Covid Capitalism

For most people, buying a car is not a pleasant experience. Getting a new car is always nice, even if you are not a car person, but the process of getting it is almost always a hassle due to how cars are sold in America. Getting a used car can eliminate the hassle of the dealership, but then you have to worry about getting hustled by someone trying to unload their lemon onto a sucker. The car market is extreme capitalism, where no one gives a sucker an even break or smartens up a chump.

Strangely, this makes it the ideal place to understand what has happened to our society over the last six months. For example, every car dealership website now has a prominent banner informing the visitor just how much the car dealer cares about the health and safety of their customers. There’s usually a link to their page detailing just how much they care about you, the sap they hope will buy a car from them. All of these mission statements are titled, “Our Response to COVID-19.”

In case it is not obvious, a business built around the phrase caveat emptor is not concerned about the safety of anyone, even the employees. Like every business in extreme capitalist America, the car dealers see an angle in presenting themselves as guardians of public health. At the far end of capitalism, the business must be both rapacious and patronizing. Telling you how much they care about your welfare while stripping you of what they can is the standard business model.

The thing about all of this that goes unnoticed is how predatory economics has not just been normalized, it is now celebrated. Forty years ago, soulless money grasping was seen as immoral. The movie Wall Street presented a morality tale about how extreme capitalism was soul destroying. Today, the ruthless businessman is in the morally superior position, while the person doubting the ethics of his behavior is portrayed as a naive and stupid person, possibly even dangerous.

Maybe it is just a case of monkey see, monkey do with these dealers, but all of their steps to show just how much they care are the same across the board. They have “contactless” car buying, which is a very strange thing, when you consider it. How much physical contact would one normally have with the the car salesman under normal conditions? Of course, since their goal is to screw the customer, maybe this is a strange inside joke or possibly a cry for help.

Of course, all of this is just a racket and everyone gets it, except for the people firmly in the panic camp. They see it as confirmation. In fact, that’s the point of all these ads from giant corporations telling us how much they care about us and the communities they are destroying. It is pure partisanship. On one side there are the people sure this pandemic is punishment for Trump. On the other side are people who are sure the other side is using the virus to advance their ideological goals.

This is the world of today. There are now two camps of people. One camp consumes every event and metabolizes it into fuel for their ideological war. As soon as the virus became news their chief concern was in how to turn it into another weapon in their social war to control society. As soon as the hated Trump declared his side on the virus issue, the Left immediately embraced a set of positions on the virus. Every left-wing and adjacent governor blew up his state to spite Trump.

The second camp are the people who realize that the new issue is becoming politicized and they form up an opposition to the Left. In the case of the virus, they started as curious or maybe mildly skeptical. These were the people who said it was just going to be a very bad flu most likely, but we needed more information. Now they are the people who say the face muffler is the six pointed star of totalitarianism. For them, the facts of the virus no longer matter anymore.

In this environment, there’s no truth or even the desire for truth, as all truth is determined by which side of the line you stand. The car dealers, for example, would have lepers selling cars if it moved more product. It is in their interest to go along with the safety campaign, so they go along with the safety campaign. They would have their people in hazmat suits putting the buyer through a delousing station if that’s what it takes to sell cars. They care, because they don’t care.

Everywhere else, the caring capitalists are either proof that the plague is real and a punishment for the Orange Man or it is just part of the fraud perpetrated by people obsessed with hating the Orange Man. Not only does this make everything extremely simple, it means the simpletons rule the day. If you’re inclined to automatically take one side or the other based entirely on your feelings toward the people on each side of the line, this is a glorious time to be alive.

The car dealership is now the metaphor of our age. The people running it engage in the most extreme form of ruthless transactionalism. They do so while pretending they care deeply about the people they will gladly fleece. Meanwhile, on the lot, one group of buyers is misty-eyed over how much the dealer cares about this plague sent to spite the Trump people. The other group grits its teeth behind its face mufflers, fantasizing about the revolution and that sports car in the showroom.

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Custodialism

Every political philosophy starts with a set of beliefs about the human condition that are claimed to be universal and timeless. Based on these assumptions, there is a critique of the present state of affairs and the political organization responsible for it. What comes after that is an alternative. The claim is that the alternative will more closely correspond to man’s natural condition. Usually, there is a list of principles put forward that are intended to increase the good and diminish the bad.

Communists, for example, assumed that human beings are naturally cooperative, but that private property creates conflict. The greed of a few, exploiting the many, results in conflict between the classes. Eliminate private property and you eliminate that social conflict. They argued that the move to industrial societies meant scarcity could be eliminated through collective ownership of capital. The elimination of private property would lead to the equitable distribution of production.

Libertarians see cooperation as the result of the diversity of talents among humans and their rational self-interest. Once two people figured out that they could increase their output by combining their efforts, the foundation of society was set. People soon figured out that combining diverse talents increases collective productivity and material prosperity. Because humans are motivated by self-interest, they naturally cooperate with one another to increase their material prosperity.

The people who currently rule over us, start from the assumption that all humans possess the same natural raw material. The differences we see in people are the result of racism, poverty, inequality and the legacy of white supremacy. Otherwise, people come into the world as amorphous blobs that can be shaped into whatever society makes of them. Whether the rulers truly believe this is not important. Public policy is based on the blank slate and extreme egalitarianism.

If the starting point for a political philosophy is a set of universal truths about the human condition, then it is necessary that those truths be based in reality. Marxism has been a bloody disaster, because it assumes things about man that are contrary to the reality of the human condition. Marxists tried to remedy this by killing off the inconvenient, but it turned out that you just can’t kill enough people to make it work. Transforming society into an abattoir lowers productivity, rather than producing plenty.

Similarly, but without the bloodshed, libertarianism has been a complete failure as a political movement, because homo economicus is not real. Material self-interest is certainly part of the puzzle, but humans are motivated by all sorts of things. More important, the assumption that people will deal with one another in good faith, once the monopoly of the state is removed, is false. Every society has some portion motivated to rule over the rest. Someone will always be in charge.

Much of what vexes the modern West is that the people in charge have embraced a political philosophy based on invalid assumptions about human nature. People are not born as amorphous blobs that can be molded into model citizens. Instead, they are the genetic result of thousands of mating decisions that came before them. Further, nature does not distribute her gifts equally between individuals or groups. The diversity of man extends to all aspects of the human animal, not just the superficial traits.

The main reason the West is struggling to square what it believes about humanity with what is happening in the world, is that the core assumptions of the West were formed in the Enlightenment. The great debates about the nature of man were between Europeans, who were primarily concerned with how Europeans would organize themselves, manage relations between groups of Europeans and conduct commerce between and within groups of Europeans.

Another issue is that Western style liberal democracy is a creation of an age when smart people knew very little about the human sciences. Their speculation about the evolution of settled society was a work of imagination. They may have had some sense that humanity progressed from savagery to civilization, but they had no understanding of genetics, evolution or the interplay between culture and biology. They had no knowledge about what we inherited from our simian ancestors.

The big flaw is the assumption that there is some reason, beyond the material, for why humans are the only intelligent species on the planet. We’re special. As such, there must be some reason for it. The very notion of human progress assumes there must be a reason for our existence. After all, to what are we progressing if there is no purpose to our existence? What is the point of the arc of history if it does not have a beginning, middle and end? There must be some reason for it.

Current events are a good lesson in the reality of the human condition. Humans are not relentlessly pursuing their self-interest or naturally cooperative. The engine that drives humanity is the need for safety. We see that all around us as people meekly hide in their closets because they are told the bogeyman is outside. The great panic would not be possible if people were driven by self-interest. Why would the overwhelming majority sacrifice for the one or two percent vulnerable to the virus?

The fact is, people have gone along with this because down deep, in the store of man’s oldest desires, is the urge to huddle in the cave with the rest of the tribe, as the storm rages outside. That is man’s oldest desire as a social animal. To bind together in a shared fear of the natural world is what makes us human. The great motivator of mankind is the desire for safety. If there is a point to our existence, it is to shelter with our cave mates trembling in fear at the great danger outside.

For sure, people do more than just shelter from the danger, but it is the desire for safety that drives our actions. We will cooperate with one another to defeat some threat and will profit greatly from saving people from a threat. Safety and its traveling companion comfort are the great drivers of human progress. A great way to get rich is to eliminate a danger from life. The most popular way, however, is to make the sheltering from the dangers of life as comfortable as possible.

If there is to be a new moral philosophy for the post-Enlightenment age, it will have to be based, at least in part, on man’s nature desire for safety. In fact, the neo-liberal order may very well be the moral philosophy to first root itself in safety. The legion of schoolmarms and harpies monitoring our speech and making sure we have no unclean thoughts are all here for our collective good. They even say their role is to create safe spaces for every conceivable type of person.

The Enlightenment was as much about observing what was happening on its own as crafting blueprints for future societies. Marx, for example, had plenty of examples to draw from to form his ideas. Maybe that is what we are seeing today. As the custodial state forms up, what we call the neo-liberal order will become more formal and get a new name that captures its essence. Perhaps we are living at the dawn of Custodialism, the politics of keeping everyone safe from any possible danger.


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The Great Retreat

It is becoming increasingly clear that the great zombie apocalypse of 2020 is not going to live up to the hype. At this stage, the models and their experts said we would have bodies in the streets and chaos at the hospitals. Instead, what we have is a shuttered country and hospitals furloughing staff due to a lack of sick people. The curve benders keep changing their forecasts, but the virus keeps letting them down. The big question now is how will everyone retreat from this debacle.

To his credit, President Trump has sensed the end game from the very beginning and has been talking about “reopening the country” for a while. He knows this cannot go on much longer and his job will soon shift from battling dingbats in the press room over the virus to battling dingbats in the press room over the economy. If he is to continue in his role, he will need the promised V-shape recession. If it is a depression, then he will be replaced with the first Alzheimer-American to run for president.

This may turn out to be what saves his presidency. He will have six months to go around the country talking up the economy. He will also be able to blame Congress for a whole host of things in the process. Running against Congress is a good way for a President with soft support to win over skeptics. If the economy is quickly recovering by the fall, with employers hiring back furloughed workers, Trump can run as the guy who not only saved us from the invisible death but also saved the economy.

A lot of that will depend on the local politicians. They have suddenly found their spines in this panic and are now claiming to control our destiny regarding the lock down. They are coordinating their plans to re-open, which is smart politics. They don’t want to give Trump credit, but they don’t want to risk being the first to open up. They will pretend to be operating as a team in order to not risk getting blamed if the media does not follow orders and continues to report on the virus.

That’s the big part of the coming retreat from this panic. The media will have to be coached carefully so they don’t screw up and accidentally report the truth. A whole new gaggle of experts and actors playing experts is being prepped to explain why it is now okay to go outside. At the same time, they still have to blame Orange Man for the deaths that never materialized. In the end, they may just drop the whole thing and pretend it never happened, like the impeachment fiasco.

Perhaps the hardest hit by the great virus flop has been the curve benders. They will have the task of explaining why they are still smarter than the rest of us, but were ridiculously wrong about the biggest event in their lives. As RamZPaul pointed out the other day, in most professions, being this wrong gets you fired. Being an internet expert, however, means never having to be right, so maybe they just follow the lead of the media and forget the whole thing happened.

The problem with that plan is the curve benders personalized this from the start, calling the skeptics all sorts of names. It is unlikely that the skeptics will forget how Nicky Taleb threw his dress over his head and ran around squealing like a girl. Many of the curve benders will be able to recover their reputations, but some will not. In a better age, the curve benders would be packing their stuff and heading out of town right now, but in this age, they will probably be rehabilitated without much effort.

Then there are the people who fell for the hype and then piously lectured the rest of us about how the virus was more important than the economy. Many of these people claimed to be on this side of the great divide. They had lectured for years about how the media can never be trusted. Then they swallowed the official line on the virus like good little boys and girls. The internet never forgets, so they will be reminded of this for the remainder of their days, especially on this side of the divide.

It’s not so much that they were wrong or acted like smug bleeps. It’s that they revealed themselves to be every bit as out of touch as the mass media. This was just another game for them to play on-line, like their politics. Their clapping for the lay-offs and business closures revealed that they have no skin in the game. It is a good reminder to never take business advice from someone who has never signed the front of a paycheck and never take political advice from people without jobs.

As far as timing, we are getting close to the point where the lines of the alarmists and curve benders break. The one guy consistently right about this thinks the great retreat is coming soon. Governors are now preparing to declare victory, so they will be scurrying away from this in the next couple of weeks. Local business is already showing signs of rebellion, so they may set the pace for the governors. Trump now has a task force to re-open the economy. It even has his dingbat daughter on it.

What all this suggests is that in a couple of weeks, everyone will be talking about the economy and going back to work and school. In another month, the only people talking about the virus will be conspiracy nuts and the remaining curve benders who refuse to let it go. If the summer is a great recovery in the economy, this whole sorry episode will be sent down the memory hole. The great retreat from the panic that will change everything will be complete and no one will remember any of it.


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Cui Bono?

Early in my working life, I found myself managing a few salesmen, along with some entry level managers. Since my area of responsibility only required three salesmen, it did not warrant a sales manager, so that duty was mine, as well as operations. It was a good training job for a young guy. One thing I learned from the sales guys is something that stuck with me forever. That is, no one cares about a deal more than the salesman working the deal. He’s the one that will make it happen.

You see, even in a big company, every salesman is like a small business. His expenses are his time and his revenue is his commission. The really good salesmen are shrewd in how they spend their time, never wasting a minute on a bad deal. They never fight the commission structure. If selling the crap product gets a bigger commission, then they sell the crap product. If the product is so crappy, they can’t sell it, they find a new job where they can hit their commission goals.

Since sales drives everything about business, it was a great lesson about the reality of business and bureaucracy. The managers have goals and they try to craft incentives so their people naturally work toward those goals. The trouble is, they often see the world through their own myopic eyes, rather than through the eyes of their people. Alternatively, they will foolishly think their people will make personal sacrifices on behalf of their goals. They think everyone cares about their deal as much as they do.

We are seeing this play out in the response to the pandemic. The people making the models and making predictions care about things that are important to them. It has always been assumed that they care most about being right, but as the models have failed and they are now “updated” on a daily basis, it turns out that accuracy really was never all that important to them. Marc Lipsitch, the guy largely responsible for the panic, was never all that concerned with being right.

Similarly, the people making public policy were always working their deals, rather than working your deal. By that I mean they were not issuing crack down orders on people because it was good for the public. They did it because it was good for them or at least they assumed it was good for them. It is why we had a race between states to see who could arrive at the most absurd policies. The nation lies dormant now because of a bizarre beauty pageant among the nation’s governors.

The response from our imperial rulers to this shuttering of the country is another deal that means everything to the people who passed it. Trump and Congress were really proud of themselves for having done the deal in such short time. It turns out though, that the deal was a great public relations stunt, but not much of a deal for the nation’s small business people. This post at the Federalist walks through the math of the Payroll Protection Act. Be prepared for breadlines this summer.

Of course, the most glaring example of this is the health care system. In response to a theoretical problem, it is in the process of creating real problems by faking death certificates and indefinitely postponing medical care for people with real diseases, in order to perpetuate the crisis atmosphere. The system is acting in the interest of the system, because the people at the top making the decisions care about their deal more than anything else. They closed the system to save it from the virus.

All of this should be a good reminder about the reality of anything that has the word “managed” in its label. Whether it is a managed health care system or a managed economy, the people doing the managing care more about their deal than anything else, thus the system they manage comes to reflect their interests. The stone-heads on our side cheering the crisis and demanding managed health care and a managed economy will soon find out what that really means. Enjoy the bread lines.

Of course, the stone-heads will argue that destroying the civil life of the country is the price to be paid for discrediting the current order. That may be true, but that does not mean the people cheering it will suddenly be vaulted to the top by the people being made to pay the price for this disaster. Again, those people at the top with the monopoly of force will surely take care of their deal before allowing anyone else to profit from the turmoil that is coming our way this summer.

The point of all this is even small organizations become very complicated in a hurry, because people have lots of priorities individually, which can coincide with and contradict their collective priorities. Fine tuning those while working your own deal is beyond the skill of most managers. It is why bureaucracies become self-serving and why managed anything is a fool’s errand. Whether it is managed economies or managed health care, eventually, the deal that matters most is the manager’s deal.

Circling back to those salesmen I managed, the second big lesson I learned in that job was from my boss. I complained to him that the commission structure I inherited worked against our interests because it was too complicated to manage. He told me to make it a flat commission on gross, but that I was responsible for the performance of every deal I signed off on going forward. It did not take long for the sales staff to know what was good business for me and what was a waste of their time.

That’s the lesson the stone-heads from the planned economy camp and the free market zealots never grasp. The choice is not between a system managed by angels or a system run by the invisible hand of magic. The choice is always between clarity and opacity. When the incentives are clear and individual interests are clear, everyone makes better decisions and demands more rational sacrifice. When those things are hidden, it is when our virtues are soon turned into vices.


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Market Report Week Three

The market was very crowded today, suggesting that either the effects of the first round of hoarding have worn off or people fear the worst is yet to come. In the initial round of hoarding, people probably loaded up for two or three weeks. Therefore stocks could be running low now. Perhaps there is a second wave of hoarding that follows the first for some people. Alternatively, the news could be re-frightening people with prophesies about the real doom and gloom really coming this time.

The number of masks were much higher than last week. It was not just blacks and Asians wearing them. About a third of the people had something on their face, like a bandanna, medical grade mask or the stuff workmen use. Probably forty percent of this group was kitted out like they were going to rob the payroll stage coach traveling down from Albany. For some reason they did not look as silly as the people with the dust masks on their faces, but they did look foolish.

Masks probably have some impact on slowing the spread of an infection, but nowhere near what the alarmist claim. Life is a not a sterile environment and people are not wearing those masks 24-hours per day. What they are doing with those masks is reducing the number of times they touch a foreign object, like the carts at the market, and then touching their faces. Unless they are sanitizing every surface and then washing their hands vigorously, they are not avoiding the bug.

The market itself was completely stocked, except for cleaning supplies, which probably says we have moved from the fear of not having snacks phase to the people have been cooped up in their homes too long phase. The homes of America have probably never been so clean. At some point that will get tiresome and the demand for household cleaners will return to normal. People respond to what they see. If the promised bodies in the streets do not show up soon, the great cleaning frenzy quickly ends.

The lines at checkout were very long, about 40-minutes. The procedure was the same as last week, but the higher volume and the lower number of checkout people made for a long wait. The store has started refusing the grimy canvas sacks the anointed have been using to display their love of Gaia. It turns out that the nation’s octogenarians are more important than climate change. It also means these dingbat moralizers will have to find a new way to display their virtue. Perhaps they should wear masks.

In front of me in the checkout line was a women probably in her mid-30’s. In front of her was a pudgy guy in his mid-40’s. Let’s call her “Desert” and he can be “Thirsty” in this little drama. Thirsty kept trying to strike up a conversation with Desert. She was having none of it, doing the thing women do in clubs to blow off some loser. She kept responding with short answers that would not naturally elicit a response. Poor old Thirsty kept trying, which is why he is so thirsty.

Eventually, Desert turned around to me and started making small talk. Maybe under different circumstance I would have been flattered, but I hate standing in lines and I had just watched her shoot down poor Thirsty. I decided to display my power level by doing to her what she had just done to the poor loser in front of her. Of course, this only intensified her interest in me. I’ve never been much for game, but it was a nice reminder that the fundamentals of human nature never change, not even in a panic.

Watching a fashionable sort try to hide her grimy canvas sacks, now that they are no longer a positive moral signifier, I thought about the alarmists. The HBD crowd has gone totally mad over this virus. Any deviation from their extreme position on this is now treated as heresy. There’s a UFO cult quality to what’s going on with those people, as if the coronavirus is a savior, rather than a fact of nature. The slightest bit of skepticism is treated as if the person is denying there is such a thing as a virus

One reason for this is a lack of confidence. Fanatics tend to attack the less fanatical because the mere presence of them calls into question their extreme position on whatever is the main belief. On the one hand, there is status that comes from staking out the most pure position. On the other hand, those who are unwilling to following along call into question that extreme position. They must, therefore, be anathematized and discredited to maintain the extreme position.

There is a good chance we will get to see a large scale reenactment of what was described in When Prophecy Fails. We are probably at the 12:05 mark of that process, maybe the 12:10 mark. We were supposed to have hundreds of thousands in the hospital at this point and it is twenty thousand. With the fever abating in Europe and the economy in ruins, the political class will be lifting the siege in the next couple of weeks. That’s when the clock strikes 4:00 AM for the great virus scare.


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!


The Great Unknown

If we use President Trump’s address to the nation on March 11 as a start date, the coronavirus panic is now three weeks old. That Thursday morning, the airlines were overwhelmed with requests to cancel and change flights. People ran out to buy a lifetime supply of toilet paper. States began to clamp down on civil life with shut down orders and so forth. In the fullness of time, that speech will be seen as the point we moved from indifference to complete panic over the virus.

Now, the week following the initial panic was not a total lock down of civil life, as only a few states had started down that road. It was the following week when the great shutdown of the economy started in earnest, so we are just about ready to wrap up the second week of limited economic activity. Friday is when the government releases the weekly unemployment claims. Last week the number was 3.3 million and this week the number is expected to dwarf that figure.

As this goes to post, the estimates for the number of new claims are between 3.5 million and 5.25 million. The record for number of claims in one week was set last Thursday, so the next report is expected to be the new record. To put that into perspective, these are numbers four and five times higher than previous highs. There is no precedent with tens of millions of people being suddenly furloughed, as businesses are forced to close around the country, because they are told to close by the state.

Right now, 31 US states have some form of lock down in place. Not all are the same and not everyone obeys the edicts. There are plenty of people out and about, but major east coast cities now look like ghost towns compared to normal times. Lots of people are working from home, of course, but retail life has just about come to a halt, which means wholesale life is also slowing to a trickle. No one knows how long this will go on, but conventional wisdom currently says another month.

What this all means for the economy is completely unknown. The St. Louis Federal Reserve is out with a report claiming 47 million people will be out of work at the peak of the fallout from the lock down. That equates to a 32% unemployment rate. We are in unprecedented territory now. According to the report, “These are very large numbers by historical standards, but this is a rather unique shock that is unlike any other experienced by the U.S. economy in the last 100 years.”

Now, there is some hope that the depression will be V-shaped. That is, the economy comes back on in May or June and all of a sudden all of those furloughed people are hired back as business reopens. There will certainly be some of that, as the businesses that have not run out of cash will reopen, hoping to remain viable long enough to weather the storm. Many will have gone under, having run out of cash. Even in a V-shaped recession, it takes a while to fully recover.

The stock market is not always a useful guide for judging the economy, but in this case it can give us some clues. Right now, the robots that do 99% of the trading have factored in what they expect over the next six months. They have also factored in what they expect from government stimulus and bailouts. The Dow Jones has settled in around the 21,000 mark this week. The big sell-offs have subsided and investors are slowly buying into what many think is the bottom of the market.

Still, it is all guessing at this stage. Some states are talking about extending the lock-down into May or even June. China having a second lock-down is going to be seen by the alarmist as a sign the lock-down must continue forever. Given that we’re still at peak hysteria and have yet to hit peak infections, it is not unreasonable to think this carries into May. That means the lower end of that V-shaped recession gets much deeper and the angle coming out of it becomes much more gradual.

The only thing we can be sure of at this point is whatever lies on the other side of this is going to be very different from just a month ago. Politics, for example, are already changing, as the players respond to the new reality. Trump is turning into the wartime president, which is always good for the president’s numbers. He will no doubt become the great cheerleader of the recovery this summer, as he will want to take credit for the recovery from the lock-down, assuming there is one.

The question though is what will politics look like in a world of 30% unemployment, even if it is short-lived? If half the furloughed workers come back by June, that still means a world of unemployment levels not seen in generations. The last time we had double digit unemployment was 1982. You have to go all the way back to the Great Depression before seeing double digit unemployment again. Even allowing for the way these numbers are calculated, no one alive has seen what’s coming.

Lots of people will rush forward at this point arguing that these unprecedented times will suddenly make their preferred world view popular. The libertarians are smugly sure that this time, people will lose faith in government and join the libertarian revolution. The neocons are sure their treachery will be vindicated. On this side of the great divide, there are lots of cheers for the death of the economy, in the belief that putting millions of white people out of work will radicalize them.

That’s the thing though. This is uncharted territory. America is not Weimar Germany or 18th century France or 19th century Russia. We have no examples of a country turning itself off like this. We don’t really know why our rulers are doing this. The claim is the virus threat, but we have had worse virus threats and the ruling class did not go insane like this, so something is different this time. All we can say for sure is we moved from a world we generally knew and understood into a world of the unknown.

How will a people used to excess respond to a world of want? It is entirely possible that we get lots of real poor people again. That is, people with barely enough to feed themselves and a place to sleep. More important, those poor people will be visible to the middle-class again. How will people respond to that? How will people look at the plutocrats in a world with real poverty in plain sight? How will those plutocrats respond to such a world? No one has thought about it, so no one knows.

That means the politics of the future are probably not going to look like anything we have imagined. The old Left-Right axis makes no sense. The Left-libertarian versus Right-libertarian dynamic is now as relevant as Whiggism. If it is a short depression, then politics will revolve around the new state controls that are credited with “saving the economy” from the virus. If it is a long depression, then politics becomes a zero-sum game to see who fills the void of the discredited old politics.

Perhaps we are the first people to look out into the distance and get a glimpse of what comes after post-scarcity society. Maybe it is just a return to scarcity. Maybe it is a world with a high tech palace economy and fewer and fewer people working. Maybe the white nationalist get their wish and everyone becomes a dependent of the state. Maybe this look into the void frightens us and we scurry back to the safety of the past. For now though, we are staring out into the great unknown.


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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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Market Report Week Two

It may feel like this panic has gone on for a month, but in reality we are just in our second full week. Technically, the panic began the Thursday after Trump’s speech in which he announced the closing of air traffic from Europe. That was the 18th of March, so we are in day 12 now. The real frenzy did not get going until the weekend, when governors started telling people the end is upon us. Last week was the first full week of people sheltering in place and treated one another like lepers.

The market always offers lots of lessons about the reality of social organization. In the best of times, you see how poorly people naturally organize. The best argument against libertarianism is simply going outside and watching people. Now, the best argument against curve flattening is to see how people behave when told they must assume everyone else has a deadly plague. They take symbolic steps to defend themselves, but the practical necessity of life overcomes those efforts.

At the ghetto market, the poor people, migrants and minorities are doing nothing different from what they normally do. You’ll see some blacks wearing masks, more on that later, but otherwise nothing is different. The store itself is not engaging in the defensive measures you see in suburbia. It’s not that these people are careless or stupid, but that they have a different sense of risk. When you have less to lose, you have less to fear, especially when your neighbor is scarier than a virus.

In the suburbs where the beautiful people live, the market operates like a German concentration camp. On the way in a nice older gentlemen wipes down your cart and directs you to the delousing station for inspection. Once you are sanitized, you enter the otherwise normal market. Again, the blacks have masks on and some old people will look like they are working in a nuclear facility, but otherwise people are spreading their cooties on one another as they do in regular times.

This is the skeptic versus curve bender in a nutshell. The curve benders live and work outside the confines of reality, so their schemes sound reasonable. In the real world where such schemes go to die, something else is happening. That is, people are already starting to show signs of weariness. The cashier whispered to me that she and the other cashiers are getting sick of the nonsense. There’s talk of collective action to either get more pay or stop forcing them to do all this extra work.

This is something people learn when they have to manage people. Just because they are paid to follow your instructions does not mean they will. You have to convince them to accept the rules so they become instinct. That can only happen when those rules do not conflict with their natural instincts or create what appears to be an unnecessary burden on them. Every captain knows the morale of his crew is his top priority, as it is the only way they can be counted on to follow orders.

In theory, locking everyone in their homes until the virus dies out is a great way to slow the spread and eventually eradicate it. After all, this is what the Chinese supposedly did in Wuhan and who does not trust the Chinese? In reality, people will go along with this for a little while, but they will soon tire of it. That and we are not China. Too many Americans will simply ignore the precautions. Unless they immediately drop over dead, they become the example everyone follows.

One amusing exception to all of this, as usual, are black people. In the beautiful people areas, rich Asians can be seen wearing masks in the best of times. This is a cultural habit they bring with them. In this panic, blacks have jumped on the mask-wearing craze in a big way. At the market, it is not rare to see a black now wearing a mask and colorful rubber gloves. Black people love display items. It is a good bet that masks and other gear get Africanized as fashion accessories.

Another reason blacks are jumping on the mask craze is they fear the unknown in ways most white people cannot grasp. It is why they are more likely to believe in ghosts than other races. It’s also why they fall for nonsense like white privilege so easily. To them, it is just another spooky thing about white people that they cannot see, but they are sure must exist. It is just one of the hidden forces that control events. This virus will be the best crime fighting too Lagos has seen in generations.

Anyone who has had to manage a large number of people knows that sentiment can turn quickly against you, unless you stay on top of it. It’s why sportsball coaches have locker room insiders to tell them the mood of the players. It’s why every military has a layer between the officers and the enlisted men. More than a few grand schemes have been undermined by a quiet rebellion in the ranks. This is something we are already seeing that will become more evident next week.

This is why Trump is getting antsy about getting people back to work. It’s not because of the economy, although that is one reason. It’s because he has managed lots of people and he knows this dynamic. By next week, whatever benefit there was to this lock down will have been achieved. The inevitable wholesale revolt against it will make the whole enterprise pointless. Trump will want to be seen as leading the charge to get the nation back to work, so expect that to be the topic a week from now.


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The Great Madness

Has the world gone mad? It certainly seems that way to some of us. Even the most cynical never imagined the government shutting down the country for fear of a virus, but it has suddenly become the new normal. The cynical, if they thought of it at all, would have thought the opposite. Instead of a great lock down, the response would have been for the beautiful people to insulate themselves from harm, while abandoning the rest of us to the plague. Instead, we have all gone mad together.

Not everyone has got the fever, that is this panic fever, not the one caused by the Chinese coronavirus. Our world is now firmly divided into two camps. There are those fully invested in the great panic over the virus and there are those who look at the other camp, gobsmacked by what appears to be a general madness. Those in panic look at the rest of us the same way preppers look at normal people. They just assume the gods will strike us down for doubting the virus

Of course, the people in the skeptic camp could be the ones suffering from some form of madness that prevents them from seeing the threat. The trouble is, the great plague is not exactly lighting up the scoreboard. America has tested over 600,000 people suspected of having the virus. Over 500,000 tested negative. Of the positives, 12,000 needed hospital care. In a country of over 320 million people with 200,000 empty hospital beds at any one time, that’s not much of a crisis.

Yet, despite the numbers, formerly sober-minded people continue to carry on as if there are bodies in the streets. Steve Sailer, a man not known for excitability, is calling this virus a great adversary of the human race. Greg Cochran has completely lost his marbles over this thing. Geneticist and HBD enthusiast Razib Khan is in hiding, convinced the end times are upon us. In fact, the whole HBD community is a click away from fleeing to Antarctica to wait out the end of civilization.

Of course, part of the panic, a symptom of that particular virus, is a set of abracadabra phrases that have become so common they seem like something from a secret society, understood only by the initiates. The duller sorts chant about “exponential growth” while others talk about “the hospitals being overwhelmed.” That’s why we have to “flatten the curve” and “slow the spread.” These incantations are to chase away doubt and reinforce the belief that people are dying in the streets.

The dying in the streets bit is not much of an exaggeration. A popular bit of folklore now among the panicked is some version of the anonymous ER doctor or nurse relaying how they are overwhelmed and letting people die in the hallways. This urban legend turned up in China, Washington, Italy, New York and now New Orleans. Formerly sensible people now pass these whoppers around on-line, never bothering to think that maybe they are being fed a just-so story by people seeking attention.

One emerging aspect to the madness is the moral dimension. The HBD crowd seems to have been hardest hit. They spend a lot of time contemplating nature and their fellow man’s refusal to respect it. Part of what is driving them now is a sense that nature is going to finally exact some revenge. In other words, this panic is part of a strange revenge fantasy, where they are finally vindicated by biological reality. This sudden sense of moral purpose has made them immune to reason.

Another aspect to this general panic, unrelated to the virus itself, is a different type of revenge fantasy. Many people are cheering the collapse of the economy and civil life on the mistaken belief that what emerges from the rubble will have them at the top of the social hierarchy. This is a phenomenon shared across the political spectrum. It seems to be most popular with young people unhappy with the status quo and far too caught up in purge fantasies to be reached with facts and reason.

Probably the most salient aspect to this panic is the role of women. As has been noted too many times to count, the West is now a gynocracy. It is not a matriarchy, as women have stopped bearing children and stopped caring about children. Look around and you see childless women in positions of authority all over the West. In fact, these are women who reached their status by rejecting every aspect of womanhood. The West is now a world run by middle-aged childless women.

Anyone who has been around women in a crisis has observed a strange phenomenon among childless adult females. Some switch gets flipped in a crisis where their protective instincts get misdirected at the adults in the room. This part of their nature was never allowed to mature in the raising of children, so it comes bursting forth in an incoherent desire to help when their help is not needed. They become like mother ducks loudly herding the brood to safety.

For a society run by such women, every crisis is met with demands that everyone shelter in place. Notice how over the last few decades that public officials no longer call for volunteers or tell people to pitch in and work together. Such independent action violates the frightened female’s sense of duty to her brood. Instead, mild weather events now close the schools and force people to work from home. This virus scare is every middle-aged women’s Hunger Games moment.

Mass panics are a known phenomenon. The general panic that took place in France between July 22 and August 6 1789 is known as The Great Fear. It was a period of rural unrest, driven by both a grain shortage and rumors of an aristocrats’ “famine plot” to starve the peasants. The exact reason for this panic is in dispute. Ergotism is a favorite reason for those with a certain sense of humor, but most historians consider it one of the primary causes of the French Revolution.

At some point, the bloom comes off this lock-down rose once people start to feel the real cost of listening to madmen. People will remember that the same folks who swore Boris and Natasha had used their mind control devise to install Trump in the White House are the many of the same people peddling this panic. Necessity will force a lot of people to stop going along with what they have suspected from the start is nothing more than a mass panic. Soon, this all comes to an end.

Like the Great Fear, the Great Madness will leave a mark, or at least it should leave a mark on our society. You never can be sure about these things, as the West seems to be unusually immune to learning from these events. Two centuries ago The Great Fear meant the end of the feudal order and eventually a revolution. It was not the sole cause of the revolution, maybe not the main cause. It was certainly an example of how the old order was no longer able to maintain order.

It is too soon to know what this panic means for us. Perhaps it further undermines the legitimacy of the system and the people that profit from it. Perhaps it sets off social changes that slowly transform our society in ways we have yet to imagine. Maybe the fever breaks and this event, like the Russian hoax, gets forgotten. Given what most likely awaits on the other side of the lock-down, it is hard to imagine this great madness being forgotten. There’s always a price to be paid for following madmen.


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Notes On The End Times

For some reason, the study of the end times has been a popular topic of interest to people since the dawn of civilization. How it all ends is of far more interest to people than how it all began. In fact, there is still a lot of resistance to even contemplating how it all began. The intelligent design stuff is, when you’re honest about it, is an argument against even thinking about how life began. How it all ends, the end of all days, is of interest to everyone, regardless of their inclinations.

For Americans, the vision of the end is usually one of two basic plots. One is a swift financial collapse that plunges everyone into chaos. Suddenly the ATM’s and credit cards no longer work. Bank accounts freeze and business grinds to a halt. If England is a nation of shopkeepers, America is a giant shopping mall that happens to possess a space age military. Consumerism is the religion of the people, so it makes some sense that collapse scenarios would start with the collapse of commerce.

Another vision of the end times is the plague scenario. The super-virus is a popular devise to hustle along the collapsing and get right to the end times. The popular TV series Walking Dead is a great example of this. The plague and the zombies are ridiculous, but they not only make for good TV, but they allow the writers to quickly get to the end times scenarios they wish to explore. This vision of the end is really about the beginning of what comes after this phase of civilization.

The current madness may give us a glimpse of how an actual collapse of civilization would unfold. We have both the threat of the super-virus, real or imaginary, and the threat to the cult of consumerism. The reality of the virus in this case is unimportant, because it is assumed to be real. The same is true of the financial markets. We may not be in an historical collapse, but it is assumed to be a real threat. In effect, this is a live action stress test of the system and the people in charge of it.

The first thing we can observe is the great lock-down started when the nation’s circus performers, went into hiding before anyone. The sports leagues and public entertainment operations were the first to respond. One would think that having them continue the show would make sense, in order to keep spirits up during the lock-down, but that was not the case. In fact, the big streaming services downgraded their service quality at the start of the lock down.

Now, you can make of that all sorts of things, depending upon your temperament, but the one important take-away is that the people in charge are not all that concerned about people getting restless in the lock-down. Despite what we are told, they are not terribly concerned with the circus half of Juvenal’s famous line. They could be mistaken about that, especially as this thing drags on, but for now people seem to be getting along just fine with reduced entertainments in the lock-down.

Of course, the lock-down itself is important. The controlling ethos of the ruling class is unfettered movement, yet in a crisis, their first instinct is to halt all movement. The people who just a few weeks ago were singing the glories of the free flow of people and goods are now threatening to weld our doors shut. When the real end times are upon us, the first clue will be a mandatory lock-down of the population with cops in the streets and a 24-hour curfew, except for approved personnel.

Another thing we can observe in the present situation is how the authorities have started to abandon certain duties. For example, cities have started to throw open their prisons, letting the inmates run free. The argument is they could get the virus if locked up in close quarters. That means the people in charge would rather see them raping and murdering in your neighborhood than possible getting the virus and passing it to one of the bureaucrats operating the jails.

We are also seeing the cops abandon their duties. In Cincinnati, the cops are no longer responding in-person to 911 calls. The stated reason is “to reduce unnecessary contact between officers and the public to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”  Presumably, if you call while being murdered, they will come out to identify your body, but if you call while it is just at the home invasion stage, too bad for you. If you want to get a glimpse of what the breakdown of society will be like, think about this.

Some people in dissident circles like to mock the paleocons, but the one thing the paleos got right before everyone else is anarcho-tyranny. Not only do we see this in our daily life in normal times, but it is in bold relief in this crisis. The first instinct of the people in charge is to “tyrannically or oppressively regulate citizens’ lives yet is unable to enforce fundamental protective law.” This is a crucial insight into the managerial system, but also how that system meets its demise.

That’s probably the way in which the great longed for collapse transpires. It will not be a great sudden end that results in chaos. It will not be a supernatural end that suddenly flings us into a post-apocalyptic world. Instead, it will be the slow withdraw of authority, along with the growth of a banal sort of tyranny. It is more cops hassling innocent people for no reason and fewer cops chasing actual bad guys. In time, new social systems evolve to fill in those gaps and provide local order.

The model to keep in mind is probably something like post-Rome Spain. Once the Roman authority collapsed, various barbarian rulers tried to fill the void, with varying degrees of failure. Eventually, local authority filled the gaps, providing order and protection for the people. In time, the Roman villa system became what we think of as feudalism throughout Europe. As the American empire fades, a similar sort of process will evolve. The end will be a whimper, rather than a bang.


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