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  • Pandemic Capitalism

    From Broken Systems to Basic Incomes

  • Pandemic Capitalism: From Broken Systems to Basic Income

    Striving is the default in America. It’s a no-holds-barred, winner-take-all, “Screw you, I got mine!” free-for-all scrum.

    Our economic system isn't working for most of humanity. Governments have long kicked the can on major problems with band-aids, rather than undertake the required investments and deliver necessary systems change. The coronavirus has laid the folly plain.

    Pandemic Capitalism features essays on the possibility offered by Universal Basic Incomes, couched in the context of the global pandemic. In this age of growing precarity, and a growing threat of significant job loss due to technological advances in automation and artificial intelligence, we need to look at new ways of sharing the spoils of our increasingly productive economies, while also getting production back within planetary limits. Pandemic Capitalism looks at this mess from a systems lens and makes the case for a transition to a future that's more sustainable and just than the outcomes we currently endure.


  • Book Trailer

    Chris Oestereich discusses the ideas underpinning Pandemic Capitalism.

  • Table of Contents

    1. No Escape
    2. Precarity in a Pandemic
    3. Water, Then Food, Then Shelter
    4. There Can Be Only One
    5. The Necessity of Change
    6. Who Will Save the Economy?
    7. A New Paradigm
    8. The Road Not Yet Taken
    9. Is It a Cure-All?
    10. Sharing the Bounty
    11. What’s Broke Needs Fixin’
  • Reviews

    Midwest Book Review

    Pandemic Capitalism: From Broken Systems to Basic Incomes will reach readers who have a special interest in social, political, and economic issues. The book gathers a series of essays that discuss ongoing challenges that have been highlighted by the pandemic, as well as the possibility offered by Universal Basic Incomes. It addresses how such programs might work, and suggests possibilities for social and economic systems that would take better care of the planet and those living on it.

    These essays begin with the author conveying the idea of pandemic capitalism - our inescapable economic system - via a personal story that helps the reader view the circumstances from his perspective. They go on to examine our economic systems and interplays, move to discussions of the many systems that already existed on the brink, and concludes with a review of coronavirus-related developments to help contextualize the challenges.

    The heart of the story lies in discussions of positive economic paths that acknowledge obstacles to change while analyzing logical courses of action and the pros and cons of various approaches: "Universal basic incomes appear to have a lot to offer in improving the way that society functions, but it's possible that they might do more harm than good. Our social and economic systems are massively complex, emergent phenomena. We need to try lots of experiments and see what we learn. Plenty of potential pitfalls may lie waiting in the road ahead. Thinking through them is essential to crafting the soundest possible plan. Among such pitfalls are (1) the likelihood of rentseeking, (2) the curtailment of welfare programs, and (3) the financialization of basic incomes."

    Chris Oestereich does an excellent job of contrasting different economic and social responses to not just pandemic conditions, but modified social environments and goals for prosperity.

    Chapters remind readers that the power to effect such changes lies not just in government institutions and decisions, but individual approaches to wealth, health, and life itself: "Most of us don't see ourselves as having a voice in the construction and maintenance of our economic systems. We probably don't even recognize their creation. But the economy is not some sort of natural phenomenon. We continually invent it. Humans make the rules via the laws and regulations, and we further influence it via a multitude of forces, like advocacy, donations, and extortion. Once we recognize that people create our economic systems, we can begin to think about how we might have a hand in them."

    It should be cautioned that Pandemic Capitalism is not to be considered a game plan for easy transition. It is a call to action that challenges traditional thinking not just about politics and economics, but viable social systems and those which are detrimental to the planet. Its basic contention is that "...humanity isn't destined to be a laboratory for wickedness." Its core question, "What would the world look like if we enabled people to choose a collaborative orientation, rather than being forced into a competitive one?"

    There is nothing simple or singular about this approach, and Pandemic Capitalism thus is, of necessity, a straightforward but demanding contrast between the ideals and practical applications of economic and social change.

    The result is a study that questions who will save the economy and society, how, and what revised goals for social, economic and planetary health might look like.

    Anyone interested in the social, political, and economic long-term effects of the current pandemic, and the broader challenges it highlighted, needs to take a serious look at Pandemic Capitalism for a thought-provoking discussion of future possibilities. It concludes with an invitation unusual in the face of worldwide disaster: "While the coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc, it is affording us something precious - a moment to think. This is something the systems we live in have long robbed us of. We should not waste the opportunity."

    -Diane Donovan, Senior Reviewer

    The pandemic that we got going on around here has gotten me thinking of two separate but related things.
    The first is from the novel / literary artifact “Naked Lunch”, where Burroughs described the titular meal as: "The title means exactly what the words say: naked lunch, a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork."

    The second is from Warren Buffet describing the Minskyian Ponzi finance, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked.”
    Both are about moments where everything freezes for a moment and we are allowed reflection in that period between when you realize the fragile bowl has slipped from your hand but right before it really starts falling – you really don’t have time to think but you’re just reacting. It is the filmstrip quality of living life as through a downtempo strobe light is all you have for illumination.
    We live moment to moment but need those periods where the moments stop and we can take a moment to reflect. I think that now is the time. The initial fear of the COVID-19 virus has passed as has the initial response in too-spotty but expensive fiscal and monetary reactions from the state (here I’m American-centric because that’s where I’m at).
    What the pandemic has done is really exposed where all the cracks have already been. Chris Oestereich in his book “Pandemic Capitalism” looks at both the problem of the virus and the early reactions but really focuses on how we can use these moments to create a more fair and equitable system. This is something that Oestereich has examined before. His Wicked Problems Collaborative put out a nice collection looking at the issue of inequality from several different angles only a few years back. The solution that he focuses on is the need for a basic income so that people have the money in times of crisis right now. This is especially pertinent because had we some such policy in place, we would not be in so much of a scramble trying to create second and third best options that had the political convenience but won’t be extended.
    Of course, I worry about a couple of things. I doubt that we have the will. Yang ran explicitly on a Basic Income platform and that couldn’t find a real traction amongst the primary voters in America’s center-left party. Then there’s the piece where as a Marxist I can applaud the idea of improving the material conditions for the workers and other citizens, but such policies are just tinkering at the edges and does nothing to change the social relationships that are characteristic of capitalism.
    Pandemic Capitalism is timely not just because it is of the moment but also in left wing books that it stands against. I also just finished Professor Kelton’s primer on MMT, “The Deficit Myth” and though I am incredibly sympathetic to the MMT framework for fiscal policy at the state level, what they mostly propose, as a safety net is a job guarantee – centering work at all times. I am not the biggest fan of work. I happened to be part of the crew at the Big Rock Candy Mountain who hung the jerk who invented it, but on a broader perspective it is times like this where we need to ratchet down the work. (Though to be fair, I have seen people say that the job that would be guaranteed right now would be a job of staying home but that seems like extra steps). This debate is not explicit in the text of the book but exists in the argument over what is to be done, and Pandemic Capitalism makes a concise, forceful argument.

    Socialist Standard

    The author is right to say that we live ‘on a planet where much of the food that is grown goes to waste, we destroy unsold garments, and homes sit empty’. The question he asks about what the world could look like if people were able ‘to choose a collaborative orientation, rather than being forced into a competitive one’ is also entirely pertinent to the endeavours of socialists to open up people’s imagination to the possibility of a different kind of world, one of cooperative work at all levels and free access to all goods and services, where, in the words of one of this book’s chapter titles, we would all be ‘sharing the bounty’.


    (He) believes that such rents would protect workers and reduce pressure on resources. It could help change mindsets in which we accumulate and constantly demand more from our economies. He asks the right questions about the need for UBI, and feeds a debate that is not over!

    Kriss Avery

    For those wishing to explore the compelling reasons for universal basic incomes (UBI), the author offers an update on the obvious ones. But less traveled are the back roads to our assumptions: the profit motive, the ‘invisible hand’ of the marketplace, winner-takes-all competition, and other unexamined beliefs that have run the course. These paradigms need to be challenged, for they have laid out a roadmap headed for a cliff.



    The Covid-19 pandemic has totally changed American society, maybe permanently. Perhaps the biggest change has been economic. Millions of people were laid off, because nearly everything was closed. Some of those jobs are starting to return, but other jobs are gone forever. What is a lower-paid retail or hospitality worker (usually a minority) to do? Enter the Universal Basic Income, or UBI.
    It is a monthly cash payment, from the government, that goes right into a person's bank account. It is intended to provide some financial stability while a person is looking for work, or waiting for their job to return. No doubt, some people will use that money to buy unhealthy things, like liquor or cigarettes. Most people will use it to stock up on groceries, or pay overdue bills, or make a long-delayed trip to the doctor. That money will actually be spent, thereby helping the economy, instead of being stashed in some investment account. Isn't nearly anything better that pushing more people into the confusing and overwhelmed welfare system?


    In a country processing unequaled wealth, poverty has no excuse to exist. In America it does because our willingness to except it as a natural by-product of capitalism. In this book the author succinctly explains why that zero sum assumption is a cancer that ultimately will lead our “American experiment” to failure. Mr Oestereich offers real solutions to elevate the least of us for the benefit of all of us. He offered several solutions that were new to me. He explains basic income equity and it’s benefit to societal health. A must read for independent thinkers.

    Our economy's premised on the theory that, when we all work toward our individual best interests, capitalism's "invisible hand" will see to it that society's welfare is also best served.

    Covid-19 has introduced a perplexing twist, which Chris Oestereich explores in "Pandemic Capitalism." What should we do when society's well-being calls for some people -- in fact, a lot of people -- to step away from their jobs and stay home for an extended period to quell a pandemic with the potential to kill millions of people? Especially when most families live paycheck-to-paycheck and, during a pandemic stay-at-home effort, would quickly run out of money for even basics like food, shelter, utilities and medicine?
    Oestereich, a scholar, innovator, and founder of the Wicked Problems Collaborative, examines the arguments about a universal basic income and other proposals that could mitigate someone's need, in the current crisis, to choose between food and shelter or risking the spread of a deadly contagion. In that context, "Pandemic Capitalism" is as timely as this morning's headlines.
    On a broader level, Oestereich excels in applying new perspectives to reconsider practices and policies we may take for granted, raising questions about the value judgments underlying some of society's assumptions and prompting discussion of potential new ways to fight waste, inequality or inefficiency in our economy.
    "Pandemic Capitalism" is concise, thought-provoking and insightful. It's well worth a read.

    Reading the news and keeping up with the current events of late feels like watching a slow-motion train wreck. Nearly every choice or statement or opinion seems somehow ill-advised and unhelpful. With seemingly nowhere to turn, I have found myself lately feeling somewhat exasperated, out of realistic options for even imagining a better response to this crisis.
    Chris Oestereich's book, in the midst of this, was a bracing, refreshing look at the problem with a common sense, practical, yet scholarly perspective. The descriptions are clear, and logical, and the prescriptions are presented in a way that one almost wonders how they could be controversial. I began reading this book not having very much considered the idea of basic income. Indeed, I am sure that many people hardly even thought of this idea before COVID-19 swept the United States and the world. Now though, I found myself grateful to Oestereich for producing this book in time to be read during the midst of the crisis. It feels urgent, necessary, and, best of all, reasonable.

    If you, like me, feel starved of good news or sound, measured, optimistic, and realistic advice in this crisis, read this book. It will show a way forward, and hopefully, prove a boon to you in helping get this country through this.

    I had followed Andrew Yang's campaign for the Democratic nomination for POTUS with interest but I don't think I fully comprehended his central proposal, that of a Universal Basic Income. Author Chris Oestereich has put the idea into terms I can understand, and if I can understand it I'd think anyone could. The author goes beyond the idea of a UBI though and into problems that face us pertaining to sustainability and the environment. The book is very readable and packs a lot of good information in a small number of pages. This book should be read by anyone interested in how we proceed forward as a society and as humanity.


    In crisp and lucid prose, Oestereich argues that the present circumstances -- of widespread disease and resulting economic collapse -- offer a historic opportunity to institute a universal basic income. Such a measure would not only re-found the economy on firmer foundations, he argues, but would also lessen the staggering inequalities that have emerged in recent decades. His book should become standard reading for anyone interested in this critical debate.


    In his new and engaging book, “Pandemic Capitalism”, Mr. Oestereich joins the clamour for ushering in a scheme of Universal Basic Income (UBI) so that people of all strata irrespective of caste, colour, creed, sex, religion and other extraneous factors, can lead a life of dignity, self-esteem, and self-sustenance.

    Overall, it was a well-written book full of interesting points. The author did a good job of making his content academic and informed, but still understandable by those who are not experts in the field of economics.

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