Neutron Bombs and Essential Services

Like Matt Webb, my childhood featured a bomb that would make the people disappear, but leave everything else intact:

I grew at the tail end of the Cold War. My unquestioned assumption was that I would probably live out my life in a nuclear wasteland.

One of the things we’d talk about was the neutron bomb. This type of bomb would leave cities buildings intact, and it had very little fallout so the city would be safe to occupy after it was dropped, but the people would all go. Not die, that wasn’t the myth of it, but somehow vapourised — raptured up to heaven, really. It was called the “clean” bomb. The mental image was of an urban Mary Celeste.

This wasn’t science fiction for me: I remember the stories on the news making it seem a very real possibility.

Webb goes on to ruminate on “key workers” and the “key economy”—what we call essential workers and essential services—and how they have been separated from the economy in a way that renders then distinct and as we could never see them before.

I’ve been wondering about what the long-term effects on those deemed non-essential of being furloughed will be: it’s bracing to be told that your role in society is a “nice to have” not a “need to have.”