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  • Writer's pictureKaren Young

Crisis? What Crisis? Let's Be Prepared

Welcome to SWOT Sunday!


Weakness #2 Escalating crises favor the prepared - and we’re not prepared.  As Milton Friedman said, “Only a crisis…produces real change...The actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around... the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”  Why do we need to get ready?


It worked for the neoliberals.  When “common sense” Keynesian economics failed in the 1980’s, they had been pushing “smaller government” and austerity for decades, and they got their program into place (Margaret Thatcher: “There is no alternative,” “There is no such thing as society”).


We need to be ready with ideas, policies and constituencies all lined up to win a crisis.

Shortly after Trump was elected, I had several apocalyptic dreams.  In one of them, I heard a disembodied voice – like I would imagine the voice of God – saying, “You’ve got to be ready.”  I keep hearing that voice in my head.


Of course, it’s hard to think about the future when feel like you’re already in a crisis, if not multiple crises.  But someone’s got to do it.


What Crises Do We Need to Prepare For?


As progressives, we need to consider what potential crisis or crises could do the most damage to our political hopes and dreams.  I am speaking more of a political crisis than other types of crises, though of course they can be related.  Of course, our organizations need crisis management plans just like businesses have (or should have).  We’d also want to consider the bigger picture of what is most likely to happen, and what damage to the movement could be caused in different scenarios, as well as how we should respond.  As the neoliberals proved, a crisis can also be a golden opportunity.


I’m really hoping that people will recognize that another Trump term would be a crisis that we don’t want to experience, and come together for President Biden. 


An example of successful preparation for a crisis that comes to mind is how the ACLU took Trump both seriously and literally when he talked about his Muslim travel ban on the campaign trail in 2016.  They were ready, and had lawyers at JFK airport within hours of when the ban was announced, with legal strategies already in place.


Example:  The Crisis of Work


Here’s an example of something that is in the air right now:  what the book Inventing the Future calls “the crisis of work.”  They point to related developments like recent advances of automation – which definitely includes artificial intelligence – and increases in precarity, meaning people working in the gig economy and other precarious, part-time and low-wage, no-benefit jobs. 


The authors expect that the number of people who can’t find work will expand massively around the globe. Since most people are dependent on jobs and paychecks to meet their basic needs, this will be a crisis not just for the jobless individuals, but for society.


The authors imagine that in our current society, these are some of the responses that might come: “increasingly coercive measures like expanded workfare, heightened antagonism over immigration, and mass incarceration for those who resist being cast aside.”


But it doesn’t have to be that way.  We could be building broad support for an economy in which people are not dependent on wage labor for survival.  We could sell ideas like people staying home creates less pollution, and the societal benefits of children having more time with parents.   We could fight for immigrants and other “surplus people” to have a right to stay here, and make it harder for government to control people’s movements.   We could fight for an extended safety net as a necessary component of a “post work” society. 


When Andrew Yang built his Presidential campaign around universal basic income (UBI), it did a lot to raise the profile of this idea.  Now there are a number of experiments with the idea happening around the world, like this one in Compton, CA and this one in Finland.  Andy Stern, former head of SEIU, wrote a book about it called Raising the Floor.  We need to do a lot more, though, if we want to get UBI taken up as a solution when the crisis hits.


Will we be ready when this issue blooms into a full-on crisis?  I hope so!  But it won’t happen unless we prioritize thinking about scary things and planning how to respond.


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