Most people believe the coronavirus was a Black Swan, an unexpected event of large magnitude with unprecedented consequences. But Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who coined that metaphor, disagrees. Coronaviruses were well known, though the SARS-CoV-2 strain that hit humans was new. And the pandemic wasn’t unexpected. Experts had been warning of one – though not of the coronavirus per se – for some years. In 2019, the government had even conducted months-long pandemic preparation drills. Taleb’s annoyance is at the diminution of his coinage to a cliché.
There was, however, a real Black Swan event in 2020, says Carol Roth in her book The War on Small Business: How the Government Used the Pandemic to Crush the Backbone of America. It was the U.S. government’s reaction to the pandemic – with unprecedented decisions and a lockdown that forced people to stop working and doing business for months on end. The pandemic became a pretext for a politically motivated campaign against small businesses and individuals to hasten the consolidation of power in Big Business, Big Tech, and Big Government. That is the hook and weighty claim with which Roth begins her book.
A “recovering investment banker,” Roth has seen how Wall Street undermines Main Street by working with government through lobbyists and lawyers. Her book explores two big ideas. First, that the ills of capitalism – the concentration of immense wealth in a few individuals, for example – cannot be cured by central planning (or more government) because the real problem is the government. Second, the more the government has tried to protect us from “big, bad wolf-esque” corporations, the more powerful they have grown. This happens because central planning is all about control: a few powerful figures, reminiscent of the cliques and nomenklatura of the Soviet Union, decide on everything. Since control of the few is easier, small businesses – competitive, resolute, and representing the true, independent spirit of capitalism – must be broken.
The battle for power and control, Roth stresses, is the background against which readers should see her tour d’horizon of the impact of the pandemic response. A well-established system of cronyism – the very antithesis of testing business ideas in the market – has been bent on killing small businesses, individual rights, and ultimately, freedom. It did not waste the opportunity it saw in the “fifteen days to flatten the curve,” which dragged on to almost a year and crushed hundreds of thousands of small businesses. She says it ensured that the government declared war on small business, while doing everything to favor big business.
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