The silence of our formerly busy world is deafening. The shutdown extends from work to our personal lives, forcing us to grapple with the new challenges of isolation, and putting our sense of solidarity to the test. As an artist, I feel it is my duty to contemplate ideas for a better world. Now, like so many of us, I suddenly have the time. Let us grab this uncommon moment of pause together and take a new approach to the problems of the world. And let’s take a hard look at who this crisis is casting in a heroic light, and who comes out the villain.
In the latter category is a group that has gotten a free pass for far too long: short-selling speculators. Like vultures circling our locked-down industries, they find easy prey and take brazen profits. While the rest of our society is mortgaging its future to mitigate the potentially dire economic consequences of the shutdown, these greedy gamblers are allowed to play the stock market casino every day, betting on disaster. They are putting the “schaden” (shame) into schadenfreude in new and diabolical
During last week’s stock market crash, hedge fund “investor” Bill Ackman made $2.6 billion from a $27 million short-selling bet—meaning his money paid off 96 to 1! To my mind, this is blood money sucked out by a social vampire. In a historically weak financial market, these short-selling speculators add fuel to the fire, accelerating the downward spiral. To do this is one kind of sin. To allow it to continue is equally grievous.
Hence my request last week to our esteemed Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel to ban this type of financial market gambling. Even though it may seem like the market crash is now stabilized by stimulus packages (using taxpayers’ money) from central banks, we cannot allow the status quo to continue. The situation is wildly unpredictable and the markets are still fragile and susceptible to panic selling and toxic short-selling. Now is the time, Dr. Merkel, to defend our society against this scourge before it leads to the collapse of some of what you call “systemically relevant” (too-big-to-fail) financial institutions and further, even more dire, economic effects.
I issue this exhortation against a background of optimism, with the thought of how wonderful it would be if we all learned something from this trauma, and could chart a course toward a post-corona world. Could it be that a system based on profit and nothing else is outdated? Could we focus on human beings, solidarity, and mindfulness? My musician heart sings out Yes!
In this moment, we can spark a new, hopeful public spirit. We can understand public health as a task for us all to share. We can acknowledge our deep interdependence by recognizing the heroes who walk among us while most of us must, for the greater good, stay at home.
These heroes are everywhere, maintaining the system despite the dangers to their own health. There are nurses, doctors, and healthcare workers of every stripe, first responders, and workers in essential services—especially the supply chains for food and medicine. In re-thinking our future, we need to look at our debt of gratitude to these folks with an emphasis on “debt.” We owe them a higher degree of appreciation and respect, as well as paying them more money for the crucial jobs they have always done.
And let us not forget the stewards of our information society: journalists. Fighting for us against “fake news” and bringing reliable information to hungry, quarantined minds—this, too, is heroism in the face of the coronavirus crisis.
We want to show the greatest respect and appreciation to all of them and to say “thank you” loud and clear. The Mandoki Soulmates and I have tried to do this with our song Thank You.
But saying, or even singing, Thank You is not enough.
All of us who can stay at home must do so and maintain social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This is our first step in proving our solidarity with each other.
While we are taking care of each other by staying at home, we have the chance to reflect on the things that we value most in the light of this crisis. This is the silver lining of this terrible cloud, and we must not let it pass us by.
We musicians tend to think with our hearts. Our unwavering belief in the unifying power of music is what inspires our songs. Please–hear our song! THANK YOU (https://youtu.be/pHJm8tLm2FA)
Musician vs. Speculator
A plea for solidarity, against the divisions in our society
Morning has broken—with a challenge we never expected.
This novel challenge defines exactly who this “we” is. We are—we must be—the group that stands together, making new and necessary connections in spite of any and all rifts and divisions. The fight against coronavirus etches in sharp relief the heroic versus the rash and reckless.
Our heroes are maintaining public order, saving lives in healthcare, and leading by example. These are the people who cannot work from home, who are risking their health, and that of their families, to ensure stability in our everyday lives. Patrol officers, nurses, medical assistants, bus drivers, grocery clerks, sanitation workers—the list goes on and on. They are still out there, working in what can only be described as a hostile environment. Let us ensure that they are neither underpaid nor underappreciated henceforth.
More than ever, the anti-heroes of our society are speculators who hide behind the rubric of “investment banking.” They are neither investors nor bankers. They are solely engaged in playing the markets to take advantage of the current crisis without regard for the consequences for our society. This week, this month, short selling, the practice of betting in the financial markets that prices will go down, might seem financially prudent or crafty. But long term, these practices will be seen as predatory, pernicious, and short-sighted in needlessly damaging ways.
Even now, we can see the lack of intensive care beds as a result of the greed of these speculators. The transformation of municipal hospitals into private corporations over the past two decades has led to a reduction of hospital beds, as well as an overall reduced capacity for healthcare that is in such immediate need.
The coronavirus crisis vividly demonstrates the systemic importance of professional groups that have been doing their jobs for years with little appreciation and low wages. If we continue to allow “investments” driven by computer algorithms to make money faster than a human workforce can ever do, social division and injustice will grow and grow, and political divides will get stronger and stronger.
Here in Germany, we must no longer enable the primacy of greed and casino capitalism, which generates profits even from an unprecedented emergency like the Coronavirus crisis. Our actions must focus on mindfulness and humanity. Dear Dr. Angela Merkel, hear my urgent and respectful plea: Follow the example of our European neighbors and ban the destructive
racketeering of short-selling in the financial industry—TODAY.
It should not be the vicissitudes of the financial markets that determine our fate, but communities strengthened by humanity and solidarity. The pandemic is here, and we are all allowed to be afraid—all except for those who are directly involved in the fight against the virus. Your courage is our sine qua non.
I have the greatest respect, appreciation, and gratitude for the brave hearts among us who are shouldering an unspeakable burden to shepherd us through this crisis. But contempt drips from my soul for those who persist in negative speculation in the financial markets, thereby exacerbating the crisis. A warm place in hell awaits you.
The Chinese use the same word for crisis and opportunity. This crisis is huge and overwhelms us all. However, with the economic rat race and political conflicts suddenly frozen, we have a rare opportunity to step back and gain perspective. Couldn’t the “New Normal” focus on human beings and mindfulness instead of indifference, and put humanity above greed?
We cannot and should not pass up this hard-won opportunity to re-evaluate who and what is really, systemically important in our society, and to create new criteria for evaluating who creates added value, cohesion, and solidarity. At the same time, we must take a hard look at those who profit when our society is in crisis.