except protect our own personal fortunes – but hey – that must be exhausting) in the face of the largest public health crisis the world has ever seen.
I don’t have much, but when my neighbour needed butter, I gave her half of mine. My friend doesn’t have much, but when she heard I wasn’t doing so well, she sent a care package that was mostly gin. My landlord doesn’t have much, but today he told me that he was voluntarily giving me a rent holiday. Because there is love and decency and respect and humility in this world.
And I truly believe that a really big country whose name I will not mention here, could all just stop spouting the capitalist dream. If everyone could just agree that actually, hard work does not equal success and people who are born rich aren’t any better than the rest of us. If they’d stop excusing people who try to hang onto their own personal fortunes, even while the world burns around them. If every single person stopped shrugging their shoulders and saying ‘eh, that’s just how people are.’ Then maybe people would stop being like that.
What if a world where sharing the last of your butter, buying gin even when you can’t afford it or forgoing rent even though you’ve got a mortgage of your own was the world that everyone lived in? What if instead of shrugging our shoulders, we all expected a whole hell of a lot more from other people?
What if instead of $14 million boats, we had people who didn’t have to go to work (even though they have a persistent cough and fever) because they’d lose their healthcare if they didn’t?
So, if you happen to find yourself in possession of a $14 million boat, imagine you’re out, floating on the Med and sunning yourself with a martini, and ask whether you are really worth that much more. Are you really worth that much more than that single mum with more bills than time? Are you really worth that much more than a guy whose daughter’s died and he can hardly function? Are you really worth that much more than that immigrant who walked 500 miles across the desert to escape the genocidal maniacs pursuing his people, just to find himself a foreigner in a strange land, struggling and poor and 5000 miles from home? Are you really worth that $14 million boat, just because of the accident of your birth?