Coronavirus Shows How Inequity Makes Us Vulnerable (Episode 94)

Date: 18 Mar 2020 | posted in: Building Local Power, Retail | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

On this episode of Building Local Power, host Jess Del Fiacco talks with Stacy Mitchell, Co-Director of ILSR, and Christopher Mitchell, Director of ILSR’s Community Broadband initiative, about how communities are responding to the unprecedented challenge of Covid-19. The pandemic is already drastically impacting local businesses, and is on track to further exacerbate existing inequalities — making it impossible for people without high quality Internet access at home to work remotely, for example, and making it difficult for people without paid sick time to protect themselves and others. 

They discuss: 

  • How broadband networks will respond as more and more people work remotely and schools transition to online learning. 
  • The ways in which this crisis is shining a light on the lack of social safety net in the United States.
  • How market consolidation has made supply lines more vulnerable, resulting in empty shelves in the grocery store and price gouging on Amazon.   
  • The current lack of basic protection for many of Amazon’s workers.
  • How a robust local economy can act as an “immune system” and help communities weather crises.
  • Potential policy responses to support local businesses, and why a pay roll tax cut wouldn’t help the people who need it most.


“This whole thing has exposed how incredibly vulnerable we are as a people, as a society… In my more hopeful moments in all of this I’m hoping that we’ll all wake up… We can’t operate from this standpoint and be a happy and prosperous society.”


Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

America is Acting Like a Failed State by Derek Thompson, The Atlantic

What Would a Proper Coronavirus Stimulus Plan Look Like? by John Cassidy, The New Yorker 

How Will Broadband Networks Handle Quarantine Congestion? by Christopher Mitchell, Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Jess Del Fiacco: Hello and welcome to this episode of the Building Local Power podcast from the Institute for Local Self Reliance. This is Jess Del Fiacco, the Communications Manager here at the Institute for Local Self Reliance, and today I’m joined remotely by Chris Mitchell who directs our community broadband work and Stacy Mitchell, the co-director of ILSR, and we’re going to talk all about COVID-19 and how people and communities are responding.
Chris Mitchell: You’ll find that I don’t have my normal sass because I’m totally floored by the situation. No, that’s a lie, I’m still sarcastic and totally without any seriousness.
Jess Del Fiacco: We all have to cope in our own way, Chris.
Chris Mitchell: So I have to say that I wanted to start by just talking a little bit about this generally. We’re going to try and publish this as fast as possible because I feel like half of it could be irrelevant in 24 hours.
Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah, really you never know what the next half hour is going to bring us right now.
Chris Mitchell: Yes. And I’ll say something that Jess and I talked about previously when we were doing other things, and that’s that now is not a good time to read science fiction about post-apocalyptic type stuff. I thought it might be, I no longer think it is.
Stacy Mitchell: Oh that’s funny. You know I stopped by my local bookstore, and this was last week before we’d all completely surrendered to being stuck in our homes, but I swung by and she said that they’d seen an uptick in online orders, they sell online, and also in people buying novels about futuristic dystopian events. And her explanation was that people sometimes need to go to a darker place in order to be able to get through a difficult time, but possibly there are now a bunch of people who’ve bought those novels who are coming to the same conclusion you are, Chris.
Chris Mitchell: Well I may be responsible for the care of a four year old 24/7 soon, and that’s a pretty dark place. I’m actually in the middle of reading Station 11, which is one that’s been out for a few years, I think, and Jess had just read it too, and-
Jess Del Fiacco: I just read it three weeks ago. Great timing on my part.
Chris Mitchell: Yes. So I have to say, I do love those sorts of things, but it’s a little close to home.
Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah. So speaking of dystopian futures, as our federal government seems to be maybe not doing an ideal job of managing this ginormous crisis, we’re seeing other voices kind of step in and fill the vacuum of leadership that we need right now. Do you guys want to talk a little bit about how local leaders and communities are responding to this?
Chris Mitchell: Yeah. I’ll just jump in first. And I’m a sports person, I grew up playing sports, I still run a sports photography company in which I am regularly around sports. And I think of lots of reasons of why I think sports are really important, but one of the things that I feel like we’ve seen is that sports have led in some of the … I don’t want to say the early stage of the crisis, but the time of the crisis in which the public really needed to become engaged. I happened to have a trip planned last week, which is the week before or the week in which I think a lot of things happened. And so I think I traveled Tuesday and Wednesday on a short trip. And my thinking was, “I’ll just go and get it done. I’m probably not going to do any more traveling for a while.” And it was in the course of that trip, coming home, when the NBA canceled the season, when the NCAA called off the March Madness, after several of the conferences had actually first said they would play the games without crowds and then said they wouldn’t play them at all.
Chris Mitchell: And this was the sort of leadership that was lacking at the federal level where we were trying to get a sense of how exactly should we react and when. And I traveled through airports and potentially put myself at risk, and the people around me, more importantly, at risk, in part because I didn’t feel like it was the time yet to self quarantine. But it probably was; the federal government totally failed to start making that clear and fortunately private sports associations did. And I’m not in the habit of praising them frequently, so this is pretty high praise for me.
Stacy Mitchell: Exactly. I mean and we also had talk about Amazon and the Gates Foundation teaming up to distribute test kits to those who needed it in the Seattle area. And again, I guess in some ways we’ve seen examples of local governments, of businesses and so on, stepping in and playing some kind of leadership role, but it’s also just a terrible indictment of the federal government. Derek Thompson had a really good piece in the Atlantic about this a few days ago called America Is Acting Like A Failed State.
Jess Del Fiacco: Well yeah, I think that’s just … all the issues that we have with philanthropy generally right now I think are just extremely clear and that maybe the Gates Foundation will take pity on my neighborhood and send us some tests; that shouldn’t be our plan.
Stacy Mitchell: No, not at all. And we already have problems with corporations that effectively govern different aspects of our lives that have so much power. And the idea that that’s what … they have essentially, in various ways, weakened our federal government, not the only force weakening our federal government, but they have done that. And so then to sort of have to feel like we’re stuck with whatever they can offer us in these times is really frustrating.
Stacy Mitchell: But it has been good to see local governments getting out ahead. I wish that they weren’t in that position, but again, it’s been remarkable to see that at least some cities in some places have been moving quickly to try to deal with this.
Chris Mitchell: We’ve talked about this a little bit in the past, but I think it’s worth noting, while we have concerns about the Gates Foundation in particular for doing this, and I think in my part it’s not because I’m anti Gates Foundation, but a recognition of how the Gates Foundation came to have that kind of power in which we saw a weakening of the state and federal government in many ways, in that Microsoft effectively throughout the ’90s and early 2000’s was able to tax the economy through prices it was charging for its software because there wasn’t really a competitive market or proper regulation. That allowed the private amassing of all this wealth that then went to the Foundation, which has been used, depending on your perspective, to either help certain school policies or to harm public schools. And now doing really good work in Africa and other places on infectious diseases. But nonetheless, we all paid for the Gates Foundation to have that money that it’s now distributing in the way that a few people see fit. And so it’s that recognition, I really am glad that I get money from the Ford Foundation; I’d prefer if we had an economy that didn’t allow that amount of money to be amassed privately. Or differently I guess, that just allowed for better distribution so we didn’t see those kinds of private amassing of power.
Stacy Mitchell: That’s right. It was also really disturbing to see the bill that came out of the House, the legislation that passed, the emergency response, exempted all of these big companies like Amazon from having to pay the new sick time provisions for this virus. Meanwhile, midsize companies are subject to those provisions. In what world that logic makes any sense, I just can’t figure out.
Chris Mitchell: Yes. There used to be that whoever has the guns makes the rules, and now it’s like whoever has the most lobbyists gets to do that.
Jess Del Fiacco: So Chris, to kind of move forward here a little bit, and I will probably edit that out, but just so listeners know, my internet just had a little blip in the recording process here. So, speaking of that, everyone I know with an office job, everyone who can is working from home this week, schools are moving to online classes; is my internet going to start going down more frequently? What should we expect and what networks are going to be able to handle all this traffic?
Chris Mitchell: Well Jess, I do not think anyone’s internet access is about to get better. We’re seeing-
Jess Del Fiacco: Dang.
Chris Mitchell: If you think about it, in many cases people have decent access at home and they go into offices, and increasingly middle sized and larger sized businesses will have some kind of fiber optic or high capacity connection in the office, and at home they’ll usually have a cable connection, which is pretty robust. It allows really fast downloads and moderately fast uploads depending on the technology. There’s also millions of people that have cabled technology that’s older and not as good. But for most Americans, they’re getting their internet access at home from a cable company and it’s been upgraded several times over the past five or six years. And so I think those networks will be okay.
Chris Mitchell: Now, those are also the networks that tend to cost the most, and so the households that are on the edge financially, they’re more likely to be on a DSL network, or households that are outside the range of cable networks where they may only have an option of DSL from the phone company. Those networks tend to be a bit slower. I think those ones are really going to struggle as people use them more. And I think we’ll really see that in the upload direction as people are trying to do conference calls and things like that, trying to send big documents. So the result is that I think most of us will see that we can still get things done on the cable networks, but there are some people who are predicting that those will also not be able to meet the challenge. So we’ll have to see who’s got the better sense of that in coming weeks.
Chris Mitchell: But I think the thing that’s most important to recognize is that unfortunately, like so many things in the current economy, the people who have had the most historical disadvantage will in many more ways be harmed. It’s not just like the people in the lower 10 or 20% that have been historically marginalized will be slightly disadvantaged; they will be many more times disadvantaged than a person in the middle class who can afford a better internet connection.
Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah. I know my mom, for example, works at a public library that’s going to shut down in the next couple of days for the indefinite future, so people without internet access at home don’t even have that option anymore. I mean, do you have any idea on what options are out there? What are people trying to kind of make happen for options beyond the McDonald’s parking lot? Or is that it?
Chris Mitchell: Well, I think there’s the McDonald’s parking lot, there’s unfortunately school parking lots, there are parking lots outside of Starbucks. But I actually think that parking lots around known wifi areas, libraries included, will be common. And unfortunately here’s where we get into more health equity; not only are we inconveniencing people who cannot afford decent broadband that works in their home, we’re going to put them at greater risk. Because, I mean we’re trying to limit where people come into contact with each other, but if people every day or night are basically forced to go and find these wifi hotspots, they are going to come into contact with each other and we may see increased transmission. I mean it’s almost as though if you were tasked with figuring out how to really screw over the people who have been most screwed over, this is the kind of scenario you might come up with if you were particularly cruel, Jess.
Jess Del Fiacco: But so we are seeing some of the big telecom companies do some things to try to make it a little easier on people. I mean, I know we were seeing some data caps being removed, people are pausing any shutoffs. I think in some cases Comcast is offering free service for a couple of months for qualified people.
Chris Mitchell: Right, and so is Charter Spectrum, and it hurts me to say positive things about them in particular, but it’s a bad time to make jokes in that I do think almost all the internet service providers, the small companies, the big companies who have gotten more press for it, are making similar decisions, which is to try and make sure that many more people will have access than they would have previously. Which is to say that I think low income households will be able to sign up for 60 days of free service from many of the cable and telephone and new fiber companies. We’re just seeing all kinds of people making a pledge like that. That’s significant. We’re seeing the data caps being removed; I think that’s less significant, those things generally weren’t really necessary anyway.
Chris Mitchell: But you know, as critical as I am, and I totally agree with Stacy, in fact, I learned a lot of this from Stacy, I think we can both be thankful that the people running those big cable and telephone companies are being responsible and acting in a way that will benefit people and not just using their power solely to maximize private gain. While we can also argue that we should have an economy that’s structured in a better way and so that we frankly have better internet access for all; there’s actual working markets and then we’re not dependent on a few people making the right decisions out of the goodness of their hearts.
Stacy Mitchell: I think that’s right. This whole thing has exposed how incredibly vulnerable we are as a people, as a society, and how many people are incredibly vulnerable. I mean from the lack of healthcare, the lack of paid sick time, all of the effects that you just described with the web, Chris, which it honestly hadn’t occurred to me that all of this new traffic was going to cause networks to seize up. And of course people who are least able to afford good service or who don’t live in the right places most effected by that, with the ramifications, I’m thinking, of all of these school kids being at home and unable maybe to do the distance learning that’s being set up as a result of bad internet connections. And having allowed this kind of stuff to fester and grow, we’re at a moment where the consequences are just so glaring. And in my more hopeful moments in all of this, I’m hoping that we’ll all kind of wake up to the fact that we just can’t operate from this standpoint and still be a happy and prosperous society. And we haven’t been a happy and prosperous society and we’re now in a moment when it’s like really the reasons for it are just staring us in the face.
Stacy Mitchell: And so do we come out of this with things like, “Yeah, we need to have universal healthcare,” “Yeah, everybody should have paid time off if they’re sick”? Those kinds of changes. And yes, will we insist on the idea that broadband is critical infrastructure at this point and that it needs to be something that there is a public oversight and a provision to make sure it’s there, available to everyone? So hopefully that’s where we’re going to come out from all of this, but the coming weeks and months are going to be perilous.
Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah. To that end, Chris, I mean what lessons do you want people to take away from this in regards to our internet infrastructure? How could we avoid this kind of trouble in the future?
Chris Mitchell: Well, I think people should listen to me a lot more often and …
Jess Del Fiacco: Wait, that’s your solution to everything, Chris.
Chris Mitchell: Right. I have to say that I do have a distrust of anyone who says, “This sudden, new, unexpected event proves everything I’ve always been saying.” I do think that it will be curious to see how the networks cope with this. Five years ago, if this had happened, I think almost everyone’s internet would have gone down. I think that the cable companies, the big ones led by Comcast, have made upgrades that allow us to be where we are. In some ways they did that because Google actively moved forward and in doing so actually helped many local governments and others to prioritize investments and justify these high capacity networks. And so I say all that just to say that the world’s a muddy place and I think it is worth noting that companies that, again, we can be very critical of, also are doing things that are in some ways improving some problems.
Jess Del Fiacco: Thanks for tuning into this episode of the Building Local Power podcast. If you’re enjoying this conversation, we hope you’ll consider making a donation to the Institute For Local Self Reliance. Not only does your support underwrite this podcast, but it also helps us produce all the resources and research we make available for free on our website. Please take a minute and go to to make a contribution. Any amount is welcome and sincerely appreciated. That’s Thank you so much and now back to the show.
Chris Mitchell: But fundamentally, if we get caught again in a few years and we don’t have robust connectivity to everyone’s home, then shame on us, because I mean right now we’re asking children, and adults, frankly, who may have to drive them in many cases, to put their health at potentially greater risk to go somewhere to do their internet access remotely because we let big companies write the rules of how we are expanding the internet to everyone. And we really need to make sure that we are expanding the internet to everyone, and one of the ways to do that is to allow local governments more freedom to address this problem. And as we’ve said many times, there’s about 20 states that limit it and in all of the states we have local governments that have not taken it seriously enough. And so I would say that people should recognize local government matters, state government matters. We need to make sure we’re putting people in that we can trust to do the good things and that we’re holding them responsible. Even if we’re members of the same party, we’re holding them responsible if they don’t get it done.
Jess Del Fiacco: Thank you for that very comprehensive answer, Chris. So let’s move over to Stacy just to get your perspective on … I know I’ve seen and heard from people that as they panic and feel like they need to stock up on supplies, buy a case of hand sanitizer or whatever-
Chris Mitchell: A truckload of toilet paper.
Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah, oh my God, the toilet paper. Try finding a roll right now. So they’re going to Amazon and there’s tweets that are basically like, “Thank God, where would we be without Amazon to mail me my toilet paper,” or whatever. But has the consolidation and market power that Amazon has gotten for itself actually made communities more vulnerable in times like this?
Stacy Mitchell: Certainly this consolidation of so many industries into just a few hands, the power of these centralized companies like Amazon, has in various ways made us more vulnerable. I mean it’s certainly contributed significantly to rising inequality and the fact that a lot of people are very much on the edge of being able to meet their needs in good times and now are really in quite serious trouble. And that includes a lot of the people who work either directly or indirectly for Amazon, working in its warehouses. Many people are temps, many of the folks who drive deliveries are either subcontractors with a truck or are freelance flex drivers in sort of an Uber model. So there are a lot of folks involved in the whole system of Amazon’s logistics that lack basic workplace protections and are very much at risk. And it’s not clear at this moment that Amazon has any real intention to protect them from this virus and also from the fallout of potentially being out of work.
Stacy Mitchell: The other way that it has made us more vulnerable is that it’s meant that a lot of communities lack internally the economic capacity to look out for themselves. And it’s meant that a lot of communities lack the economic capacity locally to have some wherewithal to meet the challenges of this moment.
Chris Mitchell: What do you mean by that? So if we had more local stores, how do we react differently?
Stacy Mitchell: It shows up in different ways. I was struck this weekend, I went to visit my local grocery store, which is a locally owned food co op here in Portland, and it was busy like all of the other grocery stores. And one of the things that was really striking is that they had, for one, a lot more food on the shelves. And I asked a manager about it and he said it was because they have these relationships with local farmers who have just stepped up their production. And the local farmers who normally deliver a lot to restaurants are now just delivering all of that to the grocery store. And so their shelves were much more stocked than, say, Whole Foods, which I also stopped by and was completely empty. So that’s one thing.
Stacy Mitchell: But the other thing that was really interesting about going to the food co op was that they had decided to discount paper towels, disinfecting wipes, toilet paper; it was like 40% off. And meanwhile what we have seen on Amazon’s site is that there have been huge price increases for those items. And some of that’s third party sellers who are taking advantage of this moment and price gouging, raising their prices on hand sanitizer and the like by a lot. But we also know from a report that the US Public Interest Research Group did that Amazon’s prices have been elevated on all of those things for several weeks now. Basically their algorithms kind of detected that there was growing demand for these things as coronavirus started to be in the news and instead of discounting it, they’ve done the opposite, they’ve actually raised those prices. And so that’s just one small way in which a local business operated with decisions that are made by the people who live in the community are making decisions about their business, but also are making it from a kind of human perspective in terms of what they think is needed in this moment. And the way in which a large corporation that is removed from those things and really has all of this sort of profit maximizing imperatives of a large corporation is making a different set of decisions.
Chris Mitchell: One of the things that I think about a lot based on your work in the past, more on, I think, how Walmart in particular has driven out local businesses, is the way the sociology of a community can change. And here we’re talking, I think, more about smaller towns where if you have multiple local leaders, both elected and business leaders and things like that, people who own local shops who are fixtures of the community, the local telephone company, if it’s owned by often a family and that sort of thing; they would be people you might turn to in times of uncertainty to see how to take your cues. And one of the things that I worry about is that we’re less likely to turn to that person who’s a manager at Walmart or someone like that and we’re more likely to maybe turn on cable news, which is possibly the single most detrimental force in the world today, I think.
Stacy Mitchell: I think that’s right. There’s a lot of sociological evidence that suggests that locally owned businesses and local institutions are kind of like an immune system for your community; that the greater the degree to which you have those things and they’re robust, what researchers have found is that when there is some kind of adversity, communities that have local institutions and local businesses are able to respond to it much more effectively and get back on their feet much more quickly. The causality of that isn’t entirely clear, but it seems to be a few different things. One is that if your way of running your errands and conducting your daily life brings you into contact with lots of your neighbors, and obviously we’re all avoiding contact right now, but just in general, you’re more likely to know one another and to have a broader sense of what’s happening in your community and a sense of place and connection that makes you contribute to civic organizations and local government and just to create the kind of place where there’s good collective decision making happening and strong connections among people.
Stacy Mitchell: And then the other thing is what you’re describing, which is that you have a set of local business owners who know how to do things and who have productive capacity, so that within the context of facing a challenge or a threat, that productive capacity, the decision making is local, it can be harnessed in various ways and turned to deal with that threat in the way that the Walmart manager has no authority and you’ve got decision making happening in Bentonville, Arkansas that’s really unable to be responsive to those local needs in that kind of way. And so examples of where we’ve seen this are in the aftermath of earthquakes or natural disasters; communities that have local businesses tend to recover faster. And then we also see it just in normal life; there’s data showing that communities that have a lot of local businesses tend to have stronger measures of overall health, public health. And that again seems to be related to the fact that they have what sociologists refer to as stronger collective efficacy. Basically they’re better able to work together to solve problems.
Jess Del Fiacco: I know I’ve seen a lot of local businesses kind of changing how they’re operating quickly and adapting fast to serve the needs of their community as best they can. I think the creative and kind of most endearing one was the bakery that is pre-bagging all of their bread and kind of hanging it out for customers to just pick up, instead of any kind of over the counter, passing by leaning over and breathing on things happening. So I think it’s really interesting to see how creative local business owners are getting to solve this problem.
Stacy Mitchell: Well, it’s important to just pause for a moment and just note that I’m not sure that local businesses have ever faced a situation like this. I mean, essentially to have all businesses cease all activity, cease overnight, is just incredible and it’s going to be a very difficult and rocky coming weeks. And I’m hoping that there will be a strong policy response in terms of funding these businesses, funding their employees, making sure that they’re still there. In the interim we’re certainly keeping an eye on and beginning to sort of track here at ILSR how businesses are responding and what some of those creative solutions are, and also how customers are responding. So some of the things that I’ve seen, businesses have been reminding people that they have e-commerce. We think about e-commerce, I know many of our minds immediately go to Amazon, but lots of locally owned businesses do e-commerce on their websites; bookstores, toys, stores and others. And many of them have free shipping. One of my local bookstores is also just offering to do delivery, so they’re planning to keep all of us in books while we’re sequestered away by coming around on a bicycle, I think, and dropping things off that we order on their website. I know many local exercise class places and yoga studios are going to be doing live streaming of their classes, and so people can continue to engage that way.
Stacy Mitchell: And for businesses that just have to shut completely, in some cases local restaurants and the like, other retail stores, I would just encourage people to think about maybe buying gift certificates that you can use later in the year just to give some cashflow to some of your favorite local places. But we’re going to be starting up a page on ILSR’s site, just tracking what communities are doing, what local business owners are doing around this, and then looking at also what the policy interventions need to be.
Jess Del Fiacco: So in terms of policy, what should we do and what shouldn’t we do to respond to this?
Chris Mitchell: Well, I have to say, and I do want to mention, President Trump I think has been quite responsible for a lot of the failure of the federal government. But-
Jess Del Fiacco: Just keep shaking people’s hands, man.
Chris Mitchell: Again, I do feel like a President who the evangelicals really hated 20 years ago and now many of them love, he measures his entire worth in the stock market. And every time he opens his mouth, the stock market gets worse. You’ve heard me say this before and I’ll say it publicly, we may be living in a simulation. It’s not just a simulation, but one that is designed to antagonize us.
Chris Mitchell: But the federal government, there’s talk right now, among some good ideas, there’s talk of doing a payroll tax cut, and that just horrifies me because I started getting involved in public policy around the time that the second George Bush mailed out checks to everyone in order to try to avoid a recession. And I’ve always been fascinated at how the federal government can put money into people’s hands to engage in what they call counter cyclical spending, which is to say, trying to keep the economy moving along. And the payroll tax is the worst approach for getting money to the people who need it the most, which is to say, the people who are not doing waiting jobs right now, they’re doing the jobs that aren’t going to be done when people are staying home. Those people often make little money, they don’t pay a lot in taxes as a result of their relatively low earnings, and so a payroll tax is a really good way of making sure the wealthy people get a ton of money and the people who need it the most don’t get as much. And so I would just say that we should very much oppose any sort of payroll tax and really encourage, if there is going to be some kind of direct to consumer stimulus, that it should be one amount for everyone, basically.
Stacy Mitchell: John Cassidy had a piece this weekend in the New Yorker that talked about some solutions, and the one that he put on the table that I thought was great was that the government, the federal government, should plan to cut a check on April 1st, May 1st and June 1st everybody in the country, $1,000 for every adult and $500 for every child, and then do it three times each of those three months. And to just pledge to do that now. And I think that’s a great idea because it would immediately give people some sense of reprieve from their bills and obligations, it would create a some level of comfort. And what he noted is that that doing that, as expensive as it would be, is much less expensive than the payroll tax cut that Trump has proposed. So to your point, giving everybody some money is not only a much more effective and morally responsible response, but is also less costly than giving really rich people a huge tax cut.
Chris Mitchell: The website Vox, V-O-X, I think has done a lot of discussions about what they call automatic stabilizers in terms of these sorts of policies. I find them endlessly fascinating, people who are new to it and may want to look into it, and the idea is that you start to ensure some predictability. And so it’s not just a matter of the money, but giving the market a sense that there will be more money in this date and more money on the following date and that helps supply chains and it has all kinds of benefits, I think, all up and down the system. And so I’m strongly supportive of that sort of approach.
Chris Mitchell: But in the meantime, I just hope that people will resolve to really measure how their local and state officials are doing at this and not just necessarily vote on a party line basis, but really make sure that they’re voting with knowledge of the local and state level. Because picking who you’re going to vote for for mayor based on whether you hate one party or the other at the national level is a really bad way to do it, and I’m afraid more Americans are doing that on a regular basis.
Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah. I’m sitting here looking at the New York Times. The big headline is about how markets are sliding and the next headline down is, “Trump tells governors to seek out respirators on their own.” I mean, in what world do we have 50 state governors scrambling around trying to have enough respirators without strong centralized support from the federal government in figuring this out? And is it any surprise that everyone, including people on Wall Street, are freaking out about that?
Chris Mitchell: Right. Well I think this is really where we’re different in some ways. I mean, it just so happens that I dove into how we mobilized a wartime economy out of our peacetime economy prior to World War II. And I think the lessons for the nation are actually quite important right now as people are asking, “Can we produce a respirator a minute in the way that we produced a bomber an hour toward the end of World War II?” And one of the things to keep in mind is as people retreat to their ideological corners, some will say only the federal government can do this, it should run everything. And others will say only the free market can do it, we have to get government out of the way.
Chris Mitchell: And in reading about how we accomplished the staggering achievements that we did prior to World War II, the federal government was absolutely essential and the private sector was absolutely essential. And it was really important that the federal government not try to micromanage how things were built in supply chains, but that it also was providing the funding and the liquidity to make sure that the private sector could do those things. And at the same time, the government has to make sure that we don’t see the private sector taking advantage and profiteering and things like that. And so, as we get into this situation, I hope people just keep in mind that this isn’t a matter of saying like, “Oh, well I’m going to call myself a socialist,” or, “I’m going to call myself a capitalist and therefore we can only do things in this one direction,” but that often things are nuanced and we need to figure out how to blend them together in the way that’s fitting our times.
Jess Del Fiacco: I think we’re all going to learn a lot over the next few months. Hopefully good things that help us build a better future that avoids terrible crises like this.
Chris Mitchell: Yes. I mean, but just remember, I mean if this had happened, I don’t know, what, 12 years ago, we wouldn’t even have Netflix to be able to stream. And so you can imagine the Post Office would have had to have an army of people at it for just dealing with that volume. Speaking of World War II, we can end, I mean I think a lot of people have seen the memes, in my case my grandparents were called to storm the beaches of Normandy or the the islands in the Pacific; we’re being called to stay home in our incredibly … for the most of us, I mean in our quite nice lives and to spend more time with our families that we bemoan how little time we spend with. So I think we can get through this and be better off in the end.
Jess Del Fiacco: Is there anything else you guys want to add before we sign off?
Stacy Mitchell: We’re all going to solve this together.
Jess Del Fiacco: Okay. Thank you guys.
Jess Del Fiacco: Thanks again for tuning into this episode of the Building Local Power podcast from the Institute For Local Self Reliance. You can find links to what we discussed today by visiting and clicking on the show page for this episode. That’s While you’re there, you can sign up for one of our newsletters and connect with us on social media. Finally, you can help us out with a gift that helps support our work, including the production of this very podcast. You can also help us out by rating this podcast and sharing it with your friends on iTunes or wherever you find your podcasts. This show is produced by Lisa Gonzalez, Zach Freed and me, Jess Del Fiacco. Our theme music is Funk Interlude by Dysfunctional.


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Audio Credit: Funk Interlude by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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