An axiom everyone picks up in college – and in nearly the whole of media culture too – is that people who favor a market economy disregard everyone but the privileged rich (itself a euphemism). It’s a great rhetorical trick because the presumption keeps backers of freedom on the hot seat, permanently.
You know the ropes. Trickle down is a myth, so why are we shilling for the rich? What’s this fetish for big business? Why do we disregard the poor, the workers, the marginalized, the vulnerable? Why is our thinking so solipsistically exclusionary of people unlike ourselves?
If the experience of 2020 doesn’t change this fake narrative, nothing will. The reality is that with few exceptions, the people who identify as “left of center” became the champions of lockdowns, as if this were a normal policy any civilized country would deploy in the event of a new pathogen.
I never would have believed it, and some of my friends on the left are shocked by it all. They are in the minority among their tribe. Still there it was, a clear ideological bias for lockdowns that strongly tilted left.
Let us begin with the great slogan of Spring 2020: “Stay home and stay safe.” Twitter even invented a little house icon that appeared when you typed it. It became a kind of mantra that the way to control this disease is not to leave your house. Have your meals delivered. Watch your church services on your computer. Meet with friends only through Zoom. Get out on the roads only if you have to, and do not travel no matter what.
You know what’s amazing about this? Only about one third of workers could comply with this dictate. In bigger cities, it was closer to 40% but much lower in more rural areas. The newspapers and television reporters, to say nothing of social media, were speaking to what’s come to be known as the Zoom class, the people who work in digital media, finance, insurance, banking, and other such high-end areas.
What about the rest? Who precisely is going to deliver these groceries? Who is going to work in the hospitals? What precisely happens to all the workers in the restaurants, hotels, airports, theaters, and churches? Who will cut hair, trim lawns, build houses, drive trucks? Who will be operating the lockdown economy and keep us all from starving? It was like no one really cared, certainly not most of those elites who identify as left of center.
What emerged in the lockdown culture of 2020 was a new feudalism, or, worse, a new totalitarianism. Society became almost immediately split down the middle, essential and nonessential workers. Some of the essentials could work on laptops and some could not, but in any case, their paychecks kept arriving. The nonessentials were declared to be dispensable. Hardly any of TV’s talking heads gave a flying fig.
And it’s true, the nonessentials are not the blue checkmark people on Twitter. You never see them being interviewed by CNN or MSNBC. They do not have Wikipedia pages. They do not write academic articles. They aren’t judges or public-health bureaucrats. They don’t have the resources to run for public office. They don’t read the New York Times. They can’t even afford access to attorneys, so it’s not as easy as somehow suing the system that exploited them.
We are talking about the silent two thirds, people who might be in the majority but because of their economic and professional position were not granted access to protest, much less change the system. They became the fodder in other people’s plots and plans to enact a grand new social/political experiment in disease mitigation.
Whatever happened to concern for the working class, the poor, the marginalized, the minorities, such as women with children who left the workforce in droves to care for children who were shut out of schools for a year? In other words, what of the tropes about social concern that have animated the left for the better part of a century?
And so much for the rights of women, especially women of color!
“Four times as many women over the age of 20 dropped out of the labor force in September (2020) compared to men,” reports the Washington Examiner. “When school started up last fall, roughly 865,000 women had dropped out of the labor force in September, compared to 216,000 men.”
What about the sick? Diagnosis for 6 cancers dropped 46%. For breast cancer in particular, diagnosis collapsed by 50% due to lack of screenings. Visits to the emergency room fell by half. There was a collapse in diagnosis of appendicitis, heart attack, and stroke. As many as 40% of Americans reported last year to be struggling with substance abuse and mental health disorders. You would never believe this one: health care spending during a pandemic actually fell by 6%, mainly because people were locked out of their doctor's offices and hospitals.
This is some serious collateral damage and it massively and disproportionately affected the working poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized. Where was the concern? Where was the sympathy? The very people who have paraded their social virtues for many decades fell silent. It was especially egregious to observe the lack of concern for schoolchildren, who lost their connection to their communities and got lost. Reports of child abuse fell by 18% during lockdowns. It’s not as if actual abuse and neglect fell by that much. It just became invisible.
We could go on with this for an entire book but let’s look briefly at small business. Nearly half of restaurants closed or are expected to do so, with their workers unemployed. A quarter of small businesses already closed, and nearly half had to lay off workers. Remember that the next time some supporter of lockdowns preaches fealty to the cause of helping small business. Forget subsidies; how about the basic right to operate a business?
I’ve puzzled about this strange disconnect for the better part of a year. My conclusion is that left-wing ideology has evolved to become a highly selfish ruling class vision that only purports to love the poor and so on in the abstract. In real life, the people who preach socialist principles have very little if any connection to the real stuff of life, exactly as we’ve seen over the last year, and in fact care very little about those who win from freedom and lose from the despotism they imagine to be better.
In 1949, F.A. Hayek worried that as we become ever more prosperous the ranks of the “intellectual class” would grow and become injurious to the common good. “The class does not consist of only journalists, teachers, ministers, lecturers, publicists, radio commentators, writers of fiction,” he wrote. “The class also includes many professional men and technicians, such as scientists and doctors, who through their habitual intercourse with the printed word become carriers of new ideas outside their own fields and who, because of their expert knowledge of their own subjects, are listened with respect on most others.”
“It is the intellectuals,” Hayek continued, “in this sense who decide what views and opinions are to reach us, which facts are important enough to be told to us, and in what form and from what angle they are to be presented. Whether we shall ever learn of the results of the work of the expert and the original thinker depends mainly on their decision.”
If that was true in 1949, how much more so today, now the growth of the intellectual class, real and imagined, has grown to become a sizeable swath of the workforce? As for everyone else, they felt browbeat, bullied, intimidated, and ultimately crushed in a year in which the intellectual class experimented with the unthinkable, even as the virus itself ignored all the political machinations and did its damage anyway.
Hayek ended his essay with the hope that we won’t have to experience the worst of totalitarian ideology before we come to appreciate the glorious virtues of a free society. Reading it (and I encourage you to do so) is a chilling experience. He provides a perfect picture of how the scientific-industrial ruling class elite accomplished its goals in the last 14 months: by taking over the commanding heights of opinion.
The question now is: what happens next? Will we imagine a new liberty or acquiesce to the new serfdom under which we live today? Lockdowns came to us like a meteor that few even knew existed. If that doesn’t shake your worldview, and your sense of who will stand up for basic rights and liberties, nothing will.