Perspective and History

Weeks from now my final project will have come into fruition and my paper will be submitted, hopefully fully answering the question, or at least as well as I can – Did COVID-19 and the consequential economic policies in the United States exacerbate existing trends in income or wealth inequality? The answer to this question should ultimately relay the truths about economic differences in the country right now as well as investigating the gains and losses different groups of Americans have made during the pandemic. But looking back in the future how would this answer hold up?

If I’m looking at this question in the near future in 2024, the answer to this question can provide a lot of insight into the performance and effectiveness of the winner of this presidential election. It has only been four years of President Trump yet income inequality has still skyrocketed in such a short time, this means that the four years between 2020 and 2024 will provide more evidence into existing trends. If by 2024 income inequality has decreased that means the president created successful economic policies that aided the majority of Americans, increasing their wages or just their aggregate amount of wealth. This would provide even more information, especially when used in comparison to the policies of President Trump during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, what if it’s 2050? By this time the world will be drastically different. It’ll be a drastic change from the present day as the consequences of climate change batter the world as well as decades of differing U.S presidents. Here people will look back at 2020, a defining year in U.S history that has been seared into the memory of almost everyone and reflect upon the change that has taken place. If income inequality has decreased, how? Is it because America has started becoming more class conscious? Have they been voting for candidates who will focus on taxation and government support? Will it be similar to the days prior to Reagan where cultural politics weren’t at the forefront of everyone’s mind? These are just a series of questions that will allow oneself to explore the realities of 2050 and reflect on what has happened.

Lastly what about the year 3020? A full one thousand years from now. The historian in me will suggest that if I were there, reflecting on 2020 would be entirely different because the prior dates mentioned were all ones where the majority of people experienced 2020 but a thousand years later this won’t be the case. Here, everyone will be utterly disconnected from that past, so when someone reads about the history of now they will see it as a story without relation, one that is full of statistics and ‘logical’ events. It’ll be the same as one of us reading about Justinian, his conquests and plague, or The Year of 5 Emperors in Roman history. They’ll look back and see these moments as small unimportant blurbs while we today would disagree. There is just such an utter disconnect between these two time periods, now and the future, that if a grad student were to answer my question for a thesis in 3020, it would appear utterly ridiculous, too nuanced, and just oddly specific.

Time really makes and creates barriers. As time moves forward, those with connections to the past fade away, leaving history to be nothing more than a story after its elements of relatability and human experience wither away.

Subjectivity

What drove me to my topic? It’s one that’s not a simple answer. My question that I want to answer is “Did COVID-19 and the consequential economic policies in the United States exacerbate existing trends in income or wealth inequality?” But why did I chose that?

New discovery will lead to sharper and cheaper lenses - Videomaker

I never grew up in a household that was extremely tight with money, I was extremely lucky and it’s something I will always be grateful for. But the sad reality of our world is that everyone does not have that privilege. I hear stories from my friends and colleagues of their remarkable lives but also it’s common to hear the hardships people go through, especially affording tuition, which is one of the most expensive aspects of American life in the world and only perpetuates existing systems of inequality. I’ve always been dedicated to history and politics, and for some reason that I can’t pinpoint, I have always focused on class and social conflict, which always revolve around the sharing of wealth in a society. My political side sees this as an opportunity for change, as I see myself delving into electoral politics if our country’s democracy hasn’t completely eroded by then to a facade. One thing that truly pains me is to see people advocate support individuals and political parties that routinely fight against their electoral base. They vote against their own self-interests and for individuals who truly don’t care about them while these people who are victims think they can one day be as rich as the billionaires in our society. My perspective ultimately revolves around class and the conflicts between interests, I tend to embrace a semi Marxist analytical lense. I know my view like any other is biased but it’s because I have a deep sympathy for every human being. I believe that everyone should not be restricted to basic necessities and happiness purely because of wealth. That’s where my topic comes in. I want to analyze the response the United States of America had to the deadliest pandemic since the Spanish Flu and see the results of this. Are our politicians and civil servants acting in their own self-interests and the interest of an oligarchical class of elites who have more class consciousness than the workers? Who “won” while hundreds of thousands of Americans die to a virus that our economy is not structured to handle? My lens is going to influence this answer and ultimately I do not only want to answer my research question but see if these wealthy few truly benefited off of the suffering of millions of Americans.

Memory

It’s really hard to jump back to a moment or a series of moments in the past. Just trying to recapture it all, I mean remembering what you ate yesterday or small interactions can be difficult enough. But one of the key things about it all is the emotion tied to it. Emotion is what gives our memory a spark of individuality, recognizing how we felt and what we felt in a specific moment in time. It would be hard to doubt that the first week of university was nothing but unique.

There was a feeling of both unease and contentment, pouring back onto campus trying to grasp a sense of normality while the world itself seemed to be collapsing around us. Just five months prior I was forced to leave the country of Italy after studying there for two months with plans to travel all of Europe until august. I was disappointed and angry with the world, so coming back just filled me with conflict. That feeling is what dominated the first week, I was suspicious and critical of the university’s decision to open up. In all my classes we tried to pretend it would last but everyone knew it wouldn’t. Both professors and students guessed when the university would close down again, because we knew that this first week was a facade in the face of reality. None of these class rooms would be here to stay, it would be back to the bedroom and rolling out of bed ten minutes before class just to turn on your video and mic. I remember begrudgingly waking up at 8 in the morning and marching along to class. My mask was on while I walked around campus suspicious of it all. It was hard enough trying to find the classroom which to be honest I can’t remember where it even was anymore. We all poured in, tired and I was desperately attached to the iced coffee in my hand. Professor Whitacker introduced us to historiography by having us try and dissect the meaning of history, or how it is even defined. It’s flexible and relative just like memory itself. But that’s the highlight memory of it, everything else has just been a blur. Beyond a blur. Just like we talked about, Corona time. The concept of time is so relative, measured by the rate at which we do things with our lives or what happens around us. The events, whether good or bad, provide a measure to the rate at which time passes and ever since that first week, time has been immeasurable. It is already the end of October and the first week feels like it a year ago and the time has been flying by. But that first week, the feeling of it all, the uncertainty and suspicion defines it in my memory and that will be here to stay and hard to forget.

On “When Subjects Don’t Come Out”

Writing history can be a complicated endeavor. One would say that the most complicated parts of writing history are making sure your thesis is crystal clear with a sound argument, and sources that resonate harder than any other peer-reviewed study. Yes those are the hard parts but when delving deep into sociological, cultural, and political questions they tend to revolve around a key part about sources, are they dead or are they alive? This is truly where things get complicated. 

A dead source tends to be a little easier to work with. Their arguments, however they are recorded, tend to be set in stone and they can’t exactly rise up and argue the contrary. Their arguments however much they flexed and evolved during their lifetime are now set in stone because well, they’re dead and they can no longer change what they said. They can’t oppose your writings, give you support, or even condemn you. Their place is fixed in stone (as long as we truly have everything they wrote and created).

But this brings us to the other question, what about sources that are alive? Sherri Tucker, in her writings on gender, race, and sexuality in When Subjects Don’t Come Out faces a complication when using sources that are very much alive. When talking to the sources she interviewed she wanted them to talk about sexuality, but the cast majority of them simply would not. Her writings about sexuality in gender in the 1940s is exactly what makes those sources difficult to dissect. The 40’s to today and all throughout the history of human society were bound by socio-political and cultural expectations that surrounded everyone during their lives. Tucker was trying to get an answer from her subjects about a topic that was extremely controversial and it’s pretty hard to respect privacy when you’re writing a historical paper meant to be reviewed and shared. The issue with her subjects was precisely that they were bound by the aforementioned societal expectations, while dead people aren’t. People’s behaviors in their life whether right or wrong can be deemed controversial and have the ability to significantly impact their life based on the reaction of people under the influence of societal expectations. The point i’m trying to make is that a dead source and an alive source are completely different and therefore, should be treated as such.

Ultimately as I write my piece about wealth and income disparities due to COVID-19 I have to respect the sources I talk about. Most of whom are alive. Even though my question is distanced from the individual and focused more on the nature of economic situations I have to respect a conflict of duality. As I conduct my research I have to make sure I respect the dignity of the people who have been condemned to poverty, without placing blame on them, while also respecting their individuality and agency.

Sherrie Tucker, “When Subjects Don’t Come Out,” in Queer Episodes in Music and Modern Identity, ed. Sophie Fuller and Lloyd Whitesell (University of Illinois Press,2002), 305.

Historian’s Craft Midterm Proposal

My project will be a 1000-1250 word essay analyzing COVID-19s effects on income inequality, with a narrow focus on the policies enacted by the United States government. The aim of this project is to answer the question, “Did COVID-19 and the consequential economic policies in the United States exacerbate existing trends in income or wealth inequality?”. This project is meant to delve into the policies enacted by the United States government and unveil whether or not they were more beneficial to the majority of Americans or corporations and their owners as well as the general 1% of the population who hold a disproportionate amount of wealth in the country. This will involve looking at bills and relief packages that were passed, analyzing their recipients, and deconstructing their contents. Overall I want to answer questions such as “Who got richer and who got poorer?” as well as “Would these relief packages have been better for the general welfare if they changed their target?”. These are minor question’s I want to answer in my Op-Ed piece as well as the general research question.

Trends in Income and Wealth Inequality by the pew research center will offer a context and a starting point that breaks down pre-existing conditions prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and its presence in the American economy. This will act as a grounding source of information that brings light to the already existing economic trends in the United States. This will provide data over the past 40 years, showcasing the trends as well as depicting the rate at which income inequality has changed, allowing for comparison against the rate of change during the COVID-19 Pandemic. 

This article by the guardian breaks down Walmart’s new and misleadingly titled workplace reform called “The Great Workplace” initiative. Rather than focusing directly on government activities, looking at this article provides details from the side of one of America’s largest companies, breaking down their productivity as well as the consequences their new initiative has on the working class and their employees. Here it will provide supporting evidence that reveals the treatment and exploitation of their workers as the article includes details about “significant cuts to workers’ hours, pay cuts, [and] increased workloads”, showcasing the policies that companies have that are further harming the already struggling working-class America. 

The primary source HR 6800 is a house resolution that passed in the house but was ignored in the senate. I include the direct congressional source for this bill even though it’s considered dead because it reveals who was ignored financially during the pandemic. When dissecting the bill you can ask questions of “why wasn’t this passed, and who would this have benefited” which provide indicators to who’s being ignored, and how this would affect income inequality. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is a reliable primary source form the government that provides up to date and accurate accounting of statistics that relate to employment and labor. This is a nonpartisan and nonbiased government agency that provides accurate and up to date data. The reason this reference is so important is that it provides one of the most useful statistics that relate to my final project and that is the unemployment rate. What is even more beneficial is that it breaks it down by state, meaning it shows the differences between states and how they handled the pandemic. This source doesn’t describe why the unemployment rates are the way they are but merely shows an accurate picture of the employment status in the united states as of September of 2020, about 6 months after the start of the pandemic in the United States.

The PPP or Paycheck Protection Program provided by The Small Business Administration will be a useful primary source. This source provides the details as to which who can apply and who qualifies for the defining business bailout enacted by the US government during the pandemic. The primary source itself will not be extremely useful for the argument, this source will be best used when it is supplemented by additional sources that dissect who received PPP money and who didn’t which further answers the question of, “Who benefited from the COVID-19 pandemic and who didn’t.” By using supplemental secondary sources as well as this direct primary source, they can provide hints and ideas that suggest who truly benefited from the economic policies enacted by the United States.

Sources (Note Footnotes

Lowey, Nita M. “Text – H.R.6800 – 116th Congress (2019-2020): The Heroes Act.” Congress.gov. July 23, 2020. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/6800/text.

“Unemployment Rates for States.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. September 18, 2020. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.bls.gov/web/laus/laumstrk.htm.

Juliana Menasce Horowitz, Ruth Igielnik and Rakesh Kochhar. “Trends in U.S. Income and Wealth Inequality.” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project. August 17, 2020. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/01/09/trends-in-income-and-wealth-inequality/.

Sainato, Michael. “Walmart Cuts Workers’ Hours but Increases Workload as Sales Rise amid Pandemic.” The Guardian. September 24, 2020. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/sep/24/walmart-workers-hours-pay-great-workplace.

Paycheck Protection Program. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program.

Creating a Narrative

Just like the present-day COVID-19 pandemic, the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919 was a pandemic that ravaged the hearts and minds of people all across the globe. Unlike the coronavirus, or what present-day data has shown, the Spanish Flu/H1N1 strain was far more deadlier, resulting in “at least 50 million [deaths] worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States.” Unlike the virus we have to endure currently, it was far deadlier to children and the elderly, but then again we live in a time where we take health technologies for granted, and without them, our virus could’ve been just as deadly. But just as Americans fight against each other about the nature of the virus, this isn’t the first time. Just like the year of COVID-19, the Spanish Flu experienced an unprecedented amount of cover-ups, downplaying, and censorship.

The pandemic emerged at the closing year of World War, while European countries fought, dragged their feet in the mud, and sent countless soldiers to their deaths in the trenches. The people and their countries were exhausted from a war where 100 meters of territory counted as a victory worth a thousand lives. These countries and their heads of government realized that their fervor was dying, the support for the war effort seemed to be flickering away. The United States passed the 1918 Sedition Act, which prohibited freedom of speech in regard to issues that painted the government or war effort in a negative light. The United States was not the only one. Countries such as Britain, France, and German all joined in with these policies which also resulted in a significant amount of press censorship for the flu. This was a move that undermines the severity of the virus, to reduce fear in the hearts of these countries which in the eyes of the government was a threat to national security. Just like now, people’s perception of the pandemics experienced censorship, doubt, and ignorance. We can’t ignore now that the president has routinely argued for ineffective cures such as hydroxychloroquine and injecting UV light or bleach into one’s body. Our current president has also been caught on tape acknowledging the severity but waiting for months ignoring thousands of deaths, in order to “reduce panic” just like Woodrow Wilson during the Spanish Flu.

Primary Sources

  • https://www.bls.gov/web/laus/laumstrk.htm
    • The Bureau of Labor Statistics is a reliable primary source from the United States’s government that provides up to date and accurate accounting of statistics that relate to employment and labor. This is a nonpartisan and nonbiased government agency that provides accurate and up to date data. The reason this reference is so important is that it provides one of the most useful statistics that relate to my final project and that is the unemployment rate. What is even more beneficial is that it breaks it down by state, meaning it shows the differences between states and how they handled the pandemic. This source doesn’t describe why the unemployment rates are the way they are but merely shows an accurate picture of the employment status in the united states as of September of 2020, about 6 months after the start of the pandemic in the United States. This reference will be exceptionally useful as it will also provide more data than needed in order to measure general economic trends that relate to the pandemic.
  • https://www.businessinsider.com/billionaires-net-worth-increases-coronavirus-pandemic-2020-7
    • Business Insider is a mostly non-partisan site that analyzes corporate and economic trends in the United States. This article from August 3rd of 2020 provides data and evidence that reveals the rising wealth of the super-rich during a time of economic damage for the rest of the country. The article itself provides accurate data that provides a true reflection of the state of the United States in august, especially when it comes to measuring the increase of wealth for the upper class. Additionally, the article discusses the negative effects that the coronavirus economy has had on the majority of Americans while contrasting its benefit for the super-rich. Obviously, this article can’t be taken alone and requires cross-referencing and other sources but it is easy to read and a clear article that introduces the nature of a significant problem that the United States coronavirus economy is facing.

Research Topic – COVID-19

Here I’d just like to begin with examples of research questions that I will address for my final research project in Historian’s Craft.

Ever since the onsent of COVID-19, the United States has had its ongoing issues relating to poverty, homelessness, and unemployment exacerbate. What are the current rates as of September of 2020 and what are their predicted trends? Additionally, what measures can the United States take to reduce the rising poverty rate?

When analyzing COVID-19’s effect on poverty and wealth inequality in the United States, was this caused purely by COVID-19, or has this been an ongoing trend that was catalyzed by the pandemic? What measures can or could’ve been taken to reduce this these trends?

Wrath unto The Majority

2020 has been a year beyond comprehension, where it seems a decades worth of misfortune has unraveled itself in just the span of 9 months. In the span of 9 months, 190,000 Americans have been killed because of COVID-19, 903,000 worldwide, and currently, as of September 10th, there are 27.9 million cases. It’s heartbreaking and tragic as daily life has changed considerably since the beginning of this year. But as tragic and heartbreaking as the deaths have been, there is another epidemic that has only been reinforced and will only get worse because of COVID-19 – Poverty.

Noah Berger, Associated Press

Above you will see a homeless encampment in San Francisco with social distancing markers. The difference here between other parts of the country is that this is sanctioned and provides social distancing for people who have been displaced due to the economic turmoil that has come into fruition from years of Reaganomics and catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Homeless encampments like these are rising in numbers, for example in Philadelphia, two large homeless encampments have arisen, Camp Teddy andd Camp JTD, all of which are deemed illegal as the city tries to push away homeless people and evict them from public land. Police and the government have started a war on the poor and homeless. It destroys peoples moods when they see the poor, forgotten, and the homeless. So the only solution they have to push them somewhere, while they embrace a temporary peace until the problem only gets worse.

In August unemployment peaked at 14.7% compared to the United State’s 3% unemployment rate just last year. 40 million Americans are predicted to lose their homes as states refuse to continue moratoriums on evictions as well as the discontinuation of the CARES act which provided unemployment funds for people who lost their jobs or hours at work. American’s in the time of a national pandemic are having their healthcare neglected as the government refuses to acknowledge the idea that medical care is a human right. In every state except Vermont and Rhode island, at least 5% of the population does not have health insurance, and that number only gets worse for people in conservative states with Texas peaking at 17.7% of people without insurance. The Senate of The United States of America has taken a summer leave as millions of american’s suffer, go without food, and fail to pay rent.

Feedingamerica.org

Millions of Americans are suffering and it will only get worse. What this virus has shown is that the american economic system is not sustainable. More will become homeless, more will lose their jobs, and more will struggle with food insecurity as the economic system that the government has sworn is the best in the world has proven to be a failure for the american people. But the people who have benefited? The rich. The american people have been lied to, analyzing the stock market that bears no significance or reality for which the majority of Americans experience. For example, the stock market has shown exceptional numbers in the past couple months, with the second quarter of 2020 showing remarkable gains. Corporate socialism and hands off government aid for the people in the United States has been a catastrophic failure. In the next coming weeks I hope to explore the effects of COVID-19 on unemployment, labor relations, the political and economic symbiosis with wall street, as well as the exacerbating effects COVID-19 has had on america’s failure of an economic and political model. I aim to do this to shine light on how the majority of Americans are being neglected and forgotten as the few, the minority rich, get richer, and the poor and middle class only get poorer.

On Time

I would be crazy if I said that sometimes, or at least just once, I didn’t just stare off into the distance, fully lost, feeling like I’ve been smacked in the face with a brick, just lost thinking about days, minutes, and hours. The way time just dominates daily life. It’s just one of those things that makes your mind swirl and drives you off the wall, either caught up stressed thinking there’s not enough time or feeling lost while time appears to just well…take its time.

It’s an absolutely bewildering concept especially when our modern understanding of things claim that the Universe itself is 13.8 Billion years old, while humanity is just about 200,000 years old, and I’m just a guy whos been on this earth for 21 years now stuck in my apartment trying to swallow information whenever I can. It really makes you think just how relative time is. Our lives seem to be limited to just a century of existence, where we grow up, learn, have fun, cry, suffer, experience happiness, and embrace the human condition until the inevitability of impermanence reaches our door. But for other things, whether living or material, 100 years is nothing or is unfathomably long. I can’t imagine how my own pup sees time. Her beginning years filled with such rapid change, bound by just about 20 years where she experiences such a different perception of the world. Do days pass by her the same? Do they go quickly or slowly? How can we even know?

But moving along from my pup, one of the most frequently experienced attempts to understand time just comes from exploring one’s hometown, city, or environment. Things are constantly changing and evolving, whether material or living. My experience of travelling abroad really put that into perspective. I had an amazing professor of History, a tall Belgian man who seemed to defy the process of aging despite being in the annals of history himself. He took a group of us to circumvent the entirety of the Aurelian Walls of Rome, a 20 km hike. I was walking along modern roads, dodging cars and crazy drivers in the city of Rome while the walls of Aurelian stood next to me, tall and imposing, boasting a history that not many people even knew. Even the people who lived there.

(Sophia Stasio, Temple University)

It was so bizarre, walking along roads that were ‘recently’ paved, while an 1800-year-old wall stood by, defining themselves as the gates to an ancient city that still lives. It’s chilling and to the truest sense of the word, awesome. Experiencing that really showed me what history is all about, perspective. It constantly changes and evolves, just like history does. But there was one thing that really shoved that idea in my face and made me think deeper. While walking in the eastern part of town, near the clubbing district, there is a neatly placed glistening white pyramid that screams “Egyptian” (but is Roman) and sits right in the middle of the Wall.

(Sophia Stasio, Temple University)

Part of what the history of ‘us’ is, or how it’s even understood, is the idea of trying to survive the passage of time. History is about remembering what we can and for many, especially those with wealth and power, it was about surviving the passage of Time and becoming a material part of history. That’s exactly what this haphazardly looking pyramid is – The Pyramid of Cestius. A direct manifestation of power and wealth, created by the Roman politician Gaius Cestius Epulo. It’s a tomb for himself, to show the future that he lived, he was here, and he experienced time just as we do. It’s a beautiful, symbolic, and melancholic gesture, as he lived in a different time experiencing different things, yet he still understands the passage as time, just as we do, attempting to make meaning in a chaotic world. I imagine at some point while constructing that very pyramid, Cestius thought about what his time on earth meant and thought that he may not survive more than a century, but will his works survive for the future to see.