A friend of mine plans to attend a rally in his state’s capital. “Open up the country,” he’ll demand. He’ll be marching in the name of liberty.
Loved ones counsel vigilance. Stay home. If you must go out, wear a mask and gloves. Wash your hands. Engaged in social distancing. Anything for safety. Another looks at me wide-eyed with wonder: Have you seen how COVID-19 has decimated communities of color? Where’s the justice in all this?
It’s a season of extremes, but I sense the real difficulties are to come, and I am not sure we’ve learned anything of value in our response thus far to the corona pandemic. It turns out this viral scourge won’t transform us into better people. We’ll be the same old bundle of contradictions we were before the deaths started.
In fact, I suspect we may be much worse off.
Dystopian fiction, visions of a world to come, a world in which something has gone horribly wrong, fascinate me. One thing these works often have in common is an assumption of general social collapse. The United States almost never survives. The country dissolves into warring regions. (Consider, for those inclined to read such a work, “FKA USA: A Novel,” by Reed King, or the Centenal Cycle, by Malka Older -- start with volume one, “Infomocracy.”)
Adversity drives wedges between people. The center doesn’t hold. When pressed, folks align with those near at hand and distant bonds snap.
Those bonds are about to go pop in the United States.
For several weeks, I watched with wonder the daily press briefings conducted by President Trump and his senior advisors. Then I couldn‘t take it any longer. The bitterness between the president and the press repulses. I imagine the country would be better off just now if we just gave pistols to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and the President. Let them duel on the condition that the loser simply shut up.
But the real drama will come later this year, during the 2020 election, or thereafter, when the bill for the disaster relief comes due. I fear we will come as close to civil war as we’ve been in 150 years.
Consider: Our federal deficit was already out of control before the pandemic struck, and inequality between the one percent and the rest of us divided the country into haves and have-nots. Pour trillions of dollars of debt – the cost of the disaster relief -- onto that deficit and the need for increased taxation is obvious.
On whom will the tax burden fall?
On the horizon the development of a doctrine of life chances, an imaginative construct that will focus on the opportunities folks from different races, ethnicities, genders and orientations have in life. Social classes used to serve the work of the life chance doctrine, but in an error of identity politics, class is too narrow. Now that the bottom has fallen out of pluralism, and we cherish difference for difference’s sake, All Lives Matter. Everyone deserves an equal chance.
How to accomplish that?
Progressive taxes based on identity, with social utility scores attached to each person. Enjoy a privilege, then pay a premium in your taxes, with that increase redistributed to someone less privileged than yourself. Prior to the pandemic, we already talked about reparations to people of color. That’s just another way of referring to identity-based tax incidence.
Proponents will simply call this social justice.
Already, the craziness is in the air, a pandemic of our own creation. The United States Postal Service is in trouble and no bail out in sight? The NAACP claims that’s because the service’s employees are largely persons of color. COVID-19 hit minorities hard; that’s because their socio-economic conditions are difficult. The pandemic is used, as is everything these days, to prove systemic racism.
Tax, redistribute and achieve equality.
That will be the defining wave of the next generation.
That this wave corresponds with changing demographics, in which Caucasians become a minority, will make it easier to sell identity-based tax policy. Big data and social service will make it easier to serve accomplish this policy. Will we each receive a score that determines our tax basis? Privileged while males like me might get a score of 125; folks less privileged receive lesser scores. The higher the score, the higher the tax. The squabbling among the new Identitarians to see who is the most entitled of all will be a grim sort of entertainment.
Such a regime will not survive in the United States. The republic will splinter before folk agree to identity-based taxes or reparations. Yet momentum is building. The recovery from this pandemic will accelerate the discussion. There’s not an easy, and perhaps not a happy, ending to this mess.
I may be wrong. Indeed, I hope I am wrong. But sometimes you don’t need a weatherman to see which way the wind blows. You need only to open your eyes.
Next: Some counter-dystopian medicine from Microsoft’s Kevin Scott.