November 28, 2020 Reading Time: 5 minutes

Many times throughout history, policymakers have doubled down on their own mistakes, refusing to believe that they were wrong or hoping that somehow doing the wrong thing twice or thrice would somehow make things right. Then it all came crashing down at once and the rulers lost their minds, and sometimes their necks or heads.

Economic, governance, and social systems often rely on each other in ways not readily discerned by narrow technocrats. When one crumbles, the others fall in rapid succession while all the putative experts express surprise. Look at the way that the U.S.S.R, one of the world’s two “super” powers, fell apart in the late 1980s when it lost enough feathers from its peacock tail in Afghanistan that its lies about the superiority of its command economy became obvious even to its own systematically deluded subjects.

When NPR proved inadequate to prevent Americans from seeing the few feathers left in America’s peacock tail, as evidenced by the surprise victory of Trump and his MAGA messaging in 2016, mass media joined forces with various “progressive” elements to create a propaganda machine that puts the old clunky Soviet state media to shame. 

Precisely because it is ostensibly private and domestic, America’s mass media, tarnished as its reputation is becoming, retains more credibility than any state-run media ever possessed. Many pundits have noted how 2020 resembles 1984, except the propaganda so far has come from a political resistance movement backed by parts of the government (FBI, CDC) rather than “the” state per se

The phalanx of private media and sundry have convinced tens of millions of Americans that: 

  • we are better off imposing lockdowns that cause far more harm than the virus itself (and sundry cognates, like the virus is super serious and novel, spreads easily via asymptomatic people, yet is stopped by irrational policies like curfews, as if people won’t simply start drinking earlier!); 
  • the current president is somehow illegitimate (Russian election interference, Ukrainian quid pro quo); 
  • nation-altering Constitutional reforms are necessary (de facto elimination of the electoral college, creation of additional states, SCOTUS enlargement); 
  • calling all people of Euroamerican descent racist isn’t itself racist;
  • a virus can differentiate between good protests (pro-BLM and pro-Biden) and bad ones (anti-lockdown and pro-Trump);
  • the American people chose a candidate who essentially did not campaign or set forth a coherent policy platform over one who, for all his faults, was president when the economy finally palpably improved and made enough progress in the Middle East to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Most impressive of all has been the way the mass media censored or downplayed Biden’s many weaknesses, his deplorable record on race, his almost half-century of self-serving political machinations, and his family’s dealings with Ukraine and China.

Thankfully, the Truth always prevails, it is just a matter of when and how. When the real world is heavily involved, Lies quickly die. So many a hubristic tyrant from ancient times to Hitler has fallen in war; many a fiat currency, including confederal Continentals and Confederate graybacks, has evaporated when their nominal value in circulation rapidly outstripped the real value of goods brought to market. 

The most robust, sustainable Lies cannot even be properly called such because they make no real world predictions at all but instead appeal to emotion and faith, to Revealed Truth. Some have lasted for millennia and though less popular than previously in many places they will surely outlast 2020’s Lies, even though some of those have appealed to faith, oddly in the name of “science,” as in phrases like “follow the science” reminiscent of Sunday sermons beseeching congregants to “follow Scripture.”

But religion appeals to people’s inner worlds so it can get by on dodgy slogans like “God works in mysterious ways.” The Lies of 2020, by contrast, make real world predictions and no amount of media censorship, irrational analysis, or outright obfuscation can permanently hide the fact that lockdowns impose large net burdens, Trump is no more incompetent or flawed than previous presidents, Constitutional checks and balances need to be strengthened and not dismantled, and Americans/America are no more racist than any other people/country.

Just as a fiat currency can quickly lose value through the self-interested actions of market participants, so too can lockdowns dissolve. In fact, in both cases governmental attempts to bolster its Lie (that its monetary policies or lockdowns work) will serve to speed the inevitable. If policymakers do not take the “Thanksgiving Rebellion” as a serious warning, they are dumber or more hubristic than even the most pessimistic have claimed. 

In fact, Americans should use social media, a tool like all tools that can be used for good as well as evil, to pick a time to sing some vintage Twisted Sister in unison to underscore the point: “Oh, we’re not gonna take it anymore! … This is our life … oh You’re so condescending/Your gall is never ending … If that’s your best, your best won’t do. … We’re right … We’re free … We’ll Fight … You’ll see.”

I practice what I preach and drove 12 hours from Georgia to New Jersey to spend time with my family this Thanksgiving, which as usual is gathering near one of the branches of the Atilis Gym, the owners of which gained fame earlier this year by proving the state’s restrictions on places of exercise was not just wrong but wrongheaded. To this day, not a single case of coronavirus has been linked to the establishment and, in fact, its regular patrons stand (and run, bike, squat, and row) as bulwarks against the spread of the coronavirus.

What kind of public health system bemoans the fact that 40 percent of the population is so unhealthy that they are at higher risk of developing complications from the coronavirus and then shutters workout facilities (and even at points boardwalks, parks, etc.)? A coercive state that truly cared about its people would have forced them to exercise instead of shuttering gyms, walking paths, and bike trails!

The longer policymakers allow the pandemic to play out through forced restrictions on natural interaction, the more Americans who will conclude that the public health system and Big Medicine have formed a “complex” akin to the military-industrial and scientific-technical-research complexes that Dwight D. Eisenhower warned Americans about when he left office in 1961, in the wake of another election apparently won with the aid of dead Democrats

This third complex is not interested in Americans’ health but rather their debility. Its goal is to make people dependent on pills and fancy vaccines (the kind now being tested, not the much easier and cheaper live vaccines that might have provided safe, voluntary herd immunity in a month or two, without lockdowns) and to charge through the nose for them, indirectly through taxes or insurance premia. Indirect billing renders the exorbitant costs easier to hide, but like all Lies with real world implications its effects are fragile and unsustainable as even indirect healthcare expenses become unbearable. That led to dropout (most uninsured Americans rationally opted out of insurance that was too costly relative to the expected benefit) and calls for “reforms,” all of which attempt to force everyone to pay tribute to the healthcare complex.

The big risk that I see is that some Americans are coming to understand 2020’s Lies much more quickly and clearly than others. There is a chance, therefore, that instead of The People rising up against feckless government tyrants a la Twisted Sister, tensions between the Still Masked and the Unmaskers, which started in March and intensified over the summer, may boil over into violence. That would be lamentable and counterproductive and could cause the deaths of more Americans in a single day than have perished thus far during the entire pandemic. Violence is a contagion to which nobody can become immune.

Robert E. Wright

Robert E. Wright

Robert E. Wright is the (co)author or (co)editor of over two dozen major books, book series, and edited collections, including AIER’s The Best of Thomas Paine (2021) and Financial Exclusion (2019). He has also (co)authored numerous articles for important journals, including the American Economic ReviewBusiness History ReviewIndependent ReviewJournal of Private EnterpriseReview of Finance, and Southern Economic Review. Robert has taught business, economics, and policy courses at Augustana University, NYU’s Stern School of Business, Temple University, the University of Virginia, and elsewhere since taking his Ph.D. in History from SUNY Buffalo in 1997. Robert E. Wright was formerly a Senior Research Faculty at the American Institute for Economic Research.

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