May 27, 2020
The Power of Magical Thinking
Americans believe in magic. And why wouldn’t we? We lead lives of such privilege and prosperity that we have come to think of our place of dominance in the world and our style of life as a God-given right.
There may be places in the world where people are starving, where disease is rampant, and where human beings are killing one another in savage ways over nothing more than differences of opinion in how they worship. But not here. Not in America.
We’re special. And we have a government that is going to take care of us, no matter what.
That’s magical thinking. The truth is that the government can’t give us anything that it doesn’t take from us first. A bug from China (in fact, for the nitpickers, a submicroscopic infectious agent, not literally a bug) is infecting people, making them sick and sometimes even killing them – especially those who are old or in ill health to begin with.
So what do we do? Exactly what the government tells us to do. We lock ourselves away, and huge numbers of us start getting paid to do nothing. But, no matter how dangerous the virus may be, this can only go on for so long.
Right now – more than ten weeks into the shut down – many Americans keep insisting that we all stay home and that the economy stays locked up tight. To facilitate that, they’re expecting the government to keep making pay-outs to individuals and businesses – both big and small – to keep everything running.
The funny thing is that a lot of those same Americans, who think they and almost everybody else should stay home, still want some of their countrymen to go to work. They’re thinking that the doctors and nurses in hospitals, the people who work in grocery stores, truck drivers who deliver food to supermarkets, and the farmers and ranchers who grow the food should still keep hustling their butts. It’s OK though, because they are very, very grateful. They are happy to put signs in their windows and applaud public service messages about what super heroes those people are who are expected to be at their jobs. It’s a big, hearty “thank you” to the folks on the front line.
A lot of those “stay at home” people also want people who have been put out of work to get more money, they want everyone who wants to stay home to be compensated, and they want everybody on the government dole to get a raise. A BIG raise.
The problem is this. There is no magic. The government cannot actually create wealth. It can only take it from the wealth-creators – also known as taxpayers. Of course, the government can always turn on the presses and print some more dollars, but those freshly inked pieces of paper only make the dollars we already have less valuable. In other words, they cause inflation, making it a lot harder for Americans to buy things like food and clothes and cars and houses and everything else.
The economic shut down closed supply chains, food distribution lines, transportation services, government agencies and no end of other businesses that are required to get goods and services to the public. Getting food to market has become so logistically difficult and expensive that dairymen are dumping milk and ranchers and farmers are losing money on animals that they cannot get to market because of packing-plant closures. All that dumped milk and stranded meat adds up to two things – a shortage of food in the markets and much higher prices on the food that does show up.
So now steaks, Brussels sprouts, milk, chicken, and other items from soup to nuts is getting difficult to find and more expensive. And it’s going to get a lot worse – even after we open up the country. A shut-down supply chain takes a while to get back on track and up to speed.
The problem is that people believe what they want to believe and politicians will always be there to support Americans’ magic fantasies in an attempt to curry favor in exchange for votes.
Magical thinking goes far beyond the Corona virus.
My brother-in-law, a retired sheriff’s deputy, says all his law enforcement buddies are solidly for Trump and are sure he is going to win. But he recognizes that his law-and-order buds don’t necessarily reflect the society as a whole.
Not everybody is so perceptive.
If you were to go my wife Carmela’s former office at UCLA, you would be surrounded by people who think Trump is so stupid there is no way he can win.
We see what we want to see and believe what our friends and associates believe, so our view of the world tends to be somewhat skewed.
Remember when Japanese auto makers began taking over the market back in the 70s and 80s. American auto executives were lulled into a sad sense of complacency when they looked out at their company parking lot and saw row after row of American cars. They tended to gloss over the fact that their employees were entitled to deep discounts on the cars they helped build – and so they bought those cars and filled up the company parking lots while much of the rest of America had started buying the Japanese cars.
You see friends on Facebook, on both sides of the political divide, ranting about how stupid the other side is and reinforcing their own increasingly narrow point of view. Anybody who disagrees, even slightly, is instantly pummeled for his or her political blasphemy.
It’s both ugly and crazy. Here are the plain and unmagical facts.
The economy must immediately open and start producing goods and services to get those 30 million newly unemployed people off the government dole – and back to paying taxes.
The government must stop printing money and handing it out like drunken sailors.
And while we’re at it, we’ve all got to find a way to get along a little better. Disagreement is fine, and even healthy. Disrespect, acrimony and boorish screeching is not.
The world is what it is. We can either get along and recognize our differences or break apart and engage in a holy war over politics, money and culture. There is no magic.
And no amount of Abracadabra is going to change that.
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