– April 10, 2020

One hundred days ago, on December 31, 2019 — not long past noon, which is to say less than twelve hours before the new year 2020 would ring in — a website run by the Chinese government reported that a “pneumonia of unknown cause” was sweeping through Wuhan, an industrial city which is home to over 11 million people. 

It took 400 years to build Chichen Itza; it took 22 years (and 15 nations) to construct a 460-ton space station 200 miles over earth; it takes 11 – 15 years to become a medical doctor; it took about seven years for the one-millionth Model T to roll off the Detroit assembly lines, and 15 months to erect the Empire State Building. 

And in 100 days (in fact quite fewer, but I share a popular affinity for both milestones and round numbers) the world economy has essentially been asphyxiated.

In three weeks, over 17 million Americans have lost their jobs. Suicide rates are rising alongside “snitchculture. Governors, county commissioners, and mayors are savoring their newfound power flex: threatening, and in some cases breaking up, private gatherings (with hilarious results, occasionally).

Economists are looking up the definition of “depression” and finding out that several competing, popular definitions exist: the National Bureau of Economic Research, which dates recessions, doesn’t define them. Gene Epstein has coined a better phrase: the Great Suppression.

It wouldn’t quite be fair to assert that the seeds of the present economic seizure were sewn with those announcements, or even with the infection of whoever patient zero is, some time before that. Americans have for decades been incrementally offloading more and more of their freedoms in a great acquiescence to power and control. 

Perhaps this is the apotheosis of the New Deal, or any number of “we’re all in this together” periods since then. No one has ever explained why everyone facing the same calamity (which is never the case, in actuality) requires the same reaction from everybody, especially a response selected and decreed from above by a group of people who usually face far fewer risks than the rest of us. 

The very coining of the term “adulting” — first used by Millennials, now adopted even among fellow Gen-Xers and Boomers — was, in retrospect, a portent; as were plummeting rates of saving, broadening qualifications for the exercise of free speech, and the rise of multi-trillion dollar entitlement programs. 

The invisible cathedral — the imperceptible but very real geometry which defines the shape and form of life around us —  is always under siege, as Jeffrey Tucker wrote in “Cathedrals, Seen and Unseen:” 

Where is the fire that threatens this invisible cathedral? These days, it comes mainly from politics, and the arrogant ideologies that daily threaten to displace what we know to be true with the products of minds who aspire to rule others through the application of power. These people are daily making outrageous demands that we, for example, shatter established trading relationships, surrender private property, abandon industrial techniques it took centuries to develop, turn our backs on what our parents and theirs knew to be true, ignore the discoveries of science, disregard once-settled postulates concerning the rule of law and human dignity, and assault all that has come before as hopelessly biased and corrupt. They seek to shame us into abandoning common sense and the wisdom of experience in favor of their superior plan.

Today that invisible cathedral is burning, without flame or heat: streets of deathly silence, quiet bars and restaurants, shuttered stores, and everywhere a conspicuous absence of virtually any opposition to the strangulation of commerce and social interaction — all accomplished though mere edict. In an era of safe spaces, emotional support animals, and coloring books for adults, coddling has become an industry and martial law is only necessary as an exciting plot element in a B-movie. 

It seems like only yesterday there was a movement fussing about their right to demand that others use the correct pronoun of their choosing. Where are these people now and why are they silent in the presence of what amounts to a practical totalitarianism? 

It was only recently that many thousands of individuals descended on Washington, D.C. (some from hundreds of miles away) at their own expense to protest the appointment of a Supreme Court justice — some in costumes drawn from a dystopian novel — yet today wile away their days, alone in apartments, unpaid and unproductive, forced into idleness and descending into impoverishment with nary a complaint. 

That it took only the suggestion of the possibility of sickness to render a nation once characterized by rugged individualism, personal liberty, bravery (we sing songs about this), and industry into house-bound milksops confirms what many have suspected for so long: this is the ultimate consolidation of America’s acquiescence to power over liberty.

Peter C. Earle

Peter C. Earle

Peter C. Earle is an economist and writer who joined AIER in 2018 and prior to that spent over 20 years as a trader and analyst in global financial markets on Wall Street. His research focuses on financial markets, monetary issues, and economic history. He has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, NPR, and in numerous other publications. Pete holds an MA in Applied Economics from American University, an MBA (Finance), and a BS in Engineering from the United States Military Academy at West Point. Follow him on Twitter.

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