The "run" on toilet paper and the "invisible hand" disinfected and dissected.

The information about Adam Smith and Mercantilism is from a lecture of February 17, 1976, at the Taft School, Watertown, Connecticut, by Edmund A. Optiz. “We celebrate in 1976 the bicentennial of two significant events, the signing of the American Declaration of Independence, and the publication of The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. Smith had made a name for himself with an earlier volume entitled Theory of the Moral Sentiments, published in 1759, but he is now remembered mainly for his Wealth of Nations, on which he labored for ten years. The Wealth of Nations sold briskly in the American colonies, some 2,500 copies within five years of publication, even though our people were at war. This is a remarkable fact, for there were only three million people living on these shores two centuries ago, and about one-third of these were Loyalists. In England, as in the colonies, there were two opposed political factions—Whigs and Tories. The Tories favored the King and the old regime; the Whigs worked to increase freedom in society. Adam Smith was a Whig; the men we call Founding Fathers were Whigs. There was a Whig faction in the British Parliament and many Englishmen were bound to the American cause by strong intellectual and emotional ties.

“Adam Smith’s book was warmly received here, not only because it was a great work of literature, but also because it provided a philosophical justification for individual freedom in the areas of manufacture and trade. The colonies, of course, were largely agricultural; but of necessity there were also artisans of all sorts. There had to be carpenters and cabinet makers, bricklayers and blacksmiths, weavers and tailors, gunsmiths and bootmakers. These colonial manufacturers and farmers had been practicing economic freedom all along; simply because the Crown was too busy with other matters to interfere seriously. There were numerous laws designed to regulate trade, but the laws were difficult to enforce, and so they were ignored.

“The nations of Europe at this time embraced a theory of economic organization called ‘Mercantilism.’ Mercantilism was based upon the idea of national rivalry, and each nation sought to get the better of other nations by exporting merchandise in exchange for gold and silver. The goal of Mercantilism was the enhancement of national prestige by accumulating the precious metals, but the goal was not nearly so significant as the means employed to reach it. Mercantilism was the planned economy par excellence; the nation was trussed up in a strait jacket of regulations just about as severe as the controls imposed today upon the people of Russia or China. The modern authoritarian state, of course, has more efficient methods of surveillance and control than did the governments of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but the basic idea is similar.

“Take the theory of Mercantilism and boil it down. What do you get? You get political control over what you eat. Now, if someone holds the power of decision over you as to whether you eat or starve, he’s acquired considerable leverage over every aspect of your life; you do not bite the hand that feeds you! If someone controls your livelihood, you do his bidding, or people start talking about you in the past tense! Mercantilism, in short, is the prototype of today’s totalitarian state, where government — by controlling the economy — exerts a commanding influence over people in every sector of their lives.

Twentieth century political despotism is much more extensive and severe than the monarchial rule of Smith’s day, which is why The Wealth of Nations is still a relevant book. Smith demonstrated that a country does not need an overall national plan enforced upon people in order to achieve social harmony. This is not to say that a peaceful, orderly society comes about by accident, or as the result of doing nothing. Certain requirements must be met if people are to live at peace with their neighbors. It is required, first of all, that there be widespread obedience to the moral commandments which forbid murder, theft, misrepresentation, and covetousness. The second requirement is for a legal system which secures equal justice before the law for every person. When these moral and legal requirements are met, then the people will be led into a system of social cooperation under the division of labor “as if by an invisible hand.”

Adam Smith liked this metaphor of “an invisible hand” and used it in Theory of the Moral Sentiments as well as in The Wealth of Nations. Every person, Smith writes, employs his time, his talents, his capital, so as to direct “industry that its produce may be of the greatest value…. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it…. He intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intentions.” Smith concludes this passage by adding, sardonically, “I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.”

Price gouging” refers to a phenomenon wherein customers at an especially vulnerable time are charged unusually high prices by “greedy” business owners taking advantage of their need. So why do prices rise during times of need? Prices are a rationing device and signal of scarcity, so this higher price naturally encourages customers to make do with less while simultaneously indicating to producers to expand production. Another, more subtle example and justification for “price gouging” is movie snacks, especially popcorn! You are gouged every time you buy popcorn at the movies, yet the lines for popcorn, candy and drinks are usually consistent. Why? Demand is always high, since you are not allowed to bring your own, and because the venue and snacks–popcorn–are paired in your mind; a habit pattern waiting for the stimulus….and no longer think about the money.

Back to t.p. Though buyers have to pay more for each product, it reduces the risk of shortages by making it easier for suppliers to meet the increased demand for their goods. What’s perhaps more relevant to our current situation is that hoarders are indirectly discouraged from hoarding. A higher price makes consumers think twice before buying a cart-full of toilet paper, leaving more product on the shelves and limiting or delaying, perhaps indefinitely, any shortage. But that’s not all, remember that the higher price is only temporary, since higher prices will spur production. Sellers see product flying off the shelves and note that they need to ramp up production to meet the growing demand. Potential entrepreneurs also recognize that there may be room for extra business in this particular market, so they start production. We’ve already seen these forces at work in the past few weeks. Distilleries have taken note of hand sanitizer shortages and are helping to meet the increased demand by producing their own—some even giving their product away for free. Just imagine, Jim Beam and Wild Turkey hand sanitizer! Yumm!

Last week Georgia-Pacific increased production t.p. capacity by 120 percent. Amplified production by existing companies, and the entrance of new business into markets, will lower prices to pre-crisis levels. Referring to rising prices as “price gouging” will not change the economic fact: in a free economy, prices are a vital signal to producers and consumers alike. It’s incredible that a single number can do so much. This is the miracle inherent in free markets—no solitary, all-knowing authority is dictating the direction of prices or production in a single market (let alone an entire economy). It happens naturally, as if led by an “invisible hand”.

But if you are still angry about either prices or scarcity of t.p., nature comes to the rescue. The following are among the best leaves to use as t.p. substitutes. Since you’re probably locked down anyway, it’s a good time for hiking and plucking up your own supply (for those hoarding beans especially!).

Woolly Lamb’s Ear
Mullein…you can also boil the leaves for tea
Big leaf maple, but watch the sap
Big leaf magnolia…tears easily, go slow

Leaves to avoid: Anything waxy (smears rather than absorbs); Leaves grouped in threes (might be poisonous) or growing in alternating, as opposed to mirroring, positions on the branch (might be poisonous). I guarantee you, if you use the wrong leaf and get poison ivy on the butt, you will never complain about the price of toilet paper! Hand bidets, anyone?

The Chinese "memory hole".

Helen Raleigh, in National Review, April 6, 2020 issue: “Unlike their parents’ and grandparents’ generations, today’s young Chinese have no living memories of the atrocities that the Chinese Communist Party has committed since 1949. Massive famine and poverty, minuscule food rations, and millions of people who perished are now a part of history that has gone up in flames, never to be spoken of again. The Chinese authorities have made sure that Communist China’s history, from 1949 to 1989 (including the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre), is scraped clean or reduced to just a few historically inaccurate paragraphs. Today’s young Chinese grew up with little to no awareness of what has happened, not knowing that the glorious Communist China sits on the corpses of millions of innocent people.”

Her piece continues: “With neither living memories nor historical knowledge, young Chinese today do not see the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) as an evildoer. They grew up in a China that has been a rising world power with signs of prosperity and modernity everywhere. The social contract the Chinese government has offered to them — limited freedom in exchange for stability and prosperity — appears to have worked out well for almost every citizen. So what if they can’t access a few Western social-media sites such as Facebook and Twitter? Western-style democracy wouldn’t work in China anyway, the CCP has told them.

“But the spread of the coronavirus has exposed the Achilles’ heel of this social contract. When everyone has the potential to be infected, when they hear stories of people who had to walk an hour to seek treatment only to be turned away, when they read the countless pleas for help and heartbreaking stories online, and when they see videos of overcrowded hospitals and overworked medical staff, they see the façade of stability and prosperity crumbling right before their eyes. They are hungry for information. They want to know how to protect themselves and their families. In the past, the search for information and truth would always eventually run up against a wall, and they would just give up. However, the death of Dr. Li Wenliang, one of the handful of early whistleblowers on the coronavirus outbreak, awakened many Chinese, especially the young. They finally realized that the stability and prosperity they were promised and for which they gave up their freedom was nothing but a beautifully wrapped lie.”

1984, Book one, Chapter three: “For how could you establish even the most obvious fact when there existed no record outside your own memory? Winston tried to remember in what year he had first heard mention of Big Brother. He thought it must have been at some time in the sixties, but it was impossible to be certain. In the Party histories, of course, Big Brother figured as the leader and guardian of the Revolution since its very earliest days. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed – if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. ‘Reality control,’ they called it: in Newspeak, ‘doublethink’.”

1984, Book one, Chapter four: “This last was for the disposal of waste paper. Similar slits existed in thousands or tens of thousands throughout the building, not only in every room but at short intervals in every corridor. For some reason they were nicknamed memory holes. When one knew that any document was due for destruction, or even when one saw a scrap of waste paper lying about, it was an automatic action to lift the flap of the nearest memory hole and drop it in, whereupon it would be whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building. And so it was with every class of recorded fact, great or small. Everything faded away into a shadow-world in which, finally, even the date of the year had become uncertain.”

The makers of TikTok, the Chinese video-sharing app with hundreds of millions of users around the world, instructed moderators to suppress posts created by users deemed too ugly, poor, or disabled for the platform, according to internal documents obtained by The Intercept. These same documents show moderators were also told to censor political speech in TikTok livestreams, punishing those who harmed “national honor” or broadcast streams about “state organs such as police” with bans from the platform. These previously unreported Chinese policy documents, along with conversations with multiple sources directly familiar with TikTok’s censorship activities, provide new details about the company’s efforts to enforce rigid constraints across its reported 800 million or so monthly users while it simultaneously attempts to bolster its image as a global paragon of self-expression and anything-goes creativity. They also show how TikTok controls content on its platform to achieve rapid growth in the mold of a Silicon Valley startup while simultaneously discouraging political dissent with the sort of heavy hand regularly seen in its home country of China.

On TikTok, livestreamed military movements and natural disasters, video that “defamed civil servants,” and other material that might threaten “national security” has been suppressed alongside videos showing rural poverty, slums, beer bellies, and crooked smiles. One document goes so far as to instruct moderators to scan uploads for cracked walls and “disreputable decorations” in users’ own homes — then to effectively punish these poorer TikTok users by artificially narrowing their audiences.

The citizen journalists of China risk their lives. Helen Raleigh again: “This is a generation that grew up with the abundance of social media, a generation that is constantly influenced by Western cultures through fashion, music, movies, and YouTube videos. They value freedom of expression. Like young people in the West, they want to instantly share with the world what they see and how they feel. They grew up with electronic gadgets; they have the technological know-how to bypass the Chinese government’s Internet firewall. Since the coronavirus outbreak, some of these young people have taken to heart Dr. Li’s final words: ‘A healthy society shouldn’t have only one voice.

“They have decided to do something about it — through seeking and sharing truth on their own. At what cost? Li Zehua quit his job and found a way to get into Wuhan. With the locals’ help, he was able to get a car and find a place to stay. By sheer coincidence, Li’s new temporary lodging was right next to the former lodging of another young citizen journalist, Chen Qiushi, who had previously posted videos about his visits to Wuhan. By the time Li arrived in Wuhan, Chen had “disappeared,” gone since February 7. Government officials told Chen’s family and friends that Chen had been put into forced medical quarantine, but they refused to disclose when and where.

“Undeterred, Li started posting videos of his visits to infected locations such as college campuses and funeral homes. He interviewed residents, migrant workers, and employees at the funeral homes. Li said in one of his videos, ‘If one Chen Qiushi falls, 10 million more Chen Qiushis will stand up to take his place.’ Li’s words held true. Through his reporting, we learned that local authorities didn’t carry out promised disinfectant measures in infected communities and that residents were running low on groceries. These are the types of information China’s state-run media would not dare to report, but Li chose to. For exposing the truth, Li was often harassed by the local police and self-identified security guards, but he continued to do what he regarded as legitimate reporting.

“On February 26, when Li was on his way back from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which many conspiracy theorists believe was responsible for creating and spreading the coronavirus, he posted a short video while he was being chased at high speed by a public-security vehicle. Viewers can hear him exclaim, ‘They’re chasing me. . . . I’m sure that they want to hold me in isolation. Please help me!’ Li made it back to his apartment and started livestreaming again. He was visibly shaken by the chase and knew very well that something baleful was getting close to him. Then he heard a knock at the door. Through the peephole, he saw two big guys outside. It was to be his final hour of freedom. Before he opened the door, he made an impassioned speech. Knowing he would be taken away and even forcibly quarantined, just like Chen Qiushi, Li made sure to note in the video that he had protective gear and that he was healthy at the moment of his arrest. It was important for him to emphasize this on the record, because if the Chinese government later claimed that Li was sick and quarantined or even had died of the coronavirus, the rest of the world, especially Li’s family, would know it was a lie.

“Many Chinese youths today ‘probably have no idea at all what happened in our past,’ Li went on to say. ‘They think the history they have now is the one they deserve.’ Li hoped that more young people would join him in standing up for the truth. After these words, Li opened the door. Two men in masks and dressed fully in black walked in. The camera was abruptly shut off, and the livestreaming stopped. No one has heard from Li since that day. Thanks to the China Media Project, Li’s final speech was translated into English.

As you complain–you who take your freedom for granted–about the United States of America, or compare President Trump to Hitler, or find “racists” and “white supremacists” behind every use of the words “Wuhan” or “Chinese virus”, contemplate 1984, the hypocrisy of TikTok (if it ain’t owned or financed by the People’s Liberation Army–PLA–or the CCP, I’ll eat my smartphone), and the massive memory hole that is China.