With another week of negotiating about the American Rescue Plan upon us, it’s important to consider the language we’re using to talk about these economic relief and recovery plans. President Biden seems focused on rescue and recovery; the Senate Republican Gang X seems focused on economic recovery and stimulus. Is there a difference beyond all the nickel-and-diming and posturing about the costs?
Stimulus is about the economy. Focuses the conversation on maintaining the economic growth our wealth engine required to keep the wealthy from dipping into profits and savings. It is about the aggregate national economic wellbeing.
Support is about people. About people who need help taking care of themselves everyday. About the dis-aggregated experience of individual people and families who are struggling.
Support and stimulus are obviously related and that suffering is connected to the personal income effects of aggregate economic conditions. But if our lens is oriented toward the aggregate in an economy of accelerating inequality, the effects of our policies will never touch the people in need. So what are we going to prioritize: alleviating suffering or wealth preservation?
People need support — not just rescue or relief. Rescue suggests failure. The American people are not failing: they are suffering under failed policies insufficient to protect them. And one-time relief equals temporary relief. But we need everyone making long-term decisions about their health and the health of everyone around them. To do that, they need a longer horizon. To give people that, we need to promise that the support will last as long as it’s needed. If we do not know when people’s suffering will end, we should not provide relief based on arbitrary timelines but based on when it will no longer be necessary.
And the support we need is not just economic. Support is also about relieving the anxiety of not knowing how you’ll care for your family next month and giving people the confidence and safety necessary to prioritize their health — and everyone else’s. Our policies need to meet the desperation—all of it, need to meet the need—all of them, not be driven by the cynical pragmatism of the politics of the doable.
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