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Brownstone Institute

Did Lockdowns Signify the “End of Abundance?”


39 minute read

From the Brownstone Institute


French President Emmanuel Macron gave a speech not long ago in which he made a rather shocking prediction about the future of his nation and presumably the rest of the world.

“What we are currently living through is a kind of major tipping point or a great upheaval … we are living the end of what could have seemed an era of abundance … the end of the abundance of products of technologies that seemed always available … the end of the abundance of land and materials including water….”

The G7 leader’s words of warning about the literal end of material prosperity caught my eye in a way that most headlines do not. I also noticed that Paris switched off the lights on the Eiffel Tower to save a meager amount of electricity, providing a potent symbol to underscore Macron’s message about the “End of Abundance.”

In this era of economic chaos, disrupted supply chains, ruinous inflation, a severe energy crunch in Europe, tensions between nuclear superpowers, and extreme political polarization, plus intense worries (in some quarters, at least) about climate change, there are emerging signs of a belief in the once unthinkable: the possibility that Progress with a capital “P” may no longer be assured.

It should be obvious at this point that Covid-19 lockdowns and related pandemic policies, including the printing of trillions of dollars to paper over the intentional disruption of society, played a major role in bringing about today’s negative economic conditions. These conditions could last a very long time, particularly considering the mild political blowback to Covid chaos that we saw during the midterm elections. Brownstone’s Jeffrey Tucker has written about the potentially far-reaching effects of lockdowns:

“But what if we aren’t really observing a cycle? What if we are living through a long shock in which our economic lives have been fundamentally upended? What if it will be many years before anything that we knew as prosperity returns if it ever does? … In other words, it is very possible that the lockdowns of March 2020 were the starting point of the greatest economic depression in our lifetimes or perhaps in hundreds of years.”

The worst depression in hundreds of years? That would be since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, more or less. The Bank of England, incidentally, just warned that the UK is facing the longest recession since records began. The historical forces we are living through now might be so big that most of us might not even recognize them until much later.

Taking the long view, we should ask ourselves: were lockdowns the initial cause of the chaos we are experiencing, or were they the unfortunate result of a larger historical phenomenon that we are just now beginning to understand? As Tucker noted, “[i]n the 1930s, no one knew that they were living through what came to be called the Great Depression.” So it is fair to ask, would you know if lockdowns were the first crisis of an era that will one day come to be called the “End of Abundance?”

Thinking the Unthinkable

The “End of Abundance” is a radical concept, but then again so is shutting down the whole world.

The utterly radical nature of the ideas that gave rise to Covid-19 lockdowns are striking. In August of 2020, Anthony Fauci wrote that the goal of his policies was nothing less than to “rebuild the infrastructure of human existence.”

During that time we heard the constant refrain from Joe Biden, Boris Johnson, and other world leaders: “Build Back Better.” And from the Davos technocrats at the World Economic Forum (WEF) we have heard talk of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” which to them means “merging the physical, digital and biological world” in order to fundamentally change “what it means to be human.”

Locking down the population and subjecting it to draconian restrictions is, for some reason, absolutely central to their vision of changing “what it means to be human.” Bill Gates and other influential elites have pointed to the Covid-19 response as their template for addressing future challenges, and have even floated the possibility of future climate lockdowns (no, sadly this is not a conspiracy theory).

The million-dollar question that many have tried to answer is, “Why now?” Why, at this point in history, do elites insist on the power to lock down the world? Why, after decades of post-World War Two prosperity, have so many abandoned values that are fundamental to our civilization? Why, in the second decade of the 21st century, are we taking a nosedive off the elevator of “Progress?”

There is no shortage of theories as to “Why now?” There are many critics of the WEF’s “Fourth Industrial Revolution” and the “Great Reset,” for example, who say that elites have cooked up imaginary challenges like climate change and “saving the planet” as excuses for the exercise of tyrannical power, in what amounts to a big scam.

I am not satisfied with those kinds of answers, even though I think they contain elements of truth, given that elites obviously use certain issues as a pretext. To my mind, environmental concerns definitely are not a scam (although the “solutions” often are). What has been happening since March 2020 is much bigger than a scam. The radical ideas underlying the lockdown mentality simply must have a more radical motivation behind them. These people literally just tried to shut down the entire world and reboot it like a malfunctioning computer!

If you are looking for the most profound motivation possible for the incredibly radical lockdown mentality and the vast destruction it has wrought, I would submit that you could do no better than the “End of Abundance.” And what does “Abundance” mean exactly? I think it can be summarized in a single word: Growth. The “End of Abundance” means the End of Growth.

Imagining Limits to Growth

“We don’t know how to make a zero-growth society work,” conservative tech billionaire Peter Thiel said in an interview for Unherd, in which he claimed that Covid-19 lockdowns resulted from the long-term stagnation of growth and innovation in our society. His argument is that as society has slowly stagnated over the past several decades, we have tacitly abandoned the aspiration to growth, leading to a sort of malaise that has “resulted in something like a societal and cultural lockdown; not just the last two years but in many ways the last 40 or 50.”

Thiel contends that limits to growth are not inevitable, but that the belief in limits is a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. He calls this “a long, slow victory of the Club of Rome,” the global think tank that published the famous book—some would call it infamous—The Limits to Growth fifty years ago.

His statement “We don’t know how to make a zero-growth society work” is spot on. Limits of any kind are anathema to growth-based, industrially developed countries in which everything is built on the premise of perpetual growth.

This is why, for most people, the end of economic growth is absolutely unimaginable. But not for everyone.

For me, the end of growth has been something of a preoccupation for about ten years, since I first read The Limits to Growth. My reaction to the book was similar to Thiel’s only in the sense that I agree that the end of growth would be a cataclysm for our growth-based society. Unlike him, I do not see the limits to growth as merely a self-fulfilling prophecy, but rather as an accurate description of the very real physical and biological limits of a finite planet.

The premise of The Limits to Growth, based on a major study conducted by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is that natural resources and the capacity of the planet to absorb industrial pollution are limited, and therefore infinite economic growth on a finite planet is impossible. The original study, which has been reviewed and updated over the years, projected various scenarios in which an end to growth of the global industrial economy—a long-term decline in industrial output, the availability of non-renewable natural resources, industrial pollution, food production, and population—would start at some point in the first one-third to one-half of the 21st century. Right about now.

The Limits to Growth was extremely controversial from the moment it was published. Prominent Western leaders attacked the notion of limits as a dangerous delusion. The Right refused to accept limits, believing that human ingenuity and technological innovation will always overcome whatever ecological limits exist.

After briefly preaching limits, the progressive Left abandoned that faith, too, and now believes that limits can be overcome with some combination of activist government and “green” technologies like solar panels and wind turbines (e.g. the “Green New Deal”). Even climate-change models that predict catastrophic levels of warming this century assume global GDP growth through the year 2100.

The vast majority of people in our society, both Right and Left, have never taken the idea of limits to growth seriously. But what if you are in that small group of people who have taken the concept seriously? And what if you have stuck to the basic belief that infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible? What might you have expected to see at this point in the 21st century?

Chaos, essentially. The breakdown of the social contract. Civil strife. A mental-health crisis. Declining life expectancy. The spread of irrational beliefs. The destructive urge to tear down rather than build up. Dangerous levels of inflation. A global food crisis. People eating crickets and drinking cockroach milk. The extinction of two-thirds of the Earth’s wildlife. The disruption of fragile supply chains. The rapid accumulation of debts.

The printing of vast amounts of money. A quarter of American adults so stressed they cannot function. Plastic pollution (like five billion Covid masks) filling the oceans. Wildfires and floods. Diesel fuel shortages. Unprecedented financial and economic dislocations. Scary new terms like “poly-crisis.” Desperate grasping for solutions. Warnings from the United Nations that we are at risk of “total societal collapse” due to climate change, ecosystem failure, and economic fragility, and urging the “rapid transformation of societies”. Add to that list a procession of global leaders making strange, grandiose declarations about the need to “rebuild human existence” and “change what it means to be human.”

In other words, if you were waiting for the limits to growth to start kicking in at this point in the second decade of the 21st century, you might have expected to see the kinds of disturbing things that we have been witnessing in recent years. Dennis Meadows, lead author of The Limits to Growth, has said that the projections of his fifty-year-old study “resemble what we are experiencing” in the world currently.

Meadows has not criticized Covid lockdowns, but he has confirmed that his study showed “growth was going to stop around 2020”—the year that the whole world just happened to shut down—and would be accompanied by all sorts of unpredictable and potentially extreme “psychological, social, and political factors.” It should be further noted that the head of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, gave a speech on October 1, 2019, mere months before global lockdowns, in which she warned of a “synchronized slowdown” of the global economy covering “90 percent of the world,” creating “a serious risk that services and consumption could soon be affected.”

The coincidences in timing are remarkable. The predicted end of growth, an actual slowdown in global growth, and the lockdown of the entire globe all converged in 2020. Does this necessarily mean The Limits to Growth was right, or that lockdowns were a direct response to limited growth? No, but again the current state of the world is eerily consistent with the pandemonium that you might have expected had you taken the concept of limits to growth seriously.

Speaking for myself, when I first became aware of the implications of the limits to growth in 2014 and 2015, I told my close friends and family, “The 2020s will be chaotic.” Three months into the start of the new decade, when the whole world suddenly came to a grinding halt, I began to recall the prediction I had made. Three years into one of the most chaotic decades in history, I am beginning to worry that I was onto something.

Interestingly, whether you believe that biological and physical limits to growth truly exist, as I do, or you believe that limits to growth are merely a figment of some fevered Malthusian imagination that has somehow manifested itself in the real world, as Thiel seems to think, the result is arguably the same: the “End of Abundance.”

Limits and Lockdowns

Thiel is not the only one who has linked lockdowns to the limits to growth. While almost everyone on the environmental Left supported lockdowns or at least refrained from speaking out against them, there are a handful of heterodox environmental thinkers—those who tend to be skeptical of partisan narratives, corporate power, and technocratic “solutions”—who have connected the dots between limits and lockdowns.

The British novelist and essayist Paul Kingsnorth, for example, has written that “we have no idea what to do about the coming end of the brief age of abundance, and the reappearance, armed and dangerous, of what we could get away with denying for a few decades: limits.”

Kingsnorth, an Orthodox Christian and an unorthodox environmentalist (he calls himself a “recovering environmentalist”), has vigorously criticized the technocratic response to the pandemic, observing that Covid “was used as a trial run for precisely the kind of technologies…which are now increasingly sold to us as a means of ‘saving the planet.’” He says that the Brave New World that the technocrats are trying to build, with its machine-like desire to exert control over everyone and everything, is unable to recognize limits of any kind, whether natural or moral.

Professor Jem Bendell of the University of Cumbria is one of the few on the environmental Left who has spoken out against authoritarian Covid policies. He is known for his “Deep Adaptation” paper describing the severe disruptions to society that he believes will result from climate change. He has criticized lockdowns, mandates, and other non-democratic responses to the pandemic, suggesting they are a form of “Elite Panic”—a panicked reaction of a social elite to a disaster event, with a focus on measures of command and control—which parallels a potentially similar panic among elites regarding climate change that “could inspire leaders to curtail personal freedoms.”

Panic, the desire for control, and the curtailment of personal freedoms. Yes, I find that to be a very good summary of the story we have been living for two and a half years.

If we dig deeper into the assumptions and beliefs of Western elites, it becomes clear that they are afraid that the global economy, especially their own way of life, is threatened by “limiting” factors. This fear is a driving force behind their support for lockdowns and other radical ideas they have concocted in an attempt to overcome those limits and protect themselves. Panicking elites in Western society may not specifically believe in the “limits to growth,” or use those words, but they feel in their bones that systemic global risks are getting worse.

Lockdowns, it is crucial to recognize, are not a mere sideshow in the “End of Abundance” drama. They play a starring role. Remember, as Thiel said, we do not know how to make a no-growth or even a low-growth society work. Only through some radical new approach to governance can a stagnant or declining economy be managed.

When the economic pie is growing everyone can get a larger slice, but when the pie is shrinking everyone must share the pain, unless a small number of powerful people find a way to seize a bigger slice of a smaller pie at the expense of everyone else. That is what lockdowns were all about.

Lockdowns and “The Mindset” for Coping with the “End of Abundance”

In the novel, Gone with the Wind, the Southern aristocrat Rhett Butler described his philosophy of profiting from the disintegration of the Old South. “I told you once before that there were two times for making big money,” he said to Scarlett, “one in the up-building of a country and the other in its destruction. Slow money on the up-building, fast money in the crack-up.”

Western elites appear to have a similar attitude toward the “crack-up” of the Old Normal.

For years the elite Davos crowd has been active in making plans for the end of the world as we know it. They have extensive plans to profit from “green” energy and other ostensibly “sustainable” responses to environmental limits: insect protein, fake meat, gene-edited crops, factory foods, capture of carbon dioxide, etc. They also tend to own “doomsday” compounds and underground bunkers—Thiel has a luxury bolthole in New Zealand—and spend substantial time and resources planning for catastrophic end-of-civilization scenarios.

The Italian scientist Ugo Bardi, a member of the Club of Rome who co-edited the fifty-year update to The Limits to Growth, has compared bunker-owning elites to those of the collapsing Roman Empire. “We see a pattern,” he says. “When the rich Romans saw that things were going really out of control, they scrambled to save themselves while, at the same time, denying that things were so bad.” Many elites fled to their bunkers during the pandemic, as Covid-19 brought their long-simmering fears of social disruption to the forefront.

Technology writer Douglas Rushkoff’s recent book, Survival of the Richest, documents in detail the habits of mind of uber-elites who have been prepping for social collapse. His book is based on a talk he was invited to give to a group of five ultra-wealthy men, including two billionaires, in 2017. Rushkoff thought he had been invited to speak about the future of technology, so he was surprised when the men only wanted to ask questions about something they called “The Event.”

“The Event,” wrote Rushkoff. “That was their euphemism for the environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, unstoppable virus, or Mr. Robot hack that takes everything down.” Read that again. Unstoppable virus. This was over two years before Covid-19.

The five powerful men’s interest revolved around a key question asked by one of them, the CEO of a brokerage house. He was desperate to know, “How do I maintain authority over my security force after The Event?”

“This single question occupied up for the rest of the hour . . . . [H]ow would he pay the guards once even his crypto was worthless? What would stop the guards from eventually choosing their own leader?

The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew. Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival. Or maybe building robots to serve as guards and workers – if that technology could be developed “in time.”

I tried to reason with them. I made pro-social arguments for partnership and solidarity as the best approaches to our collective, long-term challenges . . . . They rolled their eyes at what must have sounded to them like hippy philosophy.

Rushkoff calls the outlook of these five men—a representative slice of the power elite in Silicon Valley, Wall Street, Washington, DC, and Davos—The Mindset. “The Mindset,” he writes, “allows for the easy externalization of harm to others, and inspires a corresponding longing for transcendence and separation from the people and places that have been abused.” Those with The Mindset, he says, believe that they can use their wealth, power, and technology to somehow “leave the rest of us behind.”

Does The Mindset sound familiar? It should, because it is a great description of how global elites (and their white-collar functionaries in the laptop class) responded to Covid-19. They pushed all the pain of locking down society onto average people, while seeking to avoid the catastrophic consequences. (Rushkoff has not criticized Covid-19 lockdowns in these terms, as far as I can tell, even though he deftly described “The Mindset” behind them).

In 2020 and 2021, the richest and most powerful huddled in their luxury compounds as they used their influence to shut down large swathes of society and declare a “high-tech war” on the virus.

The world’s ten richest men literally doubled their massive personal fortunes in one year, as did Fauci—“fast money on the crack-up” remember—even as their lockdowns caused economic conditions to crater, undermining everyone’s prospects over the longer term, including their own. Average people suffered the collateral damage of a non-functioning world. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide were pushed into hunger and dire poverty.

In short, a powerful class of panicked elites used lockdowns to seize larger slices of a shrinking pie, and they used technology to keep the masses from getting too rowdy as their slices got smaller. The tech-enabled social controls that regular citizens were subjected to—contact tracing apps, QR codes, vaccine passports, social-media censorship, etc.—served as the sort of technological “disciplinary collar” that the men at Rushkoff’s meeting had dreamed of.

Lockdowns were a perfect expression of The Mindset for handling a major disruption to the global economy that prevails in ultra-elite circles (no, this is not a “conspiracy theory,” it is just how these people think). And like it or not, most of the people in these circles believe that humanity is now faced to one degree or another with the mother of all crises: the “End of Abundance.”

They are looking to a future of lockdowns, mandates, mass surveillance, censorship, underground bunkers, fake meat, factory-farmed bugs, and digital “disciplinary collars” as they “change what it means to be human” and “rebuild the infrastructure of human existence.”

These are not the words, ideas, and plans of confident leaders who believe in a bright future for their people. These are the words, ideas, and plans of self-interested leaders who are preparing to profit from a dystopian future of some kind, and above all to protect themselves.

This is the kind of thinking that attends the decline or collapse of a nation, empire, or civilization. If Western leaders had confidence in a future of robust growth, they would not be trying so furiously to tear down existing social, economic, and cultural arrangements and build them back “Better.”

How to Respond to the “End of Abundance?”

So what is the correct response to the potential “End of Abundance” and the lockdown mentality it has spawned? Right now, there are two general responses.

Those who resisted Covid-19 lockdowns, mostly on the Right, want to beat back the worst excesses of the New Normal. They have been disappointed by the relatively mild political blowback to the Covid fiasco, and ultimately hope for a political movement that will facilitate a return to a golden age of post-World War Two growth, freedom, and the American Dream. The last thing they want to do is give the people who foisted lockdowns on us more power, or adapt to a world of no growth.

Those on the progressive Left who supported lockdowns actually long for a New Normal. They are losing sleep about climate change, Covid-19, new pandemics, worsening inequality, the dreaded MAGAs, and an uncertain future. They are believers in the Brave New World sold to them by the woke technocrats. Progressives believe that future limitations can be overcome if we trust “Experts” and “The Science” and mercilessly punish “Deniers.”

Can either of these strategies prevail? The Right’s strategy of returning to the good ‘ol days neglects the fact that social, economic, and environmental conditions have drastically deteriorated in the last 50 years. This deterioration is precisely why most Western elites and virtually all of the biggest players in the market—Big Tech, Big Pharma, Big Finance, Big Media, Big Ag—have gotten on board with the New Normal, i.e. profiting from some kind of crack-up of the Old Normal.

The Left’s strategy of trusting in new technologies and grand central plans is no more realistic. “Green” energy cannot “solve” climate change because it is probably impossible to convert the world to green energy, or power the economy with it, and attempting to do so would itself cause enormous damage to the planet. All the elaborate technocratic plans for saving the planet—smart cities, cricket cakes, solar farms, sun-reflecting chemical clouds, social credit systems, misinformation task forces, stay-at-home orders—will surely solve nothing and can only bring about a centralized tech-enabled dystopia that primarily benefits elites.

Personally, I am sticking with the view that The Limits to Growth got it pretty much right fifty years ago. Infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible. Nothing can change that. Not “The Science,” not the “Free Market,” not the “Green New Deal,” not the “Great Reset,” not Lockdowns, and not any technology, ideology, grandiose philosophy, or radical scheme. This fundamental reality—the clash between our finite existence and our infinite material ambitions—is why we are in an unprecedented social, economic, and ecological crisis.

And even if I am wrong about that, “The Mindset” of a panicked elite class which no longer believes in a future worth striving for, and which aims primarily to protect itself at the expense of everyone else, virtually ensures societal decline. “Great civilizations die by suicide,” wrote the famed historian Arnold Toynbee, an act that he said was usually committed by a small class of elites who shift from leading to “dominating” everyone else.

So I cannot imagine a lasting return to the Golden Age of growth that conservatives dream of, or the birth of a Brave New World that progressives fantasize about. I think we will all be living in a world that few dream of and even fewer fantasize about: a world of limits.

As Paul Kingsnorth has written, “[w]hatever we think our politics are…we have no idea what to do” about the problem of limits. To the extent any positive outcome is possible, I think it can only emerge from a long, slow process of decentralization. As the global economy strains under the weight of limits, a network of local economies, cultures, and political systems may arise that will serve human needs, and the needs of the planet, better than the centralized dystopia that most Western elites envision.

If some sort of humane decentralized response to a world of limits fails to emerge, we have already had a preview over the last two and a half years of a centralized response to the “End of Abundance.” As Macron put it in his speech, “Freedom has a cost.” He and his allies in the halls of power intend to eliminate that cost from their bottom line. This is their only vision for a future of limits.

But perhaps you feel that all talk about “limits to growth” or the “End of Abundance” is hogwash. Maybe you are convinced that anything less than growth forever and ever is unthinkable. Maybe you believe that the global economy will triple in size over the next three decades and US GDP will smoothly expand from $25 trillion to nearly $75 trillion by 2052 (with a serviceable $140 trillion national debt), as the Congressional Budget Office projects, without any serious damage to the planet or nasty “Fourth Industrial Revolution” to spoil the fun.

Over the long term, regardless of temporary ups and downs, the underlying realities that gave rise to the radical lockdown “Mindset” are not going away. If your understanding of freedom, democracy, and the good life depends on perpetual growth, the constant march of Progress, and ever-rising material standards of living, I hope that you do not eventually find yourself with no choice but to open wide, hold your nose, and eat the bugs.

Better to swallow the bitter reality of limits.

Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe infinite growth on a finite planet is possible, and a return to a golden age of growth is just around the corner.


  • W. Aaron Vandiver

    W. Aaron Vandiver is a writer, former litigator, and wildlife conservationist. He is the author of the novel, Under a Poacher’s Moon.

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Brownstone Institute

The Best Life Lesson for a Teen Is a Job

Published on

From the Brownstone Institute


During the Covid debacle, kids were locked out of school or otherwise condemned to an inferior Zoom education for up to two years. What were the alternatives? Unfortunately, since the New Deal, the federal government has severely restricted teenagers’ opportunities for gainful employment. But new evidence proves that keeping kids out of work doesn’t keep them out of mental health trouble.

Yet suggesting that kids take a job has become controversial in recent years. It is easy to find expert lists on the dangers of teenage employment. Evolve Treatment Center, a California therapy chain for teenagers, recently listed the possible “cons” of work:

  • Jobs can add stress to a child’s life.
  • Jobs can expose kids to people and situations they might not be ready for.
  • A teen working a job might feel like childhood is ending too soon.

But stress is a natural part of life. Dealing with strange characters or ornery bosses can speedily teach kids far more than they learn from a droning public school teacher. And the sooner childhood ends, the sooner young adults can experience independence – one of the great propellants of personal growth.

When I came of age in the 1970s, nothing was more natural than seeking to earn a few bucks after school or during the summer. I was terminally bored in high school and jobs provided one of the few legal stimulants I found in those years.

Thanks to federal labor law, I was effectively banned from non-agricultural work before I turned 16. For two summers, I worked at a peach orchard five days a week, almost ten hours a day, pocketing $1.40 an hour and all the peach fuzz I took home on my neck and arms. Plus, there was no entertainment surcharge for the snakes I encountered in trees while a heavy metal bucket of peaches swung from my neck.

Actually, that gig was good preparation for my journalism career since I was always being cussed by the foreman. He was a retired 20-year Army drill sergeant who was always snarling, always smoking, and always coughing. The foreman never explained how to do a task since he preferred vehemently cussing you afterwards for doing it wrong. “What-da-hell’s-wrong-with-you-Red?” quickly became his standard refrain.

No one who worked in that orchard was ever voted “Most Likely to Succeed.” But one co-worker provided me with a lifetime of philosophical inspiration, more or less. Albert, a lean 35-year-old who always greased his black hair straight back, had survived plenty of whiskey-induced crashes on life’s roller coaster.

Back in those days, young folks were browbeaten to think positively about institutions that domineered their lives (such as military conscription). Albert was a novelty in my experience: a good-natured person who perpetually scoffed.  Albert’s reaction to almost everything in life consisted of two phrases: “That really burns my ass!” or “No Shit!”

After I turned 16, I worked one summer with the Virginia Highway Department. As a flag man, I held up traffic while highway employees idled away the hours. On hot days in the back part of the county, drivers sometimes tossed me a cold beer as they passed by. Nowadays, such acts of mercy might spark an indictment. The best part of the job was wielding a chainsaw—another experience that came in handy for my future career.

I did “roadkill ride-alongs” with Bud, an amiable, jelly-bellied truck driver who was always chewing the cheapest, nastiest ceegar ever made—Swisher Sweets. The cigars I smoked cost a nickel more than Bud’s, but I tried not to put on airs around him.

We were supposed to dig a hole to bury any dead animal along the road. This could take half an hour or longer. Bud’s approach was more efficient. We would get our shovels firmly under the animal—wait until no cars were passing by—and then heave the carcass into the bushes. It was important not to let the job crowd the time available for smoking.

I was assigned to a crew that might have been the biggest slackers south of the Potomac and east of the Alleghenies. Working slowly to slipshod standards was their code of honor. Anyone who worked harder was viewed as a nuisance, if not a menace.

The most important thing I learned from that crew was how not to shovel. Any Yuk-a-Puk can grunt and heave material from Spot A to Spot B. It takes practice and savvy to turn a mule-like activity into an art.

To not shovel right, the shovel handle should rest above the belt buckle while one leans slightly forward. It’s important not to have both hands in your pockets while leaning, since that could prevent onlookers from recognizing “Work-in-Progress.” The key is to appear to be studiously calculating where your next burst of effort will provide maximum returns for the task.

One of this crew’s tasks that summer was to build a new road. The assistant crew foreman was indignant: “Why does the state government have us do this? Private businesses could build the road much more efficiently, and cheaper, too.” I was puzzled by his comment, but by the end of the summer I heartily agreed. The Highway Department could not competently organize anything more complex than painting stripes in the middle of a road. Even the placement of highway direction signs was routinely botched.

While I easily acclimated to government work lethargy, I was pure hustle on Friday nights unloading trucks full of boxes of old books at a local bindery. That gig paid a flat rate, in cash, that usually worked out to double or triple the Highway Department wage.

The goal with the Highway Department was to conserve energy, while the goal at the book bindery was to conserve time—to finish as quickly as possible and move on to weekend mischief. With government work, time routinely acquired a negative value—something to be killed.

The key thing kids must learn from their first jobs is to produce enough value that someone will voluntarily pay them a wage. I worked plenty of jobs in my teen years – baling hay, cutting lawns, and hustling on construction sites. I knew I’d need to pay my own way in life and those jobs got me in the habit of saving early and often.

But according to today’s conventional wisdom, teenagers should not be put at risk in any situation where they might harm themselves. The enemies of teenage employment rarely admit how the government’s “fixes” routinely do more harm than good. My experience with the highway department helped me quickly recognize the perils of government employment and training programs.

Those programs have been spectacularly failing for more than half a century. In 1969, the General Accounting Office (GAO) condemned federal summer jobs programs because youth “regressed in their conception of what should reasonably be required in return for wages paid.”

In 1979, GAO reported that the vast majority of urban teens in the program “were exposed to a worksite where good work habits were not learned or reinforced, or realistic ideas on expectations in the real world of work were not fostered.” In 1980, Vice President Mondale’s Task Force on Youth Unemployment reported, “Private employment experience is deemed far more attractive to prospective employers than public work” because of the bad habits and attitudes spurred by government programs.

“Make work” and “fake work” are a grave disservice to young people. But the same problems permeated programs in the Obama era. In Boston, federally-subsidized summer job workers donned puppets to greet visitors to an aquarium. In Laurel, Maryland, “Mayor’s Summer Jobs” participants put in time serving as a “building escort.” In Washington, D.C., kids were paid to diddle with “schoolyard butterfly habitats” and littered the streets with leaflets about the Green Summer Job Corps. In Florida, subsidized summer job participants “practiced firm handshakes to ensure that employers quickly understand their serious intent to work,” the Orlando Sentinel reported. And folks wonder why so many young people cannot comprehend the meaning of “work.”

Cosseting kids has been a jobs program for social workers but a disaster for the supposed beneficiaries. Teen labor force participation (for ages 16 to 19) declined from 58 percent in 1979 to 42 percent in 2004 and roughly 35 percent in 2018. It’s not like, instead of finding a job, kids stay home and read Shakespeare, master Algebra, or learn to code.

As teens became less engaged in society via work, mental health problems became far more prevalent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in “the 10 years leading up to the pandemic, feelings of persistent sadness and hopelessness—as well as suicidal thoughts and behaviors—increased by about 40 percent among young people.”

The troubled teen years are producing dark harvests on campus.  Between 2008 and 2019, the number of undergraduate students diagnosed with anxiety increased by 134 percent, 106 percent for depression, 57 percent for bipolar disorder, 72 percent for ADHD, 67 percent for schizophrenia, and 100 percent for anorexia, according to the National College Health Assessment.

Those rates are much worse post-pandemic. As psychiatrist Thomas Szasz observed, “The greatest analgesic, soporific, stimulant, tranquilizer, narcotic, and to some extent even antibiotic – in short, the closest thing to a genuine panacea – known to medical science is work.”

Those who fret about the dangers that teens face on the job need to recognize the “opportunity cost” of young adults perpetuating their childhood and their dependence. Sure, there are perils in the workplace. But as Thoreau wisely observed, “A man sits as many risks as he runs.”


  • James Bovard

    James Bovard, 2023 Brownstone Fellow, is author and lecturer whose commentary targets examples of waste, failures, corruption, cronyism and abuses of power in government. He is a USA Today columnist and is a frequent contributor to The Hill. He is the author of ten books.

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Brownstone Institute

How Major Media Suppressed My COVID Journalism

Published on

From the Brownstone Institute


The COVID-19 emergency has at last come to an end as even the most restrictive countries — the United States, most recently — have lifted draconian Covid mandates. Freedom has been restored, but the pandemic has left an indelible mark on the bedrock institutions of our society. The corruption of the FDA, CDC, the White House, and Big Pharma has been undeniably exposed — a topic I have exhaustively covered for over a year.

Notably, journalism — the filter through which ordinary people living busy lives come to understand the complex matrix of power, money, and influence — has also been exposed for its bizarre servility to public health decrees and pharmaceutical companies. Writing for the most prominent journalistic outlets since 2020, I saw the decay from the inside. Though I have been hesitant to share my experiences of colliding with the inner machinery of media — for my reputational and financial security — I now feel galvanized to lay it on the table after starting a new Substack with Dr. Jay Bhattacharya.

One of the reasons I unexpectedly found myself in the journalism industry was the real possibility of speaking truth to power, presenting radically novel perspectives, and challenging institutional orthodoxy.

My first major forays into the industry were on topics such as how my experiences with racism from childhood inform my view of race relations, how white guilt and identity politics corrupts our discourse, and how 2020 Black Lives Matter riots wreaked havoc in poor, minority communities.

Foreign Policy Magazine (top-left), Maclean’s Magazine (top-right), The New York Post (bottom-left), The Globe and Mail (bottom-right)

Pieces that I’m perhaps most proud of are the explosion of inner-city violence in Minneapolis in the aftermath of George Floyd and the new phenomenon of Asian women out-earning white men in the US.

My heterodoxy and unwavering commitment to the truth — whether that made me look right-wing, left-wing, or just an artsy weirdo (at times) — didn’t land me a weekly New York Times column, but it did grant me spots in a number of top liberal and conservative-leaning outlets, such as the New York Post, the Globe and Mail, Foreign Policy Magazine, the Grammys (yes, the music awards — their online vertical), and others.

Until it didn’t.

Having taken the heretical line on race, gender, policing, I thought I was immunized from editorial censorship. But, as the pandemic became increasingly politicized through 2021 and 2022 with the rollout of vaccines and public mandates, our society seemed to plunge into further collective psychosis, as spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle has persipaciously observed.

For the first year-and-a-half of the pandemic, I didn’t take any public stance on what was a complex epidemiological issue requiring legitimate expertise to navigate. Besides, I was regularly writing about race, BLM, and policing in the summer of 2020. Then, in the summer of 2021 Justin Trudeau and provincial leaders announced vaccine mandates across the country. Suddenly, going to the gym, restaurants, and large gatherings was conditional on taking a novel mRNA vaccine for a virus that posed less than a 0.003 percent mortality risk for people my age.

I started to examine whether this was the right medical decision for my health. Upon close scrutiny of the best available data, I came away thinking it was not. I didn’t think the Covid vaccine would be an instant death sentence for me, but I didn’t see clear evidence of benefit for healthy people in their 20s. It also just happened to be the case that I fell in the very demographic that was most at-risk of developing a serious vaccine side effect — myocarditis or pericarditis (cardiac inflammation).

Among the most rigorous, comprehensive data we have on vaccine myocarditis is from Dr. Katie Sharff who analyzed a database from Kaiser Permanente. She found a 1/1,862 rate of myocarditis after the second dose in young men ages 18 – 24. For boys ages 12 – 17, the rate was 1/2,650. Active surveillance monitoring in Hong Kong shows virtually identical figures.

Confused and looking for clarity, I reached out to Dr. Jay Bhattacharya — who was among the most sensible public health policy advocates throughout the pandemic — and he validated my serious concerns of vaccine safety and draconian public health policy more broadly.

Frustrated by the government coercing me into taking a medical procedure that was not in my best interest, I resolved to write about this injustice in the several outlets which had previously published my work.

Right away, I faced tremendous resistance of the kind that I never expected. The rejection I experienced when pitching a wide variety of pieces on Covid mandates — reported, opinionated, based on the views of credentialed scientific experts etc.— was unprecedented. Even editors who I deemed as allies — publishing polarizing pieces such as the “fallacies of white privilege” or why Robin DiAngelo’s last popular racism guidebook promotes a “dehumanizing form of condescension towards racial minorities” — were averse to my work questioning scientifically dubious vaccine mandate policies on the grounds of bodily autonomy and medical freedom.

Many editors explicitly stated their outlets were “pro-vaccine” and didn’t want to run anything that may promote an iota of “vaccine hesitancy” — even in young, healthy groups for which we still have no data on reduction in severe disease or death. One editor responded to my pitch on the lack of epidemiological basis for vaccine mandates with the following:

This paper has been encouraging Covid vaccination for everyone. We don’t want to promote vaccine hesitancy that will get people seriously ill and killed.

Journalists need to be responsible in not sowing distrust in public health guidelines that are meant to keep us safe.

Another editor made it painfully clear after a handful of unsuccessful pitches that the publication as a whole was not keen on publishing anything that deviated from the CDC and FDA’s universal vaccine advisory (vigorously critiqued by the likes of Vinay Prasad and Tracy Beth Høeg MD, PhD.).

I’m going to pass.

As I’ve said many times before, we are a pro-vaccination newspaper, and personally I just wish everyone would get vaccinated already. While I respect your decision not to do so (and I agree jail time for those who don’t is overkill), I’m not keen on op-eds that even appear like they’re arguing against vaccination for Covid or anything else.

Trying to figure out a way to capitalize on a hot news story — as every freelancer learns how to do — I started sending pitches on viral stories of athletes being barred from competition due to their personal choice not to get vaccinated. In response to my proposal on tennis star Novak Djokovic’s debacle, one editor expressed his utter contempt for Djokovic:

In no way do I want a piece supporting people who refuse to get vaccinated. In my opinion, people such as Djokovic, who refuse to get vaxxed, make their own beds and should lie in it.

They are not heroes.

On my pitch about NBA star Kyrie Irving, who had to sit out several games for the Brooklyn Nets because of some undefined risk he posed to society as an unvaccinated player, an editor I was very close with made her profound disagreement undoubtedly clear:

Sorry Rav, but I vehemently disagree with you on this issue. Feel free to pitch elsewhere.

Kyrie Irving refused to help the public get out of the pandemic and now he’s suffering the consequences. It’s on him.

On a couple of occasions, I attempted to cover the perpetually escalating Joe Rogan Covid controversy. In my several pitches, I took various angles such as how many credentialed scientific experts — such as Bhattacharya, Makary, Prasad, and others — were more in line with Rogan’s anti-mandate views than the government and public health agencies were. Here are two editor responses I received when pitching a story on the bizarre controversy of Rogan’s comments that young people in their 20s didn’t need to take the Covid vaccine (May 2021):

Rav, we are not interested in running stories like this.

I think Rogan is actively endangering the lives of children and young adults with his anti-vaccine propaganda — and you need to be more responsible in your coverage as a journalist.

I’m not interested in the Rogan story. It could too easily be construed as anti-vaccine and we want to steer well clear of that.

I don’t want any ambiguity on the issue.

One publication, whose whole mission has been from the start to expose and dismantle institutional orthodoxy, uncritically took the mainstream view on vaccine recommendations as gospel. This editor, who had “platformed” my work explaining the oft-justifiability of police shootings of highly violent, threatening suspects — which, again, was in line with their anti-mainstream view —opposed any view critical of vaccine mandates. In response to one of my pitches on the downplayed risk of vaccine-induced myocarditis in young men, he responded:

Rav, sorry but we’re not going to run any anti-vaccine pieces.

I think the risk is totally overblown and amplified by right-wing pundits who have no concern for public health. These are the safest vaccines we’ve ever had and virtually everyone seeks to benefit.

None of this was based on rigorous scientific analysis — it was all premised on a naive trust in public health authorities and pharmaceutical companies.

As it turns out, the mRNA vaccines are, by all current accounts, the most dangerous government-promoted pharmaceutical products in history. Fraiman and colleagues’ independent analysis of Pfizer and Moderna’s safety data in the medical journal Vaccine shows that mRNA covid vaccines are associated with a 1 in 800 adverse event rate — substantially higher than other vaccines on the market (typically in the range of 1 in a million adverse event rates).

[Note: this study does not negate the effectiveness of mRNA vaccines in reducing death and severe disease in elderly populations (for which we have good data). I personally recommended my grandparents to get vaccinated and was happy they followed through.]

Due to the increasing censorship I faced, I ended up self-publishing my vaccine-myocarditis investigations, including one story on how a 38-year-old law enforcement member in my area almost died from acute vaccine-induced myocarditis after he was forced to get double-jabbed against his will.

At a time when government officials and public health bureaucrats are actively misleading the public, it is the media’s crucial responsibility to hold them accountable. Unchecked power — when unrecognized by the masses — metastasizes and devolves into tyrannical control. This is how you get the FDA approving and recommending the new “bivalent” booster shot to all Americans — as young as 6 months old — based on lab-testing in eight mice (with the White House recklessly advertising on their behalf).

When the media fails, civilization begins to unwind. The powerful get away with more corruption and media homogeneity solidifies, congeals, and becomes increasingly treacherous to question.

This has been my experience over the past two years.

An industry already compromised in the age of Trump and wokeism completely fell apart during a global pandemic. My collisions with this inner machinery are not merely a story of left-wing media bias (a given fact for decades), but — as I alluded to several times — people working in even alternative and right-leaning media spaces refusing to air any form of refutation of authoritarian public health mandates.

This is why traditional left-versus-right paradigms are obsolete. Many “conservatives” bought the public health propaganda wholesale while a number of traditionally progressive thinkers — such as Russell Brand, Matt Taibbi, Jimmy Dore, and Glenn Greenwald (regardless of their personal medical decisions) — vigorously objected to Covid mandates on the basis of foundational, societal principles.

I have largely abstained from sharing my visceral feelings on the demoralizing rejection (and financial loss) I faced for two years as a previously welcomed journalist in major outlets, but suffice it to say I felt incredibly trapped, helpless, vexed, and lost. Some of the aforementioned editors recommended I stick to stories on “cancel culture,” “identity politics,” “race,” and the rest. While all those issues remain deeply concerning, the proposition of being pigeonholed in one specific topic while being censored in another that is far more alarming on a societal level (“Take the jab, or lose your job”) was repugnant to me.

I refuse to be censored.

I won’t perpetually write stories about wokeism spiralling out of control in liberal sectors of society in order to gain clicks and a steady paycheck on conservative websites who want to feed their readers only one narrative.

Today, I am no longer indignant and hopeless, waiting for one of my previous editors to offer me an opportunity again. I have now started my new, independent venture on this platform — The Illusion of Consensus — and am looking forward to bringing new, exciting content to my readers.

Thank you to those who helped share and amplify the several stories I independently wrote on my personal Substack (with a small audience and minimal financial gain) such as Jordan Peterson, Joe Rogan, and Glenn Greenwald.

As I progress in my ever-evolving journalistic path to expose the truth, I hope you will continue to support my work.

Republished from the author’s Substack


  • Rav Arora

    Rav Arora is an independent journalist based in Vancouver, Canada.

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