Arrival of the corona caste
The author is the head of the welfare administrative team of the JoongAng Ilbo.
In the book of Revelation, the final chapter of the New Testament, the four horsemen of the apocalypse punish the sins of humans on judgment day. The white horseman represent disease, red for war, black for famine and blue for death. They symbolize tragic incidents that bring the apocalypse.
Historian Walter Scheidel defined “Four Horsemen of Leveling” in his book “The Great Leveler.” They are mass mobilization warfare, transformative revolution, state failure and lethal pandemic. They are intense shocks which destroy the existing order, pressure income and wealth distribution, and narrow economic inequality and the wealth gap. The most powerful leveling in history was made possible through such great shocks.
The merciless coronavirus attack also helped narrow the gaps between the haves and have-nots. The Black Death in medieval Europe is a notable case. As more than 30 percent of the population were killed, three quarters of aristocratic families lost the heirs, which forced the noble class to shrink dramatically. The wage hike for workers as a result of labor shortage from population decline eased economic inequality.
The wheel of history is turning, but Covid-19 doesn’t seem to be a leveling horseman. It drives economically vulnerable people to their limits and reveals the divisions of social classes. The New York Times pointed out that a kind of pandemic caste system was developing as “Covid-19 is further revealing the country’s profound inequality and structural racism.”
Amid the Covid-19 caste, people who have to make a living cannot afford to avoid the risk of infection. In the United States, protests continue as people want to go back to work while the government’s stay home order leads to a prolonged lockdown. In the past four weeks, 22 million people applied for unemployment in the United States, and one in eight workers lost their jobs.
The situation is progressing similarly in Korea. In the March employment report released on April 17, the number of employed decreased by 195,000 in March, the largest drop since May 2009 after the global financial crisis. Temporary workers decreased by 420,000 and temporary unemployment increased by 1.26 million. It is the largest since the statistics started to be collected in 1983. The need to make a living is inciting more fear than the virus itself. It’s pushing the economically vulnerable to the edge.