Archives for category: A Journal of a Plague Year

In the first three years of Donald John Trump’s presidential tenure, one thing we often marveled at was his ability to get his enemies to shift gears and focus on something else. Well, “shifting gears” is too anodyne a phrase: Trump derailed his opponents and set them on utterly orthogonal courses, careening out of control.

Can we be forgiven if we wonder whether other forces are now doing that?

Take 2020. At the start of the year, media focus shone almost solely upon Trump’s impeachment and trial in the United States Senate. All eyes gazed upon that steaming pile of compost.

Then, the “novel [China] coronavirus.” SARS-CoV-2 took over not merely the national focus, but the world’s. A most amazing turn.

Then, a few weeks ago, it became obvious that the lockdown policies were not going to hold: the people had had enough. Further, knowledgeable opinion was marshaling plausible scientific arguments against the lockdowns’ rationale. Progressives and Biden voters, overwhelmingly for the lockdowns, were seeing diminishing returns for their obsessions about the subject.

As if to save public ire against Trump, then came the execution of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman, on camera. An eruption of horror, almost unanimous. The cop was fired and charged with a crime.

Yet protest rallies and marches ensued, despite the apparent working of justice to redress the problem.

And then the riots. Which may have included some infiltrators spurring on the violence.

If you think this might all be a conspiracy to channel public attention, in mad hopes of ousting Trump in the next election, you are probably wrong. But I think you should be given some license to express the idea. You might be right.

Public obsessions turning so quickly on a dime sure look managed!

Illusion, probably. Natural action and reaction, likely. 

But smart people resist being caught up in manias outside their control. Super-smart people place others under their control.

In any case, it seems the case that Trump has lost some of his mojo. He no longer controls the news cycle; he no longer controls the focus of our attention.

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In the 1990s, I judged Bill Gates’s business practices to be more than a little dodgy, even creepy.

A friend informs me that his philanthropic education initiatives were ridiculous but thankfully short-lived.

His current population-reduction obsession lurking behind his vaccination obsession is creepiest yet, and seems of a piece with his business ethics.

The man appears to be earnest — but like a socialist dictator is earnest.

I used to mock anti-vaxxers. But the likelihood of me accepting to be vaccinated by a concoction Gates were pushing is getting close to zero.

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Each new day I hear yet another call for “opening up the economy,” and my annoyance level rises.

Not because I do not want the lockdown orders removed, however. I am annoyed because “the economy” seems unexceptionable but is not. It is an extremely deceptive term. It induces people to think of a Thing that can be shut off and on like a light switch. It suggests that it’s about money and organization and is generally ancillary to our lives. But it isn’t an existent “it” in the singular, much less in a mechanistic manner, it is an emergent order of people producing and trading. “The economy” is people doing the things that allow us to live. It is, in a sense, living.

It is “making a living.” Shut it down and you make death.
When you prohibit people from commerce, from producing and exchanging, you are cutting off the life blood of the civizilization. When we worry that “the economy will suffer” we mean “people will suffer.” And some will die.

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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).

Do you agree with United States of America President Donald Trump when he says the coronavirus crisis is ‘worse than Pearl Harbor’ or 9/11?

…as answered on Quora (May 6, 2020)….

The policies chosen as a response to the contagion in most of these United States (as well as, to a somewhat lesser extent, by the federal government) will, I hazard, prove more damaging than either World War II or the insane War on Terror.

These policies may define a new era, and appear to demonstrate the willingness of the public to do damn near anything governments with a barely plausible rationales tell them to. That is, the population, alarmed by scary stories told by scientists wielding faulty models, will just stop what they are doing and submit themselves to house imprisonment.

Now, the willingness of some people to protect themselves and others in public using gloves and masks and social distancing (I was an early adopter) was a noble and respectful adaptation. But shelter-in-place and orders to close business were not. Willingness to go along with them was very, very bad.

Because the prophecies were ridiculous and the policies were bad.

Why?

I am not going to get into the epidemiology. I will leave that for others to argue about — though I was skeptical from the beginning. And I ignore the pathetic, witless arguments for ‘flattening the curve,’ which are even now being modified, in a massive migration of the goalpost, by the policy’s proponents.

I am concerned about ‘the economy.’

Attitudes about this have shown people, including many economists, to not understand the most basic elements of commerce. To worry about shutting down business and trade is notto worry about ‘money.’ It is about producing the things we use to live. Stop producing, total, and there is nothing to buy. Stop most production, and there will be huge shortages. The government can send you all your beloved checks, but if there is nothing on store shelves, then the money becomes useless.

Shutting down commerce for a week or maybe a month requires us to exist on savings of actual goods as well as ready money. And goods in the supply lines. But without production, eventually there must come insurmountable shortages, starvation, death. Even now mass starvation in third world countries has begun, and the absence of meat in stores and at, say, Wendy’s, is here. In America. Now.

Livestock is being slaughtered for want of demand.

I suppose there are vegetarians who cheer this. They shouldn’t. Their foodstuffs will be soaked up by an increasingly desperate population, and choke to nothingness fast.

This could be the end of civilization. And the population has meekly complied, because they have been fooled by the money illusion. They think money is wealth. And they have been alarmed senseless by scary stories. And by their own pathetic fears of death.

Fearing death, they have embraced policies that lead to death.

Sure, governors have kept some ‘essential’ businesses somewhat free. But they do not understand how commerce works, either. No more than the central planners of the Soviets did. So keeping some businesses open will allow for some longer rope on the noose.

The lockdown must end, or it will be the biggest hit civilization has taken since Communism — which was, remember, the insane belief that a state-free utopia can grow out of state socialism, a tyrannical, centrally planned totalitarian system.

The lockdown policies may prove worse than Communism. For socialists were greatly aided by the existence of free countries to purchase grains and other goods with natural resources and gold, and by the existence of the pricing systems elsewhere, that central planners tried to ape. Well, we cannot all survive off the wealth allowed in the pockets of freer societies, such as Sweden and Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska and the Dakotas.

Even if we right now normalized commerce, and re-introduced productivity, we would still face tough times, for much damage has been done. The idea that governments can switch off commerce and then restart it again is absurd. Of course, when we start really hurting, after the lockdown orders cease, many will blame capitalism.

Do not listen to these people. Ever again.

And as for Trump, well . . .

It’s the productivity, stupid.

If a policy is promoted and put into action by touting Rationale A, but, after that case begins to crumble, the policy receives a completely new defense by recourse to Rationale B, I not unreasonably wonder what Rationale C might be, and whether it constituted the real motivating principle from the beginning.

If you start shouting “Conspiracy Theory!“ that C looks better and better every moment.

Yesterday I discussed the main reason the coronavirus shutdown must end: we are not producing, and without production we will be unable to purchase anything no matter how big the government bailout checks are. No production, no produce. The only difference between a mandated and voluntary shutdown is the difference between mass murder and mass suicide.

So, why have I heard no one saying this? Not even a libertarian economist? It is logical. It fits with theories from Hume and Smith that liberals and libertarians have been parroting for years. So why are economists not prophesying disaster? Do they think we have enough saved wealth to go for another 17 months without producing?

Do they really believe in the efficacy of “government checks”?

I suspect there is a simpler reason. They could be cowards.

I remember how few libertarians prophesied the collapse of the Soviet Union. Oh, sure, libertarians knew that socialism couldn’t match the industrial output of a capitalist society, and that the makeshift workarounds in the context of tyranny that the Communists manqué perpetrated could not provide anything like stability. It couldn’t last.

But few dared say it.

Why?

Well, we could not predict when, making our predictions seem vacuous, and the collapse of such a system had never happened naturally, without attack, before. So we would have had to dare to take theory beyond the comfort zone of repetitive reality.

Economists are not trained to be courageous. Not courageous enough to draw the consequences of a never-before-experienced event. Before we predict the Sun to rise on the eastern horizon, we first must observe it many times. A new event? Yikes. That is hard to confidently assert.

We might be made fun of!

Just so, this shutdown quarantine, the “lockdowns.” Though there have been shutdowns of small regions because of conflict and catastrophe, never before has so much of the modern, capitalist world been shut down. I guess the idea must be, “well, we survived Acts of God and war and regional famine, we will survive this!” But cities and towns struck by a major blow can rely on folks outside the region for help, at the end of the crisis period. But who could help nearly all of the world’s nations?

I do not see a way around this. No production = no products = poverty/destitution on a mass scale.

The few allowed “essential services” cannot feed the world, clothe the world, heal the world. “Commercial society” is one big super-organic system of mutually depedent-but-uncontrolled-but-adapting endeavors.

I do not see how I am wrong. At some point, universal non-productivity ruins not merely the price signals that allow order in a market, but interrupts production enough to completely scuttle the delivering of goods we need to survive. At some point, we go beyond not merely a navigable “opening up” of the economy, we go beyond the point where we can make up for lost time to provide what is necessary for civilized life.

The COVID-19/coronavirus lockdowns could be the biggest hit to capitalism since Communism. Possibly bigger than Communism. At some point, an extended shutdown could lead to the starvation of millions.

Just as now the prioritization of coronavirus over all other illnesses will cause tens of thousands of cancer and other deaths.

I have lost a lot of respect for the experts, even among libertarian economists.

Money isn’t wealth . . . and the source of the wealth for our continued existence as a civilization and species is continued productivity.

I am unaware of any amendments to the laws of economics.

I just see people fooled by fear and paralyzed — at least in tongue and lip and lungs — by cowardice.

And remember, when jumping off a tall building, free fall can seem wonderful . . . right up until you hit the pavement.

If you have jumped off, and are falling, falling, falling, only one thing is safe: predicting a major impact. Probably death.

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So, they are now saying that aerosolization of the virus occurs merely by breathing — the mere sharing of “the sweet breath that comes forth from thy mouth,” as the ancient Egyptians liked to romantically put it. And the shared air can even travel through plumbing.

Which points to the biggest fear: this may be a truly airborne virus. It appears that it could hardly be designed to be more effective in its initial spread. The lethality rate may be low, but if it spreads so successfully. . . .

Which then leads one to challenge a prominent American meme: don’t wear masks. This was apparently pushed to maintain a supply for hospitals. Israel and other countries have made them mandatory, while the American government waffles.

Had the government been more forthright, and asked people to use makeshift masks (bandanas, balaclavas, scarves, etc) and existing personal supplies until mask production could be ramped up, some lives may have been saved — surely the spread of the virus could have been flattened.

I have been advocating the use of makeshift cloth coverings of nose and mouth since the beginning of the quarantine state, on grounds of personal responsibility. I admit that it annoys me to witness fellow shoppers at the local store walk around completely unprotected. But the government’s psy-op gamesmanship may have played a part in the general heedlessness in the region where I live, which, admittedly, has no known cases of the coronavirus. 

Known by me and the general populace, anyway.

I encourage social distancing — a term I am becoming rather fond of — which includes going nowhere near people who are ungloved and unmasked. 

In the ethics of everyday interaction (a hundred years ago I would have written “intercourse”), there are several levels of openness:

1. normal walking around, greeting, chatting, including physical contact, flesh to flesh
2. when one is ill, one should immediately refrains from the latter, and
3. take some pains to signal illness and protect others from your illness — the Japanese do this very well.
4. In a time of plague, however, of general contagion, the protective efforts have to become the norm, even for presumably uninfected people, and you would think the government would aid in the manners of the community, and in the cultivation of responsibility, by 
5. signaling when the switch from 3 to 4 should happen.

Of course, Americans have not mastered 2 and 3. We are a backwards people.


This is what you get for electing a socialist as mayor: someone who wants to enslave doctors and nurses.
The end result of socialism is universal slavery. I’ve spelled it out elsewhere, but most people get it.
Refreshing to see this politician rush to his true position in a crisis.


Plausible, all-too-plausible. This YouTuber, who reads Chinese, merely rooted around in public websites in China and discovered the smoking gun, so to speak.

Previous speculations have been that and nothing more.


Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague year is free on Gutenberg, and is worth reading. Here is the opening:

It was about the beginning of September, 1664, that I, among the rest of my neighbours, heard in ordinary discourse that the plague was returned again in Holland; for it had been very violent there, and particularly at Amsterdam and Rotterdam, in the year 1663, whither, they say, it was brought, some said from Italy, others from the Levant, among some goods which were brought home by their Turkey fleet; others said it was brought from Candia; others from Cyprus. It mattered not from whence it came; but all agreed it was come into Holland again.
We had no such thing as printed newspapers in those days to spread rumours and reports of things, and to improve them by the invention of men, as I have lived to see practised since. But such things as these were gathered from the letters of merchants and others who corresponded abroad, and from them was handed about by word of mouth only; so that things did not spread instantly over the whole nation, as they do now. But it seems that the Government had a true account of it, and several councils were held about ways to prevent its coming over; but all was kept very private.

Seems apt for the hour and the day and the month of this plague year.



What if it were absolutely vital to be able to corral the masses of mankind out of the way while something epochal — apocalyptic — happened?

Say, what if all those resigned CEOs, whom we have seen bugging out in the months prior to the contagion, were really entering the underground bunkers where humanity will survive the holocaust that the ancients said would end this Age of Mankind?

What if the Deep State felt it would be easier to handle the end if everybody died in their homes in the coming conflagration?

Not until the last moment would the president come onscreen to say that the end had come, reassuring us that the government had indeed prepared for it, and the remnant of humanity chosen to rebuild civilization were already secured deep underground, and that it was with sadness that they would watch us die in fire — perhaps from a holocaust of vulcanism (say, the Yellowstone caldera), perhaps from a meteor, perhaps from mass coronal ejection, maybe even from an “alien invasion” — and that we should just hug each other one last time as the horror would come: thoughts and prayers.

OK. So that’s a science fiction scenario. But it is drawn from ufology lore, current and quite popular on television and YouTube.

There are a number of similar scenarios, too, perhaps more plausible: that the coronavirus has been an “exercise” (Pompeo’s own word), and that the real nature of the exercise is how easy it would be to completely lock society down, turn capitalism off and kill freedom forever.

This is what they are finding, I think: it is very, very easy.

Now, I’m not saying that any of these things are true. I do not know what the warring tribes of the Deep State are doing or what they want. They keep a lot under tight secrecy, and they play psy-ops with us as their chief modus operandi. It’s been well over half a century and they still won’t release all of the JFK assassination files — and we were never meant to know about Operation Northwoods, and Operation Mockingbird was a complete success, so much so that the intel community and the major news media are one well-oiled machine. And Paperclip brought in a long list of Nazi scientists who were treated alarmingly well, and whose very influence on the Deep State after World War II may very well have been determinative.

I can think of many explanations for any single event, of course. For example, the uptick in CEOs and corporate board members resigning, in advance of the coronavirus? Could be a statistical blip, or it could have more to do with the ongoing (?) investigations into the biggest story of last year: Jeffrey Epstein.

I bring these matters up because they are largely forbidden. Smart people do not discuss such things, and snort in derision if forced to confront them.

But a whole lot of smart people have proven themselves remarkably dumb.


I participate in Paul Jacob’s podcast.

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