Government More Deadly Virus

Do you know what I’d rather not think about? The coronavirus panic. Do you know what it seems no one, including me, is thinking about? Anything other than the coronapocalypse.

People think about the things that catch their attention. That’s normal. The changes forced on society over the past couple of weeks are huge. It’s no wonder people can’t stop thinking about this.

It’s wise to take things seriously, but not to let them cause panic.

Here are some other things that might be important to learn from this:

  • If you’re sick, stay home!
  • If you are waiting to see if government can save you, you’re barking up the wrong flag pole. You have the most influence over your own life and health. Use it.
  • Don’t stay submerged in coronavirus hysteria. You can leave the cell phone in your pocket and take a walk. Let the sunlight and fresh air work their healthy magic.
  • The time to stockpile supplies is before a crisis occurs. Otherwise you help cause shortages and increase the possibility of violence. Maybe less so here than in urban areas, but it’s a danger everywhere.
  • There’s no such thing as “price gouging.” Higher prices during greater demand make sure the stores don’t run out. Government’s unwise intervention, imposing socialist economic policies, guarantees empty shelves, whether it happens in America or Venezuela. I’d rather pay a higher price for something I need than to not be able to get it at any price because stores weren’t allowed to charge higher prices during increased demand.
  • When government bungles the response — often by responding at all — and then tries to cover up the bungling with heavy-handed police state tactics as is happening now, things get worse than they otherwise would.

This is also an opportunity for personal growth.

There are people in high-risk groups who probably shouldn’t be going into public to shop. If you aren’t in this group, why not ask them what they need, and go get it for them? Compete with your friends and see who can help the most people. Make it a sport.

No one knows what the coming weeks will bring. I believe the virus itself is less dangerous than the social effects of the panic and the anti-social power-grabs by various governments.

You will suffer in the coming months. It’s not going to be the fault of any biological virus, but of an institutional one. Political government is the deadly virus most in need of extinction.

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How Isaac Newton Turned Isolation From the Great Plague Into a “Year of Wonders”

College students around the world left campus this month, unsure when they would return and what daily life would look like until then. Forced to leave their friends and classmates behind and return to their childhood bedrooms, young people, who on average are less impacted by COVID-19’s dire health effects, may understandably feel angry and resentful. Free and independent, with their futures full of possibility, these students are now home and isolated. It can seem wholly unfair and depressing. But the story of another college student in a similar predicament might provide some hope and inspiration.

Isaac Newton’s Quarantine Experience

In 1665, “social distancing” orders emptied campuses throughout England, as the bubonic plague raged, killing 100,000 people (roughly one-quarter of London’s population), in just 18 months. A 24-year-old student from Trinity College, Cambridge was among those forced to leave campus and return indefinitely to his childhood home.

His name was Isaac Newton and his time at home during the epidemic would be called his “year of wonders.”

Away from university life, and unbounded by curriculum constraints and professor’s whims, Newton dove into discovery. According to The Washington Post: “Without his professors to guide him, Newton apparently thrived.” At home, he built bookshelves and created a small office for himself, filling a blank notebook with his ideas and calculations. Absent the distractions of typical daily life, Newton’s creativity flourished. During this time away he discovered differential and integral calculus, formulated a theory of universal gravitation, and explored optics, experimenting with prisms and investigating light.

Newton biographer James Gleick writes: “The plague year was his transfiguration. Solitary and almost incommunicado, he became the world’s paramount mathematician.” (p. 34). Newton himself would say about this forced time away from university life: ‘For in those days I was in the prime of my age for invention & minded Mathematics & Philosophy more than at any time since.’”

The Great Plague eventually ended and Newton returned to Trinity College to complete his studies, becoming a fellow and ultimately a professor. The discoveries he made during his time away from campus, though, would form the foundation of his historic career for years to come and become some of the greatest scientific breakthroughs.

This is a trying time for all of us, as our lives are upended and our routines are disrupted due to the pandemic. There is much to despair about. But this could also be a time for reflection and discovery. The sudden change to the rhythm of our days, and the associated isolation, could unleash our imaginations and inventiveness in ways that might have been impossible under ordinary circumstances.

Rather than being a nadir, this “social distancing” experience could be the peak of your creativity and production. This could be the time when you formulate your greatest ideas and do your best work. This could be your year of wonders.

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I’m a Horrible Person

I hate to admit it– it probably means I’m a horrible person– but I’m having fun. I’m enjoying the coronapocalypse. Just a little.

Yes, I feel a bit guilty for enjoying this as much as I am. I also know the enjoyment will fade the longer this goes on.

I feel bad for people who are really hurting and suffering. I feel awful for those who have lost loved ones. I have empathy for those who are scared. But this is the sort of thing I thrive on– at least for a while. It’s what I’ve prepared for… for decades.

Plus, I’ve been doing all I can for many years to tell people to prepare for this sort of thing. If they refused to listen…

I consider this a practice run for a real breakdown. I’m taking notes so I’ll be even more prepared next time. Yeah, I know every event will be different, but I still plan on learning from this one.

I’m doing what I can to keep my family members safe and healthy. Nothing is guaranteed, obviously. But that’s the case every day. I’ve had the rug pulled out from under me before.

My parents, who didn’t take the virus at all seriously at first– have gone into full-blown quarantine lock-down mode. I drop supplies and their mail for them in their garage and they go get it after I’ve left. I’m wondering if they are decontaminating it. As long as the electricity flows they aren’t going to be running out of food for a very long time, having multiple freezers and refrigerators. And quite the pantry, as well. I enjoy doing what I can to help them. My mom is sewing masks for the family and my dad is watching Hallmark Channel Christmas movies that he has recorded, I suspect they are both kind of enjoying this, too.

I’m fine on food and supplies for a long time– even if I couldn’t buy anything new. But I can, even though the food aisles have gone eerily empty. People might not be able to buy what they wanted, but there is something available. My yard– and every other yard in town– is chock full of edible “weeds”. No one will starve unless they choose to.

I’m taking long daily walks around town (as long a walk as I can take in this town– I zig-zag a lot) in the sun and fresh air.

Money has gotten tighter– your donations and subscriptions have become even more important than in the past (I also know some of you are probably losing income, too). I will get through this one way or another. Except in the unlikely event that the virus gets me– which I highly doubt it can.

I feel as though I am in my element– which is rare. I might as well have fun while I can.

Are any of you as awful as I am? Feel free to judge me.

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Keep Healthy Habits, Help Others

How will you spend your time now that civilization has been canceled by executive command? Is it time to brush up on your stone-age skills?

This would be a good time to familiarize yourself with the edible wild plants growing in your yard and to learn the natural substitutes for toilet paper.

Learn to make and use an atlatl and stone-tipped spears in case you need to bring down a mammoth. Pool cues might be a good raw material for this sort of thing. Of course, the recent scarcity of mammoths could put a kink in this plan.

A bonfire in the backyard for roasting your kill would probably attract the wrong kind of attention anyway. This should be a last resort.

Perhaps you could choose to go to the opposite extreme and retreat to a virtual world for a fortnight or two, where your biggest dangers are ransom-ware and scammers promising eternal love in exchange for airfare to America.

Or will you ignore the hoopla?

I’m always in favor of taking precautions against unnecessary risks, but people can go overboard. There are times precaution gets replaced by panic. Politicians love taking advantage of panic since they rarely pay a price for being wrong. They claim the credit if people believe they got it right, but you pay the price every time they are wrong.

I’m going to hope you’re a regular reader of this column and as such you’ve listened to my frequent suggestions to be a “prepper” and stock up on essential supplies in case of unforeseen circumstances. This means you were already prepared and didn’t get caught up in the last-minute scramble for essentials … or for the luxuries some people consider essential.

Aren’t you glad you listened?

The phrase “May you live in interesting times” is said to be a curse. I’m not certain it is. Would you rather be bored to death? Times can be interesting, but — when you’re ready for whatever life throws at you — not cursed.

This too will pass. You’ll be fine when all is said and done. There are lessons in all this. Smart people will learn and remember these lessons; others will stay clueless.

Don’t let the hand-wringers and fear-mongers upset you. Do things you already know will help you stay healthy. Healthy habits haven’t suddenly become dangerous. Lend a hand to those who, due to age or health conditions, may be more at risk. Together, but maybe not within coughing distance, we will get through this.

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Pandemics and Open Borders

Does the current pandemic seal the case against open borders?  Though I foresee many readers’ incredulity, the correct answer is: no way.  Why not?  Key point: Borders are already about 98% closed to immigration.  As I’ve explained before:

Let C=total number of immigrants – legal and illegal – who annually enter the U.S. under existing laws.

Let F=the total number of immigrants who would annually enter the U.S. under open borders.

Under perfectly open borders, C=F.  Under perfectly closed borders, C=0.  Where does the status quo fall on this continuum?  The obvious metric:

Open Borders Index=C/F

With closed borders, the Open Borders Index=0.  With open borders, the Open Borders Index=1.

Regardless of your views on immigration, it’s hard to see how your estimate of the actually existing Open Borders Index could exceed .05.  After all, there are hundreds of millions of people who would love to move to the U.S. just to shine our shoes…

Which brings us to the crucial question: How much protection have 98% closed borders given us against the pandemic?  The answer: Virtually none.

To successfully prevent the spread of infection, you would have to do vastly more than permanently stop immigration.  You would also have to permanently stop both trade and tourism.  As long as foreigners can fly over for a visit, or unload their goods on our docks, foreigners can and will infect us with their diseases.  Indeed, as long as natives can fly away for a visit, or unload our goods on other country’s docks, natives can and will infect us with their diseases.  The sad fact is that even very low absolute levels of international contact have been more than sufficient to spread infection almost everywhere on Earth.  The marginal cost of higher levels of contact is therefore minimal.  Do you really think any countries in Europe would be much safer for long if they had merely “stayed out of the EU”?

In fact, if you’re focused solely on preventing the spread of infectious disease, immigrants are plainly better than tourists and sailors.  Few would-be immigrants would be deterred by a mandatory health inspection prior to entry, because they expect large long-run gains.  For tourists and sailors, in contrast, a mandatory health inspection would often be a deal-breaker.  Remember: Even a simple visa requirement reduces tourism by an estimated 70%.  Just imagine the effects of a serious medical exam for every entering or returning international traveler.

Admittedly, you could bite the bullet of full isolation, but that’s crazy.  Hoxha’s Albania and Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il’s North Korea were awful for many reasons, but autarchy was plainly high up the list.  And to repeat, to make this work you can’t simply keep foreigners out.  You must also keep natives in – or at least tell them, “Once you leave, you can never come back.”

What about temporary travel restrictions to quarantine a severe international disease?  As I’ve explained many times, I am not an absolutist.  Given strong evidence that modest restrictions on mobility have dramatic benefits, such restrictions are justifiable – intranationally as well as internationally.  But that is – and should be – a high bar indeed.  The freedom of movement that we have lost is the freedom of movement that we have denied to non-citizens for a century.

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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.

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