How Many Dollars Is a Life Worth (and Why Did We Choose This)?


Our desperation is no accident. Desperation is good for business.

Colorado reopened for business yesterday. There were precautions galore, like these posted on the website of one of our favorite local restaurants:

    • You must wear a mask or face covering until drinks and food arrive and  while you are moving about the restaurant and bar
    • Practice social distancing by staying 6 feet away from other patrons
    • Limit your party size to eight people or less
    • Make reservations if possible
    • Check in with the host and provide your full name, phone number, and email address
    • After checking in, please wait outside weather permitting, for your table
    • Please practice patience with our staff as we are doing our best to accommodate you within our new restaurant dine-in guidelines

We reserve the right to deny service to anyone(s) not following the safety protocols from the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment 


    • Our team members are all wearing face coverings and are increasing their handwashing practices
    • All team members go through symptom monitoring when arriving at work
    • We are disinfecting all shared surfaces such as menus, tables, and chairs after every use and/or applying sanitation to food contact areas between seatings
    • Menus are available online to view from your mobile device if you prefer – let the host know if this is your preference
    • High touch areas are being disinfected every 30 minutes
    • We have a reduced occupancy capacity and are practicing social distancing of 6 feet
    • We are offering our full menus for take out, delivery, & curbside pickup

My guess is these guidelines are pretty standard around the state, and no doubt health inspectors will be out in force looking for skulls to crack and examples to make.

I have friends working in a couple of these restaurants and it goes without saying I hope all goes well for them.

That said, reopening is as bad a decision as has ever been made by a Colorado governor (and that’s saying something). From the standpoint of public health, this is malfeasance in the first degree. Gov. Jared Polis just killed people.

Let me say that again just so we’re clear:

Gov. Jared Polis just killed people.

How many we don’t know yet, but you can be forgiven for expecting the worst.

Of course, this wasn’t a public health decision. It was an economic decision. How do we know? Well, when you need an extended laundry list of shalts and shalt-nots like the one above so you can eat dinner without killing the neighborhood, that’s maybe a hint.

And as infuriating as it is contemplating how many dollars a life is worth, we understand how this morbid calculus works, don’t we?

Billionaires can’t become multi-billionaires if the doors are shut (okay, okay – yes, one mega-multi-billionaire is in the process of becoming a trillionaire – so maybe there’s an angle after all).

Billionaires are powerfully motivating for our elected officials, many of whom hope to be elected again someday. Most of us regular types don’t worry so much about the rich, though. They’ll manage. But we still support reopening. Why are we on the same side of the issue as those who literally don’t care if we die?

Duh. We care about the small businesses in our communities. We care about workers at the bottom of the food chain – waiters, bartenders, retail clerks, delivery drivers – all those “essential” folks on the frontlines. We know these people. We patronize their establishments. We know the workers. They’re our friends, our relatives. And we know the straits they’re in.

Which means that while we’re not happy about it, reopening is necessary, right?

Oh hell no.

That proposition requires me to accept a deeply flawed assumption: that Capitalism, and our particular brand of feral dog Capitalism in particular, is natural and necessary. It isn’t. That we have no safety net isn’t inevitable, it’s a choice we made. That losing your job, through no fault of your own, means losing your healthcare insurance isn’t just how the world is. It’s how Capital wants it and we’ve acquiesced.

When push comes to shove, the people who shape our economic reality have no obligation to their neighbors or their communities. They answer only to shareholder value – and that didn’t come down the mountain with Moses on a stone tablet.

We could have chosen differently. We can still choose differently, and each day we don’t allows our wealthy elite to consolidate their power just a little more.

Colorado opened its economy because it’s the only way to alleviate our desperation. Way too many of us already live one or two bad months from utter disaster, and thanks to a pandemic that those at the top of the food chain ignored disaster is no longer two months away. It’s clawing at the door.

Our desperation is no accident. Desperation is good for business. It keeps labor costs down and deters people from seeking employment somewhere less exploitative (which keeps turnover down, and turnover is hellishly costly for companies). This is especially true if the employer provides health insurance for the worker and – this is key – the worker’s family.

Desperation means a frightening number of Americans don’t have jobs, they have hostage situations. (And if we had single-payer healthcare like other developed nations, that means employers would have a bit less leverage, doesn’t it?)

Don’t let anyone arguing to “reopen the economy” get away with “we have to let people work to stay alive.” That’s a rhetorical trick aimed at suckering you into accepting their toxic worldview. The real question is this: how did the richest nation in the world get into a mess like this in the first place? Why do regular citizens have to choose between the plague and homelessness?

What if we don’t assume predatory Capitalism, but we make its adherents justify it?


  • Pingback: Mental Pandemic and Ideological Lockdown | Marmalade

  • COVID-19 is a serious threat that should be taken seriously. But in another way, it is a secondary issue. It’s a symptom of a greater sickness.

    We’ve been dealing with public health crises with a high death count for as long as capitalism has been around. It has everything to do with how the poor are harmed by everything to a far worse degree and are left powerless to do much about it, as the greatest disparity of all is political power built on economic privilege.

    No matter what one thinks of COVID-19, as full pandemic or not, the desperation and existential crisis felt by so many is very much real and isn’t going away. This pandemic is simply an early sign of worst to come. We would be wise to take heed.

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