Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

People don’t like Freedom. We talk like we do, and sometimes LARP it by going for a Walk in the Woods, but the moment a deadly virus shows up, it all goes out the window. People are scared and demand that the government Do Something.

Massive lockdowns? Check. Invasive checkpoint searches? Of course. Ministry of Truth to keep people apprised of the situation? Yes please!

Facebook has taken the initiative to remove misleading hashtags about the virus outbreak. Google will boost “reliable” search results related to public health. Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok are all working to “deprioritize” misinformation. Ordinarily we’d complain about such heavy-handed censorship, but this is an Emergency.

Once the emergency’s over, we’ll do a post-mortem. Create a new bureaucracy to figure out how we can be better prepared for the next pandemic. Maybe put out a color-coded chart to tell the public how scared we should be.

The coronavirus may or may not be a Really Big Deal, but it’s nothing if not convenient. Every powerful government knows that if a population starts feeling too plucky and independent, all it takes is a healthy dose of Fear to get everyone cowering in submission. Look, those Hong Kong protesters finally went home.

Hospital construction has been turned into a new reality TV show. Security theater, but literally.

Sometimes I worry about Bitcoin and Self-Sovereign Individualism. A scared populace is a docile populace, and people are awfully easy to scare. During the Panic of 1907, JP Morgan called up all the newspaper editors and told them to run burglary stories as often as possible, to scare people into leaving their money in the banks. It worked. When it comes to Freedom versus national security, security always wins.

See Also: US Department of Fear

I know it when I see it.

Suppose you live in an anarchocapitalist society with unqualified free enterprise. Build your factories, spew smoke from the stacks, dump your trash in the river. The skies are endless, the oceans vast, and externalities don’t matter.

Now suppose one day a group of stationary bandits show up and announce that you may no longer spew waste with impunity. You must find a way to conduct your business without emitting toxic waste, or terminate your business altogether.

What the actual f…, is what any developing country thinks when they see the UN’s carbon emissions targets. Here in the first world, we understand that pollution is harmful to humanity as a whole. So obviously you shouldn’t pour crude oil into the ocean, obviously you shouldn’t smog up the air, obviously you shouldn’t leave hypodermic needles on the Shore.

Our attitude towards pollution is a lot like the attitudes of autocracies toward free speech.

In China, there’s something called “Spiritual Pollution” (精神污染). Not spiritual in the sense of religion, but spirit as in “mood” or “energy” – ie, We got spirit, yes we do!

The Chinese government is generally amenable to environmental protections, and is on track to meet Paris Accord targets nine years early. But the most important step it’s taken to curb harmful emissions is banning climate activists like Greta Thunberg. Carbon dioxide may pollute the atmosphere, but sanctimonious grandstanding pollutes the spirit.

Another example is porn. Republicans have, at various times, advocated for banning pornography under the Communications Decency Act or by emphasizing its ties to human trafficking. It never works because detractors retreat to the Motte of free speech. China cuts to the chase and declares pornography a form of spiritual pollution. Right?? No one ever concludes a porn video in high spirits the way they do after watching Amelie or It’s a Wonderful Life. Just the opposite, in fact.

I’m not pro-censorship, I’m anti-pollution! All of a sudden, content moderation becomes super easy. No more arguing about whether something is fake news or hate speech. If it pollutes the spirit, BAN! Clickbait? BANNED. Outrage porn? BANNED. BANNED. BANNED. BANNED.

I passed through an airport last week, and every single TV screen was displaying impeachment garbage on CNN. Would airport travelers tolerate it if I showed up with a diesel-powered leafblower and proceeded to spew exhaust all over the terminal? NO! So why should we tolerate CNN assaulting our mental capacity in much the same way?

Pollution need not be objective or quantifiable. We have laws against noise pollution, visual pollution, public nuisance. In an ideal anarcho-capitalist world, externalities would all be resolved through voluntary contracts (see also: Coase Theorem). Alas we don’t live in this world, and must rely on a coercive government to protect us from the health effects of environmental pollution, and the enstupidating effects of spiritual pollution.

National Protectionism

I’ve always been a fan of protectionism. In fact, my favorite part about Bitcoin is the 21 million supply limit — Bring on the halvening, I got mine.

Previously, I advocated occupational licensing for engineering jobs. Not out of national security concerns or anything; I just wanted to protect the scarcity of my mediocre job skills.

Looks like the Commerce Department was listening! Early this month, a new rule went into effect requiring a license to export geospatial imagery technology. Information isn’t a physical thing you can transfer overseas, so under the new rules even conversations about technology between Americans and foreign nationals are deemed exports.

The Department of Commerce is now looking to expand export restrictions to all “emerging” technologies. Tech companies will likely need to apply for licenses before employing foreign workers from China, Russia, or Iran. (Although I can already say from personal experience that “foreign workers” includes US citizens of ethnic descent.)

Maybe these export restrictions will end up being a boon for the disenfranchised American worker (at least the ones who aren’t Chinese, Russian, or Iranian). Or maybe the new vacancies will be snapped up by immigrants from a more US-friendly regime.

Some 2030 Predictions

(I know it’s already 17 days into your Gregorian new year, but I operate according to the Lunar calendar. Also I am lazy and slow.)

1. #PlantParenthood
Over the holidays, my neighbor spent $5000 on emergency surgery after her dog swallowed a TV remote. I don’t have a dog, but I get the impression it’s kinda like caring for a small child and a geriatric parent, compressed into a lifespan of ten years.

You know how people are delaying family formation because they can’t afford to have kids? They’ll get priced out of pets too. Capitalism tends to create a hedonic treadmill where society spends an increasing amount on discretionary items until everything reaches a level of unaffordability.

So, houseplants are taking off. You know, for those who can’t handle the responsibility of having a cat. There are lots of tech startups specializing in potted plants for childless urban professionals. Prediction: Pet ownership will decline, houseplants will rise to take their place. We’ll see a growing cottage industry of botanists acting as veterinarians for plants.

Check it out I sprouted an acorn! #plantparenthood

2. Distributed Corporate Despotism
Our Anti-Sinitic Pravda loves to tell scary stories about China’s surveillance state, but did you know that the US leads the world in surveillance cameras per capita?

Many police departments use facial recognition to identify suspects, but there’s been some pushback on that. The real mass surveillance will be that which we welcome into our homes. Even though San Francisco banned facial recognition for cops, millions of homeowners have installed Ring security cameras to catch porch pirates. By the way, Ring has a video-sharing agreement with 770 police departments across the country.

ATMs and grocery store self-checkout lanes also have AI-powered cameras. My brother works at a hospital that frequently admits patients with no insurance and no ID. Why not replace hospital check-in staff with a facial recognition camera?

Prediction: China’s autocracy has nothing on capitalism’s distributed despotism. If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.

3. Wildcat banking, but on the blockchain
I can’t read the phrase “sound money” without rolling my eyes and making mental fart noises. (…aand I probably just got blacklisted from Bitcoin conferences for the rest of eternity.)

We’re moving toward fractional reserve bitcoin banking whether we like it or not. The blockchain is supposed to be auditable and unforgeable, yet 95% of bitcoin transactions happen on or between exchanges. (That’s a made up stat, but probably close.)

Now we have a sidechain called Liquid, basically a federated bank where you can see how much Liquid Bitcoin is in circulation, but no longer verify that any given exchange has what it claims to have.

Prediction: People will continue to create peer-to-peer transactions on the blockchain, but that will eventually be as quaint as using cash. Way trendier to make a Liquid transaction through a Blockstream Green Wallet.

Anyway, fractional reserve banking is fine; it’s the bailouts that are bad.

Image Rehab

I get the feeling Bill Gates is running interference for a lot of Epstein associates right now. Here he is, the most wholesome and low-T nerd in the world. If a family man like Gates could get sucked into Jeffrey Epstein’s orbit, surely it’s plausible that all those other folks might have been hoodwinked as well?

Here are some book excerpts from way back when:

But [Bill Gates] didn’t have to worry about the feds. Neukom — with the help of Gates’ father — had gotten him out of quite a bit of hot water over the years. They’d take care of him. Neukom and Ballmer, one of his closest friends, knew about his “thing” for women.

The Microsoft File: The Secret Case Against Bill Gates, by Wendy Goldman Rohm, 1998.

Though Gates began dating [Melinda] French in 1988, he continued to play the field for awhile, especially when he was out of town on business, when he would frequently hit on female journalists who covered Microsoft and the company industry. His womanizing was well known, although not reported, because Gates and Microsoft spoon-fed stories to industry writers for such papers as the New York Times, and none of them wanted the flow of information to stop.

They also didn’t report on the wild bachelor parties that Microsoft’s boyish chairman would throw in his Seattle home, for which Gates would visit one of Seattle’s all-nude nightclubs and hire dancers to come to his home and swim naked with his friends in his indoor pool.

Overdrive: Bill Gates and the Race to Control Cyberspace, by James Wallace, 1997.