Year in Review

This Year Wasn't as Bad as 2020, But We Deserve Better

It sucked for avoidable reasons.

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The year 2021 was supposed to be better than 2020, which wasn't asking much. After all, 2020 opened with a pandemic and closed with the introduction of vaccines for COVID-19. That should have bookended a challenging, but brief, blip in our existence. By some measures, 2021 met that low bar with every American who wants it having a choice of three flavors of viral protection and the widespread street violence of the previous year subsiding to a merely alarming roar. But the pandemic accelerated troubling developments while reversing good ones. It handed extraordinary power to officials who seem unwilling to surrender what they've gained.

"In 2021, the average incomes of people in the bottom 40 percent of the global income distribution are 6.7 percent lower than pre-pandemic projections, while those of people in the top 40 percent are down 2.8 percent," the World Bank noted in October. After decades of declining poverty around the world, "three to four years of progress toward ending extreme poverty are estimated to have been lost."

That's a brutal setback for the human race after years of unprecedented growth in wealth and health, deviating from thousands of years of starvation and misery.

"What, then, caused this Great Enrichment?" asked economic historian Deirdre McCloskey in 2016. "In a word, it was liberalism, in the free-market European sense. Give masses of ordinary people equality before the law and equality of social dignity, and leave them alone, and it turns out that they become extraordinarily creative and energetic."

Creative and energetic we were until a tiny virus spurred people into avoiding the dealings with others that are required by the manufacturing, trade, and social interactions that led people out of misery. More importantly, the virus empowered officials to shut businesses, close markets, muzzle critics, and confine people to their homes. Abiding by the advice to "never let a crisis go to waste," governments missed no opportunity to extend their control.

"As recorded in the Democracy Index in recent years, democracy has not been in robust health for some time," The Economist's Democracy Index 2020 reported early in 2021. "The 2020 result represents a significant deterioration and came about largely—but not solely—because of government-imposed restrictions on individual freedoms and civil liberties that occurred across the globe in response to the coronavirus pandemic."

Governments cracked down not just on public gatherings, but also on dissenters from official policy. "The withdrawal of civil liberties, attacks on freedom of expression and the failures of democratic accountability that occurred as a result of the pandemic are grave matters," the Democracy Index authors added. Officials showed little eagerness to surrender their new powers.

"The world is becoming more authoritarian as non-democratic regimes become even more brazen in their repression and many democratic governments suffer from backsliding by adopting their tactics of restricting free speech and weakening the rule of law, exacerbated by what threatens to become a 'new normal' of Covid-19 restrictions," Sweden's International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) warned in an end-of-year report.

As emphasized by IDEA and the Democracy Index, pandemic opportunism accelerated a preexisting trend away from liberty. At the end of 2019, before COVID-19, "fully 83 percent of the global population lives in jurisdictions that have seen a fall in human freedom since 2008" according to the Human Freedom Index, compiled by the Cato Institute and Canada's Fraser Institute.

That government officials can't begin to justify their embrace of authoritarianism is obvious from the bump in world poverty. It's also seen in lingering pandemic measures despite the wide availability of vaccines and the evolution of COVID-19 into a new, apparently unavoidable, and seemingly milder variant. New York City is requiring vaccination or else; Washington, D.C. again mandates masks (and soon vaccines) for public life; and the governments of countries including Austria, Germany, and France battle their own people in the streets as they toughen public health rules.

Sky-high government spending also remained a feature of life in 2021. Justified at first as a means of offsetting the economic disruptions of lockdown measures, creating money out of thin air to satisfy politicians' fever dreams evolved, like a certain virus, into a continuing ailment. In return for this flood of new dollars we've gained the highest inflation in 40 years as money loses its value.

"Widespread inflation always comes from people wanting to buy more of everything than the economy can supply," economist John Cochrane of Stanford's Hoover Institution and the Cato Institute commented in November. "Where did all that demand come from? In its response to the pandemic, the U.S. government created about 2.5 trillion new dollars, and sent checks to people and businesses. It borrowed another $2.5 trillion, and sent more checks to people and businesses. Relative to a $22 trillion economy, and $17 trillion of existing (2020) federal debt, that's a lot of money."

Where that loss in buying power might take us is seen in the cautionary example of Turkey, where the eroding lira has people exchanging their money as quickly as possible for foreign currency, gold, crypto, and anything else that might retain value. The alternative is impoverishment, of which the world has already seen too much during the pandemic and the measures governments justify in its name.

Economic chaos is also disruptive, and disruption is something we can do without a year after social stresses and simmering resentment over police abuses fueled widespread rioting. It's also an unwelcome addition to a country troubled by authoritarian major political parties which reject the idea that their access to government office and their ability to torment people they dislike should be limited.

"The United States is pretty close to being at high risk of civil war," warns Professor Barbara Walter of the University of California at San Diego, who applied CIA techniques for assessing the health of countries around the world to her own nation.

That poverty, chaos, and authoritarianism don't have to be our lot is clear from the recent past. As McCloskey pointed out in 2016, "By 2010, the average daily income in a wide range of countries, including Japan, the United States, Botswana and Brazil, had soared 1,000 to 3,000 percent over the levels of 1800" because of free markets and individual liberty. We were on a path to freedom and prosperity, to which we could now return.

The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted life, but it also handed an excuse to those inclined to control others to double-down on doing their worst. Ultimately, 2021 sucked less than 2020, but it still sucked in many ways, and it sucked for avoidable reasons. Those mistakes can be reversed and avoided in the future so that the years to come are better than the one we just went through.

NEXT: Archives: January 2022

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  1. It sucked for avoidable reasons.

    Is he finally admitting that he was wrong for supporting the Biden campaign?

    1. Do you honestly think it would have been that much different under Trump?

      While in office he deferred to Fauci's advice and is currently encouraging people to get vaccinated. As the head of the federal government he would have had no control draconian measures in states line NY and CA.

      This idea that Trump is some messiah while Biden is the devil is just stupid.

      Yes there would have been less federal spending, but that would likely have been the only difference between his presidency and that of the joker who currently occupies the White House.

      1. Is your whole belief system that you weren't wrong because it would have happened in your imaginary world regardless?

        Trump constantly left it to the states dummy. He never sought a federal solution.

        It takes a special kind of partisan to invent a false world opposite evidence to declare no difference would have been had.

        Youre a partisan deflecting blame from the left as usual because you were wrong and can't admit it.

        1. "...It takes a special kind of partisan..."

          That's spelled "lying pile of lefty shit"

      2. Yes. It would have been massively different. The second third and fourth rounds of trillion dollar stimulus would not have happened. The decimation of the domestic oil and gas industry would not have happened (dictionary definition decimate). So inflation would not be a fraction of what we are experienceing.

        Sending the FBI terrorism task force after parents of school children would not have happened. The white house directing social media platforms to censor certain people and facts would not have happened. Allowing a few million illegal immigrants to walk across the border would not have happened. Flying them to the heart of red states in the dark of night would not have happened. Mandating wearing a mask at all times on all federal land would not have happened.

        Maybe even the "non-prosecution prosecution" of Gislain Maxwell would be different.... lawyers say Trump is the only "celebrity" who fully cooperated with their efforts and sat for long depositions, answering all questions in full. One wonders if a Trump administration might have found a way to prosecute the case more fully, using more than a tiny fraction of the alleged victims?

        Our freedom would unquestionably be more secure. In foreign policy, perhaps the momentum of peace treaties with Israel would have continued. Perhaps China would have succumbed to tariff pressure and negotiated a trade deal. Russia certainly seems emboldened without Trump.

        But, one has to consider the press. Another trump term, after the escalating attempts to demonize Trump and his supporters? After finally openly deciding to block Trump from speaking directly to the people (the networks all decided that they would not carry Trump live... Too dangerous... It wasn't just Twitter account bans.)

        Who knows where we would be? Surely unemployment and labor participation would be better. I would bet that the issue with the ports would have been solved with more alacrity.

        But a disloyal opposition would be hard to work with. One wonders if the Republican establishment would have capitulated. I would say yes... And we would actually have President Pence to contend with.

        And I have no clue what that would mean.

        1. I meant specifically regarding COVID, but ok. I disagree with you about the press. Trump was getting pretty pissy towards the end of his term and it would have surprised me if he had not gone after Facebook, Twitter and others for alleged unfairness. And there's no way you can convince me that trade wars are a good thing.

          1. Yes. Specifically about covid dumbass. Trump took an entirely federalist approach.

          2. "Alleged unfairness". You actually lived up to your name for once.

  2. Reasons pivot is almost complete. An actual fair and good article that didn't try to excuse the side often leading the limitations on liberty, although no direct mention of which side.

    1. Because they are now in the cross-hairs, and trying to win back favor with everyone they spent the better part of the past five years trying to burn.

      Fair-weather friends get the noose just the same, if you ask me.

  3. Equality be for the law? That may have been good in the past, but now we have the "but trump" ammendments

  4. Wouldn't 2021 be a worse year seeing as 99% of the problems were man made?

  5. Fool me in 2020, shame on you.
    Fool me in 2021, shame on me.

  6. The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted life, but it also handed an excuse to those inclined to control others to double-down on doing their worst.

    Those inclined to control others came up with an excuse to control others. Neither the "virus" nor the "pandemic" did a damn thing.

  7. Of course 2021 has been better than 2020. In 2021 we have a Democrat in the White House, which is what Koch / Reason libertarians prefer because we know it'll make billionaires much richer.

    #VoteDemocratToHelpBillionaires

  8. This year was every bit as bad as 2020. This year ate ass.

    It ate ass is because authoritarian shitheads insisted that citizens eat ass.

    The citizens whose rights they were elected to protect.

    In November, a few-- not nearly enough, but a few-- authoritarian shitheads are going to eat ass.

    1. This year saw mild to moderate inflation. What are they claiming now... 5 or 6 percent, annually?

      Meanwhile, Soda has doubled, toilet paper up 50%, cars are going for thousands *above* sticker price, gas is double, meat is way up...

      I wonder where the 5% inflation is?

      1. It's hidden in the 10% inflation.

      2. cars are going for thousands *above* sticker price

        Really? I just bought a new car for four grand under sticker price.

        1. Ordered I should say. Expecting it to be delivered the end of January.

        2. They raised the sticker price 14% before you walked in.

          1. They didn't. I've been watching the price of the car for two years now.

          2. If anything it came down a little since they switched out the engine. Instead of a naturally aspirated 6-cyl they're using a 4-cyl turbo. More horses, less weight, better mileage. And cheaper. Win, win, win.

            1. Too bad you can’t afford a nice car.

    2. "The citizens whose rights they were elected to protect." Nah. By and large, the citizens elected them to give them stuff and stick it to the other guy.

  9. The only thing that can possibly salvage 2021 at this point is either Fauci or Sleepy Joe instantaneously dropping dead within about the next sixty hours.

    If BOTH of them did (and I realize how extraordinarily unlikely that is) it would instantly go from being one of the worst years ever to a top 20% type of year.

    1. Have to admit, Harry Reid croaking bumps it up at least a dozen places.

      1. I was not sad about that.

  10. Umm, according to both the numbers and the science, plus the federally proscribed losses of freedom, it's much worse than 2020.

  11. every day of life is lovely.

  12. More people have died from covid under Biden.

  13. "The year 2021 was supposed to be better than 2020..."

    I'm going to keep my head down as next year will be 2020 too.

  14. "We deserve better". Really? Perhaps some of us, individually. But collectively, U.S. society deserves exactly what we got: grifters and con men in Congress, doing what grifters and con men do. And we all get to pay the price for that. That's a general statement. For specifics: Pelosi, Schumer, McConnell, Schiff, Whitmer, Walz, Biden, Harris, and on and on. Even in an electronic world, I'm running out of ink to list them all.

  15. Another Reason writer smokin' or snortin' Nick's stash. No year in recent memory has sucked worse than 2021. It's the year the entire world fell into the void of a mass psychotic break—for good.

  16. How was it better than 2020?
    More died of covid even though we had vaccines and therapeutics and knew what virus we were fighting.
    We lost energy independence.
    We had an open border for the first time in 4 year
    The open border contributed to growing drug deaths
    The open border is straining our social services
    Huge growth in the murder rate
    Huge growth in crime
    We had the worse withdrawal in military history
    We armed the radical terrorist in Afghanistan
    Massive inflation
    Supply chain issues
    More traffic deaths
    2021 was a total unqualified disaster
    Reason still refuses that Biden himself is the disaster, because they backed Biden.

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