JAMILA MICHENER: Hello, my name is Jamila Michener, and I am a professor in the Department of Government at Cornell University. I study questions related to poverty and inequality and public policy, and I just want to answer a few important questions about COVID-19 and its implications from my perspective, as a scholar who studies the things that I do.
How has this pandemic changed my perspective? And I think it's a question that all of us who spend our lives thinking about the world and trying to understand it better, we're going to have to come to terms with this question. In some ways, it reinforces my commitment to the kinds of work that I do.
We're seeing, for example, that the pre-existing inequalities in this country are shaping outcomes around COVID. We're seeing that the various kinds of insecurity that people face with respect to their access to government benefits, their access to health care, their experiences in the health care system matter for how they fare in the face of this pandemic.
The big question I've been asking myself is will people think about the role of the government differently after this, right? This kind of bootstraps ideology that we each just need to be individuals who take care of ourselves and pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and make our own way in this world and the government is just there to stay out of the way or to clear the way or what have you, will we see changes in the way that people understand the role of the government and a deeper understanding of how much we need the government and also how much we need each other?
Something that's amazing about this virus is that you can protect yourself. You can say, I'm just going to hide in my home in a closet, and then I'll never get it. But you can't truly protect yourself or fight this thing unless there is collective action, right? Everybody has to be trying their best to do the various things that we understand need to be done in order to, quote unquote, "flatten the curve."
And so I hope, in an ideal world, this prompts people, in particular in the US but all over the world because I think another thing this teaches us is how connected we are globally, to think beyond themselves and to understand the ways that we're all interconnected and to apply those lenses to how we understand the government, how we understand our role and our place in the larger political system, and how we want that system to be structured.
Now, that's in an ideal world. I don't think that that's what we'll actually happen, in part because we're all bringing a different starting place to this, and so we'll all end up in different places. But I do hope it moves us all in a similar direction and maybe helps us to invest a little bit more in the institutions that we're now relying desperately on-- our public health system, our health care system, and even our government.
These are institutions that, frankly, there's been a significant amount of argument over how much to invest in. In some cases, there's been a significant amount of disinvestment. Hospital closures, particularly rural hospital closures, have been happening for the last five years or more at a pretty steady pace. And I hope and I think that one thing that will come out of this is that we'll question some of that disinvestment and think a lot about how maybe the institutions that we take for granted are more central than we knew and start to think about those institutions and the kind of society and the kind of politics necessary to sustain those institutions, that we'll start to think about that quite differently than we have been to date.
Thank you for listening. And I hope that everybody stays healthy and well and makes it through this.
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Jamila Michener, assistant professor of government in the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University, discusses COVID-19 and potential changes in the role of the federal government. The pandemic may prompt people to re-examine investments in institutions, such as the public health system, on which we now rely, she says. Disinvestments in these institutions include the steady closure of rural hospitals for the past five years, she says. Michener studies questions related to poverty, inequality and public policy.