I recently had the pleasure of once again sitting down and talking with George Gilder on the podcast Meeting of Minds. George has been an intellectual titan for decades, writing insightful books that have prescient lessons to teach us today. In part one, we speculated on the future. In part two, we cast our attention to the past and the wealth of wisdom there is to be found in fossilized poop, the 1950s Asian flu nobody remembers, and the historic stability of traditional power sources.
Here are a few excerpts from our discussion, lightly edited for clarity and length:
Human creativity stops crises, not elite edicts
George: "The Google system [of the world], I think, is a working system. It's the prevailing system. It's based on a series of technologies that were launched in Silicon Valley, largely under the guidance of Google and through the employment of Google Technologies. There's cloud computing, and 'Big Data', and machine learning, and artificial intelligence, and robotics, and then there's the whole information domain of biotech. All these technologies are converging and they really represent the age we currently live in. I believe that this could have been a golden age, but governments and universities around the world have rebelled against the economy, against economic truth. They want to impose their own special interests, which enhance their own particular power. They did it through climate change first, and COVID panic second. I think these were mostly-spurious crises. There's scarcely an inkling of truth in the climate change, the climate is always changing and it's changing rather more slowly than usual these days from the perspective of eons of..."
Jerry: "We're kind of low carbon right now compared to long-term history. They always start their hockey stick charts at just the right place."
George: "That's right. The COVID crisis was another preposterous overreach of government. Socialism always is dependent on some group of elite saying their particular plan, their particular diagnosis of the Human Condition, is so urgent that it has to eclipse all human desires, contrary interests, and creative goals and take over. That's what socialism is. In 1957 and 58, we underwent the Asian flu. By all significant measures, years of life lost in proportion to the population, the Asian flu was 2 or 3 times worse than COVID."
Jerry: "And society didn't shut down."
George: "President Eisenhower was in office and he had been through various flu crises in the Army. He knew there is nothing to do about it, and he did not shut down the U.S. economy. Today when I bring up the Asian flu of '57 to '58..."
Jerry: "No-one remembers it!"
George: "Nobody remembers it. It was not a significant incident, it was a brief recession which was ascribed to other forces in the history books, and it was overcome by the creativity of individual people including a heroic developer of vaccines. By relying on the tremendous capabilities of human minds addressing their specific circumstances, creative in the image of their Creator..."
George: "...we can triumph, but it's human hubris when groups of elites imagine that their single perspective has to usurp all the millions of minds of individual human beings. I discussed this in my book Gaming AI."
Jerry: "And also in your newsletter the Daily Prophecy, a lot has been about COVID. When in the history of the world have leaders quarantined the healthy as opposed to quarantining the sick?"
Jerry: "Go back to our Creator. I mean, the Torah has a high view of human life, right? There are procedures for quarantining, but you quarantine the sick, you don't shut everything down. It's almost like this was a test for us that we failed as a people, in that we were willing to so easily give in on fundamental principles. However virulent you think it is, the fixed principle that people are the best managers of their own risk was overridden. Maybe it's as bad as the Asian flu, maybe not as bad, maybe a little worse, it's worse obviously than our usual flu, but what does that have to do with our property rights?"
George: "With the Asian flu, just so people know, nearly 40% of the deaths were young people. It was just a far worse event by every measure. I think this panic is mostly a function of case numbers, which reflect the flaws of the PCR testing, that's polymerase chain reaction testing invented by Kary Mullis. He wrote a whole book about it and how it was misused as a diagnostic tool. The inventor of this technology predicted that it could be misused as a diagnostic tool and create panics beyond any valid medical need. And that's what we're doing."
The hidden toxicity of "green" energy
Jerry: "We've had a major spike in commodity prices recently. So what is that? Is that growth because we're ending the COVID coma, or is that inflation, or is it both?"
George: "That's a considerable point. It's an effect of the massive campaign of all the governments in the west to escape dependency on oil, natural gas - all the most densely -compact energy sources that yield more energy per unit of volume than any other energy source. We're trying to leave those behind in order to adopt energy sources like solar and wind, that in fact take up vastly more land per unit of energy, if indeed it can deliver energy as power! Power has to be coherent and consistent and reliable, it can't be erratic. All these systems that are being employed to replace oil and gas and coal and nuclear are all erratic because they are dependent on the caprice of the wind."
Jerry: "Or a sunny day or a cloudy day."
George: "And sun and clouds. All these forms of power have to be intermediated by vast battery systems that are full of terribly complicated and expensive chemical elements."
Jerry: "And toxic to boot!"
George: "Yeah, well, toxic to boot."
Jerry:" And with a lot of slave labor in the supply chain. The supply chain for oil is a lot cleaner than the supply chain for cobalt. [Note: Cobalt is a common chemical element used in lithium-ion batteries.] You go back there a little bit and you're going to find little kids in sub-Saharan Africa getting cancer. This is our virtue-signaling commodity? It's a morally-inverted thing."
George: "Yeah it is, you're completely right about that."
Jerry: "It's like whited sepulchers: On the outside it looks so clean, but on the inside is death."
George: "The governments of the world are taking over energy production and turning it into a planned economy, and eventually that will make all energy scarce. We're seeing premonitions in the Texas crisis and the California crisis. We're going to see reverberating through the world economy increasing crises of scarcity of energy, which is a totally abundant and ample resource, because it's been converted to socialism. Every time you socialize something, it becomes scarce."
A plague red zone was Jesus' base of operations
Jerry: "You look at the archaeology of Galilee and you see the cities of Capernaum and Bethsaida, which were plague zones. The plague was malaria. I was just looking at archaeological reports, you can look at people's bones and fossilized poop or whatever and you can find out about parasites. And there's this story of Peter's mother who's down with a fever, which is almost certainly malaria, right? Because they live low near the water. Take a step back and ask, 'What does that say socially about these people? Fishing was a cutting-edge entrepreneurial industry there, so these are entrepreneurial people. The fishing is good, and you can make a lot of money there, but you're facing a plague. They're frontier people who are ready to fish in Galilee even though there's an elevated risk of plague that actually affected them. This is where Jesus makes his base of operation. Maybe there's something here about culture and frontier and risk tolerance there, hidden in the details of the gospels, that maybe we need today."
George: "Well, The Maker Versus the Takers explores many of those fascinating details about the gospel, the actual historic context of the Gospel message, which lends it greater validity and impact and subtlety and truth."
Jerry: "I mean, I can tell you in the Episcopal Church where I am, the orders from the bishop were very draconian for shutdowns."
George: "Is that right?"
Jerry: "Yes, and we did our little workarounds and our parish never actually shut down. You want to be like Peter? Well, alright, this is what Peter did. He went to a plague Zone and made a living. These are the kind of people Jesus hung out with, so there's maybe a little more risk tolerance."
George: "I know that the Galilee story is central in your book but I don't think you wrote about that. You should incorporate that, it's a fascinating further dimension of it. You captured some of it, you talked about the entrepreneurial culture of Galilee."
Jerry: "But I hadn't looked at the poop archaeology! I'm reminded now of your first book, The Spirit of Enterprise, and I think in the beginning of that book you've got somebody standing in a garbage heap."
George: "That's Fat Joe, who built a great empire from garbage technology. He was a garbage collector and created a national chain of garbage collection that became a big stock market star. From garbage pickup and shuffling, he created a great entrepreneurial company!"
Jerry: "I guess I'm thinking the analogy here is, in the archaeology of poop and in trash heaps, there are gems. There's wisdom there!"
Jerry Bowyer is financial economist, president of Bowyer Research, and author of “The Maker Versus the Takers: What Jesus Really Said About Social Justice and Economics.”