The inequality we live with every day gets magnified in moments of crisis. When the United States began locking down in March to prevent the spread of COVID-19, most people experienced profound disruptions to their daily lives. The spiraling economic consequences of this crisis are yet to be fully understood, but it has become clear that this crisis is no great equalizer.
It is revealing to see what someone saves from a burning building — we should be paying attention to what politicians prioritize during the pandemic. It is also important to note how we rebuild after a crisis. The model that Naomi Klein elaborates in her book The Shock Doctrine is a useful critical lens that she has applied to many situations. This piece mentions one example from Hurricane Katrina, which Klein calls “one of the most shocking stories I’ve ever covered.” Similar to the coronavirus pandemic, the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina was a combined result of natural and human factors. In both cases, the government’s neglectful response to the situation caused immense and avoidable suffering. But in 2005, rather than seeing the flooding of New Orleans as a tragedy, some politicians saw it as an opportunity. Condos were developed where public housing had been, and a group of lawmakers (led by current Vice President Mike Pence) put forth a list of “Pro-Free-Market Ideas for Responding to Hurricane Katrina and High Gas Prices” which enabled charter schools to replace public schools in the city, among many other things.
Corporations must profit at all times, and in moments of crisis they can rely on governments to help them do so more easily. In the months to come, we should be on the lookout for profiteering, and push to turn this into a moment for change, not a re-entrenching of the power relations that exist. There are smaller battles, such as the community resistance to gentrification addressed in this comic, and larger battles like the fight against racism and policing that is being waged now.