There is the kind China has engaged in, cooperation by force. It seems to have worked. They’re getting back into business. Many people will say, out of ignorance, that this proves authoritarianism works.
Then there’s the second kind of cooperation, voluntary cooperation. It’s a cooperation of the mind, not just the body. It’s what I’ve talked about for years now. It’s what makes America great. We call it liberty.
It’s this kind of cooperation that will be essential to America’s comeback, not just over the virus but over the authoritarian Chinese threat, which will be the hallmark of the coming decade. It’s why getting rid of Trump is essential.
I’ve written a lot about economics here. I’ve talked about various economic eras in American history, how each featured a dominant industry, which rose to power and fell as the next took over.
But there’s something these earlier eras had in common. They were all built on resources. They were all built with possession of physical goods as the limiting factor to growth, as the main ingredient in the wealth of nations.
In his 2009 book “A Splendid Exchange,”retired neurologist William Bernstein explained this well. First there was grain, then empires. Then came incense to cut down the stink. Then spices to make the food tolerable. Finally came other goods – coffee, tea, sugar, cloth – with excess all represented by luxury goods that acted as currency.
In the last century, oil was the key to wealth. But oil, which oil traders like to call “energy,” is still just a commodity, a resource.
What Moore’s Law teaches is that money doesn’t come out of the ground anymore. It rains down from the clouds. The gating factor to growth is trained, empowered, well-supported minds. The more of those you have, the more wealth you can create.
It doesn’t matter how many cloud data centers China builds. What matters is the wealth software and creativity can build inside them. If we can attract enough highly trained, motivated, and (most important) empowered, free minds to our side, we’ll overwhelm anything an autocracy can throw at us.
This will be what the next decade will be about. It will be a battle between authoritarian China and (hopefully) a newly liberated West, aimed at mining the great minds of the world. Building replacements for oil and gas. Building a machine Internet that automates our entire life. Using DNA as a programming language. Saving the planet.
We’ve seen a little light there in the last few weeks. As China’s economy went dark, pollution declined. The same is happening here, now. Finding ways to make that a permanent feature of life is the first step on the road to planetary recovery.
Ultimately, neither side can do this alone. There is another kind of cooperation that is needed for these larger goals. We need cooperation among nations. We need an end to the primacy of nations. We will need, later in this generation, the beginnings of real global government, if we’re to win the Climate War.
I won’t be around for most of that, I’m afraid. I turned 65 this year.
I once believed, when I was 6 or 7, that 2020 would be my last year on Earth. I pray that isn’t so. But if it is, if the virus strikes me dead before, or shortly after, you read this, let these words be my legacy.
Go forward, unafraid, into the future.