And Jokers to the Right

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So many people on the Right want to brush off the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t.

Libertarians notice when government grows. And it is doing that. CNN, to which I have been listening, harasses Trump for having acted too slowly and done too little, no matter how much he does. On that channel, Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, drones on and on like Fidel Castro, alternately demanding help and declaring that President Trump has not done enough. Trump, for his part, has considered the “quarantine” of New York, whatever that would mean.

Government is flexing its muscles. Politicians are showing off. But what I’m hearing from corners of the Right is more than that: the accusation that the government has cooked up a crisis out of a not-very-important flu bug in order to control us permanently. In other words, that the COVID-19 threat is essentially a hoax. This is absurd, but enough people on the Right are saying it that even the Washington Post has noticed it.

I’m embarrassed to quote some of these people. A commenter on my last posting to Liberty writes: “This is a government-initiated economic assault engineered to provide a disguise for the bigger collapse that was inevitably coming anyway due to the insane Keynesian policies practiced for decades. The flimsy ‘public health’ excuse was capitalized on to provide a more acceptable ‘cause’ for the subsequent debacle rather than their own guilty profligate irresponsibility.”

What I’m hearing from corners of the Right is that the government has cooked up a crisis out of a not-very-important flu bug in order to control us permanently.

In other words, the economy was heading over a cliff, so the lunatics in charge decided to wreck it first, so they could pin the blame on a virus. Does that make sense? Whose economy are we talking about, America’s? China’s? Italy’s? Who decided to blow it up, the Federal Reserve? The U.S. Public Health Service? The People’s Liberation Army? The Illuminati? And how would you know this?

The zanies who spout this stuff assume an air of all-knowing assurance. They have been cut in on the secret, and you, who have not, are a simpleton.

Somebody has to reply to these people.

Let’s start with Lew Rockwell, who runs the libertarian web page LewRockwell.com (“Anti-state, anti-war, pro-market”). His web page used to be mainly Austrian economics, a non-mainstream theory that has much to say about business cycles, interest rates, the role of entrepreneurs. and the impossibility of an efficient socialism. I’m sorry to report that Rockwell has allowed LewRockwell.com to become a Hyde Park Corner for coronavirus skeptics.

Who decided to blow up the economy, the Federal Reserve? The U.S. Public Health Service? The People’s Liberation Army?

Most of the articles are by others, but now and then Rockwell chimes in. His March 21 column on coronavirus and the economy is sarcastically titled “The End of Civilization?” In it, he starts out talking about Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, and the division of labor, then moves on to microbiology. Rockwell dismisses the threat from COVID-19, writing that it has killed fewer than 100 people in the United States. As I write, nine days later, the US death toll is more than 2,950 and confirmed cases more than 160,000. You can read the current figures here.

President Trump now says it will be a “victory” if the American toll is kept to 100,000 dead.

In “The End of Civilization?” Rockwell takes on the Trump administration’s public-health leader, Dr. Anthony Fauci. “If anything,” Rockwell declares, “what people like Fauci and the other fearmongers are demanding will likely make the disease worse. The martial law they dream about will leave people hunkered down inside their homes instead of going outdoors or to the beach where the sunshine and fresh air would help boost immunity.”

Rockwell dismisses the threat from COVID-19, writing that it has killed fewer than 100 people in the United States. Nine days later, the US death toll was more than 2,950.

I live in Seattle, 20 miles from the first case of coronavirus in the United States, and in the urban area with the infamous coronavirus nursing home. There is no martial law here. Or anywhere in America, judging from what I see on the news. Why do right-wingers talk this way? And why would the proprietor of a free-market webpage challenge the public-health advice of the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases? Where would Rockwell get the idea that we could all stop the coronavirus pandemic by flocking to the beach and lying in the sun?

I think he absorbed it from his favorite medical journalist, megavitamin guru Bill Sardi. Sardi is the author of In Search of the World's Best Water, The Bible Prescription for Health and Longevity, and How to Live 100 Years Without Growing Old. This year, Sardi has contributed more than 30 articles to LewRockwell.com.

When coronavirus first hit the news in January, Sardi wrote on LewRockwell.com that it was “just a common cold virus” and that, “all the advice to stay away from crowds, wear a mask, wash your hands, is silly.” On January 29, Sardi wrote that the spread of the new coronavirus was mainly caused by the lack of sunshine and could best be managed with Vitamin D. On February 1, Sardi called COVID-19 “a contrived pandemic, brought to you by the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, and a committee that planned the whole event in order to gain public funding for a vaccine and to prime the global masses with fear for the first attempt of a worldwide vaccination campaign.” He declared that the photos of dead bodies lying on the streets of Wuhan, were “faked.” He later suggested that the stink in Wuhan of burning corpses was from the cremation of pigs. On February 19, he suggested that the pandemic was “political cover for a sour economy.” And on February 27 he recommended that people go out and catch COVID-19 on purpose.

In a piece on LewRockwell.com on March 23, Sardi continued to insist that the wearing of face masks and washing of hands were “meaningless,” and that reports of an increase in COVID-19 cases were a “ruse.” On LRC on March 27, Sardi quoted a Korean study that claims that COVID-19 is not contagious during its incubation period. And on March 28, he wrote, “The coronavirus is a planned distraction,” a “phony epidemic,” the “unfolding death of a nation.” On March 30 he suggested that the doctors treating coronavirus patients can’t tell the difference between COVID-19 and zinc deficiency.

Sardi declared that the photos of dead bodies lying on the streets of Wuhan, were “faked.” He later suggested that the stink in Wuhan of burning corpses was from the cremation of pigs.

OK, enough of this joker. Here’s another, Eric Peters, a man who does not even pretend to be a medical expert. His web page is ericpetersautos.com, where he writes about automobiles. That, and libertarian politics. In his March 23 blast of skepticism, “The Cat Leaves the Bag,” Peters writes, “Where are the people doubling over in the streets, coughing up blood? The stacks of bodies, ‘overwhelming’ the system. None such.” This isn’t a zombie flick. No coughing up blood. But look at Spain. In Madrid, the Spanish Army is collecting COVID-19 corpses and piling them in an ice-skating rink.

In his March 29 offering, Peters is asking the same question: “Well, where are the bodies?” He writes that he drove by his local hospital, Carilion Roanoke Memorial in Roanoke, Virginia, “and did not see refrigerator trucks of corpses or any sign that anything was out of the ordinary.”

Did he go in and talk to anybody? No. His local newspaper did, and found the staff preparing for battle. “First Coronavirus Death Reported in Alleghany Health District,” reported the Roanoke Times on the same day Peters posted on LewRockwell.com.

Now to the biowarfare thesis — the black-helicopter suspicion that somebody’s nasty government (maybe ours!) cooked up COVID-19 as a weapon. Larry Romanoff of Global Research, whatever that is, says in a piece republished by Lew Rockwell on March 24 that the Italians, South Koreans, and Chinese have been unable to identify an original source of the infection or a “patient zero.” Their failure to do this, Romanoff argues, is “virtually prima facie evidence of a pathogen deliberately released.”

This isn’t a zombie flick. No coughing up blood. But in Madrid, the Spanish Army is collecting COVID-19 corpses and piling them in an ice-skating rink.

This is what I call a von Däniken argument. Fifty years ago a Swiss fabulist named Erich von Däniken wrote a bestselling tract called Chariots of the Gods. In it he asserted that the earth had been visited by ancient astronauts who left behind the Nazca lines in Peru and the stone heads on Easter Island. I remember seeing a TV show about it. Von Däniken’s argument was that archaeologists could not explain how ancient humans made the Nazca lines or the stone heads (just as the Italians, et al., cannot identify who seeded the virus) and therefore it must be true that “ancient astronauts” had made those things. There was more to the book than that, but that was the argument that stuck in my mind. Ever since then, I have thought of a “von Däniken argument” as one in which the ordinary explanation is dismissed as impossible, thereby “proving” the extraordinary one. Essentially it is the setting aside of reality for a fable.

That the Italians, the Koreans, and the Chinese have been unable to find a patient zero proves nothing. It’s nearly impossible to track a disease that can be spread for more than a week by people who don’t know they have it and can infect others merely by touching door handles. And think also what is being asserted here: that someone cooked up COVID-19 as a weapon. What kind of weapon would that be? A weapon to do what? The new weapons of the past few decades — TV-guided bombs and drone-guided missiles — have been designed to aim at smaller and smaller targets with precision. COVID-19 would be a weapon that cannot be aimed at all — a weapon that hits you as well as the other guy. You pull the trigger and the whole world is infected, with a kill ratio of 11% (Italy), 4% (China), 1.5% (USA) and 0.5% (Germany). What would such a “weapon” be for?

And note that Romanoff’s “virtually prima facie evidence” is the absence of evidence.

That’s a von Däniken argument.

In “After the Lockdown: A Global Coronavirus Vaccination Program,” run on LRC on March 23, Professor Michel Chossudovsky, a Canadian promoter of 9/11 conspiracy theories, makes what seems like a von Däniken argument. Chossudovsky calls the panic over COVID-19 “a propaganda campaign” to implement a “global vaccine” being prepared by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a group funded by the Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (This is what Bill Sardi was writing about.) There is, in fact, such a group funded by Bill and Melinda Gates, and it is working on vaccines, just as Chossudovsky says. If it develops an effective vaccine, Bill and Melinda want it given to people all over the world. I saw Bill on CNN and he said so, himself. He has been warning for several years of the threat from epidemics, and he is donating money to develop a vaccine to fight this one. To me, it’s a commendable thing that Microsoft’s founder and former CEO would devote the last half of his career to work with his wife to fight disease. Chossudovsky portrays Bill and Melinda’s motives as dark and conspiratorial. “What kind of twisted social structure awaits us in the wake of the lockdown?” he writes. “Can we trust the World Health Organization (WHO) and the powerful economic interest groups behind it? This is an act of ‘economic warfare’ against humanity.”

Think what is being asserted here: that someone cooked up COVID-19 as a weapon. What kind of weapon would that be? A weapon to do what?

Chossudovsky doesn’t bother giving reasons to doubt what Bill and Melinda Gates say they are doing. Chossudovsky just assumes that of course they are putting on a false front. Through a miasma of loaded words, he suggests that their real motives are twisted and weird, tied to “powerful economic interest groups.” Some people love stuff like that. They eat it up. The man who dishes it out doesn’t have to argue for anything. He just has to lower his voice and tell a creepy story.

This pandemic has prompted altogether too much talk of false fronts, fake news, hoaxes, and killer vaccines. The reasonable Right has got to disown this stuff and get real.

If the public-health professionals say a virus is a mortal danger, it pays to believe them. They know; you don’t. President Trump wasted two months downplaying the virus until his countrymen started dropping dead, and now the United States has the world’s largest number of confirmed cases. The countries with the most success are those that acted early and decisively. In China, the country where the pandemic began, the Communist government says the spread of infection is over. If you don't like China, consider Hong Kong. It has civil rights and a free press, which makes it tougher for governments to lie. Hong Kong reports four deaths out of a population of 7.4 million.

The Hong Kong people are packed together like bees, but they have holed up in their 480-square-foot apartments and have kept healthy. Part of it, no doubt, is that in Asia, people don’t kiss each other on the cheek, as the Italians do, or hug each other, like the lovey-dovey Americans. (Are we going to keep doing that?) But a big part of it is that Hong Kong lived through the SARS epidemic of 17 years ago, and they learned what they had to do.

Shutdown works. Social distancing works.

President Trump wasted two months downplaying the virus until his countrymen started dropping dead, and now the United States has the world’s largest number of confirmed cases.

Finally, on the Right comes a more respectable argument: that the disease may be bad but the cure will be worse. One of the readers responding to my previous post writes: “Make no mistake about this, folks, a depression is a far greater tragedy than less than 1% of the folks dying from the coronavirus.”

He may be right. I hope not; a 10-year depression like the 1930s would be terrible. But you can’t assume that a government order shutting down the airline, recreation, restaurant, personal-services, and manufacturing industries for a few months is going to create such a depression, because no depression ever began that way. Maybe it would, but if you think so, make your case.

A depression aside, to say, “Let’s let 1% of the people die,” is callous. I’m of an age and gender in which if I get this disease, I have a greater than 1% chance to be in that 1%. I’m not going to buy into an argument that drops me dead. I am willing to go through a few weeks of inconvenience not to be infected by COVID-19, and to support state-imposed inconvenience on you so that you do not spread it to me.

I’m not going to buy into an argument that drops me dead.

For a while. Not indefinitely. The money just approved by Congress and President Trump is the tipoff that at some point, the “not worth it” argument begins to ring true. The sum of $2.3 trillion is a hell of a lot of money — two Iraq wars’ worth. I argued on this page that the government didn’t need to blast out trillions of dollars, but it clearly intends to do so until the shutdown is over. The national debt was already $23 trillion (107% of GDP) and was costing interest payments of $600 billion a year. Those numbers now rise. If interest rates go up — and being practically at zero, where else can they go? — the burden of debt rises faster.

The shutdown will end. Like a tourniquet, you can’t leave it on. No economy can go month after month with all the productive people, or half of them, sitting at home producing nothing. At the moment it looks like we do this for the next six to eight weeks, but soon enough the shutdown needs to end whether it defeats the coronavirus or not. I’m hopeful it will work: I note that officials in China imposed home quarantine on Wuhan on January 23, and they say they’re going to lift the lockdown on April 8. America got serious (though not as serious as Asia) early in March. If what we’re doing is enough, by Memorial Day the epidemic should have subsided.




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Comments

Andy

Agree with you 100%, Bruce.

I have been an LRC reader since at least the early 2000's, when Liberty was still a print mag, and Rockwell has always tended to give conspiracy theories a lot of leeway. LRC is known for promulgating JFK assassination theories, 9/11 Truther theories, even Moon landing hoax theories. Most of this is utter rubbish.

I had an email exchange with Rockwell years ago over one of his contributor's moon hoax stories, and after laying down my argument about how all the evidence points to an actual moon landing and how the contributor obviously did not understand how spaceflight, spacecraft, and basic physics works, and how libertarianism is a child of the Age of Reason, his only answer was basically "the government says we landed on the moon, therefore we obviously didn't." I wish I still had a copy of that email. Unbelievable.

Rockwell is great when he is talking Austrian economics and so forth, but his tendencies towards easily debunkable conspiracies have always been a weakness in his website's publishings.

With this virus LRC has gone completely off the deep end. Pushing a moon hoax theory doesn't do immediate damage to the public (it does in the long term, however), but pushing a virus hoax theory hurts people right now, in a real and physical way. It can get people killed. A member of my family is a health care professional, I listen to what she says, not some crackpot conspiracy theorist, and this virus is the real deal.

And since we're on the subject of LRC, I also want to point out that LRC's two running blog pages often link to stories on websites such as ZeroHedge, where when you scroll down to the comments you are met with a plethora of extreme right wing and antisemetic comments pushing white supremacy and Zionist conspiracy theories and so on. Why Lew Rockwell would allow his site to become so closely linked to such anti-freedom filth as that is beyond me, and there is no excuse for that.

LRC was once a great libertarian website which gave a voice to a few conspiracy theorists; now it's becoming just a conspiracy website and an embarrassment to libertarians.

Russell Hasan

I agree with you one hundred percent, Mr. Ramsey. But Right wing conspiracy theories which are obviously symptomatic of serious mental illness are not new, nor rare. People on the Right always think the government is out to get them, everything is a lie, vaccines are evil, etc. Sane people really don't realize how many people are mentally ill, it's something I didn't notice until I was forced to ride New York City public transit for several years, as the buses and subways are where NYC's homeless mentally ill population lives. There are a ton of crazy people in this world. But, much as the Right has crazy people, the Left has stupid people. Right and Left each has its unique distinctive personality disorder.

John McGinnis

Rockwell is quoted by Mr. Ramsey (probably accurately) that people's immune systems may be bolstered if instead of hunkered in their homes they get out to places with fresh air and sunshine. From that he concludes that Rockwell is asserting "... we could all stop the coronavirus pandemic by flocking to the beach and lying in the sun."

Not exactly the fairest or respectful, or even intelligent, of interpretations.

Bruce Ramsey

Most of Rockwell's column is about the economics of the division of labor and the economic cost of the shutdown. Regarding the coronavirus, he does three things.

1. He minimizes the threat. The gist of his column is that the pandemic is hugely exaggerated. At the end of the column he allows that it might be worse than he thinks, but he still has still stressed that only 100 Americans have died, which he thinks not a big deal.

2. He argues against staying at home, which is the main thing the public-health officials want people to do. It's also the common-sense thing for a dangerous contagious disease.

3. In the face of the global spread of an infectious virus, the only thing he recommends is lying in the sun at the beach. I'll admit I paraphrased this recommendation in a not-very-respectful way, but I think that's the right way to paraphrase it. It's what his suggestion deserves. Public health authorities have been closing sunbathing beaches in the south Atlantic Coast states because people were so close together that they were spreading the virus.

Kurt

It's real, and serious, but the moral panic that is being stirred is extremely dangerous, and will be used to justify all sorts of madness.

The panic has been used as an excuse to shut down gun shops, and arrest preachers who dare gather congregants for services, and threaten synagogues with permanent closures, etc.

I don't know where the death toll ends, but like you I hope it's in severe decline before Memorial Day, and that folks begin to understand that the danger from government overreaction is as great as that from the virus. I also hope that capitalist/enteprenurial effort, even beyond what Mr. Gates is providing, will come up with cures, treatments and vaccines.

Fred Mora

There is an old Soviet joke that goes like this: Ivan is walking to work during a snowstorm, when he sees his colleague Anton come out of his building in a light shirt, freezing. "Are you crazy?" Ivan asks. "Didn't you hear that this storm was coming?" "I did", replies Anton. "But I decided to wear a light shirt because I heard it on the state radio."

For you trusting, naive Americans, this means of course that you can always be sure that the state media are lying.

Are we at the point where some of our esteemed citizens consider the mainstream media like so many Pravdas? Apparently so. I don't approve: It takes a lot of competence and effort to consistently lie, and our talking heads aren't that smart and dedicated. But you have to give them credit, they are trying hard.

Nevertheless, there is a significant fraction of the population that would argue the sky cannot be blue because that's what Trump says, and a different fraction that would argue that flames are cold if the MSM published fire risk warnings.

Worldwide, an alarming number of people dismiss health warnings when they came from state sources. When you hear that 100 people died from methanol poisoning in country X, you can be sure that the state media was sternly warning them about the dangers of wood alcohol... but nobody listens to them because they lie all the time.

R R Schoettker

“In other words, the economy was heading over a cliff, so the lunatics in charge decided to wreck it first, so they could pin the blame on a virus. Does that make sense?”

I believe your difficulty in seeing the rationale in my previous statement may stem your inability to concur with my judgement that it was a description of the behavior of irresponsible ‘lunatics. Consider this question, does it make sense to expect ‘sense’ from lunatics? If you can seriously think that the self-destructive economic policies of the US government; or any other of its numerous irresponsible insanities, have EVER made sense then perhaps that explains why you still can’t recognize the ‘lunatic’. Whether this latest viral outbreak eventually proves to be much worse than others or much less severe does not alter the fact that the economic debacle was solely created by government. A government that in my lifetime experience always shirks responsibility and never acknowledges guilt. I still think that the finger of blame will be pointed at “that virus” but if I’m wrong then it will only be another sacrificial scapegoat that is blamed. The only thing that can be expected from the perpetrators are more lies, more fiscal profligacy and perpetual denial of responsibility.

Visitor

"Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it."
Jon. Swift, 1710.

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