Can the “death” of a business be compared to that of a person?

18 January, 2021

Restaurant and bar owners today in Spain, mourning for their businesses.

Had we been able to read today’s press only a year ago, we would not have believed it. Are the measures against a pandemic that has taken away tens of thousands of people weighed against the closure of bars and small stores… is this not outrageous? The fact that hoteliers are demonstrating by equating the death of their bars to people’ s deaths?

During 2020 the states and their media presented time and again the crisis of bars and retail as a drama that required balancing restrictions against the pandemic. In Spain, the messaging became more and more impudent. In December, when the current wave started, a sales drop of 4.3% during the previous month was invoked in order not to harden some measures that were proving clearly insufficient. If last week, with an already large number of infections, the government discarded without further explanation a lockdown during the third wave it was because the terrain was already firmly laid out. It was taken for granted that more restrictions would lead thousands of SMEs to stop paying debts to banks, that the accumulation of defaults could eat up the banks’ provisions, and that thousands of avoidable infections and deaths were preferable to such a scenario. To date, the default rate has fallen, but the pandemic has left hundreds of deaths and people with sequelae so far this year. And the result is officially considered such a success that the PSOE will run the Minister of Health for the presidency of the Catalan autonomous government hoping to win votes.

In Germany, the figures of dead people and the number of closed down businesses are compared on a daily basis without any shame in the press. And the two most important politicians responsible for the disaster of the last weeks are also rewarded: the President of Rhineland-Westphalia will be Merkel’s successor in the CDU and the Federal Health Minister is considered the best possible chancellor candidate of the party.

It is a general phenomenon. In Argentina the impudence reaches the point where it becomes indistinguishable from black humor. The president of the small industry employers of Buenos Aires came to say in these days and without causing scandal, that a new lockdown would be lethal. Human mortality does not matter. The only death to be taken into consideration is metaphorical: that of profits.

Normalizing the most criminal and inhumane things

In order to normalize this type of openly anti-human message, it has been necessary for the media to follow a certain path. In the first place, the petty bourgeoisie -whose interests are an extreme variant of the investments ahead of lives message- had to be equated with the social majority.

One fine day, and simultaneously across different countries and media, small owners began to be depicted as workers and farm owners presented as farmworkers, while their day laborers were referred to as farmers and ranchers.

Once endowed to represent society, the petty bourgeoisie did not disappoint. Not even such a particular part of the petty bourgeoisie as the experts. For instance, a scientist published an article that clearly states that a lockdown is the only reasonable option in the face of a pandemic, but when he needs to present it in public he refused to mention the lockdown. When asked why, he replied that businesses must be saved as well, no matter what his own article said. Underneath the scientist who tries to be faithful to his paper’s methodology, there is the petty bourgeois who considers that the running of business takes priority over people’s lives.

Since the summer, with the highlights of bar owners and lumpen, the press began to find it more difficult to paint the protests of shopkeepers and hoteliers as sentimental. A change in tactics to preserve the strategy: every time a sector of the petty bourgeoisie got carried away with enthusiasm, it would simply cease to be news. The corporate protests would become invisible as soon as they predictably would generate social rejection.

For example: with Madrid paralyzed by the blizzard, a group of volunteers with SUVs offered themselves on the Internet to take anyone who needed it to the hospital and other basic services for free. Cab drivers, who could not drive because the accumulated snow prevented them from driving passenger cars, considered the SUV drivers as unfair competition and began threatening them, hunting them down and breaking their vehicles when it was possible to do so… Our friendly neighborhood petty bourgeoisie showed decisively what it thinks about gratuity and solidarity!

Are they doing so badly that they’ve gone crazy?

It is true that in Spain an increasing number of companies are closing every month and that, with a third of the GDP fall concentrated in the tourism sector, which includes the hospitality industry, a 5% of the SMEs went bankrupt in 2020. According to the Bank of Spain, in 2021 the figures could be similar. Across Europe, small businesses in the service and trade sectors have been the hardest hit. But they have not been the only ones. A recent study on family businesses, the heart of the industrial petty bourgeoisie, reveals that in Germany, Spain and Italy, it is increasingly difficult to meet the fall in demand in domestic markets by means of exports. Even the urban petty bourgeoisie sees that its complementary sources of income, like the one coming from renting its properties, have declined for the first time in years and will still take time to recover.

In the context of an epidemic, the contradiction between their particular interests – to save their businesses – and the most basic universal human interests – to avoid contagion and death – has become much starker.

But none of this is new. Perhaps one sees it most clearly in the countryside. The agrarian petty bourgeoisie has for years remained outside the bulk of the increases in profitability in its own sector. In general, in the countryside, industry or services, increasing capitalization is only viable on certain scales that small owners lack and are almost impossible to achieve on their own. The worsening of the crisis with the Covid and the conditions imposed by the pandemic itself have only accelerated this process, cutting off demand for new businesses that seemed more promising to them, such as tourist rentals.

They have not gone crazy now. Their interests have always been the same and with them their morality. What has changed is the degree of their hardships, not the nature of their situation. The obstacles to making their capital profitable have been aggravated by the quickening of the crisis. And in a context of epidemic, the contradiction between their particular interests – preserving their business – and the most basic universal human interests – avoiding contagion and death – has become much more starkly evident.