Surviving the Viral New Mania of the Pols
Spencer Reiss, former Newsweek foreign correspondent, Wired contributing editor, and now impresario of tech conferences from New York to Monaco, is still on a prophetic tear.
The worse the politicians get, the more Spencer’s contrarian insights sparkle. He used to irritate me with his rote dismissal of almost everything said or attempted by my once and sometime heroes in Washington and state capitals.
He was skeptical about Mideastern wars, gold standards, tax cut monism, Republicans, food fads, regulators, political protests, Democrats, fashionable ideas, and pompous institutions of all kinds.
Reiss even instigated John Perry Barlow’s historic “Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace.”
You may recall its stentorian rhythms: “Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather…
We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before…”
And so on into Grateful Dead lyricist Barlow’s immortal poetic defiance of authority. In the age of the Great Firewall of China and government tentacles across the Internet everywhere, with even conservatives eager for regulation, Barlow’s bardic voice is sorely missed.
He died two years ago as a result of an infection contracted in a San Francisco hospital where he went for a routine procedure recommended by his doctor.
Spencer says at least Barlow was saved from the current San Francisco, “where you can’t walk the downtown streets without protection by a ‘poop patrol.’”
Spencer thinks that there are too many cities for his “new economy” vision. Either we start letting in immigrants galore, he says, or many currently complacent conurbations will wither away. He cites Matt Yglesias’s new blockbuster One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger. Yglesias is a leftist but one of the many benefits of the Trump administration may be to make the left receptive to the immigration necessary to shake up and revive increasingly dormant American capitalism.
So we can be happy that we still have a thriving Spencer Reiss.
Taking a Trip Down Memory Lane
In the age of COVID mania around the globe, it has become almost impossible to exaggerate the power-mad fecklessness and fatuity of the pols. The world has rotated round to Reis-ville.
Back in the late-1990s and early-2000s, Spencer wrote what in retrospect turned out to be the most prescient of all the newsletters from my previous company. Entitled the New Economy Letter, it focused not on the chip and telecom hardware stars of the Gilder Technology Report but on such transformative players as Amazon, Apple, and Google.
Hey, my companies made his companies possible. Without Qualcomm. Nvidia, Intel. and Applied Materials, there could be no ubiquitous internet. But the stock market value mostly migrated to the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google) and other leviathans at the top of the “new economy.”
With the COVID ascendancy of the new economy paladins, I decided to risk a trip to Connecticut for lunch with Spencer at the White Hart Inn in Salisbury, confident I could make my way across the border and back without being quarantined or arrested for the porosity of my mask or the incendiary garland of ideas.
Meeting yesterday, Spencer was preening over his bet made with a New York Times reading friend on August 15 that even official COVID deaths would not exceed 200,000 by September 15.
Happy to bet against the death side, he won with some five thousand to spare…
Looking at the Upside
Now the world believes that Trump will lose. But Spencer, no Trump fanboy, thinks that Trump will luck out again. “Trump has nailed his fate to the economy. Biden is betrothed to the triumph of COVID.”
“By mid-October, the economy will be doing well and COVID will be pretty much done.”
Irving Kristol said it long ago: “We have a new kind of class war — the people as citizens against the politicians and their public sector clients.”
“Well-meaning people,” Reiss says, “read the New York Times and imagine they know what’s going on. I cite the data and they thump their sculls and ask how do I know?”
“I just pay attention,” he says with a smile. “No expertise necessary.”
I tell him that it would be disaster if the pols allow the rescission of Regulation 230 protecting the Internet from liability for its content. I don’t believe that it is possible for any global network to police itself for so-called “hate speech” and “fake news.”
I say: “Make the social networks liable and there will be no freedom of speech on social networks. All companies will become like Disney, deferring only to the CCP and the diversity dimwits” (as Disney recently did on their new effete feminoid superbomb Mulan).
But Spencer says, “Let 230 go! Throw it out the window. The social networks are already becoming utilities. Mark Zuckerberg is happy to lean back and accept a lucrative role as a government pawn, a Disney of platforms.”
“The result of throwing out the special protection,” says Spencer, “will be that all the action moves away from the government ruled leviathans. We’ll have hundreds of social networks, new platforms, real diversity, new entrepreneurial life.” He cites several new companies already doing well challenging Google now; I will investigate them for my readers.
He even likes the big-spending helicopter money dispensed by the Trump Administration to contain the damage from the viral new mania of the pols. Although there is nothing good about vast government debt, he points out that the alternative was to give the money to bureaucrats to award to cronies as they are largely doing in China. Better to empower the people than the lawyers and regulators.
Reiss also sees an upside in California. Ever since 1910, when the sainted Teddy Roosevelt decided to zero-out forest fires, “bringing on Smokey the Bear, we have been building up piles of fuel, strewing landscapes with wood bombs waiting to go off.”
“Prior to 1910, history shows that four-to-nine million acres burned every year. And the Indians used to add to the flames by burning the forests to get at the deer.
“But between 1910 and the 1980s, all the stuff that used to burn has been sitting on the ground. In states such as California it is too dry to decay. So instead of burning every five to 10 years, these areas were unburned for a century or so. Then the NIMBY movement came along. Don’t burn the forest near my house. Don’t disturb my asthma.”
Reinforced by the greens’ wilderness fetish, the result is that nearly all of California and many other regions are now vulnerable to conflagration. And people who reject masks for COVID are wearing them because of the smoke. Perhaps people will learn a lesson at last.
The belief that government can suppress forest fires resembles the belief that politicians can outlaw COVID or control the weather. It’s King Canute all over again issuing orders to the tides.
The greatest wisdom in government came from Irving Kristol’s immortal words: “The unintended consequences of social action are always more important, and usually less agreeable than the intended effects.”
That’s Spencer’s message also. We should all pay attention to him.
Editor, Gilder’s Daily Prophecy