The Attempt to Reconstruct America Has Flopped
Posted July 13, 2021
I just returned from a downtown street festival in central Texas. It was a remarkable blast. The town has never seen such booming times, with new residents (many from California), businesses, wild energy, and drinks flowing. Unmitigated joy was in the air, but with an undercurrent of defiance (and justifiable) anger too.
There were thousands of many smiling and friendly faces, all races and creeds (take that wokesters!). Street vendors were everywhere, and a half dozen new storefronts celebrating their openings, mostly in hospitality but even some retail. There was construction and renovation everywhere. The bands played, the people danced, and the bars, vendors, and restaurants were doing a bang-up business.
The scene would have alarmed the pearl-clutching coronaphobes and dreary downers in mainstream media and the CDC. But Texas seems wholly done with being downcast and downtrodden. I could find no one there who had anything good to say about lockdowns. People only scoffed at what happened last year.
It is proof that the trajectory of market enterprise, driven by human energy and passion, is nothing if not defiant, and gloriously so! Whatever they tried to do to us last year – reconstructing the social order through executive edict, and reserving all essential life functioning to big box stores and subsidized elites – doesn’t seem to have worked.
The backlash I predicted well over a year ago is happening – much too late, but it seems finally to be here. In this town, there are almost no signs of anything from the lockdown era. Ok, maybe a few plexiglass barriers survive, but otherwise not.
It’s something of a microcosm of the energy alive in many parts of the country. The summer of 2021 is proving to be a full season of defiance, with travel up, events packed, and commerce booming.
Still, in this town, there are some signs of economic dislocation. Houses are selling well-above market value, due to a sudden and unexpected housing shortage. Rentals are high too. Cars are hard to come by (chip shortage), and the prices of everything are rising too fast. There is a labor shortage, of course, and many businesses have to restrict hours simply because there is no one to serve the lines of customers.
Most of this will be remedied in time. The inflationary pressures are another matter. They could prove to be the silent killer over time, even if inflation does not reach double digits. Inflation taxes profits and pillages capital. It takes control out of the hands of enterprise and silently erodes the ability to plan. But for now, market actors have to presume this trend will abate over time.
Death to Life
The same spot one year ago was awful. Shops were boarded up. The rare person you saw was masked up and sported a countenance of desperate sadness. You likely remember this too, a time when people were even afraid to speak with each other.
Do not stand closer than six feet from anyone, they kept telling us. “We really want people to be separated,” said Deborah Birx in a March 16, 2020, press conference. And it worked. In this town, even the churches, otherwise a center of community life, were all but abandoned.
It was a terrifying time, and I feared profoundly for the future of such small/medium towns such as this, and the whole future of small business. My number one concern was that the brutal lockdowns would discourage business creation for a generation. Why work, save, and invest in your dream if it can be shut down instantly by executive edict in the midst of disease panic? What would be the psychological impact on entrepreneurship?
My read on this so far is that it will be minimal, mainly because there are so many people absolutely determined never to see this experience repeated. Maybe that’s right. I hope so. Regardless, there is every reason to be proud of the American entrepreneurial spirit for pushing through this ghastly thicket and coming out on the other side. And it’s not only smaller places like this one but large cities too, at least where government allows it.
Let’s recall a one-year-ago prediction made by a writer for The Atlantic:
In the next few years, the virus will reduce to rubble many thousands of cherished local stores. Chains will surge, restaurants will feel desolate, and the density of humanity that is the life force of cities will be ruinously arrested by the disease.
So on he went, with a wild and strangely sanguine prediction of our dystopian future. We would forever live in fear. Only incumbent behemoths will survive. Cities will be emptied out, skyscrapers abandoned.
And truly, a year ago, all of this sounded plausible. The war on small businesses was brutal and more than 100,000 were crushed (I’ll write a review of a new book on this topic later this week). Sports, movies, theaters, festivals, conventions, and population density that had been intensifying for a century seemed to be going in reverse.
Creepy Dreams of the Elites
Don’t forget that five months after Anthony Fauci bamboozled Trump into issuing lockdown orders on March 16, 2020, he wrote an article for the journal Cell that presented his real views. Fauci wasn’t just pushing bogus measures for controlling this one virus. In fact, he has real regrets that society ever left the pastoral life of the early middle ages. The rest of human progress following that he characterizes as causing unmitigated disease spread.
To fix this, Fauci wrote, “will require changes in human behavior as well as other radical changes that may take decades to achieve.” He wants to rebuild “the infrastructures of human existence, from cities to homes to workplaces, to water and sewer systems, to recreational and gatherings venues.” He admits to opposing all “overcrowding in dwellings and places of human congregation (sports venues, bars, restaurants, beaches, airports),” and even claims that the main result of “human geographic movement” is that it “catalyzes disease spread.”
This fantasy of society-wide transformation is totalitarian. It targets everything about modern life and imagines a world of despotic control imposed by a medical elite. This is not the 19th-century-style socialism that captivated left-wing activists in the 1960s. It’s even more sinister because it imagines tearing apart and then rebuilding the whole basis of the modern project.
Socialism, we should not forget, claimed to be a better means of making society more industrious and prosperous. When Lenin took over Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution, he prioritized the electrification of the country. That delusion that government could do a better job than private enterprise persisted all the way to the 1950s, when Nikita Krushchev assured the world that Soviet industry would outperform the US.
No, the Faucian vision is something else entirely. It is state-enforced primitivism lorded over by a technocratic elite that keeps the population in permanent lockdown. Life as we knew it in July 2020 (in most parts of the country) would be just the beginning. We were intended to stay huddled in small homes, dependent on government, living on laptops, avoiding all congregate settings, and living in fear of diseases forever, while awaiting our next instructions from the great man who “follows the science.”
Again, Birx summed up this creepy vision in her off-hand remark from 3.16.20: “We really want people to be separated.”
Commerce Will Not Relent
One missing part of the scene in the town I’m describing is the once-ubiquitous department store that had been a fixture in most American cities. That trend dates far back, as online commerce proved more convenient and efficient. But that trend far predates the lockdowns; last year just accelerated was already inevitable.
The implausible result, however, is the unexpected return of different sorts of enterprises in their place. It’s not only the big-box giants, though they thrive as never before. Big tech is in the same boat, dominant as never before but challenged on all fronts. The old distinction between digital and brick-and-mortar is melting, as most shops offer delivery and some whole storefronts have opened to be delivery drop-offs for online merchants.
Aside from this, the new world of enterprise in towns like this includes locally-owned consignment stores, boutique specialty shops, craft breweries, reading rooms, new hotels, small eateries, and theaters in which people are certainly not socially distanced.
I spoke to the owner of a local diner. She reflected on last year and being alarmed when the order came down that customers had to be six feet apart. The entire dining area is a repurposed passenger train car. Her tables can’t be moved. Compliance meant death. So she made her decision. She would let customers decide for themselves how to stay safe. She prayed and worked for survival. She came out on top.
That’s the spirit! This is the great lesson of our times. An innovative spirit, backed by persistent and moral courage, can bury the dreary dreams of the technocratic elite, reducing their plans for our lives to rubble. The urge to live free and participate in progress are not only an integral part of the American project; the idea is baked into the human DNA. It will not be erased.