Netscape’s Marc Andreessen & Coronavirus — A Primary Obstacle

A Fire Department Emergency Medical Technician leaves from helping a man during the coronavirus outbreak in Brooklyn, N.Y., April 16, 2020. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Netscape co-founder and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen offers a really appealing essay spotlighting how one of the most humiliating factors in this entire coronavirus outbreak is how vast swaths of American industry, government, and society seem flatfooted and haplessly incapable of mobilizing for a crisis. Our big institutions and leaders not only lack the ability, they never planned to build that ability:

In the U.S., we don’t even have the ability to get federal bailout money to the people and businesses that need it. Tens of millions of laid off workers and their families, and many millions of small businesses, are in serious trouble *right now*, and we have no direct method to transfer them money without potentially disastrous delays. A government that collects money from all its citizens and businesses each year has never built a system to distribute money to us when it’s needed most.

Why do we not have these things? Medical equipment and financial conduits involve no rocket science whatsoever. At least therapies and vaccines are hard! Making masks and transferring money are not hard. We could have these things but we chose not to — specifically we chose not to have the mechanisms, the factories, the systems to make these things. We chose not to *build*.

The only minor gripe I have is that Andreessen really wants to spur both sides of the political aisle to a more pro-growth, pro-building mentality . . . and from where I sit, one side of our political debate is a lot further along this road than the other:

The right must fight hard against crony capitalism, regulatory capture, ossified oligopolies, risk-inducing offshoring, and investor-friendly buybacks in lieu of customer-friendly (and, over a longer period of time, even more investor-friendly) innovation.

It’s time for full-throated, unapologetic, uncompromised political support from the right for aggressive investment in new products, in new industries, in new factories, in new science, in big leaps forward.

The left starts out with a stronger bias toward the public sector in many of these areas. To which I say, prove the superior model! Demonstrate that the public sector can build better hospitals, better schools, better transportation, better cities, better housing. Stop trying to protect the old, the entrenched, the irrelevant; commit the public sector fully to the future.

I mean, come on. Who’s preventing the construction of new skyscrapers in San Francisco? It’s not a bunch of conservative Republicans. Who’s preventing the construction of ten more zero-emission nuclear reactors? Most big cities in the United States have few or no Republican officeholders, so they can’t be the reason most big cities’ public transportation systems or school systems are so disappointing. “Why can’t 100,000 or 1 million students a year attend Harvard?” It’s not conservatives keeping more students out of the Ivy League schools.

Progressives talk a good game about being a movement focused on the future, and every now and then they unveil a plan to do something ambitious, like requiring every last building in the United States to be energy efficient within ten years. But a lot of modern progressivism is about banning things, particularly things that are new and different and disrupt the old order: banning glass-and-steel skyscrapers, banning fracking, banning ride-sharing services and Airbnb, ban charter schools, ban sport-utility-vehicles, ban the existence of billionaires, ban dollar stores, ban vaping, ban plastic bags, ban plastic straws. Homeschooling is a new popular target for bans.

Many Democrats think social media is a Russian-influenced menace, disdain Amazon as an exploitative sweatshop, and think Google should be broken up into smaller companies.

You can fairly argue that President Trump and his MAGA-minded supporters have a nostalgic, unrealistic yearning to go back to an old-fashioned, idealized America that exists only in their imagination. But vast swaths of the Democratic Party are prisoners of their own nostalgia, dreaming of a country where Americans could enjoy the widespread union jobs of the 1940s, the social policies are aligned with the counterculture of the Baby Boomers in the 1960s, and our foreign policy is aligned with George McGovern’s “Come home, America” of the 1970s.

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