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How the war on ‘misinformation’ propelled the Covid cataclysm

“Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts.” – Richard Feynman

Spectacular falsehoods, deep truths, and Canadian truckers are finally piercing the long-impervious Covid storyline. 

When a justice of the Supreme Court on January 7 asserted that 100,000 children were hospitalized with Covid-19 “in serious condition, and many on ventilators,” it reflected the ill-informed panic that’s driven policy the last two years. In fact, CDC data showed just around 3,200 children were hospitalized while Covid-positive, few were in serious condition, and almost none were on ventilators. 

The episode was just the latest false droplet in a flood of erroneous Covid-speak. We’ve known since near the beginning that young people are not at serious risklockdowns don’t halt the spread and do far more harm than good; and an array of cheap, safe, long-approved generic drugs often stop the virus dead in its tracks when taken early. Yet each of these central facts was suppressed by a sprawling array of old and new media, digital platforms, captured medical journals, non-profit scolds, and public health spokespeople claiming omniscience. 

It turns out Canadian truckers listening to Joe Rogan know more than many “experts.” Had the truckers been in charge the last two years, the world would probably be healthier, and freer.


Covid Censorship Proved to Be Deadly

See our op-ed in The Wall Street Journal…

In the wake of the 1986 Challenger space-shuttle explosion, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman knew that the truth would both fuel progress and soothe the nation’s sorrow. “For a successful technology,” he said, “reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”

For three years, pandemic public relations mocked nature, generating fear, illness, inflation and excess death beyond what the virus caused. Digital censorship supercharged the effort to hide reality, but reality is getting its day in court.

On July 4, U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty temporarily blocked numerous federal agencies and the White House from collaborating with social-media companies and third-party groups to censor speech.

Discovery in Missouri v. Biden exposed relationships among government agencies and social-media firms and revealed an additional layer of university centers and self-styled disinformation watchdogs and fact-checking outfits. Continue reading . . .

Athletes collapsing and dying

This analysis is not definitive. It is an attempt to compile data on an alarming apparent sharp increase in the number of athletes collapsing and dying in the last year or so. We need more systematic research into this question.

Covid-19 cases in UK rising again. Large negative effectiveness gap widens further.

These are official UK data for weeks 09-12, through March 27, 2022.

United Kingdom update: Weeks 4-7, 20 February, 2022

Here are updates from the Week 8 UK Covid-19 surveillance report.

Update: UK Infection rates, weeks 3-6, 2022

Update: Scotland Covid-19 data

U.S. Deaths, Natural Cause, Non-Covid

Preliminary 2021 data from the CDC.

Update: Uttar Pradesh, India, vs. Israel

Here’s a crude comparison of Uttar Pradesh, India, population ~241 million, and Israel, population ~9.2 million. In their strategies to combat Covid-19, Uttar Pradesh has focused on early treatment with ivermectin. Israel has focused on repeated vaccination.

Update: UK and Scotland Covid-19 Data

Update: Uttar Pradesh, India vs. Israel

Here’s a crude comparison of Uttar Pradesh, India, population ~241 million, and Israel, population ~9.2 million. In their strategies to combat Covid-19, Uttar Pradesh has focused on early treatment with ivermectin. Israel has focused on repeated vaccination.

Update: The Counterintuitive Dynamics of Covid-19

Here’s the latest report from the United Kingdom, widely acknowledged to keep the best (although not perfect) data. In our November report, we discussed the reasons for this seemingly bizarre epidemiology where the vaccinated are far more likely to contract and transmit the virus.

A Pandemic Pivot Point: The Counterintuitive Dynamics of Covid-19

How over-vaccination drives the pandemic. The power of innate and recovered immunity. The early treatment solution. The unwisdom of vaccinating young people. 

See our new report offering a new Covid-19 strategy. We describe the complex evolutionary dynamics of the virus. [Newly salient with the emergence of the Omicron B.1.1.529 variant in South Africa.] We show how well-intended mass vaccination exerts evolutionary pressure toward more infectious, vaccine-resistant variants. We demonstrate the potency – and preciousness – of innate immunity, especially among young people. We show how the current strategy of maximal vaccination is leading to higher all-cause mortality. We detail highly effective but underutilized early treatments. And offer a rubric for cost-benefit analysis. 

As rationale for total vaccination sputters, censorship soars

A trove of internal Facebook documents obtained by The Wall Street Journal confirms what has been obvious for several years: Facebook exempts select VIPs from its content moderation rules while imposing harsh censorship on disfavored influential figures and regular joes.

This evidence highlights several untested clauses of Section 230, one of which immunizes online platforms from liability if they moderate their sites in “good faith.” Does good faith include some measure of neutrality and equal application of rules? We don’t know because this law has never been fully adjudicated. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas would like courts to begin analyzing this and other questions about what Section 230 means. 

Section 230, however, is just one facet of a much wider social phenomenon. And when it comes to Covid-19, these broader censorious attitudes and practices may have already pushed us past a danger point. The promotion of one strategy (lockdowns and vaccines) and the suppression of other options (focused protection, aggressive early treatment, cheap rapid testing) have damaged American health and divided us politically. 

In July, reporter Alex Berenson flagged emerging data from Israel suggesting a rise in cases and, potentially, even hospitalizations and deaths. Israel was perhaps the earliest and most broadly vaccinated nation on earth. Was this a signal of the vaccine’s failure to block transmission and its lack of durability? For asking this question, Twitter suspended Berenson for a week. 

Unfortunately, Berenson was onto something. Over the next few months, Israeli cases and illnesses surged. Of the 607 Israelis who died of Covid-19 in the month of August, 375 (61.8%) had received either two or three doses of the Pfizer vaccine, while 232 (38.2%) had either zero or one dose. Because a high proportion of Israelis had been fully vaccinated, the rate of illness among the vaccinated was still lower than the unvaccinated. The vaccines reduce the severity of disease – at least for several months. For most high-risk individuals, vaccination probably still makes sense. Yet the rationale for universal vaccination, for coercive measures, and for the vaccination of young people had crashed. 

Scotland, which also vaccinated early and often, is experiencing similar challenges. Between August 26 and September 2, 71.4% of its Covid-19 fatalities were double-vaccinated. In Britain, where 81.4% of people over the age of 16 are fully vaccinated, 8,340 Covid-19 patients are hospitalized, compared to 1,066 at the same time last year.

In the super-multi-faceted pandemic, these data do not tell the whole story. Yet the failure of the official vaccine storyline to pan out as promised should at the very least open our minds to the views of the scientists, physicians, and analysts who proved correct over the last 18 months and who have proposed alternative strategies. (I’m talking about people like Dr. Robert Malone, inventor of mRNA vaccine technology; Baylor University cardiologist Peter McCullough; Stanford epidemiologist and economist Jay Battacharya; Harvard epidemiologist Martin Kulldorff; and Oxford epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta, all of whom have been censored.) 

Instead, some nations, including the U.S., are tripling down on intrusive vaccine monomania – with the help of social media censors. When Berenson noted on August 28 that the vaccine “doesn’t stop infection. Or transmission,” Twitter banned his account permanently. But the Washington Post had already confirmed Berenson’s observation, reporting on a leaked CDC slide deck acknowledging the same.

A central fact of Covid-19 is its highly differential effect according to age and preexisting conditions. Young, healthy people are nearly invulnerable to Covid. But they and others are not invulnerable to vaccine side-effects, such as myocarditis. Europe’s EudraVigilance network, for example, reports 24,526 Covid vaccine fatalities and 1.13 million serious injuries. The CDC’s VAERS system reports 14,925 Covid vaccine deaths and 60,741 hospitalizations. 

For years, most experts acknowledged VAERS substantially undercounts adverse events, perhaps by a factor of 5-10. But now the CDC, FDA, and NIH insist VAERS is unreliable and we should ignore these danger signals. 

Everyone agrees VAERS is imperfect. It is meant to detect faint signals among lots of noise, prompting further investigation. But if it is totally useless, as our public health officials now assert, then why has our government, which is spending unlimited billions on Covid, not replaced it with a better surveillance system? How can we conduct the largest medical experiment in world history and studiously avoid collecting reliable data? Especially when governments and businesses are now coercing people – even those who are at almost zero risk from Covid – to take vaccine. 

On August 31, two of the FDA’s top vaccine scientists resigned, reportedly because they objected to White House pressure to approve vaccine booster shots. The following week, those two scientists – Marion Gruber and Philip Krause – co-authored a Lancet article warning against boosters at this time. In their Lancet letter, they echoed many of the same concerns which the censored physicians and scientists cite when pumping the brakes on coerced universal vaccination. Many of these doctors, who voice genuine and deeply learned alternative views, are not only being censored by social media but also now face threats from professional medical associations and state boards of licensure. 

Are Gruber and Krause, who sped the vaccines through the initial FDA authorizations and approvals, the new anti-vax conspiracy theorists? Apparently not. On September 17, the FDA’s VRBAC vaccine advisory committee, by a vote of 16-2, agreed with Gruber and Krause and rejected boosters for those under 65.

If the vaccines don’t prevent infection or transmission, we cannot insist that everyone take them for public health reasons – to stop the spread. And if the vaccines are sometimes harmful, failing a risk-reward calculation for many people, then we should not encourage everyone to take them for individual health reasons. Dr. Jay Battacharya of Stanford says it may be unwise for those under 30 years old to take vaccine. One scientist presenting at last Friday’s VRBAC meeting, Dr. Doran Fink of FDA, said the myocarditis risk may exceed any vaccine reward for males under 40. 

A more targeted and diversified health strategy could have delivered better results. If, in addition to the vaccines, we had focused more on early treatment with monoclonal antibodies and inexpensive and safe drugs (e.g. ivermectin), we might have saved many tens of thousands of lives. Without the economic and social destruction, and with less political venom. The suppression of information has dangerous real-world consequences. 

On September 7th, Sen. Elizabeth Warren wrote a letter to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy. She demanded the company clamp down on misinformation, specifically condemning Alex Berenson’s four Covid booklets. People noticed. Berenson’s fourth booklet, the one on vaccines, jumped to the number one best-selling book on all of Amazon. 

Bret Swanson is president of the technology research firm Entropy Economics and nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

This article originally appeared at RealClearMarkets – As rationale for total vaccination sputters, censorship soars.

Big Tech and Big Finance Breed Hubris

See our latest in The Wall Street Journal . . .

The suppression of debate over the origin of the novel coronavirus highlights a broader problem. Governments were once the chief impediments to free speech and free markets, but extremely large private companies may have become the greater danger. These hyperscale firms serve as hubs and gateways in the highly networked knowledge economy. They are well-positioned to exert special control over information—and other companies.

China’s stalling and lying about Covid’s origins weren’t surprising. On the other hand, the behavior of U.S. officials and scientists was startling. They dissembled over their intimate knowledge of gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and their early suspicions the virus was “engineered.” But who expects politicians and bureaucrats to be honest and competent? That’s what an open society is for. Truth and accountability are the responsibility of a free press—and a free internet. 

What happens when the press and the internet aren’t so free? Over the past year, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook joined with a partisan press to block and throttle discussion across a range of Covid-19 topics. They discouraged and erased talk of the Wuhan lab-leak hypothesis, cheap and safe generic treatments such as ivermectin, Sweden’s heterodox decision to stay mostly open, and the inefficacy (and cruelty) of school closures. continue reading (subscription required) . . .

Digital Duplicity

The social media purge exposes net neutrality’s true goal

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File

For nearly two decades, Silicon Valley made net neutrality its highest policy priority. Under the banner of a “free and open” internet, Google, Facebook, and Twitter sought regulations to ensure the uninterrupted flow of information by treating every bit equally. Or so they said.

Beginning last Friday night, these firms and others executed an unprecedented digital purge of the social media and video accounts of their political rivals. After several years of accelerating suspensions and suppressions, this time YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter permanently banned a number of high-profile conservatives and deplatformed thousands of others, at least temporarily. Many of these accounts had nothing to do with last Wednesday’s heinous events at the Capitol. Yet their histories are erased. Volume 0%00:0103:12 

Shopify, Twitch, Reddit, and other online services and forums followed social media’s lead. Then something bigger happened: when app stores and cloud service providers joined the cascade by disconnecting Parler, a fast-growing competitor of Twitter, they opened an explosive new front in the information wars. 

How’d we get here? Paradoxically, the smart refusal to adopt Silicon Valley’s strict net neutrality rules fueled their rise to astronomical power. With minimal regulation of U.S. networks, broadband and mobile firms invested nearly $2 trillion in infrastructure, far more per capita than any nation. The resulting bandwidth explosion fueled the unprecedented success of smartphones, video streams, cloud computing, software-as-a-service, and a million apps. Now we’re in the middle of a $300-billion upgrade to 5G wireless.

Launched as an academic exercise in the early 2000s, the supposed rationale for strict net neutrality was to prevent internet service providers and mobile carriers from “blocking and throttling” content. Without a return to telephone-like common carriage regulation under Title II of the Communications Act, they said ISPs would discriminate and the magic of  the Internet would be lost. 

With Silicon Valley and ISPs haggling over the price of carrying floods of new video traffic, the headline battle was economic. Ardent activists, however, consistently warned of a deeper, potentially apocalyptic, threat to democracy. ISPs, they said, might one day censor disfavored political speech. 

The blocking and throttling never came to pass. Not political or otherwise.  Without net neutrality rules, ISPs still committed to fair treatment. And today the U.S. generates and consumes more Internet traffic than any nation, two to three times more, in fact, than many of our large peers. 

Then a funny thing happened. Social media firms themselves began blocking and throttling at the content layer. In the name of rooting out “hate” and “misinformation,” they started suspending, demonetizing, deboosting, and shadowbanning. They cited terms of service and moderation principles. The rationales were usually vague, however, and their targets nearly always political enemies or free thinkers who complicated the official narrative. There were few standards, merely caprice. 

In 2020, they accelerated moderation efforts, placing warning labels on supposedly false views on Covid-19 and climate, two of the most complex topics imaginable. Google suppressed three eminent epidemiologists over their Great Barrington Declaration, which called for focused protection of the elderly and vulnerable, while keeping businesses and schools open. There’s lots of evidence the trio, and the 53,000 physicians and public health scientists who signed the document, were right.

Does dangerous and illegal content exist? Yes. Is there a place for moderation? Of course. Has Section 230, the law which undergirds moderation, inspired Internet innovation? Yep. But is Section 230 perfect? I don’t think so. Can web and content platforms deliver differentiable, pro-consumer value by curating the user experience? Absolutely. Apple, for example, uses its app store to encourage security, privacy, family-friendliness, and high quality. 

Big problems arise, however, when these firms claim universal standards and neutral terms of service, but then apply them opaquely or arbitrarily. Or even weaponize them against political opponents.

After both major app stores removed Parler on Friday, Amazon dealt a potentially fatal blow by giving it one day to vacate its AWS cloud servers. Other hardware and software venders, and even its lawyers, then fell in line with Big Tech and refused them service. Unsavory characters surely exist on Parler. But uniquely? No way. The Internet is full of people with awful, or merely wrong, ideas. 

It is top-down mistakes which are the most destructive. Bad decisions from politicians or, say, dominant content platforms scale unpredictably to millions of people. Censorship is itself a dangerous top-down mistake. Free speech and pluralism, on the other hand, help us learn and grow. Viewpoint diversity is the crucial error-correcting code of civilization, and a big reason the Internet is history’s greatest generator of wealth and knowledge.

Entrepreneurs are building (and millions of users fleeing to) alternative outlets, apps, and channels. That’s the genius of the Internet – unlimited space to innovate and choose. Bitcoin and crypto communities are just one important new path to decentralized independence.

As freedom-seekers launch their own websites, servers, and streams, the aggressive censors will hunt them, demanding cancellation everywhere along the communications stack, eventually reaching the core of the network. And then we will have come full circle. They will demand ISPs block, throttle, and erase. And that government, under the guise of net neutrality, enforce their truth. 

Facebook’s head of Instagram on Monday afternoon finally admitted it: “We’re not neutral.” Net neutrality was never about Internet freedom. It’s about information dominance. 

Bret Swanson is president of the technology research firm Entropy Economics and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

This article originally appeared at RealClearMarkets.

The technology solution to hysterical mythmaking

In an MSNBC interview on Monday, Steve Coll, dean of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, was contemplating a staggering dilemma. You see, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg “profoundly believes in free speech.” Coll said Facebook had performed a bit better in 2020 than in 2016 at suppressing inconvenient election content. But it still is not adequately policing the ideas of its three billion users. “And,” Coll continued,

those of us in journalism have to come to terms with the fact that free speech, a principle that we hold sacred, is being weaponized against the principles of journalism. And what do we do about that? As reporters, we march into this war with our facts nobly shouldered, as if they were going to win the day. And what we’re seeing is that because of the scale of this alternate reality . . . our facts, our principles, our scientific method, it isn’t enough. So what do we do?

Coll is puzzled that citizens aren’t more impressed by the mainstream media’s noble marshaling of facts and science (science!). Could it be that Americans are tired of actors playing roles in elaborately scripted illusions? That they instead prefer actual news and insight? An exploding new array of amateurs, subject matter experts, local reporters, and independent journalists, all leveraging the internet, are often delivering facts far more reliably than the old outlets. When the prestige media pumps and dumps fake conspiracy theories, moralizes over a complex pandemic, blacks out real scandals, collaborates with those it is supposed to cover, and forgets to report on an entire presidential campaign, people will look elsewhere for their information. Today, it’s often former portfolio managers, suburban mothers, lawyers, engineers, curious teenagers, and doctors who are telling us what’s actually happening. 

The powerful but cheap tools of the new citizen journalists are tweets, video streams, and podcasts. So, naturally, Coll and his colleagues of the Fourth Estate have been harassing technology and social media companies to erect a Silicon Curtain (as James Freeman of The Wall Street Journal dubbed it) between the American people and any content not slickly produced in Washington or New York. They’d prefer a social media which is just as incurious, herd-oriented, and partisan as they are. Differentiation is the enemy.

Silicon Valley has been far too willing to oblige. Thus disfavored people and content get shadowbanned, suspended, demonetized, and, most recently, scolded about the ironclad reliability of signature-less, address-less, mass-marketed, late-arriving mail-in ballots. “! Learn how voting by mail is safe and secure,” Twitter insisted a million times over. Twitter even suspended Richard Baris, the pollster who most successfully predicted the 2020 state-by-state election results. And on Wednesday, YouTube announced that going forward it will disallow all content questioning the validity of the 2020 election results. Will it let users discuss the Texas v. Pennsylvania suit in the Supreme Court now backed by at least 17 other states? Or the oral argument in the Supreme Court of Wisconsin scheduled for Saturday, December 12?

In 2005, former President Jimmy Carter and James Baker III issued an authoritative report on election integrity. They found that mail-in ballots are a chief source of fraud. International election monitors have long insisted that top indicators of fraud are stopping counts in mid-stream and prohibiting observation of ballot handling and counting. Yet suddenly the Silicon Valley tech firms became experts in election law, insisting greater information about elections is more dangerous than well-known risky behavior. The soothing new admonition might as well be: “Lamborghinis and whiskey are in fact a safe combination.”

The Silicon Curtain is frustrating, but it has backfired more than Big Media and Silicon Valley know. Not only have they lost hundreds of millions of readers,  viewers, and users — forever. They’ve also locked themselves in a Faraday cage of ignorance. One of the things they are most uninformed about is the hundreds of new tech channels and media outlets already challenging them, and maybe soon looking at them in the rearview mirror. 

As technologist and investor Balaji Srinivasan says, “exit > voice.” Meaning, the hope to be treated fairly by CNN, The New York Times, or Twitter is futile. Don’t fight on their battlefield, at least not exclusively. The far more fruitful solution is to exit and create new channels — with crypto communities, Substack newsletters, online magazines, the Brave browser, and video streaming alternatives such as Rumble and NewTube. (The outlet which regularly publishes my articles without question refused to run this one. Which is funny because it proves the point – exactly.)

This path is also more promising than a Washington solution. A clarification and upgrade of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to reflect unforeseen dynamics, for example, is warranted. Social media has perverted and exploited it. But throwing it out wholesale and reinstituting a “fairness doctrine” would be unwise. As I wrote last year,

Just as social media offers a Fifth Estate to correct and replace the corrupt and crumbling Fourth Estate, an open society can create a Sixth Estate to hold Big Tech’s feet to the fire. . . . No companies, news outlets, political parties, scientific organizations, or government agencies will ever be perfect. That’s why we need continual openness to an Nth Estate, which can help correct our inevitable commercial and cultural mistakes. A new Washington-based regime that seeks to regulate social media in particular and speech in general would do more harm than good. By cementing today’s regime, it would block the pathways to the Nth Estate.

One of our great remaining newsmen, Holman Jenkins of The Wall Street Journal, correctly laments that “the increasing substitution of hysterical mythmaking for news is a malignancy of our time.”

An Nth Estate of American openness, innovation, exit, and free speech is the solution. It is the regenerative vaccine.

The $540,000 camera in your pocket

Every couple years, we update our original 2014 blog post that asked the question, “What would an iPhone have cost in 1991?” The purpose is to measure — at least in a rough way — the progress of technology by looking at the components and features integrated in smartphones owned by billions of people. In past years we’ve focused on the three most basic (and easily measurable) components: computation, digital storage, and communications bandwidth. This time, we will also look at another revolutionary facet of smartphones: their cameras. As luck would have it, the digital camera story also has a beginning in our arbitrarily chosen year. 

In May 1991, Kodak unveiled the first digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera aimed at professional photographers. Called the DCS 100, it used the frame of a Nikon F3, but instead of film it contained a 1.3-megapixel Kodak image processor. It was the middle of the personal-computer revolution, and digital photography presented an array of at least theoretically attractive advantages over film and photo paper. Photographers would be able to capture, see, store, transmit, and manipulate digital photos — computer files composed of bits — far more quickly and easily. 

This future was promising, but Kodak’s early system was still clunky. The quality was nowhere close to its legendary Kodachrome resolution and tone, and storing photos proved cumbersome. The camera came with a shoulder-carried digital storage unit which contained batteries, a visualizer, and a 200-megabyte hard disk drive that could store 156 images without compression. At $20,000 a piece (nearly $38,000 in today’s prices), Kodak is said to have sold 987 units. 

The iPhone 12, unveiled last month, has three 12-megapixel cameras, which is 36 times the number of pixels of the original DCS 100. At $15,000 per megapixel, circa 1991, that’s $540,000 worth of photographic power in every smartphone. Of course, this most basic measure doesn’t begin to account for the radical improvements in image quality and a hundred other features that make today’s smartphone cameras far superior in many ways to the very best cameras of the past. Lots of professionals like to show how their smartphones can match the best DSLRs, like in this road trip through Scotland. Also, no shoulder harness needed. Right now, I’ve got 61,300 photos on my iPhone backed up to the cloud automatically and retrievable instantly via 5G wireless. 

The iPhone 12’s new chip, the A14, also offers nearly 50 percent more computing power. But the biggest jump this year is the addition of true 5G wireless capabilities that will, conservatively, triple wireless broadband speeds and potentially boost them 10-fold over the next couple years. 

Building today’s iPhone in 1991 would thus have cost at least $51 million, with $540,000 worth of cameras thrown in for free.

Back to Work, Back to School, Back to the Future

A lack of faith in the future. That could be the central problem with today’s perilous politics.

It’s an age-old dilemma because it’s far easier to tear down than to build up. Gravity and thermodynamics say so. For thousands of years, individuals or small groups struggled each day to to find food and shelter. Growing meant seizing land or treasure. Then the Industrial Revolution led to an escape from this zero-sum trap. 

Technology and creative collaboration unleashed a positive-sum explosion not only in living standards and life spans but also in the total number of humans and the rights they enjoyed. Suddenly, radically different futures were possible. This novel ability to think about the future then propelled additional waves of investment, discovery, and equality. 

Despite our riches, there’s evidence the rate of future-orienting activities has slowed in recent years. This downshift of constructive behaviors could be both a cause and effect of recent attacks on the American idea itself. If growth slows and opportunity recedes, many will question whether the system is fair. On the other hand, pessimistic zero-sum thinking can close off the vast opportunities of a collaborative, pluralistic society.

Americans aren’t moving from place to place or job to job like they used to. Geographic mobility is down. The rate of startup business formation has been falling for several decades, even for high-growth firms. As economists John Haltiwanger and Ryan Decker show, the rate of job reallocation – the sum of jobs created by expanding firms and jobs eliminated by shrinking firms – has also significantly declined. When fewer workers move toward more innovative firms, productivity and income growth slows. (See, for example, Leaving money on the table: Declining responsiveness and the productivity slowdown ; and What Happened to U.S. Business Dynamism?)

Smaller families could also be a sign of pessimism. Births per woman declined to 1.73 in 2018 from 2.12 in 2007, the biggest drop since the early 1970s.

Falling fertility and falling economic dynamism may be mutually reinforcing. Two essential inputs of child-rearing are health care and education, the cost of which has risen between two and four times the rate of inflation for four decades. Building human capital is increasingly expensive. Unlike other industries, health care and education have mostly resisted radical technological and entrepreneurial innovations which, in the rest of the economy, routinely deliver better products at lower prices. Throw in the rising cost of housing, another non-negotiable input, and children look like near term liabilities instead of long term assets. 

Before Covid-19 hit, we’d begun a modest multi-year economic acceleration, with higher productivity and wage growth spread more broadly across workers and industries. But the pandemic interrupted this mini-trend and once again blocked our view of the future. Extended lockdowns and school closures were based on a narrow, zero-risk mindset. A panic about daily survival turned into a medieval state of paralysis, superstition, and fury.

Today’s fashionable solutions to malaise could not be more counterproductive. Just like the failed economic collectivism of the 20th century, today’s woke-tivism is positively zero-sum.

Economic Marxism presumed permanent conflict between rigid classes of  workers and owners, between labor and capital. Neo-Marxism presumes a permanent conflict between rigid groups based on identity and ideology. In both narratives, for some to rise up, it must come at the expense of those on top. There is no cooperative interplay.

Last century, that meant seizing the means of production. Today, it means seizing the means of influence – in companies, schools, and the media, on boards, in politics and university admissions, and on platforms, from social media to index funds.

But the means of production and of influence are not fixed. The miracle of technology is that we can build new machines and companies far better than the existing ones. Or create new information channels and institutions which expand the ability to speak, learn, and organize. For everyone of any identity. 

The Internet’s ability to mitigate many of Covid’s worst effects is instructive. The pandemic-induced rise of telemedicine and remote education, although imperfect, is just a preview of the quality and cost revolutions coming to these previously impervious industries. Exploding information channels can expose corruption and injustice, find and fix elite errors, and help us stumble toward the truth.

Recommitting to the future, however, requires a basic agreement on bedrock American values, such as free speech and equal opportunity. The ferocious campaign to silence disfavored voices in all our institutions, especially on social media, is dangerous. The genius of the open society is that when the best ideas in science, business, and politics rise to the top, everybody wins.

Woke science, technology, and business won’t get us to Mars, cure Alzheimer’s, or harness fusion energy. Nor will it help us deter and win wars or find solutions to our most pressing social problems. It surely cannot generate the type of economic expansion which might support healthy families and broad-based income growth, helping us to pay our surging debts.

The Internet gives us history’s most powerful tools to collaborate and generate knowledge, wealth, and justice. But only if we allow the entrepreneurial, positive-sum, error-correcting codes of free speech and creative cooperation to flourish. 

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