Ahhh, nothing like a good ol’ pestilence to get you thinking clearly about what matters most in life.
It’s easy to get stuck on the painful consequences like forced unemployment — the inability of millions of people to productively serve one another.
In the Lego-model world of perfect equilibrium, we would find new ways to produce and consume harmoniously with little interruption, but in the real world of frictions and transaction costs (humanity’s crooked timber), a pandemic is best thought of as a negative supply-side shock. In turn, this shock has created a second-order fall in demand as many businesses suddenly lost their customers, forcing layoffs, unemployment, and a further decrease in spending.
This vicious cycle is the negative view, but there is always a silver lining.
Can COVID-19 instead be viewed as a kind of hormetic stressor — a shock to the system that forces a vital adaptation?
An analogy: during a prolonged fast, cells initiate a process called autophagy (literally, “self-eating”) in which old junk material which has accumulated during periods of plenty is recycled and cleaned out. Fasting for too long can lead to starvation, but the occasional fast is another example of a beneficial hormetic stressor that promotes long-term better health — especially in a world where too much abundance has created new problems and diseases of affluence.
Rather than viewing the economic challenges as a loss of “GDP” which is never coming back, we can use the crisis to guide a fundamental recalculation towards a healthier, more resilient economy.
At the end of this post, I outline my COVID-19 RESET protocol for creating a robust economy and a genuine health care system, as opposed to our current sick-care industrial complex. I see an opportunity to use this time of restructuring to radically reconsider how we budget our time and money. Resilience starts with building small-scale community, and nutritious, decentralized food supplies, which in turn requires getting some number of us “back to the land,” while the rest of us find ways to get into the open air more often.
But before suggesting an alternative, I want to establish a baseline of a mainstream consensus on the current trends, which I am seeking to resist:
“A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”
– G.K. Chesterton
5 Trends Worth Fighting
1. Inflation is coming…
The classical economist’s view is that stimulus spending produces additional spending in the short term and inflation in the long term. The government checks are in the mail, but if we don’t discover new patterns of production to replace the old ones, the inevitable result will be inflation and/or future taxation. More dollars chasing fewer goods = higher prices.
This means we need to transition idle workers — many of whom were already dangerously close to “zero marginal productivity” — into new roles where they can produce real stuff and services that people value.
Despite the growth in the “knowledge economy,” the land is still the ultimate source of wealth. While we can tolerate inflation in areas like higher education and even medicine, we must continue to produce true essentials like affordable food, lest we go the way ofVenezuela.
Poorly-capitalized firms like non-chain restaurants and small retailers, i.e., “main street,” are bearing the brunt of the lockdowns, while big conglomerates and tech giants like Amazon, Google, and Apple are weathering the storm and expanding their market share.
Government is subsidizing large “essential” goods in the form of unemployment insurance and stimulus spending for consumers who will in turn spend their checks at big box stores. Their supply chains, profits, and labor forces will remain intact (albeit subject to more extreme failure). Some of the laid off service sector workers will get jobs at Amazon, but others will remain unemployed and becomes wards of the state.
3. “Benevolent” Authoritarianism
As government increasingly works together with big firms and gets more involved the health care industry, Tyler Cowen predicts we will witness a rise in “centrist authoritarianism.”
People and big corporations will go along with whatever the bipartisan elite tells them will work.
Many will continue to faithfully heed medical advice from global organizations captured by pharmaceutical interests such as the WHO, and there may be more surveillance in the name of public health (i.e., smart phones taking temperatures, bio-devices perhaps even implants indicating who’s vaccinated, etc.).
This isn’t a far cry from what we see in movies like WALL•E – where the corporate state arrives not with the ugly mug of Mussolini, but with a smiley face.
4. Social Distancing
Fewer people will eat out at restaurants and go out to bars. Sports and events with large crowds will also continue to suffer. This means more unemployed, bored and lonely people looking for new ways to satisfy their cravings for food, alcohol and entertainment from home.
Obviously, more activity is moving into virtual reality, a la Zoom meetings.
Netflix binge-watching will be further normalized, and non-stop gaming and streaming of pornography will intensify people’s cravings for instant gratification.
Some will happily be fed endless streams of solo entertainment. But if the WALL•E future sounds less than awesome to you, then it’s time to start thinking about how you can swim against the trends of atomization, metabolic syndrome, and virtual reality.
While Cowen seems to think of this Brave New World as a stable equilibrium, I suspect it’s far more fragile than the already-fragile pre-epidemic status quo.
The acquiescence to shelter-in-place guidelines and the shift towards virtual reality must be resisted if we are to keep the dying embers of vitality, and the “spirit of 1776” alive and well. After the initial wave of lock-downs winds down, Americans will begin to vote with our dollars and make long-term plans.
Here’s my protocol for resisting the trend line, diverting existing resources to better pathways, much like fasting opens up healthier new metabolic pathways by the creative destruction of old organelles:
7 Planks of a Resilient Economy
1. Less Health Care. More Prayer and Fasting.
For too long, we have looked to modern medicine as the savior, when in fact it often contributes to our sickness in our haste to apply shallow technical solutions to deeper lifestyle problems.
Many are wondering what the government is going to do next. How will the keep the population safe from future waves of contagion and re-infection?
While these line of questioning is understandable, a more important question is how we’re caring for ourselves? Ivan Illich once said that, “Effective health care depends on self-care; this fact is currently heralded as if it were a discovery.”
It’s been noted how silly it is that we count spending on wars and spending on stuff we actually value in the same lump sump of “GDP.” But this outbreak should also make it clear that additional “health care” spending should not be counted as a good, but a “bad” — except as a last resort.
Coronavirus gives a new reason for pessimism about the health of the economy at large, but the health of the population has been grim for far longer. In many ways, this virus has revealed an existing crack, which cannot be papered over by any number of ventilators, face masks, or mandatory vaccines.
Preventive medicine and self-care should still be the number one “growth industry” as the economy re-opens.
Prayer and fasting are two effective forms of self care which open the body’s natural healing pathways. They also lead us to pause before rushing headlong into any course of action — reminding us of our limitations as human beings, and the limitations of man-made institutions like hospitals.
Finally, prayer will help restrain the addictions to digitized entertainment and help the brain recalibrate to a slowed down tempo and projects requiring more time to completion.
2. Eating for nutrition first.
Let us ponder along with the Prophet Isaiah, asking, “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?” (55:2)
Our supermarkets are flush with options, both health and unhealthy. We have set before us the ways of death and the ways of life!
Even fancy restaurants mostly cook their food in toxic industrial seed oils which wreak havoc on the body at the cellular level.
Whether the shift from eating out to eating at home on net alleviates or contributes to the epidemics of diabetes and obesity will depend on whether people discover that the Standard American Diet has caused lifestyle disease to overtake infectious disease as the leading cause of death.
While food companies and restaurants have profited off the cheap, addictive combinations of food-like-substances that fill the center aisles, we can prepare equally affordable meals from real ingredients at home. All we need is a little inspiration and a willingness to rethink old dogmas and change old habits.
I created the Poor Man’s Paleo grocery shopping guide to help you thrive on $10/day (or less) for this very purpose.
Think butter is bad for you, or that quality fats and protein are prohibitively expensive? Wrong! Think that eating well at home requires a pantry full of exotic ingredients like almond flour and guar gum, plus a superhuman ability to follow precise baking instructions? Think again.
3. Group exercise outdoors.
Exercise studios and gyms will be suffering for some time to come, but there are other ways to get together to move in healthy ways that don’t entail a high risk of infecting one another.
I’ve recently seen more people out-and-about at parks than ever before. Here in the East Bay, they have closed down the most popular trails in the area but people are still finding spaces to exercise and play in the sun and open air.
The blow from the loss of competitive sports can be compensated by the rise of a new kind of participatory physical education. The obsession with celebrity culture in general and professional athletes has gone hand-in-hand with the erosion of more generalized physical culture which used to engage the whole of society (and the whole of the body) in healthful indoor and outdoor exercise.
The U.S. used to have a thriving physical culture that embraced open-air exercise. France and Germany also had robust cultures of vigorous outdoor exercise that we can use as inspiration.
The MovNat community stands ready to offer coaching, using parks as gyms to help us recover the vital traditions of our recent and ancient ancestors.
4. Decentralizing food systems.
A large part of these seven planks is a return to sanity and re-establishment of the nexus between rural producers and urban consumers.
Our centralized food production systems have been revealed as some of the most fragile links in our economy. Rep. Thomas Massie is warning that we may be just weeks away from food shortages due to the closures of centralized meat-packing facilities.
U.S. 'Perilously Close' to Meat Shortage After Major Plant Closes Over Coronavirus
Smithfield Foods Inc. will idle its Sioux Falls, South Dakota, pork-processing facility, which accounts for 4% to 5% of…
My Poor Man’s Paleo protocol wouldn’t be of much use if the grocery stores cease to offer fresh produce and meat because of large-scale meat-packing plant closures — save for the fact that the shopping guide also includes a section on where to find local CSAs (i.e., community-supported agriculture). These delivery programs allow consumers to buy directly from farmers.
Before all of this madness, I purchased and deep froze a quarter of a cow (a couple hundred pounds). The value per pound was incredible and I get satisfaction from actually knowing my rancher’s name (it’s Heather, in case you’re wondering).
Heather's Custom Meats raise Black Angus cattle in Sonoma County and Tehama. Heather's is committed to raising animals…
5. Creating hubs to interface between rural and urban economies.
I offer this as an exercise in critical thought, because I sense its importance without having a concrete picture of what they would look like.
One model is Three Stone Hearth, based in Berkeley, CA— a health food store, education center, commercial kitchen, and a CSA pickup spot rolled into one. I envision this kind of space being connected to community gardens and featuring talks and workshops on how to start producing your own food at any scale. That could mean anything from an indoor herb garden, to a backyard raised beds/aquaponics set ups, to a small-scale farm for supplemental income, all the way up to full-time farming/ranching.
The Savory Institute for regenerative grazing solutions offers another model. The Jefferson Center for Holistic Management — the Savory Institute’s Northern California hub — falls on the rural side of the divide, and educates laypeople and professional ranchers alike on the long-term economic benefits of using more sustainable grazing practices.
Jefferson Center for Holistic Management | Savory Institute
The Jefferson Center for Holistic Management is the Savory Global Network hub serving Northern California and Nevada…
6. Gyms as community health centers.
I stole this idea from Robb Wolf, an early paleo proponent and successful gym founder, who proposed it as a wider vision for gym owners to fill a gap in preventive medicine that health care professionals are not currently providing.
The idea of fitness-trainer-as-health-professional has been expanded upon by Dr. Chris Kresser, who offers training in all-around functional medicine through his institute’s ADAPT program. This health coach training program would be an excellent choice for the newly unemployed to consider as investment for their stimulus checks.
The whole idea of functional fitness is that what you learn in the gym translates into what you do outside of the gym. Gyms too can become places for the exchange of ideas, drop-off points for CSAs and bulk purchases from local farms, and communities where we get vital human contact.
I should note the Robb recently started a virtual community, The Healthy Rebellion, which has the following as its goal:
“[T]o help 1,000,000+ people liberate themselves from the shackles of the Sick Care System through sharing information, stories, and current research on the topics of Personalized Nutrition, Metabolic Flexibility, Resilient Aging, Sustainable Living, Regenerative Agriculture, and so much more.”
The Healthy Rebellion
The Healthy Rebellion is the only Community with the bold aim to help 1,000,000+ people liberate themselves from the…
7. Retreats to rural areas to reset from the toxic effects of modern life.
From cramped conditions, to noise and air pollution, to the potential harmful effects of bombardment by screens and electromagnetic radiation, our cities are increasing hostile to human thriving.
The majority of people who do not choose to go “back to the land” to farm will need opportunities to rest into nature’s rhythms on a more frequent basis. Here again, organizations like MovNat and Exuberant Animal, connect the retreat to the recovery of “primal” movement. However, here in the San Francisco Bay Area there are many other models from the Mercy Center’s silent retreats in Burlingame to Spirit Rock’s meditation center in Fairfax.
These centers will put people to work, and those who attend will return to their everyday life with a renewed sense of their own purpose. This purpose can translate into a better sense of what kinds of work they might undertake to provide real value to their neighbors.
President Trump appears to be pursuing a May 1 re-opening of the economy. However, it will be the states, communities, families, and individuals who ultimately have to make the determination about what activities they will pursue and what precautions they will take.
I propose these 7 planks as effective remedies for the “WALL•E•ization” of the economy. It is by no means an exhaustive list, but all of these planks can be pursued regardless of who is voted into power, or when the economy officially re-opens. There are no policy prescriptions or central plans, because I believe it is up to each of us individually to work towards our own vision of the good, finding collaborators in our locale to create a fuller, more resilient economy from the bottom up.
Care to join me?
If you live in the Bay Area:
- join my natural movement meetup. We will continue to meet at a safe social distance for as long as the lockdowns last (and beyond).