Crises Need Prepared Capitalists

I have to admit a failure.

For all of my knowledge of the crisis at hand (I have amazing access to information), for all of my will to face it, and for all of the small preparations I made for my own safety, I’ve lived in such a way that has made me – for now – largely unhelpful in the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Namely, I don’t have the cash.

Because I did not hustle, sell, plan, accumulate, and invest in the good times, there is not much I can do (aside from asking the help of others) to bring personal protective gear to medical staff, food to my neighbors, or investment into research and development to fight this virus.

It’s maddeningly frustrating to watch this unfold while feeling my hands are tied by finances. But I know what I did wrong.

There is a real sense that – assuming I want to help mitigate suffering in the world – I need to be the kind of person who accumulates cash and liquid assets. So I have a sort of duty to be a good capitalist, in the original sense of that term.

I failed this time. I won’t fail next time.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

Open This Content

Love the Very New and the Very Old

I love old farms and skyscrapers under construction, old cars and Elon Musk’s newest spaceships. I think my ideal way of living would consist of working on a farm (or hunting/gathering out in nature) during the day and working on a high-tech project at night (call it “Jeffersonian futurism.”)

I love the very old and the very new. I see no conflict in that – but I do see a necessity.

Futurists seem to miss the fact that old things contain worthwhile wisdom and usefulness. Traditionalism seems to miss the fact that static institutions become corrupt without change. Meanwhile, the modernists are so tied up in the recent past as to be blind to both tradition and innovation.

But in the years ahead, it’s the futurists who will deliver us interplanetary travel, life-saving medical cures, and clean and renewable nuclear energy in the years ahead. It’s the traditionalists who will help us to remember the human values of fidelity (marriage, etc), individual dignity, self-reliance, and honesty are the foundations of a society that can enjoy technological progress properly (i.e. without self-destructing).

If we’re to appreciate and encourage this outcome, we need a way of thinking that embraces the dialogue between the old and new*. We need to understand that the only conflict is between the life-enhancing and the life-destroying, and that either force can be found in our newest inventions or our oldest customs.

Author Ross Douthat recently summed up the interesting fusion he posits will lead us out of the current “age of decadence” – a combination of old-time religion and high-tech futurism:

“So down on your knees – and start working on that warp drive.”

I dig it.

*Credit to Jordan Peterson for first (in my experience) formulating this yin-yang interplay of liberalism/openness and conservatism/orderliness.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

Open This Content

Don’t Netflix Your Way Through Crises

One thing I find especially bothersome about the response to the COVID-2019 pandemic is the common meme telling average people to “just stay home and watch Netflix.”

What does it say about us that this is a common idea of how to respond to a major crisis? The Netflix prescription is a passive, helpless, hopeless way to experience a trying time which may last for months. It’s a meaning-starved narcotic for people who have the time and luxury to watch it. And it’s not much of a palliative for people who are losing their jobs or friends and loved ones.

Sure – let’s watch some movies if that’s a normal part of life for us. But there are about a thousand better things we can be doing.

We can be supporting our friends and families. We can be catching up with old friends online and in video calls, delivering groceries for at-risk folks, and sharing important public health advisories with our neighbors.

We can be developing ourselves and improving our own lives. We can be learning new skills and languages, reading useful books, exercising outside (away from people), painting, teaching, or selling.

We can be preparing for the shockwaves and the aftermath of this crisis. We can be planting gardens and raising chickens and buying investments and fixing things around the house and stocking up and learning first aid.

We can be supporting the response to the pandemic. We can be donating, raising funds for personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, or contributing time to online crowdsourced projects to make masks and other gear.

And we can do all of these things – as we would with Netflix – from home. There aren’t enough good shows on any streaming platforms to make this time worthwhile only for consumption. Find something useful and meaningful now: you won’t regret it.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

Open This Content

Ransacked American Grocery Stores Are Still Pretty Amazing

The other night I made my first post-lockdown grocery store run. And I’ll admit it was a bit unsettling.

It was strange seeing a security guard. It was strange wearing a mask. It was strange feeling a sort of fear of my fellow shoppers. And it was really strange and disturbing to see shelves stripped of goods. The whole experience of going grocery shopping became a bit nerve-wracking.

But still: in the midst of a panic, I could look around and see dozens of varieties of ice cream. There were produce bins full of fresh fruit from all over the world. There were turkeys and smoothies and fresh bread and milk and eggs.

The abundance is staggering. Yet the fact that my mind focused on the (relatively few) empty shelves is a testament to how much wealth of variety we have to enjoy even in troubled times.

What’s my point?

I guess it’s worth being grateful for the wealth generally available to all Americans in the form of shopping choice and resilient availability of life’s necessaries (and not-so-necessaries). Even in an economic slump, which seems likely, much of that choice will still continue to be available. In the grand scheme of history, that’s pretty crazy.

I will look forward to a day when a grocery run is the same calm, peaceful, unrushed, and unafraid affair it was only a few weeks ago. But until then I won’t believe that I am living in great hardship, at least where food is concerned.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

Open This Content

Is This Coronavirus the End of the End of History?

I recently finished Ross Douthat’s The Decadent Society, a compelling argument that we live in a world that has become incapable of fundamental change.

From arts and culture (endless reboots – think Star Wars and Marvel) to political gridlock to technological stagnation (as Peter Thiel says, we wanted flying cars and got 140 characters), the world has remained shockingly same-ish since the 1970s. The international order in place since the end of World War 2 has continued with no significant signs of change, in what Francis Fukuyama once called “the end of history.”

Douthat ponders what might cause “the end of the end of history” toward the end of his new book. Could we finally break through with space travel, gene modification, or some other fundamental technological change? Will we have major religious revivals that stir the stale secular air? Will some new political ideology emerge to shake up how government is done locally and internationally? Douthat suggests it might be some combination of many scenarios, each feeding from the other. But he also argues that decadence – that fundamental lack of change – may be more resilient than we think. The inertia may continue for only God knows how long.

He may have spoken too soon. One of the more interesting things about the COVID-2019 coronavirus pandemic is how it might change the stable, comfortable routines that have existed in the US and the West largely untouched since the end of World War 2.

This does not necessarily entail good things. If large numbers of people are infected or die, or if quarantines continue long enough to kill of large sectors of private enterprise, or if governments or major corporations collapse, or if governments seize and hold major new powers over civil society, or if cities convulse with looting or martial law, or we will emerge into a different world and culture. This may seem hypothetical, but we’ve already seen a whole US state declare (relative) lockdown and major steps by the government to occupy voids left by the quickly evaporating economic sectors impacted by social distancing and home isolation.

Whatever happens, if trends continue, the world of the next few years will be very different from what has come before. And that is at least an interesting thing to watch.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

Open This Content

Pandemics Are the Health of the State

Local, state, and federal governments are using the COVID-2019 coronavirus crisis to assert more and more direct control over the lives of individuals.

The president has “banned” travel to Europe and travel from China, though control over individuals’ movements has never been within the scope of the president’s constitutional power.*

Governments have “declared lockdowns,” effectively forcing people to stay inside their homes (in some cases with criminal penalties), discussions of “shelter-in-place” and other domestic travel restrictions. These in turn will weaken and (given enough time) destroy large parts of the private sector, creating a void into which government programs and government-run industries

The government is planning to send $1000 to every American, in one swoop making all 330 million US citizens recipients of government welfare for the first time in history.

A quasi-private governmental banker council has arbitrarily set the cost of borrowing money (at the bank level) at near zero, creating hundreds of billions of new dollars out of thin air.

After all the lessons and corruption of 2008, the federal government is again pursuing bailouts for companies that are failing.

States are mobilizing their national guards. The federal government is preparing quarantine centers.

Hardly anyone is batting an eye. Some people are begging for more “strong action” from their governments.

There’s no doubt that COVID-2019 is a serious risk. But it’s kind of hard not to notice that the response in terms of vastly ramped-up government control of society (with more to come) has well outpaced even a moderate Democrat’s idea of the proper role of a state vis-a-vis civil society. And if history shows one thing, governments that gain power for an “emergency” hardly ever give it up when the emergency is over (if, indeed, they ever admit that the emergency over).

We now face an even dangerous risk than this pandemic: that the state grows in this crisis to replace large parts of civil society that will never be allowed to grow back.

Yes, the virus grows exponentially. Yes, social distancing is one of the ways we know to flatten the curve. But the development of the virus is still quite early, not all of the data is in, and yet still many people seem to be willing to surrender liberties which took centuries to gain and centuries to preserve.

—————————————————————————-

*Even if the constitution granted this power, it would still be unethical for anyone to try to enforce it.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

Open This Content