Sunday, March 29, 2020

Coronavirus And Our Post-Democratic Future?

Glenn Chan wrote a post this morning, "healthcare systems in developed countries have been surprisingly inept compared to China." Everything that has happened over the past two months in the West has been surprisingly inept compared to northeast Asia. I believe that this episode is an inflection point in the fortunes of Asia vs the West, and also points to a post-democratic future of the West.

There are three examples on Twitter that capture the superior northeast Asian response in a stunning way. First, only Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan were able to get their coronavirus outbreaks under control swiftly enough to matter. (China's may be under control, or they may be lying.) They did this using masks, contact tracing, and quarantining that I am not sure this country is going to be capable of managing.

Read Scott Gottlieb's paper, "National coronavirus response: A road map to reopening". It is a sensible three step plan, but it is also a list of things that this country is poorly prepared to handle. Remember, New Orleans has a major outbreak and they also have a hotel in the French Quarter that collapsed during construction and still has "among the collapsed building’s twisted remains and rubble, the dangling legs of a wedged corpse". The Congress and Trump's administration have been insider trading and looting (also) instead of thinking about how to quickly implement these measures.

Second, I was astonished by this March 10th tweet from Taiwan showing that people under fourteen day quarantine got a nice bag with "goodies from the municipality," including "rice cakes, face masks, milk powder," to "cheer up the spirit." Again, you just can't imagine this being done in the U.S. except possibly in Mormon communities. Small, rich enclaves would have the resources but not the neighborliness.

Third, doctors and nurses in the U.S. do not have the masks and gowns needed to protect themselves against infection so they are reduced to wearing garbage bags. Nurses wearing garbage bags is a de-legitimizing moment for the state. The U.S. experience with coronavirus is reminiscent of Chernobyl, except it has already been far more lethal than Chernobyl. But the minimization and lying are the same. Telling people that "masks don't work" was just a way to hide the lack of masks that came from offshoring manufacturing.

How did we get here? In short, giving low-IQ people the vote. Everything follows from that. The future has been mortgaged and cannibalized to buy votes from those with high time preference. I've been writing about this on the blog for thirteen years. Everyone warned that democracy would end this way, and it is going to:

  • "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide." - John Adams
  • "Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths." - James Madison
So it has been interesting to watch the social media accounts of the U.S. military. The U.S. Army's Twitter account posted a video of the Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, giving a briefing on rapid expansion of hospital beds in New York.

Under democracy there is a false choice between Trump and Biden. Middle class U.S. "kulaks" can have a guy who sacrificed thousands of lives to prop up his stock market bubble for a couple extra weeks or the totally demented figurehead of the political coalition seeking to dispossess them. Biden's base hates kulaks so much that he still insists we would have to have open borders bringing in more coronavirus cases if we got our epidemic under control.

Maybe people will sign up for one more round of this false choice. (The choice itself is an alarming signal of U.S. decline.) But check out the biographies of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. military as well as those of the unified combatant commanders. The CJCS was a Princeton Army ROTC student, the VCJCS attended Harvard University where he studied engineering and applied sciences on an Air Force ROTC scholarship. These guys look the part, and they tend to be engineers in the model of Chinese government and not our system of lawyer government. It's eventually going to take governance by engineers to not be crushed by engineers. (Lawyers can lie about how great things are while the wheels are coming off.)

The deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history was the 1900 Galveston hurricane that killed ~10,000 people. The 1918 flu killed something like half a million Americans, and of course the Civil War killed between half a million and a million people. There's a death toll here - maybe in the low six figure range - where the civilian government would be deposed to everyone's relief.

It may not get to that level this time. There are some promising treatment ideas: azithromycin and hydroxychloroquine, convalescent blood therapy, possibly remdesivir. (Low carb diets might reduce ACE receptor expression!) It ought to be possible to stop the air travel and get quarantine lodgings set up so that people do not spread the disease to household members. I have a bad feeling that attempts to do a coordinated effort of antibody testing, PCR testing, and contact tracing will turn out like the Obamacare website. We should be able to get people wearing masks.

But the military has been the most competent part of the response - civilian entities like FDA, CDC have been useless obstacles - and it is the credibility that they will gain from this which will have everyone ready for them to take over in a subsequent crisis. That could be a worse second wave of the virus, another Chinese bioweapon attack, an economic collapse or something unexpected - like this was.

The military would have good instincts. Instead of UBI, I would predict they would favor WPA-style reindustrialization: rebuilding infrastructure, returning the production of all medical goods, machine tools, and electronics. Again, engineers who know where "stuff" comes from and who know about the importance of logistics and supply lines. The military definitely knows how vulnerable trade with China makes the U.S., and they will be watching after this episode as the civilian government continues to do nothing about it.

P.S. Three other thoughts:
  • For those who have been buying the dip, I have also been asking, "what happens when the most overvalued asset bubble ever hits the biggest economic shock in history?" (A "panic" is not the right word for it.)
  • The other bright spot besides the military has been the 100% capitalist system of food production and distribution. Read about the H-E-B grocery store in Texas. But I'm worried we have a false sense of security about this based on how well it has done so far. What happens if food warehouse and grocery store workers have enough of the risk? The military would step in but it would be a big shock and there might be shortages.
  • Notice how many of the links in this essay are to Twitter. It's the world's best source of information, although it is a bad investment because the owners would rather we not talk about the topics in the essay, instead just silently read celebrity press releases. The eclectic mix of Twitter users that I follow saw this coming. Will "TSLAQ twitter" be vindicated too this year?


High Plateau Drifter said...

Excellent post.

I am always amazed at how cheaply and easily consent of the low information majority can be purchased.

Prior to the twentieth century there were many mediating voices - local news paper editors, clergymen, local business owners and others that interacted face to face with the below 100 IQ population and helped form their opinions.

All that has changed. The middle and upper middle class is largely isolated from those with IQs below 110. The opinions of that marginalized population are now controlled by the media.

The problem, of course, is that you can't make money as print or televised media by efforts to reach these people. Much of what we see on liberal media is imagined nirvana at no cost, or susceptible of being financed by exponential increases in government debt.

Long term prosperity and stable money issuance is, apparently, already frustrating the expectations of the populace. The gold market is beginning to respond (positively) to this development.

Palladium is over priced. My money is now in gold.


Anonymous said...

Is this Zero hedge?

Yeah the West is done, HAHHAHAHHA that is laughable, inflection point?, AHAHAHHAHAH the West under the Deep State is done, corrupt capitalisms is done, but the West will rule.

China is a wonderful place bahahahahhahahahah

Anonymous said...

I suggest you watch Kenneth Clark's Civilisation from 1969-all 13 parts are on YouTube.

CP said...

Given that this new variant is already here in America, are we too late? No, but we are on our back foot. The United States does not have extensive genomic surveillance, or a rapid turnaround with what surveillance it has, so in some ways, we are flying without a map. We have some indications that the variant is—so far—probably relatively rare in the United States.

League of Women Voters said...

Turns out that these generals and admirals are all cucks

CP said...

1. US foreign policy over the last decades has been disastrous -- trillions of dollars and thousands of lives expended on Middle Eastern wars, culminating in utter defeat. This defeat is still not acknowledged among most of the media or what passes for intelligentsia in academia and policy circles, but defeat it is. Iran now exerts significant control over Iraq and a swath of land running from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. None of the goals of our costly intervention have been achieved. We are exhausted morally, financially, and militarily, and still have not fully extricated ourselves from a useless morass. George W. Bush should go down in history as the worst US President of the modern era.

2. We are fortunate that the fracking revolution may lead to US independence from Middle Eastern energy. But policy elites have to fully recognize this possibility and pivot our strategy to reflect the decreased importance of the region. The fracking revolution is a consequence of basic research from decades ago (including investment from the Department of Energy) and the work of private sector innovators and risk-takers.

3. US budget deficits are a ticking time bomb, which cripple investment in basic infrastructure and also in research that creates strategically important new technologies like AI. US research spending has been roughly flat in inflation adjusted dollars over the last 20 years, declining as a fraction of GDP.

4. Divisive identity politics and demographic trends in the US will continue to undermine political cohesion and overall effectiveness of our institutions. ("Civilizational decline," as one leading theoretical physicist observed to me recently, remarking on our current inability to take on big science projects.)

5. The Chinese have almost entirely closed the technology gap with the West, and dominate important areas of manufacturing. It seems very likely that their economy will eventually become significantly larger than the US economy. This is the world that strategists have to prepare for. Wars involving religious fanatics in unimportant regions of the world should not distract us from a possible future conflict with a peer competitor that threatens to match or exceed our economic, technological, and even military capability.