00m52s Virus agnosticism. (But politicians have to do something.)
05m48s The Jobpocalypse, cont. (Into the unknown.)
11m03s A reality check? (Nah, we hate reality.)
18m40s Despotism's advantage. (China in the age of Big Data.)
26m37s China's immigration policy. (With strong public support.)
29m20s One for the contrarians. (Smoking may be good for you.)
32m26s Normalizing dirty talk. (Stay the Pop at Home.)
34m34s A third of a billion? (Census thoughts.)
36m15s Signoff. (For claustrophobes.)
Before I proceed with commentary on the week's news, please permit me some brief remarks about my own general outlook on the current crisis.
02 — Virus agnosticism. I've had a scattering of emails from listeners and readers urging me to take a strong line on the panic one way or the other. Is it all an absurd over-reaction, as the Z-man says? Or are we looking at a possible fifty million worldwide deaths, as Greg Cochran has suggested?
Pass. I know both those guys personally. Both are sensible fellows and good quantitative thinkers. The difference between me and them is, I don't belong to that portion of humanity that believes it should have a strong opinion about everything.
I spent thirty-odd years of my working life up to my elbows in data. I have a great respect for data, and fancy I have a good feel for the quality of data. The quality of data in this pandemic has, from the beginning, been low.
The first numbers we got were out of Communist China, a country I know well from decades of close acquaintance. I wouldn't give a farthing for any numbers the ChiComs put out. As I had occasion to observe back in February, quote from me, borrowing from Mary McCarthy, quote: "Every word they say is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'."
Then we started seeing "number of cases" reported, without elaboration. What did it mean? Number of people tested and found positive? Out of how many tested?
Likewise with number of deaths. If I suffer from hemorrhoids but die of a heart attack, what goes on my death certificate: the hemorrhoids or the heart attack? Now: What goes on my death certificate if I die in the middle of a huge national panic about hemorrhoids?
That's the kind of data that's been on offer to us. I say it's spinach and I say the hell with it. You can't deduce anything from it. Well, I'm not going to.
Politicians, of course, are not in my happy situation of being able to recline back in the Barcalounger murmuring: "Lousy data, no opinion." They have to do something. What to do?
Well, if you're a politician — and you can square and cube this if you're a politician in an election year — if you're a politician, what you do is, you take whichever course of action, according to whatever experts you can muster, offers the least possibility of really dire optics: optics like, for example, hospital parking lots full of geezers on gurneys choking in their own lung fluids.
Hence our present situation. Will it, ten years from now, when we understand much more, will it all look to have been a ridiculous over-reaction? I wouldn't be terrifically surprised.
It might also look to have been a wise and prudent response to a real, serious threat. I don't know. Neither do you. All we have is surmise based on shoddy data, and politicians who have to do something.
03 — The Jobpocalypse (cont.) We shall probably, after a year or so, have a vaccine against this new coronavirus. We may even get really lucky and find something that suppresses its effects, like the hydroxychloroquine we've been hearing about.
That will all be good. What will not be good about the next few years will be the economic effects of the lockdowns that we and most other nations have implemented.
We just got last week's numbers for new unemployment claims in America: 6.6m. That's on top of 3.3m the week before. So we're now close to ten million more Americans on the dole than two weeks ago.
And those are people who've successfully signed on. I don't know how it is in other states, but here in New York every newspaper or TV story about the unemployment numbers comes with a sidebar story about how nearly-impossible it is to get through to the State Department of Labor to sign on. They are of course totally overwhelmed. The phone lines can't handle the volume; and the online services are, like most government online services, crappy, slow, and error-prone.
There will surely be more layoffs to come. The effects ripple down. You lay off restaurant workers, those workers have no disposable income to spend on goods and services that have nothing to do with restaurants. You tell people to stay home, don't go anywhere, suddenly gas pump attendants, auto repair workers, mass transit workers, and a lot of other people have way less work to do … and so on.
There's talk about a V-shaped recovery, with our troubles bottoming out, then rebounding to the way things were before.
Countering that are the people — and here you can include me — saying that nothing will ever again be the same: that like technological innovation in wartime, this crisis will massively accelerate changes, especially changes in employment, that were happening anyway, and will be permanent.
So people who've switched from socializing in restaurants to calling in orders for home delivery are going to decide the latter suits their lifestyle better. Then, when restaurants start to get back in business, they'll have fewer walk-in customers than they had before, and need fewer waiters, busboys, and desk staff.
People working online from home for the first time, and the companies that employ them, are going to decide that it's a better deal than they supposed, with major savings to be made for the price of only a minor loss of control over employees' time usage. So there'll be a lot more Americans working from home, with ripple effects on everything from mass transit to commercial real estate.
Colleges like the one my son attends, that have put their instruction and testing online, will have raised the profile of MOOCs. That's M-O-O-C, MOOCs: Massive Open Online Courses, that I've been hearing about for years, but never seem to go anywhere much. Perhaps now they will.
At the other end, with high unemployment and depleted savings, are American parents going to continue shelling out six-digit sums so their kids can get degrees in Art History or Gender Studies? Or the kids themselves go into debt for those sums?
So I'm skeptical about the V-shaped recovery. We're in for some major changes — major and permanent.
04 — Will the virus panic be a reality check? It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good, and the coronavirus panic has some winners. The stock of Zoom video-conferencing software has been soaring, notwithstanding some bad publicity about its security features, or lack of them.
Less well-publicized has been the bonanza for lawyers, with laid-off workers suing employers, businesses suing insurers, jailbirds and illegal aliens in detention suing to be released, travel firms, cruise lines, and airlines being sued by disgruntled vacationers, and so on. Do lawyers ever come badly out of anything?
Longer-term, out here on the Dissident Right, there's been a vein of commentary to the effect that this is all going to work out well for the causes we care about. A key text here is Greg Johnson's March 18th post at Counter-Currents, title "How Coronavirus Will Change the World." It doesn't summarize easily, but I'll read off Greg's main headings. Each one identifies a fact that, according to Greg, will be made more obvious by the current crisis and its aftermath.
Globalism is bad.
Democracy is bad. If that made you jump, I'm going to give Greg the benefit of the doubt and assume he's in the Winston Churchill camp here: Democracy's bad, but not as bad as the alternatives. More on this in just a minute.
Global "free trade" is bad.
Liberalism is bad
Diversity, multiculturalism, open borders, & anti-racism are bad.
Conservatism is bad.
By "Conservatism" in that last one Greg means what we at VDARE.com call "Conservatism, Inc."
That's all good upbeat stuff, but I have my pessimistic doubts. Greg's assuming that under pressure of a political and economic crisis, people in the generality will come to see reality more clearly — the reality, for example, that strictly-regulated national borders and ports of entry are essential to the common good.
I dunno, Greg. That particular aspect of reality has been obvious to me, and to a great many of us over here, for a long time, but the obviousness of it hasn't worked its way through to political action.
Even under pressure of the current crisis, it hasn't. Our government is still cheerfully bringing in tens of thousands of guest workers from abroad, even as the numbers of unemployed Americans rises through the stratosphere.
At his presser this Wednesday, President Trump told us that without foreign guest workers coming in to do agricultural work, actual quote from the President, "we're not going to have farms." Reporting on this, John Binder at Breitbart noted that, quote:
H-2A foreign visa workers make up only about ten percent of the total U.S. crop farm workforce.
The President's remark illustrates an important counter to Greg Johnson's optimism. We should not underestimate the determination on the part of our ruling class — even members of it, like Trump, with a reputation as mavericks — to keep the cheap-labor rackets going and to cling to their cherished catch-phrases — "jobs American won't do," "crops rotting in the fields," "nation of immigrants," and the rest — in defiance of any amount of reality.
Whether the American public, suffering Depression-era levels of unemployment, will let the ruling class and their tech-billionaire enablers keep their rackets going, is another question. It's perfectly possible that we shall, though. I've always thought T.S. Eliot greatly overrated as a poet, but he wrote a very wise and true thing when he wrote that "Humankind cannot bear very much reality."
That all said, I would like to add just one extended quote from Greg Johnson's piece. It's true, and it's relevant to my next segment. Edited quote, from under the heading "Democracy is bad":
Democracy encourages politicians to think only as far ahead as the next election. Since disasters happen only occasionally, every politician knows that they are unlikely to happen on his watch …
It is fashionable now to deride the "deep state" for being democratically unaccountable bureaucrats. But in a democracy, only a democratically unaccountable permanent bureaucracy can engage in long-range planning to secure the future against preventable evils.
In a big way, but not likely a good way. I bring some prejudice to this topic. I've been hating the Chinese Communist Party since I first got a close look at them nearly fifty years ago. They run a brutal, corrupt Leninist despotism.
Remember, to take a random recent example, their treatment of scholarly, peaceable dissident Liu Xiaobo, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. Liu couldn't go to Oslo to accept the prize because he was serving an eleven-year jail sentence. He got that sentence for publishing a document calling for political reform and a more open society.
So ChiCom power will collapse at last, like the old U.S.S.R. did, right? And the people of mainland China will enjoy open, consensual, constitutional government at last, as the people of Taiwan currently do. Right?
In my dreams. There are some structural instabilities in the system, to do with corruption, environmental degradation, demographics, and the inevitable slowing of economic growth now that the low-hanging fruit has all been picked. As best I can judge, however, the ChiComs are good for another decade at least. They might even make it to the ChiCom centenary in 2049, although personally I'd bet a modest amount of money against that.
Tucker Carlson occasionally has Gordon Chang on his show as a guest, introducing him as the author of a book titled The Coming Collapse of China. That always gets a smile out of me. I reviewed that book when it came out … back in August of 2001.
As horrible as it is for people who can think independently, though, oriental despotism has some advantages over free, open societies. In the age of Big Data, it may have some new advantages it never had before.
One of the best guides to this territory is David Goldman, who posts at Asia Times. David is an exceptionally brilliant man, with a wide range of knowledge about subjects from mathematics to musicology, from political science to high finance. He's been studying China for years, and has sat talking and dealing with senior figures in the ChiCom leadership and executives of major Chinese corporations like Huawei and Alibaba.
David has a book coming out shortly, provisional title: You Will Be Assimilated: China's Plan to Sino-Form the World. He's given us a preview of it in his latest Asia Times column. Sample quote:
In my forthcoming book … I report on China's ambition to become the world's preeminent force in digital healthcare, perhaps the single biggest economic trend of the 21st century.
The ChiComs, says David, have for years been doing something we haven't been doing, and in fact can't do because of our concerns about personal autonomy and privacy. They have been investing massively in big data, artificial intelligence and other information technology resources in the healthcare field, with the ultimate aim of total, real-time monitoring of every citizen's status on key indices of health.
It all sounds a bit breathless and credulous, I know. Two years after Lenin's revolution in Russia, Lincoln Steffens visited the place and famously proclaimed: "I have seen the future and it works." David Goldman sometimes sounds a bit like that. He's nobody's fool, though — smarter than Lincoln Steffens, for sure — and I await his book with great interest.
Assuming he's right, I dread the consequences. There are big opportunities in this current crisis for a ramping-up of population surveillance in all countries, not just the despotic ones. Where China leads, powerful lobbies in free countries will want to follow. That is something we should dread, if we love liberty.
Human Rights Watch, a left-leaning open-borders outfit I have never previously had any reason to think well of, came out with a statement this week saying the same thing.
The statement is all slanted in a woke, anti-white direction, warning for example against, quote:
discrimination and other rights abuses against racial minorities, people living in poverty, and other marginalized populations, whose needs and lived realities may be obscured or misrepresented in large datasets
On the main issue, though, they are right. There is real danger here.
The level of population surveillance the ChiComs are aiming for might very well prevent future pandemics. Personally, as a lover of liberty, I'd rather take my chances with the viruses.
Short answer: Like Japan's, but more so. Way more so.
There was a good summary in the March 14th issue of The Economist, page 34. This being The Economist, an open-borders rag, it comes with an air of sniffy disapproval, but you get the facts. Quote:
China is hardly poised to become an immigrant melting-pot. In 2016 it issued just 1,576 permanent-residency permits. In the same year America granted permanent residency to over 1m foreigners — roughly equivalent to China's entire foreign-born population. Unlike American green cards, China's residence permits are not considered a pathway to citizenship.
This restrictionism is solidly supported by the mass of Chinese people. Last month the ChiCom justice department called for comments on a proposal to make it slightly easier for rich or highly skilled foreigners to become permanent residents. They got more than they bargained for. Quote:
A dismaying number of comments betrayed racial and sexual panic, with men vowing to defend Chinese women from immigrants, notably from Africa. Several young women vowed to leap from the Great Wall rather than marry a foreigner.
Wow. Mrs Derbyshire is even more of an outlier than I thought.
Item: Here's a little gem for contrarians. All of us — including me — have been supposing that because the great threat from COVID-19 is its getting down into your lungs and wreaking havoc there, cigarette smokers, whose lungs are presumably compromised to some degree, are in more danger than nonsmokers.
Not so, says a study published March 29th. Title of the study: Smoking, vaping and hospitalization for COVID-19. The authors seem to be respectable scholars from a university in Greece, collaborating with NYU. They studied more than two thousand people hospitalized in China with this new coronavirus, breaking them down by sex and smoking habit, as compared with the Chinese population in general. Edited quote:
An unusually low prevalence of current smoking was observed among hospitalized COVID-19 patients … compared to the expected prevalence based on smoking prevalence in China … This preliminary analysis does not support the argument that current smoking is a risk factor for hospitalization for COVID-19, and might even suggest a protective role.
All right, all right, it's one study. Some skepticism is justified. We forget, though, that smoking was once thought to be healthful, or at any rate prophylactic. Quote from one of my old columns. "Eton" here refers to England's premier boys' boarding school. Quote:
In the 1660s, smoking was made compulsory at Eton, as it was believed to be a prophylactic against the plague. A certain Tom Rogers remarked about this time that [inner quote] "he was never so much whipped in his life as he was one morning for not smoking."
End inner quote, end quote.
Item: A minor theme here at Radio Derb is the normalization of dirty talk, which I deplore. In what follows, to spare you a whole lot of annoying beeps, as before I'm going to substitute the word "pop" for the common f-word. Use your imagination.
OK, here's the headline from MailOnline, April 1st, quote: Samuel L. Jackson reads from book called Stay The Pop at Home to encourage people to social distance and quarantine amid Covid-19 pandemic.
Is this an April 1st spoof? I don't think so. The news story gives the book's authors as Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortes. I can't find the book on Amazon.com, but I see a 2011 book by those authors with the title Go the Pop to Sleep. Apparently this is, or is going to be, a sequel.
I guess Samuel L. Jackson, and TV person Jimmy Kimmel who is helping him promote it, I guess they think it's very woke, bold, and transgressive. What do I think? I think Jackson and Kimmel should be prevented by court order from approaching with a hundred yards of small children.
While doing so, I recalled something I'd put in one of my monthly diaries, in the Math Corner. This was in, let me see … October 2016.
I'd been grumbling about how little respect the number three and the concepts of threeness and third-ness get. Then I got to wondering when America's population will reach precisely one-third of a billion. Looking up the Census Bureau's population clock and applying some arithmetic, I came up with an estimate of January 25th, 2020.
That might be out some, of course. Still, any time you see a reference to the U.S. population, it's always given as 327 million. That is probably at least five million short.
Is there any chance we can get pundits and reporters saying "a third of a billion"? It's surely closer to the truth, and gives a bit of that missing respect to the number three.
07 — Signoff. That's all I have, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for listening. Welcome to April — "the cruellest month," according to the aforementioned T.S. Eliot. All right, I'll admit the guy could, on a good day, turn a nice phrase. Still I much prefer dear old Geoff Chaucer:
Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour …
I will allow, though, that this particular April, some of you may be feeling more on the T.S. Eliot side — a little claustrophobic under the lockdown regime. In an attempt to catch your mood, here for our signout music is country singer Cheyenne Kimball singing "Four Walls."
There will be more from Radio Derb next week.
[Music clip: Cheyenne Kimball, "Four Walls."]