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Unless Our Intended Destination Is Venezuela, It's Time to Open Everything and Get Back to Work

(Pixabay)

I’ve been screaming about this for at least a month, perhaps because I’ve seen this movie before, but I think it is time to admit that the cure for Covid-19 is in fact much, much worse than the nothingburger disease that inspired it.

Right now governors – mostly Democrats – are holding on by their fingernails to the narrative that “the lockdown saved millions of lives,” which is – looking at the numbers from Sweden – at best a fallacy and at worst outright deception.

As study after study shows that it’s likely the virus was here before the beginning of the year, and in fact that many more people already have antibodies to it than expected, we hear that all these studies are “problematic” or “discredited.” Except that in the U.S. and abroad all of these studies keep corroborating each other and coming up with a mortality rate much lower than anyone could have anticipated.

The illusion that we heroically saved millions from death by throwing millions more into the maw of a collapsing economy, which will almost certainly result in collapsed supply chains and outright famine in places this Winter – and if we’re very lucky those places won’t be in the U.S., but don’t bet on it – will be maintained as long as they can maintain the lockdown.  The minute people are out there and talking to friends and peer group, and away from the pervasive influence and narrative of TV news, it will vanish.

It will vanish for the same reason that people haven’t been buying the news alternate universe for a long time now: because they will come in contact with people who have different experiences, which deny the carefully chosen and spoonfed left-view of the world that is spun by TV news.

Once they’re out and meeting with friends, they’ll realize no one in their circle, really, personally knows anyone who died.  They’ll also realize how many of their friends are suffering issues from postponed “elective” procedures such as treatment for cancer or heart conditions.  They might very well find that their small hospital has closed for a lack of patients (and therefore lacks funds to reopen). They might find that their favorite bar or restaurant is gone, never to return. Or their apartment complex might now be an eerily quiet place after evictions for lack of rent payment.

This is partly why some governors, a lot of mayors, and definitely anyone who staked his professional reputation on how big and devastating COVID-19 would be, are trying against all reasons or sense to either prolong the illegal house arrest of millions of Americans, or, alternately – because the lockdown is not holding as they wished – to enforce a “new normal” that makes it almost impossible for people to socialize normally.  In fact, almost everyone who talks wishfully about the new normalwe’re looking at you, New York Times – is doing their best to obfuscate and keep pushing the illusion that these extreme measures were needed to avoid something that might be – we don’t know, since our own numbers are vitiated for a federal pay-out for COVID-19 diagnoses, which will not be subject to audit – as bad as a bad flu.

The problem is that their illusion will break – as our illusion will break – because we’re headed for a year or perhaps more of extreme shortages which, yes, will include food.

Whenever I say this, people who are still panicking over the virus – sigh – will accuse me of being alarmist, and where do I have proof of the lack of food to come.

What they’re suffering from is a failure of imagination.  Most famines in modern-day are not the result of a lack of food. They’re a lack of food in the right place or a lack of food we can transport/sell in the right place.

We’ve all heard stories of milk being dumped and vegetables plowed under, and the normal response is to shrug and say “oh, that’s just restaurant supply.”

But it’s not.  When I say I’ve seen this movie before: I’ve lived in a planned economy before.  After the revolution in Portugal, politicians who knew bloody nothing about how food actually got to tables, decided to create a better and more fair society.  This included setting prices for everything, but also deciding which sectors of the economy got to function and which were “cost-added” without adding value. Non-essential, you could call them.

Now, Portugal was at the time a tiny (in economic terms, particularly) country, with such a strong agricultural basis that everyone practically grew most of their own food, or could if needed.

And yet, the wheels came off with surprising rapidity.  Sometimes there was simply no bread available, and I seem to remember – though I am sure it’s exaggerated by being a pre-teen at the time – months of eating nothing but chicken and potatoes.  (Arguably not a terrible hardship.)  I also remember dimly times when you couldn’t find pasta or rice, and cooking oil of any kind tended to disappear from the shelves for sometimes weeks at a time.

No, there was no famine. Yes, there was hardship.  And I lived in fear mom would be arrested for “hoarding” when I heard how they were looking for hoarders and I knew what mom kept behind the coat closet.

But again, Portugal was a very small and a very simple society, compared to the world-spanning commerce giant that is current-day U.S.

My friend John Ringo, in his novel, called the U.S. the turbine of the world.

We’ve stopped that turbine.

I’m not pointing fingers, except perhaps at the “experts” who so assuredly told us that millions were going to die. But that – the disgraceful corruption and bastardizing of science and excessive reliance on scientists – is a subject for another essay.

I was following this a little earlier, and had gotten over the fear of COVID-19 by the time we locked down.  I still don’t know if the China reaction and obfuscation, which caused our establishment to panic, were genuine, or an elaborate psi-ops. Who knows what China meant by any of it.  (Other than the fact that they’ve stomped down on the Hong Kong rebellion while we were distracted and I recall reading somewhere that Xi exulted in the chance to “level the playing field among nations.”)

What I am worried about, though, is the real supply chain problems we’re going to face.  Most of them are things I can’t link to because they come at me through friends and acquaintances, such as the dairy farmer trying to sell his herd piecemeal, because he can’t sell the milk and therefore doesn’t have the money to continue feeding the cows.  Because a dairy herd is sometimes the result of generations of breeding and culling, farmers are understandably distressed at the idea of simply killing and dumping the animals, though it’s happening.

Or the fact that, apparently, meatpacking plants are closing and farmers are looking at killing – and dumping – their pigs.  Or the fact that flocks of chickens are being killed.

There are even more worrisome murmurs, though.  Friends who are or know independent truckers talk about how many of them won’t be able to return to work after a forcible furlough or re-routing.  (And I confess I don’t fully understand that.)  I saw something recently about airlines having to junk any number of their – already aging – fleet because they simply can’t pay for the maintenance on planes if we stay shut much longer (and I saw it about two weeks ago).

Then there’s talk of restaurants running out of take-out containers.

To illustrate it all, we’ll go with something fairly inconsequential.  Has anyone noticed the lack of yeast in the grocery stores?  Well, there’s a reason for that. My friend Mike Massa posted it on Facebook:

A few days ago I posted on FB about oil, petroleum futures and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. That seemed to interest a lot of people. I thought I’d talk about a few other areas, one at a time of course.

The intent is to share my awareness that while we are WELL educated on the basics of the Wuhan flu, and we’ve all learned new jargon (such as “social distancing,” “PPE,” and “viral load) the truly lasting impact of this pandemic is related to how our elected leaders, un-elected bureaucrats, oligarchical businesses and competitive businesses manage our economy.

Here’s an example: yeast.

If you’ve tried to bake recently, you might be wondering where all the dry yeast went. The answer relates to the 600% year over year (for Feb/Mar) increase in demand. Usually, baking is tied to the holidays and manufacturers prepare their supply chain to deliver much more baking product supply during that time frame.

It turns out that stressed people who have to stay at home bake. A lot. For example, Lorna is baking Irish Soda Bread today. It’s amazing (picture me singing that, with added vibrato because it’s so good!)

Making yeast is dirt simple (almost.) Therefore, manufacturing the actual yeast, even at 6x normal for this time of year is no problem. Packaging? Yeah, that’s a problem. For example (drawn from recent news), Fleischmann’s yeast is packaged using jars and paper envelopes sourced from one, count’em, *one* factory. In India. Which is closed.

Since Fleishmann’s can’t easily ramp up an alternative (though I’m sure that they’re working hard on that) to this single point of failure in their supply chain, they can’t sell us dry yeast.

That’s not the end of the world for either the firm or for us. There are are ton of DIY yeast solutions and Fleishmann’s has a very broad product base. The point of this isn’t even that supply chains with remote, overseas, single point of failure critical nodes are REALLY DUMB (they are, btw.) One could even argue that in this day and age, given the multiple, recent historical failures of this sort, that such mistakes would be punished somehow (by customers and shareholders.)

Note: supply chains and how they relate to national policy is a huge topic, all by themselves.

The point is that neither the grocery stores, the baking public nor Fleishmann’s, all vested with a strong interest in keeping ye olde yeast flowing, failed to either identity or mitigate this failure, which was triggered by the pandemic. Consider that this is for a simple, cheap, every day product with a fairly straightforward supply chain with a minimum number of participants.

Now greatly expand that example to the much larger, much more complex national economy of the U.S. Do we really expect that we are adequately forecasting the impact of this shutdown and its costs? We’ve a pretty good handle on the likely human costs of this disease, and they are much, much less than the asinine Imperial College of London model forecast of 2m deaths in the U.S. – which model was used to drive lurid headlines, create near hysterical levels of panic and influence policy. The government response was a blunt instrument.

That blunt instrument is what is “tuning” the tens of thousands of U.S. businesses and how they interact with each other and us. That response and many like it, are affecting our international supply chains.

Another BTW – check out the article on Defense News on how the rate of F-35 production is dropping precipitously, and how the DoD supply chain is adversely affected because of factory closures in, wait for it… wait for it… *Mexico* are threatening input to the U.S. DoD.

Maybe this shutdown, with all it’s inefficiencies, unevenly applied standards, executive orders etc. is needed, in just the way that we’re experiencing it. Or maybe, just maybe, we need to understand the impact to our way of life and the economy that makes it possible, and consider tailoring our response to avoid a potential disaster of equivalent or higher impact.

It is possible to recognize that the Wuhan flu is very serious and yet be critical of current policy. No, this position isn’t the flu equivalent of vaccine denial. Questioning the response of your country, your state or your municipality isn’t “wanting people to die!”

The good news is that lots of people are working hard on solutions: vaccines, testing and improved pandemic models. I hope that some policy makers are thinking really hard about adjusting their responses to meet the pandemic threat without over reaching. I hope that we can keep our businesses alive, more people employed. I hope that you guys keep comments civil. This is not a time to count political coup. Our enemies rejoice to see us divided.

P.S. – I cop to the admission that in what I regarded as a pretty well stocked crisis larder, I had stored not a single foil envelope of yeast. Sigh.

Now yeast is a very minor thing, right? But how many other minor things are ripping now that you won’t find out for months?

I assure you there are many.  Probably more than you can – literally – imagine.  Which is why even well-intentioned politicians can’t imagine them either

The economy is a massive engine, composed of hundreds of millions of individuals seeking their self-interest. You cannot fine-tune it or choose who gets to work or which jobs are “essential.”

This is why all planned economies fail. It is impossible for even a group of human beings to know the wants and needs of every single citizen, particularly in an economy as big as ours.

The longer this goes on – and why are we opening gradually or carefully or whatever, anyway? It’s not like we’re seeing piles of bodies on the streets. The peak never reached where they assured us it would even with all these measures and at this point, any gradual opening will simply pile-on more damage — the more the wheels come off, the more the cogs break in the delicate machinery that makes sure your grocery stores are full.

Worse than that, the longer this goes on, when the inevitable understanding of what’s been done to us and our livelihood sets in, the less likely we’ll recover.

Because who, seeing how the government by fiat could despoil millions of Americans of their life’s work and wealth, will be willing to spend their lives creating the perfect herd of dairy cows or the perfect restaurant or the perfect whatever it is that will require blood sweat and tears?

Who even will set up to create a new factory – in the states – to make envelopes for yeast, or take our containers?

No one, that’s who.  When your life, pursuit of happiness and livelihood aren’t safe, why bother.  You’ll sit back, pretend to work while they pretend to pay you, and not stand out, not bother, not make any extraordinary effort.

This is how most of the world lives. Is this truly what we want for the United States, the turbine of the world?

It’s time to stop playing around. It’s time for politicians to stop arrogating for themselves the ability to decide who gets to work and who gets to eat and how much everything should cost. Unless our intended destination is Venezuela it’s time to stop this foolishness, open everything, and get back to work.

And to never — ever ever ever — again give politicians the opportunity to bring us to a standstill on projections and models, or vague fears and innuendos.  Such drastic measures should only apply when there’s clear and present danger. Which this never was.

It’s time to remember we’re Americans and get back to being the turbine of the world.