For those out there “sheltering in place for humanity,” and who think skepticism about what you’re doing is the stuff of anti-science mouth breathers, stop and think for a minute or two. What would all of you self-proclaimed humanitarians have done if the new coronavirus reared its head in 2000 instead of 2020? How strident would your reverence for science and the “experts” have been then?
It’s a question worth asking simply because “sheltering in place” in 2000 would have been an entirely different concept. Some would argue that it was an impossibility.
For one, it was more than a challenge back then for the virtuous in our midst to signal just that. How could they?
You see, Mark Zuckerberg was still in high school in 2000. Facebook didn’t open its proverbial doors until 2004, and even then it was still only envisioned as a social network for college kids. Basically those of you so eager to give the rest of us “how to” tips on staying at home, routine admonitions that we stay home, all the while endlessly advertising to all of us how much you feel as you stay home, you wouldn’t have had a megaphone in 2000 to project just how deep your feelings were. Really, where’s the fun in being more virtuous than all of us if no one knows about it?
What about all those amazing meals you’ve been making from home with the freshest, most organic of organic ingredients? Ever mindful of the importance of “flattening the curve,” you made sure to order the “dolphin-free” version of everything you purchased online. Pretty amazing stuff, but perhaps you’ve forgotten how the biggest of the early online grocery businesses, Webvan, went bankrupt in rather splashy fashion back in 2001, and well before its services reached even a small fraction of American consumers.
Of course there have been times during these oh-so-humane lockdowns during which you got tired of cooking and doing dishes (you go back and forth about whether washing by hand or dishwasher is best for the environment), so you’ve ordered something healthy on your smartphone from Uber Eats, Postmates, Grub Hub, or some other delivery service. No doubt it’s a potential death sentence for youto be out breathing the air that others breathe, and touching all manner of common hands or gloves as you purchase hot meals, but it’s ok for the sub-humans who probably don’t care much about science as is to risk their lives so that you can take a night off from the rigors of cooking.
The good news is that wholly self-aware, you surely find yourself stopping and thinking deeply of the intrepid investors who found a way to match capital with different thinkers so that you could have pocket-sized phones that are really much more than phones. If we’re realistic, a combination of Wall Street financial genius and entrepreneurial creativity made it possible for you to have a supercomputer that fits in your pocket, and that operates at internet speeds that made those in the year 2000 positively primitive by comparison. These speeds enabled the creation of food delivery businesses that employ the sub-humans who are specifically instructed to drop the meals at your door (they can’t expect you to thank them in person, can they?), and it’s just a certainty that you celebrate the capitalistic endeavor that has made in-home eating amid a life-threatening pandemic such a snap, don’t you?
These technological advances born of finance being matched with visionaries also enabled great binge-watching amid all the healthy eating. Back in 2000, movie-and-tv fanatics still for the most part drove to a physical location to pick up VHS tapes and DVDs. As late as 2005 a merger between Blockbuster and Hollywood Entertainment was blocked by anti-trust experts who feared the combination would prove too dominant in the home video rental space. This is a long or short way of saying that Netflix, a company that twice failed in trying to convince now bankrupt Blockbuster to buy it, wasn’t meeting the needs of too many Americans when the 21st century began, and certainly hadn’t begun offering whole seasons of original TV shows all at once. In 2000, there was no Tiger King because it didn’t exist, but also because internet service was too slow back then for streaming. “Blockbuster Nights” were the primary non-cable option in May of 2000, and there was driving involved….
But wait, you say, the lockdowns haven’t been all about eating and television. All this has been combined with exercise. Except that going outside can be so risky these days. So many science deniers running and breathing without masks, plus believers in science have shut down certain running locales, like the oval around the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA. Capitalists to the rescue again. They’ve combined exercise bikes with high-speed internet access on the way to businesses like Peloton that enable virtual exercise classes all the time at all hours. The company’s co-founder, John Foley, owns shares nearing $1 billion in value. In 2000, Peloton and its workouts from anywhere at any time were an impossibility thanks to slow internet speeds.
Work from anywhere at any time would similarly have been a challenge. Not only was internet service much slower twenty years ago, not only was so much dial-up, most if not all online connections involved a cord. No moving around the apartment or house to work from anywhere. Assuming you had home internet, it was going to be utilized from a specific location, and at speeds that no internet user would come close to tolerating today. Zoom? Sorry, it was a long way off. No work meetings from home, no gatherings of old friends during which wholly decadent notions of curve flattening are discussed over craft beers and other creations of the profit motivated.
Most of all, not much of Amazon either. Though the Seattle-based retail giant has thrived amid the lockdowns all you science focused think essential today, back in 2000 Amazon for the most part peddled books, CDs and DVDs. And as evidenced by the company’s then nickname “Amazon.org,” many “experts” felt its odds of long-term survival were nil. Absent patient investors, the Amazon of today whereby its sale of seemingly everything makes quarantining a snap, the company likely doesn’t exist.
All of this might be considered by those who are so certain about the need for lockdowns. If you believe this, as in if you believe that scientists and experts are right that the people are too stupid to look after themselves, then you must believe wealth inequality is beautiful for its advance having made all your virtue-signaling and existing while “quarantined” such a snap.
All you nail-biting lockdown lovers can’t have it both ways. You can’t demand strict sheltering-in-place while also lamenting soaring billionaire net worth; that is, unless you think you could have easily quarantined in 2000. In which case you’re not just self-righteous, you’re also dishonest.
John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, Vice President at FreedomWorks, and a senior economic adviser to Toreador Research and Trading