Luxury of finger pointing while the poor take a beating - Businesslive

3 May 2020 - Some commentators on the lockdown have strived to make a case for what seems a superior kind of caring, one that disdains the implicitly selfish and grubby business of the “economy” in favour of the altogether more estimable virtue of “lives”.

Michael Morris

Some commentators on the lockdown have strived to make a case for what seems a superior kind of caring, one that disdains the implicitly selfish and grubby business of the “economy” in favour of the altogether more estimable virtue of “lives”.

A few tolerate the inseparability of the two, but most invariably reach a point where the temptation to pursue proxy ideological warfare proves too great, and so leave the path of reason.

Fellow Business Day columnist Ismail Lagardien began soundly last week when he wrote: “There’s an interesting though not entirely unsurprising dichotomy emerging around opening the economy or sustaining the lockdown..... This is a false dichotomy. It is possible to both save the economy and prevent the Covid-19 virus from spreading, infecting more people and causing more deaths.”

In this, he makes the case advanced from the start by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) — captured in its campaign #LivesAndLivelihoods — which has urged policymakers to avoid the trap of thinking of the economic survival, and the lives, of citizens as being meaningfully distinguishable.

Yet, having started well, Lagardien meandered into identifying the “unsurprising ... usual suspects” ranked behind the “position that may best be described as ‘economy first’”, and segued into contriving a link between Donald Trump’s critical remarks about the World Health Organisation [WHO] (along with “a lot of racism” directed at its Ethiopian leader) and, believe it or not, the IRR.

In his letter to the editor, my colleague, Gabriel Crouse, has already exposed Lagardien’s cynical elision in imputing to the IRR opinions on the WHO expressed by a columnist commissioned by the institute’s online media platform, Daily Friend, in a piece that made clear his opinions were his own (“Don’t confuse the messenger with the message”, April 29).

Anyone can join dots by daubing in ones that weren’t there in the first place, but is the stratagem worth the effort for being so transparent? Perhaps, but only in the phony war of ideological one-upmanship. It’s a bit different in the real world.

Without intending to, Lagardien himself suggested why elsewhere in his column, when he drew on a passage from an economist friend’s blog post to perform the job of "(dispensing) with some of the characters that are driving the ‘save the economy’ (and let the market take the rest) movement”.

The gist is summed up in the final line: “You do not have to lead an interesting life in order to understand how atoms move, but perhaps you do need it to understand what moves humans.”  Lagardien’s coda is a smug “that’s them done then”.

Well, not so fast. Who is really being indifferent here to the plight of the growing millions of South Africans who, by the hour, have less money, less food, poorer health and deepening long-term vulnerability with no obvious saviour in sight? Who is thinking about what “moves” these humans?

Lagardien is quite right in acknowledging upfront that race has nothing whatever to do with the IRR’s argument, but it is an argument based on decades of bringing public attention to the unignorable profile of SA poverty and vulnerability — largely inherited from apartheid but shamefully sustained since for lack of effective socio-economic policy.

Today, measures that destroy livelihoods seemingly in the name of saving lives are exacting a disproportionate toll on black South Africans, who will not cheer when they are told that, as they are alive and kicking, their desperate plight can be celebrated as proof of a high-minded argument charitably crafted by friends who know better than they do what’s good for them.

• Morris is head of media at the IRR.

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2020-05-03-michael-morris-luxury-of-finger-pointing-while-the-poor-take-a-beating/

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