By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
The coronavirus pandemic has been brutal and continues to extract a huge toll both here and abroad. It is not going away in the next few months and returning to “normal” will be impossible now and into the future.
While the unimaginable destruction the virus has inflicted on the world’s health, families, economy and our daily lives, there are lessons we need to learn.
One of the most glaring problems has been testing and personal protection equipment.
When the pandemic hit America’s shores, the depleted national stockpiles of essential supplies — not just for a pandemic but a natural disaster like Katrina — made fighting the virus much more difficult and infecting many, many essential medical workers in the process.
The lack of equipment of all kinds has meant states are competing against states and the federal government for the crucial supplies as well as foreign countries.
Price gouging, back door deals and federal confiscation of equipment headed to states and other countries creates an ugly scene that continues today.
The reasons this horrendous situation occurred is twofold, one reason New Englanders know well.
Over the past 100 years, manufacturing chased cheap labor.
The Millyard in Manchester, or the brick buildings along the Merrimack River in Nashua or in small cities like Franklin, Newport and Claremont are reminders of a once thriving textile industry that provided jobs and a steady income for thousands of Granite Staters.
But the industry was lured south with the siren song of cheaper labor and the Carolinas and other southern states reaped the rewards that once fueled the New England economy.
But the race to lower costs and maximize profits led to South America and Asia where it is now based.
And textiles were not the only product that is now manufactured in Asia. Surgical masks and gowns, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and ventilators are manufactured in Asia.
The globalization of industry means much of what we consume and need is made elsewhere.
When the need outdistances the resources, there is price gouging etc. but also with another nation’s bureaucracy to navigate.
If subsidies are needed to bring some crucial manufacturing back to the United States, that ought to be considered. This crisis continues to reveal that an economy based solely on free market principles can be detrimental to a country’s wellbeing, here and in other developed countries.
Another problem is government itself. Since the Reagan administration and its extensive tax cuts for the top earners and businesses, with loopholes big enough to drive a cruise ship through, the federal government and many state governments have been starved for cash.
The federal government is a shell of itself but more and more is expected of it as state governments also try to minimize spending.
The national stockpile was not replenished for years and years not just the last two administrations so when the crunch of a pandemic comes, the cupboard is bare.
Government really is not the enemy, because it is us.
However, government needs constant watching, that is a given, but that is not happening today as the news media faces the same fate as textile workers in the 1920s and 1930s, a dying industry.
Corporate takeovers, consolidation and a changing economy based around internet commerce has reduced the number of eyes to ferret out corruption, favoritism and waste.
Without the watchful eye of a free press, government becomes insular and distant from the people it represents.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision turned government over to the one percent and big corporations, not the people who vote representatives and presidents into and out of office.
Corporations and the one percent don’t want to return to the days before the Reagan administration when they paid a far greater share of their incomes to the government, and as a result government has slimmed down to the point it is anorexic.
None of this happened overnight and it is not going to be fixed overnight.
But you have to start somewhere and the first thing that needs to be done is an attitude adjustment.
The idea of American exceptionalism lies broken among the more than 1 million citizens infected with coronavirus, and the largest death toll in the world.
Other countries like Germany and England are further along developing a vaccine against the new virus as the federal money that once fueled that research has slowed to a trickle.
Locally, small manufacturers have switched gears and begun producing face shields and other personal protection equipment, and nationally larger companies have done the same to produce other needed equipment.
That is movement in the right direction.
But the federal government continues to be divided along partisan lines over who should be helped the most as the country tries to lessen the health and economic impact. Republicans seek to prop up industry and business and Democrats want to help individuals and states.
Nowhere in any of the bailout packages is a sustainable revenue source to pay for the billions of dollars that will be necessary to prevent the United States from becoming much like a third world country as Italy and Spain appeared as the virus overwhelmed their healthcare systems.
Instead federal lawmakers have decided to mortgage the future for our children and grandchildren who already face a diminished lifestyle by today’s standards.
Much like after the Great Depression, government needs to reinvent itself and solidify the floor for everyone.
There are good things to draw on, like remote learning which has the potential to make a college education much more affordable.
And we are becoming much more self-sufficient. Many people are learning to cook for themselves, for example, and live music and plays have moved on-line.
But there is much to miss about the old normal of restaurants, movie theaters, sporting and art and cultural events, museums and a day at the beach with a thousand of your best friends.
To truly come out on the other side of this pandemic, significant change is a necessary and that is never easy.
We need to view the coming days and months and years as the opportunity it is to create something other than a “Brave New World.”
Our lives depend on it.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.
InDepthNH.org is New Hampshire’s only nonprofit, online news outlet dedicated to reporting ethical, unbiased news and diverse opinions and columns.