Jean-Paul Sartre defined history as “that long road that led to me.” But, let’s talk “existential threat” — not the solipsism of an existentialist. What specific history led to the current debacle of the lockdowns?

That it is a debacle is becoming all-too-clear. As I’ve explained, here and on the LocoFoco Netcast: “It’s the productivity, stupid!”

But how did we get here?

How did we get to the place that we allow governments to just shut everything down based on a virus scare?

Well, part of it is: accept a real scary prediction and over-react. The prediction was wrong. It came from a serial prophet of doom — one who had to resign from his government post because he twice broke the quarantine/lockdown order he had publicly suggested and defended. This Neal Ferguson character was off by orders of magnitude in past predictions, and this time was hardly any better. Where he had numbered COVID-19 deaths in the millions, what has come to pass, so far, number in the thousands. And, it turns out, so far not even as bad as a normal flu among the healthy population. It’s a nasty killer mainly among the very old and the immune-compromised. Still, this is NOTHING LIKE the Spanish Flu.

But what drives the mania for lockdown overkill? I’ve argued that progressives love it for a rather simple reason: it conforms to their values, it “fits”: the lockdown overkill “feeds their prime conceit, the notion that the freedom of all must be sacrificed for the good of the most vulnerable.”

But why would non-progressives fall for it? Out of a willingness to obey? Merely out of fear? Paul Jacob offers a more sophisticated theory (citing my line, nicely):

Shutting down capitalism almost worldwide may prove to be grandest disaster of all time. Folks on the margin of poverty in poor countries are already starving. Though scads of people seem to think we could ride out a lockdown indefinitely just by cashing government checks, the problem is that if we don’t produce, we cannot buy and consume products.  
It’s not about money, or profits as such. “It’s the productivity, stupid!” 
Elon Musk put it this way: “If you don’t make stuff, there’s no stuff.” 
A “universal basic income” won’t help if the re-distributed money chases few-to-no goods.
So how did we come to believe that we can just shut down most business activity and still survive?
Maybe the idea seems plausible because many people already do not work to survive. As their numbers have increased, our civilization has forgotten that they survive upon the work of others. 
We guffaw at young children who, when their parents say something they want is too expensive, they innocently respond, ‘well, just go to the cash machine!’ But the more people rely upon checks and bank deposits from the government — for any reason — the harder it is to remember that the power to buy stuff doesn’t ultimately come from government. With taxation, redistribution and inflation thrown into the mix, even adults think of government as Cash Machine. 
And the Cash Machine as a model for the economy.
To fight a virus, the world has shut down production — as if we do not survive by producing goods in order to consume them.
Government has reduced capitalism — and us — to absurdity.

Paul Jacob, “Cash Machine Cachet” (Common Sense with Paul Jacob, May 18, 2020).

The theory here is akin to “the money illusion,” where normal people tend to confuse the nominal prices of goods over time with “real prices,” not understanding that money changes value over time. (Or, as Irving Fisher put it, ‘We simply take it for granted that “a dollar is a dollar”—that “a franc is a franc,” that all money is stable, just as centuries ago, before Copernicus, people took it for granted that this earth was stationary, that there was really such a fact as a sunrise or a sunset. We know now that sunrise and sunset are illusions produced by the rotation of the earth around its axis, and yet we still speak of, and even think of, the sun as rising and setting!’) But here the illusion is that since money buys goods, and we get money from the government, government supplies goods!

There are many illusions like this in society. (The most notorious I call the Beneficiary Focus Illusion.) And this one strikes me as close to Karl Marx’s Alienation Theory, but works like this: whereas under barter producers are buyers and buyers are producers, under a money economy the buying is separated from the producing-and-bringing-to-market — by the monetary mechanism itself. Thus human beings do become alienated from their productive activities, so separated are they from their consuming activities. That is, buying and selling become radically different activities. And the Economic Man of a commercial society is not One Who Exchanges, but two different people: One Who Produces and Sells, on the one hand, and One Who Buys, on the other. The more these two are separated, or compartmentalized, Paul Jacob argues, the easier it is to forget that production is key to consumption. What’s key to consumption is money, and the government can give us that.

No need to work. Bob Black’s wet dream!

But this alienation — an “economic contradiction,” in Proudhon’s phrasing — has not led to a communist utopia or to an anarchical mutualism. It has led to masses of people accepting an end to production as a solution to a viral menace, with living off of government checks and direct deposits as “enough” economically to tide us through the downtime.

Yes, this is an absurdity.

But this one isn’t a funny absurdity.

Unless we die laughing?

Tarl Warwick has just come out with a video explaining how idiotic a lockdown society is:

Quotation from Irving Fisher, above, is from The Money Illusion (1927).