“They loathe capitalism because it has assigned to this other man the position they themselves would like to have.” – Ludwig von Mises, The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality, p. 10
There’s the famous saying “Misery loves company.” Rather than being cheered up, sometimes we want to be around the miserable to confirm our own.
This might explain why there were Russian nostalgists for the old days after the old Soviet Union happily fell into the dustbin of history. Misery is in a sense the easy route.
Per the Mises quote that begins this piece, some doubtless prefer a lack of economic freedom because the lack of upward mobility gives them an excuse for not being upwardly mobile. If no one’s allowed to rise, then those who lack enterprise won’t have their indolence exposed.
This kind of thinking has come up a lot of late as the hideous, indefensible lockdowns slowly – and sometimes quickly – end. It’s not unrealistic to presume that some workers and business owners would plainly prefer endless lockdowns.
The question is why? How could they not want to end that which has limited their ability to work and profit? How could they not desire an end to that which eviscerated tens of millions of jobs in 2020, and devastated/bankrupted millions of business too?
The answer to the above question might lie in the question asked. Tens of millions of jobs destroyed in 2020, along with millions of other businesses either severely weakened or bankrupted. Get it?
Without excusing the hideous and intensely cruel lockdowns for a second, it cannot be forgotten that job destruction is the annual norm in a dynamic economy. Where jobs are created most readily is also where they’re destroyed most rapidly. It’s in the brutally poor countries that work has a generational quality to it. In rich countries the nature of work is constantly changing precisely because the jobs of today don’t always last until tomorrow.
Same with businesses. For instance, rare is it that the team picture for shopping malls stays the same. In truth, the tenants are relentlessly changing to reflect rapidly evolving consumer tastes, along with the basic truth about “creative destruction:” in a dynamic economy it’s routinely the case that new business entrants replace former market leaders in the blink of an eye. When the 21st century began Netflix was begging Blockbuster to purchase it, but by 2010 Blockbuster was no longer. When the 21st century began Mark Zuckerberg was still in high school, but by 2010 his Facebook had vanquished Friendster, MySpace and countless other long-forgotten social media wannabes. If the NFL stands for “Not For Long” when it comes to the tenure of its head coaches, the business world outside of it is arguably even more brutal. If readers doubt this, watch telecasts from 2000 versus 2020 to see how many of the advertisers are the same.
Looking back to February of 2020, doesn’t anyone remember the conventional wisdom? Essential as Amazon became during the awful, needless lockdowns, it’s not as though its dominance was made apparent by them. Lest readers forget, the view before the lockdowns was that Amazon was on the verge of wiping out all manner of brick & mortar retailers, shopping malls, and anything else with a physical presence. That Amazon itself was rapidly expanding its physical presence didn’t seem to deter the hysterics; Amazon, like GM, IBM, and Microsoft before it, would dominate all of commerce if not stopped.
That the view of Amazon made no sense is really not the point here. The point is that even before the lockdowns, no business or job was secure. This is the downside to the wondrous upside of capitalism. While the upside is endless such that anyone with drive and energy can achieve amazing things, and can do so without the educational credentials that the intellectual classes worship, the downside is that success has an incredibly ephemeral quality to it. What’s dominant today often won’t be dominant tomorrow. And that assumes it’s still in existence at all.
Which brings us back to the why of the lockdowns. No doubt some workers and business owners wanted and want the lockdowns. We know this because there’s no way what was so tragic could have happened absent at least some buy in from workers and owners. Okay, but why would anyone support that which limits their ability to work and profit?
For some the answer is simple: they believed and still believe the coronavirus a major threat to their health, the health of their family members, and the health of their customers. Fair enough, but the logical, “unselfish” choice there would be for those terrified to not burden the rest of us with their fear. Indeed, it’s been incredibly costly.
At the same time, it’s possible others support the lockdowns with the Mises quote that begins this piece in mind. Though the taking of the right to work and profit has brought on misery, it also took the pressure off of workers and businesses that weren’t competing. Think about it. If there are rules against meeting the needs of customers, then there are rules against the very competition that weeds out the bad.
Revolting as the lockdowns have been, for some they had a glorious side as PPP and other governmental redistribution programs somewhat froze the look of commerce in place. Since politicians were desperate to prop up jobs and businesses without regard to whether or not they should remain in business, it’s no doubt true that all too many businesses and jobs still exist that otherwise wouldn’t have in a free, capitalist system.
About what’s been said, it should be stressed once again that it’s in no way a defense of the indefensible lockdowns. It’s merely an attempt to understand why some might prefer that the indefensible remain. One possibility is that a lack of competition is comfort for those who would prefer not to compete.
Reprinted from Forbes