Nothing is free. Even Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo admitted “there’s a lot of strings attached” in the 1,054-page law. National Economic Council director Brian Deese endorsed command-and-control industrial policy: “The question should move from ‘Why should we pursue an industrial strategy?’ to ‘How do we pursue one successfully?’” This is as wrong as Soviet or Chinese five-year plans. Industrial policy eventually leads to disaster. Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry micromanaged the country’s domestic semiconductor industry and ended up presiding over its decline. Today no Japanese semiconductor company sits in the global top 10. Because China doesn’t have access to ASML ExtremeUV equipment, it has made little progress in advanced chips.
Democrats might reply that their bill’s tax credits would encourage electric vehicle and renewable manufacturers to “on-shore” supply chains. But subsidies that encourage mineral extraction in the U.S. won’t help if the Biden administration continues to block projects such as a lithium mine in Nevada and a massive nickel, cobalt and copper mine in Minnesota.
In 2018, a radical new environmental group emerged in the United Kingdom. The loose-knit organization called itself Extinction Rebellion, or “XR,” and aimed to raise awareness of climate change through disruptive protests. XR activists staged dramatic “die-ins” and shut down London bridges and metro stations. The group’s leaders warned that climate change could “kill six billion people this century” and called for Britain to halt the use of fossil fuels virtually overnight. Like the Occupy Wall Street movement that inspired it, XR disdains detailed policy prescriptions. But its members generally scorn our modern, energy-intensive lifestyles, while also rejecting nuclear power and other high-tech approaches to reducing emissions. To save the planet, many believe, capitalism itself needs to be overthrown.
One of the group’s most charismatic spokespeople was Zion Lights. The daughter of Indian immigrants and a mother of two, Lights was a longtime environmental advocate. (The Telegraph once dubbed her “Britain’s greenest mum.”) But she found herself hard-pressed to defend XR’s more extreme claims. Hoping to understand the issues better, Lights returned to college, where she studied the debates surrounding nuclear power and related themes. “I started to realize that almost everything I had believed was wrong,” she told me, when I interviewed her recently for a podcast. When Lights tried to discuss her new perspective with her XR colleagues, she said, “I found there was this immense, immense resistance.”
So it turns out that reports of the Great Barrier Reef’s death were greatly exaggerated. For years we were told that this glorious coral reef off the coast of Queensland was being slowly strangled by mankind. The Guardian even published an obituary. It was literally titled ‘The Great Barrier Reef: an obituary’. ‘[The] seeds of the reef’s destruction are well embedded’, it declared. And we all know who was to blame for this ‘destruction’: marauding mankind. It’s always us. Shipping, the transformation of the reef into a tourist hotspot and, of course, Queensland’s evil coal industry have been on a ‘collision course’ with this natural wonder for decades, we were told. ‘Climate change is killing the Great Barrier Reef’ – that was the frank, scary verdict in 2017.
And now? The reef is fine. It’s in better nick than it has been for ages, in fact. The reef’s obituarists focused on the problem of ‘bleaching’. This is where the coral becomes stressed by warmer-than-average waters, responds by expelling the algae that live within it, and then becomes weak and sometimes dies. The coral turns a deathly white, hence the term ‘bleaching’. Huge swathes of the coral in this vast reef system, which stretches for a mind-boggling 1,400 miles, have been bleached in recent decades. And unless ‘climatic conditions are stabilised’, unless mankind reins in his Earth-warming, sea-heating antics, then the rest could be bleached too, we were told. Only that isn’t what has happened. At all. A new survey of the reef by the Australian Institute of Marine Science reports that coral cover on the reef has recovered spectacularly. In two-thirds of the reef, coral cover is at its highest level since records began, 36 years ago. From newspaper obituaries just a few years ago to good health in 2022 – this reef is the Lazarus of the natural world.
As to causing faster recovery, for employers to be forced to pay higher costs may masquerade as a source of recovery, as is done when bill promoters only say “employees will be paid more, and that income will stimulate the economy.” Every dollar of such “stimulus” comes out of employers’ pockets, resulting in no net stimulus. Further, higher costs that lead to higher prices in an industry, without equivalent value being provided to buyers, will reduce the goods and services provided by the industry. So from society’s perspective, such a “stimulus” actually produces the opposite effect.
The problem from the beginning was that there never was an exit strategy from the crazy lockdown/mandate idea. It was never the case that they would magically cause the bug to go away. The excuse that we would lock down in wait for a vaccine never made any sense.
People surely knew early on of the social, economic, and cultural devastation that would ensue. If they did not, they never should have been anywhere near the control switches of public health. Badges and bureaucracies do not terrify a virus destined to spread to the whole planet. And not one person with even the most casual passing knowledge of coronaviruses could have sincerely believed that a vaccine would magically appear to achieve something never before achieved in the whole history of medicine.
When the Great Barrington Declaration appeared on October 4, 2020, it caused a global frenzy of fury not because it said anything new. It was merely a pithy restatement of basic public-health principles, which pretty much instantly became verboten on March 16, 2020, when Fauci/Birx announced their grand scheme.
The GBD generated mania because the existing praxis was based on preposterously unproven claims that demanded that billions of people buy into complete nonsense. Sadly many did simply because it seemed hard to believe that all world regimes but a handful would push such a damaging policy if it was utterly unworkable. When something like that happens – and there never was the hope that it could work – the regime imperative becomes censorship and shaming of dissent. It’s the only way to hold the great lie together.
So finally, nearly two years later the CDC has embraced the Great Barrington Declaration rather than doing a “quick and devastating takedown” as Francis Collins and Anthony Fauci called for the day after its release. No, they had to try out their new theory on the rest of us. It did not work, obviously. For the authors of the GBD, they knew from the time they penned the document that it was a matter of time before they were vindicated. They never doubted it.
Most of us grasp the concept of a postponed reckoning. If you took two years off work, and maintained your income by borrowing, you’d be a lot worse off. We all understand that with reference to our own lives. So why do we struggle to extend the same reasoning to our nation’s finances?
Perhaps because it is human to prefer sweet falsehoods to bitter truths. It would be lovely if there really were a way to get back to growth and stable money without significant cuts. And, politics being politics, various fools and opportunists are now stepping forward to claim that this can somehow be done.
First, there are the half-educated spendthrifts gathered under the banner of Modern Monetary Theory. They argue that, since a state cannot go bankrupt (because there is no higher authority to administer the bankruptcy) its finances cannot be compared to those of a company or a family.
Governments can borrow whatever they need, they say, so don’t worry too much about debt. To which I can only respond, with John Dryden, “What fools our fathers were if this be true!” There we were for all those centuries wrestling with the problem of limited resources, when all we had to do was magic up more money!
The cranks who make this claim are few in number but, as often happens when an idea catches the mood of the times, mangled versions of it spill over into popular discourse.
I hate to say “I told you so” but… oh, sod it, no I don’t. I bloody told you so. As early as May 2020, I was warning of what lay ahead:
“If you’re a pensioner, your pension will lose its value. If you’re a public sector worker, you’ll find that, as its tax take evaporates, the Government can’t afford to pay you. If you have savings, they will be inflated away.”
At that time, 96 per cent of people supported the restrictions, every broadcaster was droning on about “putting lives before the economy”, and only 26 per cent of people thought the lockdown was making them worse off. “Only when we are unable to afford the things we used to buy will we understand that ‘the economy’ is what we call the transactions people make to improve their lives,” I wrote. “And, even then, we may struggle to link our misfortune to the closures we have spent the past two months demanding.”
Just as people who clamoured for net zero now complain about the price of energy, so people who clamoured for the longest lockdown now complain about the cost of living. Naturally, politicians find it easier to humour them than to point out the connection. And, of course, no minister wants to take away even a notionally one-off benefit.
One problem with shutting everything down is that it terrifies people. If it’s too dangerous to go to Starbucks, it’s too dangerous to visit the pediatrician and get my kids vaccinated. We’ll just wait. Lockdowns were a terrible mistake.