Thinking About The Unthinkable

Last summer, cable personality Tucker Carlson started doing a bit where he claimed to believe in things like extra-terrestrials, or at least believe they are possible. He would go through a list of things that he used to think were impossible, then finish with how in a world where Donald Trump is president, anything is possible. The point was not to talk about little green men, but to highlight how our old assumptions have to be abandoned, because many of them have been proven false by events.

It is a good thing to keep in mind when evaluating predictions about what comes after the great lock down. Trump is no longer talking about Easter as the back to normal date and has extended the lock down through April. Governors are now in a race to see who can come up with the bleakest prediction for when things get back to normal. The Brits now lead the race with six months as their estimate. This is an unprecedented time, which means what was considered unthinkable is very thinkable.

For example, ten years ago most Americans assumed the political classes had learned a hard lesson from Watergate. They had let the security services run wild for too long and suddenly they were a threat to the politicians. The days of a J. Edgar Hoover spying on people were over. Not only was that false, but there was a plot among FBI officials to interfere in the presidential election. They went so far as to concoct an impeachment trap in order to remove Donald Trump.

Six months ago is was unthinkable that these same security agencies would have the president removed by some other means. Six month ago we did not have a third of the country hiding under their beds. We did not have major cities turned into ghost towns by quarantine orders. How unreasonable is it to think that the same people who launched the seditious plot in 2015 would find themselves a Lee Harvey Oswald? It sounds crazy, but we live in an age where the crazy quickly becomes the norm.

What about something less cloak and dagger like martial law? State governors are getting pretty close to the line between state of emergency and assuming dictatorial powers over their states. New Jersey is supposedly issuing travel passes to citizens and arresting people for gathering in their own homes. Los Angeles has suspended the second amendment. Trump has contemplated a Federal quarantine of New York City, which would probably mean troops on the streets to enforce it.

On April 27, 1861, Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus between Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia so military authorities could silence rebel dissenters. In a world where governors are calling up the National Guard in order to enforce a lock down, is martial law really unthinkable? Sure, some nutty judge would no doubt challenge Trump on something like this, but what about governors? Would a corrupt judge like Amy Berman Jackson challenge a fellow party member like Cuomo on this?

What about the upcoming election? The Democrats have already suspended many of their state primaries for this virus. Given that Joe Biden is in such poor health now, they may force the suspension of the remaining primaries in order to have an easier time finding a replacement for him at the convention. That’s a precedent that could easily be used to delay the general election in November. What if New York and California have a second wave of the flu in the fall? Unthinkable?

How about something way out there with Tucker Carlson’s space aliens, like a military coup to topple Trump? The military is riddled with multicultural lunatics these days, so you know many are fanatical Trump haters. You can be sure there are a few generals who think they are Napoleon trapped in the body of a mediocrity. Given what we saw with the FBI, it is not unreasonable to think that the same “us versus them” mentality has crept into the officer ranks of the military.

Of course, for a military coup to work, it needs at least some support down the line, but mostly it needs civilian support. An ambitious general would need someone that really hates Trump to be the fig leaf for the coup. Would a vindictive old bat like Nancy Pelosi entertain such an idea? Would a group of Senators from the neoconservative cult consider such a thing? It seems unthinkable, but again, we live in an age when the unthinkable is not just thinkable, but happening in real life.

Of course, military coups and revolutions at the top have the habit of setting off civil unrest, as some portion of the public protests what’s happening. Locking people in their homes and communities will have unanticipated consequences. Lots of things that were out of the question now start entering people’s minds. The riots in Wuhan after they lifted the lock down is a good reminder that forcing people to do something does not change their unhappiness with the policy. It just intensifies it.

If this does go on for months and the cracks in the ruling class begin to show, is civil unrest really unthinkable? Is civil war unthinkable? Rhode Island now considers New Yorkers persona non grata. Pennsylvania is doing the same. Mainers are now going vigilante on suspected New Jerseyites. Sure, concern for the virus is the stated reason, but a general dislike for New Yorkers is the real reason. There are lots of such divisions in this country. Is civil war really so unthinkable?

Just because something is possible, does not mean it is likely. It is possible to hit the lottery for a billion dollars, but the odds are very small. What we’re talking about here though are the things that were thought impossible or close to impossible just six months ago that are now suddenly possible. Maybe they are still unthinkable within the ruling classes, but we thought the FBI and CIA spying on presidential candidates was unthinkable until not so long ago.

We live in an age where the unthinkable, like the fog, quietly creeps up on us until suddenly the unthinkable is the new normal. Just as “shelter in place” is the new normal whenever it snows, mandatory lock downs will be the new normal whenever too many people get the sniffles. The unthinkable not only becomes thinkable, it becomes impossible to think otherwise. It also means that everything unthinkable today is suddenly on the table, maybe even the menu, for tomorrow.


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Over Stimulated

The news brings word that Washington has agreed to an unprecedented economic package, estimated to top $6 trillion. This includes the $4 trillion in money the Federal Reserve will hand to rich people through various ways. The other money will go to different rich people in the form of tax rebates and cash payments. Some very small amount will go to everyone else in the form of unemployment checks, loans to small business and one time crazy checks randomly mailed to people.

The money in the stimulus bill is not all a waste. Bailing out the airline industry has a real benefit. Airlines are like a hybrid utility these days. They are technically private companies, but almost all of their actions are controlled by government. They operate through state owned airports and every aspect of their operations must be agreed to in advance by the federal government. We need the airlines to function, so bailing them out has some actual value to the rest of us.

As an aside, you’ll note what is not in this bill. If we are throwing trillions around, it would make sense to build a wall along the border or maybe fix up some roads. Perhaps we could draw back some overseas commitments and put those funds to work rebuilding the homeland. While the checkbook is open, maybe Trump could get something for his voters this time. Instead, you can be sure, tucked away in the details, will be money for more dirty barbarians to be settled in your town.

The stimulus bill is just the show. Its main purpose is to show the public that the actors and actresses hired by rich people to play the role of congressmen and senators really care about the people. The other carny folk post videos of themselves enjoying quarantine in their mansions. The carnies in DC pass stimulus bills. That may sound very cynical, but everyone in small business knows the score with these rescue packages passed by Washington during a crisis show.

The real mischief, however, is in the other money being handed to the nation’s desperate rich people. This is the stuff being done by the Federal Reserve, away from the TV cameras. Trillions of dollars will be poured into the financial markets, much of it through the direct purchase of assets, like bad debt, stocks, corporate bonds and the synthetic stuff no one really understands. The central bank is coming close to turning the global financial system into a palace economy.

A palace economy is a form of economic organization that was common in the Bronze Age societies of Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean. This is a system where a substantial share of the wealth flows to the rulers and is then distributed to the general population. The proceeds of farms, less what the farmers feed their families, goes to the king, who then feeds the people. The same holds for booty gained from conquest of neighbors or the mining of precious metals.

Now, the Federal Reserve is not taking these assets against the will of the current holders and then giving them to the rest of us. Instead, they are paying face value for assets that may or may not be worth what is claimed. The plan is to flood the system with cash in order to prevent cash hoarding. Theoretically, this keeps the banks lending and the credit system moving. In a system entirely based on leverage, any interruption in the credit system threatens the life of the system.

This reveals the big lie about modern economics. Small and mid-sized business are exposed to the dangers of the marketplace. If they make a mistake, they pay for it and possibly go under. In the major leagues, where the big boys play, there is no threat from market forces, as the Federal Reserve backstops everything. It is not a marketplace, but rather a highly complex casino, where the house stakes all of the players. Those that lose are simply given a loan from the house to keep playing.

A good example of this is something that started happening last fall, before anyone cared about the Chinese virus. This was back when the Fed mysteriously began to intervene in the repo market. No one had a good answer for why this was happening and the financial media was told not to ask too many questions. It turns out that it was a quiet rescue of hedge funds. They had over-leveraged themselves working a popular skim called the basis trade. The Fed jumped in to save them.

Just as democracy is a farce to conceal who is really calling the shots, free market capitalism is just a show to conceal the reality of the economic system. The response to the panic they have created shows just how little of the economy is actually a marketplace at all. The $6 trillion in stimulus is a quarter of the economy, on top of the mountain of regulations and trillions in normal government spending. In America, the “free market” is a fringe activity reserved for the little people.

It is tempting to think that this reality is some sort of perversion of our ancient economic traditions, but that’s just another pretty lie. In reality, the normal state of things is for the rulers to tightly control the economy of their territory. In was true in the palace economies of the ancient world. It was true throughout the middle ages. It has been true in the modern world since there has been a modern world. Like libertarianism and communism, the free market exists only in the mind.


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The Magic Box

Anyone who works in the right answer fields, like engineering and computer science, has run across the magic box gag. This is where someone draws up a process, describing the various inputs and sub-processes. Somewhere toward the end of the diagram is a box into which all of this stuff flows. What comes out of the box is the desired result of the entire process. That box at the end, where all the good stuff happens, is labeled something like “magical happens here.”

It is a stale gag, but a persistent one as it is a very good way to simplify a project for the people who put the magic in the box. The people who will get the magic really don’t need to know what happens inside the box. That’s not their concern. That’s the job of the technical people to solve. In fact, the whole point of the exercise is to make sure everyone shares the same understanding of all the other stuff. The users of the process must trust that the technical people put the right magic in the box.

It does not always go that way through. Even the simplest processes have peculiarities that are not appreciated until you start monkeying around with them. The combination of inputs may create conflicts that require immensely complicated solutions inside the box in order to get the desired result. It’s why after the meeting ends, the technical people erase the board and spend a lot of time figuring out exactly what form of magic will have to go into that box. Magic is not as easy at looks.

This concept is one to keep in mind when evaluating the responses to the virus panic and soon the economic consequences of it. Loads of people on both sides of the great divide think something momentous has happened. They see the flood of changes that have been imposed and rightly assume that it will have a profound long term effect on the country and the West in general. They are probably right, but they disagree as to what will come out of the magic box that is this panic.

The most obvious starting place is with the people demanding we take this extreme measure to stop the virus.  As has been discussed at length here now, they fail to consider the consequences. Instead, their response is something like, “The economy is not important. That will fix itself.” In other words, something magical will happen and things will get back to normal. The magic box will not only fix all the damage done to civil life, it will restore everything back to where it was before the panic.

It’s possible that things bounce back to where they were to start the year. No one knows, because this has never been done. Maybe in a year this whole episode will be forgotten, like the Kavanaugh hearings or the Russia hoax. On the other hand, we could be facing a long depression. The blows to the system could be so profound they cannot magically heal themselves. Instead, things remain broken. In other words, maybe the magic in that box is bad magic, the very worst kind of magic.

That brings up another camp that is now deeply invested in the magic box. There are a lot of people on this side of the great divide that are cheering the lock down. They think it will forever discredit the things they don’t like. The consequences of globalism and the neoliberal order will flow into the hive brain of the public and what comes out the other side is a rejection of all of it. Magically, everyone will come to the conclusions many people on this side held before the panic and subsequent results.

It’s possible that some of those things Greg Johnson lists will come true. It’s also possible that none of them will happen.  People are remarkably resilient to reality, as we see with the panic. If your first response to the prospects of a pandemic are to fill your basement with toilet paper, you are unlikely to draw the best lessons from this panic and its results. The ruling class, the people who triggered this panic, are also unlikely to abandon all the things that allow them to be in power.

The point here is not to take issue with Greg or his post. Greg’s lessons are correct, but they were correct before the panic. He is assuming this sudden crisis will be the magic box that transforms everything. The last half century of history is flowing into this panic and the resulting turmoil. What will come out the other side is a great awakening, as the scales fall from the eyes of everyone wondering how they will pay their rent and feed their kids. The coronavirus panic is the magic box.

Similarly, there is a subset of this thinking that exists in fringe socialist circles, like the remnants of the old alt-right and the Bernie Sanders camp. They cheer the coming collapse, because they think the prophesies will finally come true. America will become Weimar Germany. One version of the game has Richard Spencer delivering his first speech to the new Ethno-Reichstag. The other side thinks they will finally be free to punch those Nazis that secretly control the world.

It is an interesting key value pair. Both camps think their political ideology is timeless and forever relevant. Both sides think history must repeat in the exact same way it happened 90 years ago in Europe. It’s like coordinates on a map. Because the coordinates never change, their place on the great map of human history never changes either. It’s a form of mysticism. In this case, they assume an economic collapse must magically result in conditions most favorable to them.

Again, that magic box may not contain what they imagine. The most likely result is the increased power of the tech oligarchs. They are now helping government track people, all in the name of safety, of course. A world in which drones are used to police citizens identified through their mobile phone as having stood next to the wrong person is not favorable to the revolution. You see, the people in charge have been planning for the arrival of you-know-who for a very long time as well.

In fairness, maybe the critics of the response to this virus are engaging in magic box thinking as well. To assume lots of bad things come out of the other end of the box is just as presumptuous as assuming only good things will emerge. Maybe the great reorder that will occur after this will be better for the Nazis and Bolsheviks camped out in the pumpkin patch. Maybe people will wake up to the reality of neoliberal order and demand changes. Maybe things get back to normal in a hurry.

The one true thing in all of this is no one knows what is inside the box that events appear to be leading us. The panic itself is unprecedented in the modern age, so we are left to guess about what follows. What’s happening with the global financial system is less novel, but the scale is unprecedented. No one can know if the economy will spin back up, as no one has tried to turn it off and then back on. We are in the world of unknown unknowns, the part of the diagram labeled “Magic.”


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The Garden Gnome Gambit

Everyone is familiar with the garden gnome, the little ornamental figurines that look the dwarfs from children’s stories. Most people assume they originated in Germany, but they have their roots in ancient Rome. Small stone statues depicting the Greco-Roman fertility god Priapus were placed in the garden of Roman citizens. Like many Roman customs, the use of garden statues spread throughout the empire and eventually we got what we now call the garden gnome.

Of course, we use garden gnomes to keep the giraffes out of the garden. Not just any giraffes either. Normal giraffes are not a problem obviously. It is the albino miniature giraffes that attack the suburban garden. The liberal use of the garden gnomes has kept the miniature albino giraffes from terrorizing gardeners for generations. The proof of this, of course, is that we have no problem with miniature albino giraffes. In fact, it has worked so well no one has even seen one of these giraffes.

That may strike you as ridiculous, but it is something to keep in mind over the next few weeks as our leaders figure out how to unwind this virus panic. You see, a month ago they had two possible outcomes. One was the virus spread and killed a bunch of people, which would be very bad for the ruling class. The other possible outcome was a mild spread that got little notice and then it petered out. Heads they got blamed for ignoring a pandemic and tails they get no credit remaining calm about it.

That’s a bad gamble for a politician, which is probably why Tucker Carlson talked Trump into declaring total war on the virus. If all efforts were made to stop the virus, even if it craters the economy, the possibilities get much better. If the virus runs its course without much trouble and goes away like every other virus, Trump can declare war and throw himself a triumph. If the virus turns out to be the Antonine Plague, then Trump can fairly say it would have been much worse if not for his efforts.

What just happened is Trump has flipped the odds on what happens after the panic subsides this summer. In the do-nothing scenario, one outcome was neutral and one outcome was terrible. In the do-everything scenario, the outcomes are reversed. There one great outcome and one mostly neutral one. If it is the Antonine Plague, civilization collapses and none of this matters. Since the most likely outcome under all scenarios was closer to the Honk Kong Flu, this is a neutral result.

This is where the garden gnomes come into the picture. Just as we know that garden gnomes keep miniature albino giraffes from attacking our gardens, we know flattening the curb keeps this virus from becoming the Yellow Death. Anyone questioning these assertions is on the side of the miniature albino giraffes or the virus. The fact that these assertions are nonsense is beside the point. If people can be made to believe it, then these claims are true, as far anyone needs to know or care.

Now, the only way this works is if they can plausibly say they pulled out all the stops to prevent the worst pandemic in human history. If it was a bunch of talk and half-measures, they could get blamed for not doing enough. If the virus was a dud, then they would be accused of over-reacting to a minor event in order to politicize it. The only way to make the garden gnome gambit work is to go heavy on the response, regardless of the consequences. There can be no moderation.

The extreme measures also have the added benefit of swaying the public that the virus is Godzilla attacking Tokyo. This unprecedented shutdown of civic life, which is really just getting started, is the real monster of the story. At this point, you have a better chance to be struck by lightning than to know a virus victim. Even the girls on social media have not started faking infection yet. People look at the massive disruption of daily life and just assume the threat must be genuine.

Now there is one flaw with this approach. The shuttering of the country is going to come with a massive price tag. Current estimates, for example, suggest the rosy scenario for the economy is a 5% contraction in quarter one followed by a 25% contraction in quarter number two. It’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen in the second half of the year, but those are numbers that dwarf the first year of the Great Depression. Maybe after the quarantine is lifted, a massive recovery starts in the summer.

Of course, as soon as the coast is clear and the virus has been defeated, Trump throws himself a triumph and launches a new war on the depression. The people in the breadlines will not be impressed, but if the economy starts to recover in the summer, he can plausibly say the sacrifice was worth it. He can do a bunch of campaign stops at retirement homes to pose with octogenarians spared by the virus. That all sounds terribly cynical, but politics is a cynical business.

Another side benefit of this is the alarmist can claim to be vindicated. Like the people claiming their garden gnomes keep the giraffes away, the alarmists will say these extreme measures headed off an extinction event. By the end of the summer, they will be telling tales about an anthropomorphized virus that was eating men whole. Even if they hate Trump, they will celebrate him for taking their advice. The garden gnome gambit lets everyone be a hero, no matter the results.

Finally, Trump came to Washington as a chaos agent. He created chaos in the primary and the general election. His arrival in Washington set off panic among the establishment that has never subsided. This response to the virus and the ensuing panic it has caused is best suited for someone, who thrives in chaos. The garden gnome gambit is also best employed by someone, who relentlessly boasts about his achievements. Trump is now fully in control of Washington.


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Self-Assessment

On Monday of this week, I had a conversation with a client about the normal stuff we talk about on a regular basis. Of course, the panic was a topic, as every business is figuring out what they need to do to keep the doors open in the panic. This person is generally sober minded and skeptical about most things. He is one of those guys, who can get wound up over little things, but those little things are stupid things. Otherwise, he is not the sort to mindlessly join the herd in the latest fads.

Anyway, I just assumed he was as skeptical as I was about the panic, so I said something along the lines of this being madness. To my surprise, I got a lot of push-back about how this is super serious. He did the old “my wife knows a doctor at some hospital and she said 70% of people will get this.” It is the Ferris Bueller gambit, in which a mythological expert several steps removed from the person, is the most reliable source of information on the planet about the subject.

Of course, I made the mistake I often point out in politics and that is I countered his claim with actual facts that anyone can look up. I pointed out that there are eight billion people on the planet. I told him more people have died from suicide in China than from this plague and China is the epicenter. My client listened, but it was quite clear he was on the side of strangers he reads on-line. Those people are much more convincing to him, because of something called abductive reasoning.

Abductive reasoning is where you start with an observation or set of observations and then you find the simplest and most likely, or what feels like the most likely, explanation for the observations. Greg Johnson talked about this in his review of Ben Novak’s Hitler & Abductive Logic. In this case, my client sees the panic and the outlandish actions of government officials and thinks, “What could be causing this?” The best answer, the one that is the simplest, is that the virus is the Plague of Justinian.

Later in the week, I had an e-mail exchange with someone, who is most certainly on this side of the great divide. The e-mail was about the cancellation of this year’s American Renaissance and other dissident events due to the panic. I once again assumed he was on the sober minded side of this issue, so I freely called it a panic. What I got was the old line about “If we can save just one life.” In this case, he thought staying home for a couple of weeks was a perfectly reasonable measure.

The mistake I was making here was in not talking to someone where they are rather than where I would like them to be. That is, this person is a non-technical person working in a non-essential part of the economy. He will get paid to stay home for two weeks, so this is a nice unexpected vacation. He also has kids, so he feels he has to be extra cautious, as people literally count on him for their existence. He’s never going to respond to facts and reason on this issue. He’s being justifiably selfish.

Both of these examples are useful in thinking about politics. The whole point of politics is to persuade people. Being right is a nice side benefit, if you are into that sort of thing, but it is rarely an essential element. People, even smart people, respond to emotional appeals and moral appeals before appeals to reason. Critically, only left-wing lunatics put politics ahead of their personal safety or the well-being of their family. “For the children” is a cliché because it was highly effective.

In this case, after the panic has subsided and we are evaluating the wreckage, most of the people who supported these measures will be right there with extreme solutions to remedy the fallout. The curve flatteners will be demanding a New Deal to restore the economy and boost the stock market. Many may even howl about the foolishness of destroying the global economy to save a few extra people this year. People are funny that way. They forgive and forget their errors first.

It will be tempting to remind these people that they were warned about the trade-offs, but supported the panic anyway. In six months, a lot of curve flatteners are going to be complaining about the downstream consequences to this. Just as facts and reason are of no use in this panic, they will be of no use in the aftermath. It is a lesson dissident need to take from this current crisis and put to use in the next. Like animals, people must be led, exploiting their naturally tendencies, not their reason.

That’s the hard part of politics for the sorts of people that naturally find themselves on this side of the great divide. The bigots and anti-Semites, of course, end up over here because they have nowhere else to go, but most people are led here, because this is where the facts led them. It is the rejection of emotional appeals and herd thinking that opened their eyes to alternative explanations for observable reality. It’s asking a lot to then resort to emotional appeals in order to do politics.

That said, it is not impossible. Midweek I had a chat with another client and this subject naturally came up. This person is a self-actualizing beautiful person. Having been bitten twice earlier, I was prepared this time. I mentioned that I was worried that about how the lock-down would keep the tens of millions of diabetics from getting their insulin. This person then told me their mother was on insulin. We chatted a bit about how shutting down the economy would stop all sorts of essential items.

I could tell his sense of well-being shifted on a dime. He went from being comfortable with the lock-down to suddenly being worried it would cause him real harm. The number of insulin users is less ten million. The number is less than half that, but we all know someone that takes the needle. We can feel that without thinking about it. The ten million number is meaningless. What resonates is the one, the one person we know, who is dependent upon insulin to remain on this side of the grass.

Ultimately, this is the age-old lesson of politics. Politicians are trained to personalize issues as best they can, because that resonates with people. The town hall debate is really just a form of the AA meeting. The politician is the counselor, leading the participant in telling their story. The politician provides affirmation and encourages the groups to share in that affirmation. This is the ideal environment for the relatable sociopath, which is why democracy loves the town hall style debate.

For dissidents, there will be loads of open doors in the coming months, as the public comes to terms with what has been wrought. Suddenly, there are going to be a whole lot of people looking for the simplest and most likely explanation for what they see happening around them. The normal political construct is not going to be enough to explain it. That means there is an opportunity to provide a personal and reasonable sounding answer that emotionally connects with them.


For sites like this to exist, it requires people like you chipping in a few bucks a month to keep the lights on and the people fed. It turns out that you can’t live on clicks and compliments. Five bucks a month is not a lot to ask. If you don’t want to commit to a subscription, make a one time donation. Or, you can send money to: Z Media LLC P.O. Box 432 Cockeysville, MD 21030-0432. You can also use PayPal to send a few bucks, rather than have that latte at Starbucks. Thank you for your support!


Modeling Failure

A suddenly popular hobby for the statistically minded is the modeling of the coronavirus pandemic that threatens to sweep the West. The statistician to the stars, William M. Briggs, has been modeling things like the utility of testing. Steve Sailer has been promoting a person blogging under the name “Arguably Wrong”, who has been modeling the cost of different containment strategies. Of course, the CDC is taking this opportunity to whip up a panic with their models.

The right word is panic, as we have hoarding of useless supplies like toilet tissue and bottled water. Starting this weekend, tens of millions of America will be sheltering in place and self-isolating over fears of the plague. Schools are closing and will remain closed for six weeks. Entertainment like sporting events and public gatherings has been canceled indefinitely. America is about to go into an unprecedented shut down of the economy and civic life based on what could happen.

That is a very important variable. The numbers thus far are trivial, in terms of infections and deaths from this virus. Italy has the highest per capita infection rate. That infection rate for Italy in the chart below means there are currently twice as many dwarfs in Italy as there are virus victims. In the United States, almost as many people have been struck by lightning this year as have contracted the virus. More people have committed suicide this year in China than have died from this virus.

Now, the experts all say these numbers will explode in the near term. Just as the flu or the common cold starts small, person to person contact causes the infected population to grow quickly. Currently, the claim is the infected population will double every five days, with no end in sight. Italy, for example, could have 200,000 cases by the end of the month, if that prediction is correct. By May a little under one third of the population would have the virus and by June everyone is infected.

This is, of course, exactly what did not happen in China. In fact, we have no reason to think this will happen at all. We have examples of prior infections, some very serious like the Spanish Flu. We even have a good sense of the infection rate from the Black Death in the middle ages. As far as we know, there has never been a virus with an infection rate like what is being predicted. Maybe this is different. Maybe modern urban life makes us unusually susceptible to a pandemic. Maybe.

Further, we don’t know as much about pandemics as the army of experts in the media would have us believe. Most of the model makers are assuming the experts on this stuff have their facts right, but there is no evidence to support that claim. For example, the Spanish Flu remains a mystery. We know the strain of H1N1 and we have some sense of where it started, but we have no idea why it ended. We know it ended long before it reached the infection rates predicted for this virus.

In the fall of 1918, 4,597 people died in Philadelphia in the week ending October 16th from the Spanish Flu. By November, deaths dropped to zero and by mid-month the flu had disappeared from the city. No one knows why. Maybe it mutated into something very mild. Maybe it simply ran out of victims. Maybe limiting social contact finally stopped the spread. No one knows. That’s an important thing to keep in mind about these predictive models. They as yet cannot predict the past.

This is something that must be plugged into any model for this virus and models for predicting potential outcomes. The models being used will all be wrong and wrong in ways no one can predict. For example, what if there really is an ethnic component to these infection rates. The part of Italy being hit with the virus has a lot of Han Chinese for all the reasons we have non-Europeans in the West. The city of Prato Italy, population 200,000, has been overrun by Han Chinese.

Could there be an ethnic element here that would explain the numbers in China, Italy, Iran and the reaction by Israel? The Chinese seem to think they are particularly vulnerable to this virus. They have been studying coronavirus for some time, because they have suffered more than any country from it. Lance Welton at VDare has been cataloging the studies on this topic. The media experts dismiss this stuff, but that’s mostly because of the fear of being called racist, which is worse than death.

The point is the models that are driving the great shutdown of the West are based on assumptions that are most likely wrong. That means the models themselves will turn out to be wrong. Modeling the wrongness may turn out to be the most important project over the next several months. Right now, the public is grudgingly giving public officials the benefit of the doubt. The people have little trust in them, so when things are not as predicted, those public officials better have answers ready.

For example, what happens if we learn that the outbreak in Italy is centered in their large Chinese community? That’s going to have an effect on public policy, because it will have an effect on public attitudes. Even if lots of actual Italians gets sick, people are going to wonder why this fact was not made clear straight away. They may also wonder why there is a Chinese community in Italy. A whole range of prior assumptions are going to come under new scrutiny with new information.

How about something simple like the great spread of the virus does not materialize over the next few weeks? Public officials will no doubt claim that the lock down was a success, but that’s like claiming the reason there are no giraffes in your garden is due to installing a garden gnome. Very few people are going to buy it and the more so-called experts push it, the more the people will reject it. The already low faith in public officials will fall even further. There will need a better answer.

It may not even take a few weeks for the public to grow both weary and skeptical of the state of emergency. A very large chunk of society thinks this is a hoax. Young people are calling it the “Boomer Remover” while taking advantage of cheap airfares. Short of more data to fuel the panic, the public could get tired of this by next week. This approach to the virus can only work with public cooperation, so public officials should assume great public resistance within the next week.

There’s also the idiot factor. The fact is, America has rounded up most of its imbeciles and put them on government payrolls. Under normal conditions, they do a limited about of harm this way. Under these conditions, they can do a lot of damage. Red Flag laws have already embolden imbeciles on the local police forces to randomly open fire on people in their homes. The staggering incompetence of public safety units must be part of any model predicting what comes next with the lock down.

That’s the thing about a public emergency. Societies are systems with lots of hard to define inputs and sub-processes. The outbreak is one input that has set off a range of other inputs, which in turn has altered the behavior of many sub-systems. These sub-systems interact with one another, so the system we see, what we call daily life, is changing in unpredictable ways. All of these linear models violate the basic rule of models in that they assume things about the world that are false.

Life in human societies does not happen sequentially. Instead it is millions of lives operating in both parallel and in series. It’s very complicated. We see that with how public officials in America have reacted to the virus. When it was a Chinese problem, public official ignored it. When it became an Italian problem, suddenly it resonated with Americans, because we are familiar with Italians. It turns out that the input value of one dead Italian is exponentially more important than one Asian.

Over the next few weeks, public officials better be ready for being wrong about all the things they have been saying. Trump’s first instinct, like most Americans, was to dismiss the alarmists. The reason is they have cried wolf so often, only a fool would believe the alarmists at this point. If this turns out to be a big to-do about nothing, we suddenly live in a world where 300 million people feel like they were taken for a ride. There will be a price to be paid for being that wrong about something this big.


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The Time Of The Golden Agers

Major social events are often a lot like moving furniture around the house. Moving the bookcase from one side of the room to the other is a mundane task. What you find behind it, however, can be quite interesting. Sometimes you find something you searched high and low for at some point. Other times you find something that you never knew was missing. Maybe just moving things around a bit gives you a new perspective on your living space that leads to other changes in your environment.

That’s how big social events feel sometimes. The event itself is not as important as what it reveals. Maybe you find out your neighbor is a bit of kook, who quietly has been stocking the basement with dried food and ammunition. Maybe we learn that the local government is more useless than anyone imagined possible. The Chinese pandemic is one of those events that will be more important for what it reveals than for the impact of the virus itself, unless you die from it, of course.

For example, we are getting a glimpse of what the great Baby Boomer retirement is going to look like in the coming decade. If we execute all of the people, who like debating the precise dates of generational divisions, we can agree that the cohort in question is roughly those who came of age in the late 1960’s and the late 1970’s. Two waves of the post-war baby boom. Right now, the number of elderly people grows by an average of 2.8 percent annually. It will peak at about 80 million.

For as long as anyone reading this has been alive, Baby Boomers have driven American politics. In the 80’s, they wanted to make money, so we financialized the economy and gave everyone a 401K. In the 1990’s, better schools were all the rage then better access to college. Health care became an issue, first because Boomer parents were getting old then when the Boomers themselves got old. Cheap health insurance was the most important political issue until now.

Notice that Bernie Sanders promising free health care got no senior support. The reason is seniors have Medicare. Blacks have Medicaid. The only people who care about health insurance premiums are younger white people and no one cares about them anymore. In fact, Bernie’s Medicare for all probably scared the crap out of older people, who rightly assumed it would mean longer lines for them. Worse yet, it could mean taxing their retirement to pay for it.

This brings us back to the Chinese Flu. Otherwise sensible people like Greg Cochran and Steve Sailer are clanging the bell, trying to get people to declare a war on the Covid19 virus. What they are suggesting, short of some miracle cure or a vaccine, would require rearranging American society. It would need rounds of universal testing, mass quarantines and testing of every human crossing the border. North America would have to become something like North Korea, in terms of travel restrictions.

Keep in mind that polio is still around, despite generations of eradication efforts. We have vaccines for a lot of nasty viruses. For the most part, these have been eradicated in the West, but they still exist in the world. If stop vaccinating people, those viruses will reemerge in the West, which is why we remain vigilant. We have no vaccine for the Chinese Flu and no one is sure we can get one. In other words, eradicating this virus, without vaccine, will require a massive reorganization of society.

What we’re seeing is the first glimpse of what democracy looks like when 20% of the population is elderly. Baby Boomers have always voted for stuff they want and soon, they will want to be insulated from the dangers of old age. If it requires us to turn America into a hermit kingdom in order to prevent a Boomer Pox from getting loose, then that’s the price the younger generation must pay. The salient political issue of this decade will be how best to guard the old coots from the Grim Reaper.

Now, this is the part where angry oldsters stop reading and post a comment about how not all Boomers are like that. This is true. In fact, it is plausible that no Boomers are willing to crater society to get a few extra days. This is a variation on the Simpson’s paradox. That is, this trend is uncommon in small groups or individuals, but appears when looking at the cohort as a whole. This turned up with education, abortion and health care. The data says Boomers collectively vote their interest.

Now, there is another angle to this. The sorts of collective action proposed by people like Steve Sailer and Greg Cochran can only happen in a cohesive, high-trust country with lots of social capital. The sorts of communities where people like Cochran and Sailer grew up had those qualities. Modern America, in contrast, is a multicultural amalgamation of low-trust clusters. The store of social capital has been burned up a long time ago in order to have cheap stuff.

This raises the question as to whether this cohort will suddenly have a come to Jesus moment over demographics. Most of those Trump voters in comfort fit slacks, carrying over-sized constitutions to the rally, think we can get back to the way things were when they were kids. If you dispute this, look at the comment section of Breitbart or Conservative Treehouse. For those people, it is always 1985.

What happens when they find out that ain’t happening? Will it make any difference if the oldsters finally see their interest are threatened by the great brown wave that is washing over America? We’ll soon find out. This panic, and that what we are seeing, will change things far more than the virus. We’re about to learn just how much social capital is left and the answer is probably not going to be encouraging.

The fact is, all the snarky comments about the Boomers and the irreverent mocking of the Zoomers is not changing the reality on the ground. America has operated like a young country for a long time. It still does in many ways. It is an old country now, a country run by old people just coming to terms with their mortality. The psychological revolution in American culture that is upon us will make the past decade seem like golden age. Instead, it will be the prelude to the time of the Golden Agers.


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Knocking At The Door

One of the pitfalls of dissident politics is the temptation to succumb to despair, focusing only on the negative. Excessive cynicism is an escape, an indulgence, like libertarianism, where you get to pretend the sideline is the high ground. Cynicism is a cost free way of both participating in politics, but standing outside of it, as if you are above it all. It has been a feature of modern conservatism as a way of keeping the people from noticing that they are being scammed.

The truth is, politics at this level is not about elections or public policy. It is about effective social change, by changing the frame of reference. That’s a lot like steering a super tanker into port. A little nudge here. A little there. In the moment, you see little progress, but eventually, the tanker does move. That’s the point of dissident politics in the current age. It is moving things a little here and a little there in the effort to make our target audience aware of what’s happening to them.

An example of one of those tiny little bits of evidence that the ship is moving a little bit our way is this post from NRO, of all places. It is an interview with Oren Cass, who is the director of a new think tank in the Imperial Capital. The mission statement of American Compass says it is “to restore an economic consensus that emphasizes the importance of family, community, and industry to the nation’s liberty and prosperity.” Put another way, they claim to oppose what we call marketism.

Another Washington think tank is hardly an inspiration to our side, but Oren Cass has gotten a lot of attention from influential people. This twitter thread spelled out the problem of worshiping economic data as an end in itself. More important, he did so in the language technocrats can understand. That is an important step, as it introduces dissident topics to people lacking the language and mental constructs to understand much of what is discussed on this side of the great divide.

A good example of this is the response from another NRO pod person to that Oren Cass twitter thread. Like so many in that hive, he clearly does not understand the concept of trade-offs. He certainly is clueless when it comes to concepts like social capital or community capital. He’s stuck at the place where knowing that the big number is more than the small number gets a gold star. Still, Cass is able to speak to him in language he can grasp, which is important.

Now, this does not signal a revolution of thought inside the Imperial Capital, but it does suggest some people inside are looking over the divide to this side. More important, instead of just assuming the people on this side of the great divide are evil or stupid, they are wondering why so many people are heading this way. The first step to legitimacy is often when the people in charge simply start taking their critics seriously, rather than treating them as a pestilence to be eliminated.

To be clear, Oren Cass is not “one of us” and never will be. In fact, if the inner party decides to round us up and ship us off to camps, he will be right there with them, as he is them and not us. The ruling class, along with their attendants, define themselves in opposition to us. Who they are is explicitly not us. They are the occupiers, the colonial pod people, ruling over the rest of us. Oren Cass and his project are simply a flicker of doubt, a sign that all is not well inside the walls.

A sober minded person would wonder why it has taken so long for anyone inside the walls to notice the problems outside the walls. After all, paleo-conservatives were predicting these sorts of problems forty years ago. Pat Buchanan ran on these issues, as well as Ross Perot. Trump is in the White House, in large part, because of the economic realities just dawning on people inside the walls. Heck, Bernie Sanders exists because of the things Cass identified in that thread.

It is the big tanker ship. A thing normal people cannot grasp is just how different the world inside the walls is compared to regular America. In the Imperial Capital, it is always a booming economy. Every day is Fat Tuesday, because tomorrow is always fat Tuesday as well. It’s always good times in the Washington for people who make their living in politics. Imagine a college campus the size of a city, but instead of students roaming about it is adult who work in politics.

This is why all past political reform efforts have failed. When the road goes on forever and the party never ends, reform sounds like ingratitude. From the Tea Party to the Bernie Bros, to the people inside, these movement strike the revelers as irrational ingratitude by people who don’t know how good they have it. But, the dissident right is knocking at the door and some people are starting to listen. It is a tiny example of how things are moving our way, ever so slowly, like that tanker ship.


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Middle-Man Conservatism

When most American think about Denmark, what comes to mind is blonde-haired children in traditional dress. Maybe it will be the image of Viking invaders, rushing off their long boats. The more worldly sorts will know it is one of the happiest countries on earth, according to regular surveys. It is also one of the safest, with a high standard of living and high quality of life. Those who have visited the country come away with a highly positive view of Danish society.

It turns out that Denmark is a blighted hellscape, a land full of tax slaves aching to be free of the welfare state. According to someone calling himself David Harsanyi at National Review, Denmark is exactly what you’ll get if Bernie Sanders gets his way. “In Bernie’s beloved Denmark, 24.5 percent of tax revenue as a percent of GDP came from personal income taxes and social-security contributions, compared with only 16 percent in the United States.” What monsters!

Further, “Denmark’s corporate tax rate is 22 percent, compared with a combined state and federal American corporate tax stands at 25.9 percent.” As we all know, the bedrock measure of societal happiness is the corporate tax rate. The only thing close on the human rights scale is how a people treat carried interest. Everyone knows that you judge a society by how well it treats its most vulnerable and massive global corporations are the most vulnerable in every society.

All joking aside, that short post by David Harsanyi is everything that has gone wrong with conservatism over the last many decades. He is, to quote Ben Shapiro of all people, acting on his middle-man mentality. The middle-man is not concerned with either side of the transaction. His interest lies only in the efficiency of the transaction, as that is where he extracts his profit. The middle-man is the tollbooth operator, who gets paid on commission, based on the number of cars that pass his booth.

From the perspective of the middle-man, the state is always a competitor, as it makes the transaction less efficient. Sometimes it is through regulation, intended to curb certain undesirable activity. In other cases, the state seeks to displace the middle-man, in order to collect taxes. This is why the middle-man not only opposes state involvement in economic activity, but does so on the grounds of efficiency. The raison d’être of the middle-man is to increase efficiency in order to increase his profit.

Citizens are not driven by efficiency. They have an interest, often a moral interest or a societal interest, in at least one side of the transaction. The citizen opposes drug dealing, for example, because it increases drug taking and makes popular the exploitation of citizens. It is not about halting drug dealing or drug taking, but about stigmatizing both activities. No one wants to live in a land where self-abuse and lethal exploitation is tolerated, much less celebrated.

This is why Denmark has the sorts of regulation on commerce that American conservatives find so abhorrent. The Danes wish to remain Danish, which means discouraging that which they don’t like and encouraging what they like. The Danes don’t think it very Danish to have a small number of people with massive wealth, while a large number live in squalor. The typical Dane looks at an American city, for example, and thinks Americans are monsters for tolerating it.

Therein lies the problem with American conservatism. Over the last many decades, conservatism moved from a discussion about “who we are what do we want to be” to debates about how to maximize efficiency in order to profit the middle-man. What passes for conservatism is just the self-interest of the middle-man, who has no social connections or moral duty to the whole of society. As far as David Harsanyi is concerned, the only thing that matters about Denmark is its tax rates.

A middle-man conservative like Harsanyi does not think about whether it is good for America that corporations now control so much of society. He’s indifferent to the abuses of the tech giants. Why should he care? The middle-man conservative is uninterested in the parties of any transaction. Just as the middle-man only cares about getting the deal done in order to extract his profit, the middle-man conservative just wants the deal open so the middle-men can do their thing and make it happen.

The irony of modern conservatism is that it has actually arrived at the exact opposite of what has always defined conservatism. For the conservative, society is defined by its people, their history and their customs. It is that identity as a people, around which all things must be organized, including economics. Modern conservatism is the complete rejection of that. The middle-man conservative rejects the very notion of identity in terms of society. There are only temporary parties to a transaction.

That’s what makes conservative opposition to Sanders so ridiculous. The Right used to oppose Sanders-style Utopian socialism on the grounds that it was bad for us, as in all of us in the society. Today, the so-called conservatives oppose it because it is bad for them and their paymasters. The rest of us are on our own. They oppose populism for the same reason. For middle-man conservatism, the interest of the people inevitably becomes an adversary, because it is bad for business.


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The Nitwits Of The ‘Narcissus’

It has long been known that certain types of jobs and professions attract certain personality types. The entertainment business attracts shallow people, who crave attention and adulation. Cops tend to be belligerent bullies. It does not mean all entertainers are shallow airheads or that all cops are jerks, just that these fields tend to attract those types. In fact, shallow airheads and belligerent bullies may have some advantages in these fields over average people.

Modern mass democracy seems to attract a certain personality type as well. The person we tend to see in politics and the associated media, large and small, is someone, who takes great pleasure in admiring himself. His vanity is not rooted in accomplishment or even proven skill, but rather in an idealized version of himself, which is often quite different from his actual self. The world of mass democracy, especially the media, is a world dominated by narcissistic nitwits.

Just look at some of the people that were in the Democratic primary field. Pete Buttigieg is a man of no accomplishments. In fact, given all the advantages he has had compared to most people, he has been a failure. Yet, he spent a year sashaying around the country, carrying on like he was doing the world a favor. Think about the level of self-regard it takes for a small-town mayor to think he can be President. You have to like yourself a whole lot to do what he did this last year.

The political media is where this is most obvious. David French is a great example of the narcissistic nitwit. The only reason to notice him at all is due his many idiotic things he has posted on-line over the last decade. Tucker Carlson called him a buffoon and “one of the least impressive people he has met.” Carlson is in showbiz now, which means he is around feckless airheads all day. That means he ranks French below the bubbly weather girls and the addle minded jocks he meets.

French is a pretty good example of what has come to dominate the world of non-profit conservatism over the last couple of decades. This is guy, who exaggerates his own trivial accomplishments and spends an enormous amount of time telling the world about his wonderfulness. He is a moral nullity that spends his time on line lecturing us about the moral failings of public figures. How is it possible for such a nothing person to have so much self-regard? It should be impossible.

Another good example of the narcissistic nitwit is Tom Nichols. That would be “Five Time Jeopardy Champion” Tom Nichols for you commoners. He is fond of telling everyone he meets that he is really good at remembering pointless trivia. He is also fond of being wrong about everything, but carrying on as if he is an expert on everything. He is, of course, always disappointed in the rest of us. So much so he writes long essays explaining why the world does not deserve Tom Nichols.

The thing is, guys like David French and Tom Nichols are not unusual. The political media is full of people posing in front of empty trophy cases, grinning like they are the champions of everything. Their careers are a mix of pointless credentials, timely obsequiousness and idiotic public pronouncements. Yet, they strut around as if they are doing the rest of us a favor by remaining on the planet. The gap between self-perception and reality is breath taking.

It is not just the mainstream either. Mass media, especially low-barrier to entry stuff like video streaming, has loaded minor politics with narcissists too. Look at the e-celebs that have become a staple of the dissident scene. Many are dumb girls, who flash their boobs on camera, but there are plenty of men that think they are Tom Nichols. Think about some of the fringe people, who have been born on third base, but ended up on first base, yet carry on as if they are world changing figures in history.

Again, it is not the self-regard. Lots of men are cocky, especially when young, thinking they are all that and a bag of chips. It’s a form of peacocking. Women, of course, naturally seek attention. The difference between normal vanity and what we see with these narcissistic nitwits is the massive gap between their self-perception and the reality of their resumes. They are so delusional that they may as well be imagining themselves to be entirely different people. Their life is a larp.

Now, the most likely explanation for this is mass media. Nowhere has mass media had a greater impact than politics. Turning it into a game of attention seeking, like the entertainment rackets, means it will attract the attention seekers. That’s certainly true, as politics at all levels has been turned into entertainment. Politics, especially fringe politics, is as much of a hobby as a real effort to change things. The general lack of seriousness means the un-serious can run wild.

That said, this seems to be a feature of modern democracy. Since the game is winning the crowd, at any cost, people willing to do anything, even humiliate themselves, to win the crowd become major figures. Two types of people are willing to humiliate themselves for the pleasure of others: those with no self-regard and those with infinite self-regard. The former has no pride and the latter has no shame. Shameless is the word that best describes people like David French.

There have been many technical explanations for why democracy is a system that eventually destroys itself. Those explanations are sound, but one reason seldom mentioned is that democracy selects for the worst people. You cannot run anything with feckless airheads and narcissistic nitwits. That’s democracy though. It elevates the vain and stupid into positions of authority. It elevates narcissism and boasting over prudence and caution. It makes the people reckless and stupid.

There is another aspect to this that helps explain the dominance of narcissistic nitwits in modern liberal democracy. Empathy and compassion are rooted in self-interest. When done so publicly, they become a form of status seeking. The narcissist is bets equipped to display what appears to be a heightened sensitivity to suffering of others. They are willing to rend their garments and sob in public on behalf of everyone. They put on a great show, that allows the public to vicariously empathize with the suffering of man.

Self-preservation is the natural limit on compassion. In a healthy society, this limit scales up to be the limit tolerable to maintain social order and continuity. Democracy not only unleashes the narcissistic nitwits; it crumbles the limits on compassion that these narcissists feed on like maggots. Democracy murders itself not just because of the low-quality people it attracts, but because it indulges in limitless compassion to the point where it can no longer defend itself.


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