Z is for Zero

It feels like we live in two worlds…

In one world we watched with horror as the first COVID deaths became a trickle, then a flood, then a tsunami.

In another world, the zeros represented the mounting financial cost of the pandemic: mothballed airports, furlough schemes, rent moratoriums…

In one world we struggle on zero-hours contracts while politicians prattle on about “building back better”.

In another world of rapidly unfolding climate catastrophe, economic growth is still touted as the solution to all our problems.

Of course these aren’t two worlds at all. They are two alternative ways of thinking about values and value. Two antagonistic ways of thinking about the same world.

Like a barium meal, the COVID pandemic has revealed those differences.

Over the last 24 months it has become even more obvious how much our lives depend upon ‘key workers’ and the jobs they do. We have learned to value them more than ever.

As people battled against coronavirus across the globe, we have also realised what we already knew: that many values are shared across the world.

But not all.

We have realised that some people might clap for the cameras or wear a badge – but actually place little value on human life.

It is as though human lives – our lives – are worth nothing to them. Zero.

Instead, what these individuals this class values is money. Economic value. The endless accumulation of zeros on an accounting sheet, in a bank balance.*

*Probably offshore.

  • That’s why a global pandemic was treated as an opportunity to get-rich-quick with public funds diverted to government chums in return for shoddy PPE.
  • That’s why students were forced back to universities – not for education but to take up rented accommodation and line landlords’ pockets.
  • That’s why, as millions of us are plunged into poverty, the world’s billionaires have added $5 trillion to their wealth over the course of the pandemic.

We have learned that these individuals this class cares nothing for community, society or solidarity. They are care-less.    

This is their world. The world of capitalism and its state. A world in which nothing is valued except economic value.

We care nothing for this world. It is not one we want to take over or inherit. We want to make the world anew.

By the measures and the standards of this world we will leave, we are nothing. But we can start from nothing and make something remarkable. We can remake the world.

We are nothing but we must become everything.


Two of the most important zeros currently facing us – the rise of zero hours contracts and the idea of “zero growth” – are inextricably intertwined. In a COVID world, the notion of an infinitely flexible workforce is ever more attractive to capital. Zero hours contracts don’t even have to be implemented: sometimes the mere threat of them is enough to force us into submission. And that submission is essential in order to re-boot the economy and further multiply those zeros on the balance sheet: “Growth is good! More growth is better!” All this against the backdrop of a rapidly unfolding climate catastrophe… The idea that “It is not necessary to conquer the world. It is enough for us to make it anew” comes from the Zapatistas, and Karl Marx talked of “that revolutionary daring which flings at the adversary the defiant words: I am nothing but I must be everything.”