When Coronavirus Quarantine Is Class Warfare

A pandemic offers a great way to examine American class inequities.

There have been a couple of important stories about the quarantine as symbolic of our emerging class structure. The New York Times has an opinion by Charlie Warzen on When Coronavirus Quarantine Is Class Warfare(March 6th, 2020)

That pleasantness is heavily underwritten by a “vast digital underclass.” Many services that allow you to stay at home work only when others have to be out in the world on your behalf.

The quarantine shows how many services we have available for those who do intellectual work that can be done online. It is as if we were planning to be quarantined for years. The quarantine shows how one class can isolate themselves, but at the expense of a different class that handles all the inconveniences of material stuff and physical encounters of living. We have the permanent jobs with benefits. They deal with delivering food and trash. We can isolate ourselves from diseases, they have to risk disease to work. The gig economy has expanded the class of precarious workers that support the rest of us.

Ian Bogost in The Atlantic wrote an essay that inspired Warzen on how You Already Live in Quarantine: Being holed up at home has never been more pleasant. He points out how those of us who intellectual work are already used to working from home and having everything delivered. He writes:

As my colleague Alexis Madrigal noted last week, the gig workers who handle DoorDash or Amazon deliveries actually have to risk entry into the material world, putting them at far greater risk of contagion. Service-sector workers in retail, health-care, transit, teaching, and housekeeping have even less ability to choose when and where they do their jobs. From the beginning, the safety and security of service and flex workers has taken a back seat to that of the knowledge-economy elites who are their customers. A massive power imbalance is at work here.

I’m now in Rome as the coronavirus spreads through Italy. I was in Paris a week ago. In both places I stay in an apartment and work. When I go out it is to see sites, but mostly open air ones like historic parks and I walk to them. We shop and we do go to restaurants occasionally, but Rome isn’t that badly hit. My point is that even travelling one can work from home.