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How Close Is Total Social and Economic Collapse?

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Economies and societies fall apart slowly, then a bit more, then all at once. We seem to be in the middle period of this trajectory. The slow part began March 2020 when politicians around the world imagined that it would be no big deal to shut down the economy and restart it once the virus went away. What a beautiful display of the power of government it would be, or so they believed. We’ll all have a big celebration, said the president.

The virus was never going to go away, which meant that there was no exit ramp. Congress spent money and the Fed cranked up the presses to pay the bills, while checks were stuffed into bank accounts all over the country, all to mask the growing economic devastation. 

None of it worked. You cannot turn off an economy and normal social functioning and then turn them back on like a light switch. The attempt alone will necessarily cause unpredictable amounts of long-term breakage, not only of economic structures but also of the spirit of a people. Everything going on now reflects the disastrous presumption that doing that would be possible and not cause dramatic and lasting damage.

It was the greatest failure of politics in a century or perhaps in all of human history, when you consider just how many governments were involved in committing the same idiocy all at once. 

Here it is 19 months later. Hundreds of thousands of small businesses are destroyed, while big tech that thrived during lockdowns (which it advocated and supported via censorship) is buying up major swaths of Manhattan. The kids have lost two years of education, and 40% of people report serious financial problems. 

Disposable diapers are in short supply and parents are turning to cloth, reversing one of the great innovations of the postwar period. School lunches are dwindling due to food shortages and now fewer people available to work the lunch counters. After all, workers are being fired for declining a vaccination that many people do not want or believe they need. 

In US ports, ships are lined up waiting for goods to be unloaded but there is a lack of transportation out. Truckers are in short supply, many having quit before (due to unwarranted regulatory impositions) and during lockdowns and now uninterested in coming back. In addition, domestic flights that once were a reliable means of shipping have been curtailed. 

President Biden, like in a scene out of Atlas Shrugged, has ordered the ports to stay open 24 hours to get the job done. Just work harder! No one believes that this order will make any difference. 

The hashtag #emptyshelves is trending for a reason. It’s very alarming to wander into a random grocery store in this country. Products we’ve always believed would be there are not. Consumers are on the verge of panicking. Their hoarding will soon be denounced by the press office of the White House. If we stay on this path, rationing comes next, then script printed to enforce the rationing as in wartime. 

Existing inflation data is bad enough but it is masking the current trends. Producer prices are soaring 20% year over year. Heating oil is in short supply as we head into the winter months. People are talking about having to choose between food on the table and not freezing at night. 

This is in a country that only two years ago seemed like the richest place on the planet in all of human history, with good growth prospects. It all ended so quickly and deliberately. 

What’s next? Foraging for food? At what point do we need to start guarding our pets from human predators? 

Everyone talks about broken supply chains but few know what that means. It’s not just a matter of getting a finished product from port to shelves. The production structures of the global economy are too complex for the human mind to fathom. Every product goes through multiple thousands of stages involving producers all over the world. Break the availability of one critical and non-substitutable input and you break everything. 

A good example is computer chips, which went into short supply last fall. Manufacturers had cancelled orders during lockdown on the belief that they could simply reorder when the economy reopened. When they placed those orders, the factories had already retooled to serve other products and other countries. There seems to be no hope of fixing this problem anytime soon. 

This problem of input availability is affecting every manufacturer in the world, creating more shortages and more upward price pressure. Those price increases are already outstripping wage increases. In the “wage illusion,” people are getting raises but they can buy ever less with their money, so in real terms, their wages are falling. 

Meanwhile, 4.3 million workers have gone missing. Data indicate that this affects mostly women and minorities, or least disportionately so, reversing decades of advances in including these groups in the labor force. News media is ignoring this issue, and implausibly so given the demographics of the damage. This reflects an unwillingness to draw attention to the failures of policies that have been widely celebrated by the media and its chosen experts for the better part of 20 months. 

The conflict between the federal government and some Republican-ruled states is intensifying, with each side declaring the edicts of the other side as illegal. This has squeezed businesses and workers, so that any choice they make on vaccines will be illegal. In airlines that believe they are bound by federal rules, pilots, mechanics, traffic controllers, and flight attendants are getting the rest of their sick leave in anticipation of final dismissal. Faced with mass absenteeism, the airlines have had to cancel thousands of flights, and then lie about it (“unusual weather”). 

What’s remarkable is the near-silence on the cause of this whole crackup. It all traces to a fateful attempt to control a virus using compulsion. That has been followed by an unwillingness to admit error and a doubling down on that error with more mistakes such as vaccine mandates. We are faced with a stunningly cruel policy that is forcing more firings during a widespread labor shortage. 

The firings for non-compliance intensify this week, affecting academia, military, education, health care, digital tech, police and fire departments, and a whole range of services. They are being thrown out of their jobs, denied income in the name of improving public health. It’s like a scene out of V for Vendetta. Or The Matrix. Or The Hunger Games. Today it feels like the middle section of Atlas Shrugged when everything is grinding to a halt. 

Generous people all over the country are rallying to care for friends and members of their communities who are being brutally purged from institutions that they have served faithfully for decades, people suddenly finding themselves without the ability to provide for their families. Lawyers are too expensive, judges don’t care in any case, and the politicians are trying to look the other way and pretend not to notice the carnage all around them. 

Tragically, science itself, or at least the government’s version of it, stands discredited, simply because it was the basis on which all this destruction has been justified. They said they would improve our health, even as drug overdoses hit record highs, the murder rate that had fallen for decades has reversed course, cancer screenings have been missed thereby putting millions at risk of early demise, and depression has soared to levels never seen in our lifetimes. 

People are raging on the streets of Rome, Paris, Melbourne, London, and many other major cities around the world, even while the national press ignores them for fear of spreading discontent. In the US, the protests are taking the form of quiet seething, illustrated in part by a president who is ramping up the controls by the day, even as his approval ratings are underwater by double digit numbers. Crowds chanting “#uck Joe Biden” are re-rendered by the press as “Let’s go Brandon,” as if that is going to fool anyone. 

The arrogance of the political establishment meanwhile appears boundless. They are infallible: believe them and not your eyes and ears. Most of the mainstream press of the past has their back and assigns “fact checkers” to affirm that the lies are real and that the corrections to the lies are fakes. 

How does all this end? It doesn’t end. History rolls forward in the current direction of decline so long as no one is there to stand athwart it and yell stop and reverse course. How bad must it get before human rationality and reason take over from political egos and careerist duplicity? We are going to find out in the next 12 months. It’s going to be a very long winter, as two weeks to flatten the curve gradually and painfully turns into three years of remarkable and wholly preventable wreckage. 

None of this has to be. It is indeed fixable now. Everyone involved in the lockdowns and mandates needs to follow the lead of Congressman Chip Roy of Texas. He said what thousands, millions, need to say:

Brownstone Authors and Contributors

  • Jeffrey A. Tucker is Founder and President of the Brownstone Institute and the author of many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press and ten books in 5 languages, most recently Liberty or Lockdown. He is also the editor of The Best of Mises. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture. [email protected]

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