Eventually Everyone Will Be an Essential Worker

Food for Thought

Day 30: Who would’ve thought of cashiers at supermarkets as heroes before the current crisis? I now see many different workers and businesses in a completely different light.

It started with healthcare workers because they are the most immediate group of people who can save lives. But then we began to see the cashiers as “essential workers” too who are saving our lives. But if they cannot get to work, they cannot perform their essential duties, which lead to thinking of bus and train operators as essential workers too. But they too cannot perform their duties if the trains and buses start breaking down, which will lead to the maintenance workers being classified as “essential.” But they too won’t be able to perform their duties if their supplies run out, like lubricants and screws. Sooner or later, we would have to include the people who make lubricants and screws as essential workers, even though they had never thought of their jobs as saving lives.

Ultimately people like entertainers may seem the only nonessential workers, but that isn’t true either. As the Chinese saying goes, “If you have but two pennies left, buy a loaf of bread with one and a flower with the other.” What would be the point of surviving if there is nothing to be enjoyed in life? Why should we survive for the sake of surviving?

In this way, sooner or later, we will realize that everyone is an essential worker, and no amount of money can solve this problem if we cannot work.

The desire to restart the economy isn’t only about greed. Even if we were to send a million-dollar check to everyone in the world, if we all stayed home, everyone will eventually die because, in the long run, what everyone does is essential. It is only an effect of time that makes some people appear as essential at this moment. The longer we freeze our economy, the more damage we will inflict on the complex web of dependencies. Rebuilding it will be a long, painful process. Meanwhile, the people of impoverished nations who are barely surviving without the virus will begin dying first. We cannot just think about whose lives we can immediately save.