Americans are restless, impatient people. These qualities have led to some of our greatest accomplishments and some of the worst moments in our history. America’s past is a mixed bag as is our pandemic present. Some are handling it better than others, but we all share one important thing, uncertainty.
A few words about the column title, The Age Of Uncertainty. It’s stolen from one of my heroes, the late, great John Kenneth Galbraith. Ken Galbraith was perhaps the funniest economist in history. He was an erudite man who was also a liberal political activist, historian, film critic, essayist, and Harvard professor. Galbraith was an adviser to Adlai Stevenson, Jack Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Gene McCarthy after warning LBJ that his war in Vietnam was a disaster.
In 1977, Galbraith wrote and presented an epic TV documentary series called-you guessed it- The Age of Uncertainty. The series and its print companion told the history of economic and social ideas from a Keynesian perspective with a dollop of Galbraithian wit. Galbraith’s own age of uncertainty was the 1970’s when a series of severe recessions and economic stagflation frayed the social safety net and resulted in attacks on it from conservatives bent on shredding it to bits. Unfortunately, the latter point of view has largely prevailed. We’re still dealing with the consequences of that debate in 2020.
Before moving on to our own age of uncertainty in New Orleans and the Gret Stet of Louisiana, Ken Galbraith’s series can be found on YouTube in the play list format:
Phase-1 of the economic “reopening” is upon us. It’s too early to tell how successful it will be but I, for one, am awaiting phase-2 before emerging from my pandemic-imposed exile. The most restless among us are the ones out and about right now. Early reports of their conduct are not encouraging, especially in a city of extroverts such as New Orleans.
An important part of making phase-1 work is a willingness to wear a mask in public. I understand why people dislike masking. I have a size 8 head, which makes it difficult to find a mask that fits. Additionally, I’m almost as blind as a bloody bat and I’ve had a problem with my glasses fogging up while masked. It’s a pain but it’s imperative to protect others from your germs. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to keep my germs to myself and for you to do likewise. It’s one reason I’m staying in my Bat Cave for the time being.
The failure of many to mask has led to an outbreak of self-righteousness. It seems that masking when others do not gives some a sense of superiority. I’ve never been a fan of judgmental people even when they’re right. It’s best to *encourage* masking as opposed to denouncing the maskless. If you see a mask free person, move away to avoid them. It’s what we did in New Orleans after the storm when thousands of dead refrigerators lined the curbs. At least unmasked people don’t smell like spoiled seafood.
One of the most alarming things to happen in New Orleans during the “stay home” phase of the pandemic is the firing of sanitation workers. The workers, quite reasonably, maintain that they’re essential workers and want to be paid $15 per hour for collecting our garbage. This strikes me as a fair wage. Their bosses did not agree and fired the striking workers. In the “great Southern tradition,” one operator replaced their fired workers with convict labor. Metro Services claims that they’re helping to rehabilitate prisoners, not punish strikers. Yeah, right.
Many other employers are using the pandemic as an excuse to stick it to their employees. Sanitation workers are merely the most vulnerable and least educated among them. It reminds me of a story from my past. I know, everything reminds me of a story: I’m in the retrospective phase of my life. It’s all downhill from here, y’all.
Before Katrina and the Federal Flood, there was a group home for the mentally disabled across the street from me. Two of my favorite residents were trash truck hoppers. It was the only job a poor, mentally challenged black dude could find at that time. One of them was named Kenny. He earned spare money washing the neighbor’s cars. His catch phrase was, “It’s a beautiful day to wash your car,” even when he’d washed it the day before. He did a good job too. I miss Kenny and wish I knew what happened to him. So it goes.
In honor of Kenny, a brief musical interlude:
Back to 2020 and our economic and medical age of uncertainty. The second worst thing about the pandemic is how politicized it has become. The worst is obviously the death count of 90,000 nationally and 2,458 in Louisiana as of this writing.
Trumpism is the politics of grievances, problem solving is alien to the Kaiser of Chaos and his followers. For a time, it looked as if Gret Stet GOPers would buck the national trend and support Governor Edwards’ sensible anti-coronavirus policies. That ended with a thud as they attempted to reign in the Governor’s power to declare emergencies as reported by my colleague, Sue Lincoln. Even Steve Scalise thinks it’s a bad idea and he knows from bad ideas. He’s still inside the pocket of that malevolent clown, President* Pennywise.
What is needed to reduce uncertainty is not open movie theatres and eateries, but massive federal spending of the sort advocated by Ken Galbraith to prop up state and local governments as well as individuals. We are overly dependent on sales taxes in the Gret Stet of Louisiana and tourism dollars are no longer flowing into city coffers in New Orleans. It’s time to reboot the era of big government and save our citizenry from a plague that none of them is responsible for. Our old pal, Senator John Neely Kennedy, has chimed in with a Neelyism: “People in hell want ice water too.” Fuck you, Neely. I know you’re a professional skinflint but your shtick about the undeserving poor is part of the problem, not the solution.
Speaking of solutions, one way to reduce anxiety in our age of uncertainty is to come up with alternative funding sources. It’s high time to legalize marijuana in Louisiana; pun intended, it always is. I realize that a right-wing Republican controlled lege is unlikely to go there, but it should be considered. Colorado has a population of 1 million more than Louisiana and they took in over $300 million last year in pot sales taxes. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, y’all.
The last word goes to the late, great Peter Tosh: