The virus lays bare a broken political and economic system

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka

The Minnesota Senate’s Republican leader stumbled into the truth this week, like a blindfolded man who hits his head on a fire alarm.

When Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-E. Gull Lake, was asked about potential help for workers affected by the coronavirus, he told the Star Tribune, “What do we do when people are sick with the flu? Right now, if that’s the case you typically have sick time from your work. You can use your days off. So I don’t think we really need to change anything for this.” 

You typically have sick time from your work, senator. 

But 900,000 Minnesotans, according to some estimates, don’t. 

Ok, so just work from home. 

Again, not an option for most people. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just 29 percent of workers can work from home. And surprise! The less money you make, the less likely you are to work in a job that allows you to work from home.  

Moreover, many of the workers who don’t have sick leave are also in the kinds of service industries that will take the most severe economic brunt of the epidemic. Rather than eating out or going to events where these workers earn their pay, Minnesotans will be forced to stay home to avoid the coronavirus or prevent giving it to others.  

Well, at least these poor souls will get the health care they need, because that’s a basic human right recognized in our blessed country. We’re not monsters, after all. 

Oh, well, nevermind. 

Yes, it turns out, an epidemic lays bare some of the fatal flaws of our political system and economy. 

There’s the rank ignorance: After the sensible vote to provide the state some emergency money to deal with coronavirus, Gazelka told reporters that we shouldn’t panic, that the flu has resulted in more illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths than coronavirus. He was dutifully taking his cues from President Donald Trump, who has been trying his hand at epidemiology lately, with mixed success. 

But aside from a dangerous hostility to actual experts, we’re also witnessing how broken our economic system is. 

For decades, we have pursued policies built on the repellent ethical foundations of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of selfishness. And the neverending con that America’s middle class can only thrive if we cut taxes on the rich and corporations and deregulate Wall Street and the extractive industries. 

The result is a bifurcated economy. Some people have health care, sick pay and can work from the comfort of their own home, listlessly watching hours of Fox propatainment on their Chinese made electronics, the nicely coiffed white people telling them that the last thing we need to do now is panic. 

And for everyone else? 

Well. You can use your days off. So I don’t think we really need to change anything for this.