Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Lives Which Really Matter

It's the dirty little secret of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The ringing declaration of the summer, continuing at lower volume still, is "black lives matter." Black lives should matter, the thinking goes, because white lives already matter.

This view is dangerously mistaken. The saga begins with Covid-19, ironic because the virus disproportionately affects blacks (and Latinos/hispanics) far more than whites. Atul Gawande explains

Many developed countries have met their testing needs, and ready access to speedy tests has been key to containing outbreaks and resuming social and economic activity. Whether you live in England or South Korea, scheduling is straightforward. No doctor’s order is required. Tests, where indicated, are free. And you typically get results within forty-eight hours.

In the USA, however

Appointments can take days, results days more. Most testing in the United States is done by four companies—Quest Diagnostics, LabCorp, BioReference Laboratories, and Sonic Healthcare. Through early August, results routinely took four days or more, making the tests essentially useless. Times improved only when testing volumes declined, because many people gave up on getting tested. The vast majority of infected Americans, including those with symptoms, never get tested. And we have not even reached the fall, when flu season will hit and coronavirus-testing needs and demand are expected to rise substantially. As the saying goes, it’s as messed up as a pile of coat hangers.

This is not the way an exceptional country does things and

Further complicating matters, insurers don’t pay for testing that they don’t consider medically necessary. Yet testing people who don’t have symptoms will be important to getting covid-19 under control....Testing is the only way to know whether a person is potentially contagious and in need of isolation.

What Gawande terms "assurance testing" has been required under special circumstances by four states, at least three European countries, and hospitals in the USA. As he notes, it is required generally by the film and television industry but as he does not, in another industry: professional sports.

Professional athletes generally deserve their salaries because they a) possess unique skills; b) have very short careers; c) work for bosses- the owners- who make a tremendous amount of money from the labor of their employees, the players. In return, compared to the average American, they make a ton of money, in 2017 averaging $7.1 million in the National Basketball Association, $4 million in Major League Baseball, and $2.7 million in the National Football League.  (It is more now throughout the industry.)

So even in the NFL- and accounting for the median being lower than the mean- these guys earn a great deal.  That- and the extreme wealth of the owners and the league- is why professional athletes (and staff) are being tested as is  no one else, whether quarantined or not, health care worker, white or not. From August 30 to September 5, there were 8,349 players and team personnel were given a total of 44, 510 tests.

Approximately 70% of NFL players are black, far lower in MLB (in which there is a disproportionate number of Latinos) and higher in the NBA. Those tests were no less administered to black and and Latinos than to white non-hispanic, colleagues. 

And they are being tested constantly. Surely, it's not because the owners (who control the commissioner's office) are altruistic. It's also not primarily because of the market value of the individual players. In two (baseball and football) of the three (baseball, football, basketball) most popular sports in the USA, the players could take a hike, the owners would replace them, and the league would continue to be very popular, profitable, and successful.

Nevertheless, they are valuable commodities in each league and most are rich, some extraordinarily so. They are tested at rates otherwise unknown in this country- and beyond even advocated by Gawande- for anyone else. They are wealthy and make the bosses even wealthier. They are deemed valuable.

While the wealthy and near-wealthy of professional sports are being tested regularly and often, nearly all other Americans are not. They include the wealthy- but the vast majority of us are middle class, working class, or poor. We are of African, Caribbean, Latin, Pacific Island, Asian, indigenous, European, or other backgrounds.

Our lives are endangered, regardless of our ethnic background, race, or color, in part because of the inadequacies in testing Gawande outlines. In professional sports, a haven of the wealthy, extreme care is taken that lives are not put in danger. There is a moral in that story, but it's not that black lives matter, black lives should matter, or that white lives do matter. In this society in this age, the color that matters most is green.


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