The Collapse of the Public Health Establishment is the Collapse of the Professional-Managerial Class

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

The collapse of the public health establishment — or rather, its transformation into an instrument of stochastic eugenics[1] with “business-friendlyLet ‘er rip” policies — is indicative of a collapse in the moral (and technical) authority of the Professional Managerial Class (PMC), whose hegemonic fractions implemented, facilitated, and propagandized the “urgency of normal,” whose effects (or, if you prefer, success) can be seen in the chart below:

(See NC here for a discussion of using wastewater as a proxy for case counts.) We are now in the midst of the second biggest Covid surge. That’s a lot of infection. Being infected with Covid is bad. Being reinfected is worse. Not that Covid is even visible as a public health problem, or any kind of a problem. Move along, people, move along! There’s no story here (except on the blogs, of course):

“We are in possibly the second-biggest surge of the pandemic if you look at wastewater levels,” said Dr. Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez, who runs a long-Covid clinic at the University of Texas, San Antonio, and has had ongoing Covid symptoms since August 2022. “There is no urgency to this. No news. No discussion in Congress. There is no education.”

In meditating this post, I recalled Dark Age Ahead (PDF), by Jane Jabobs (2004). From a recent review (2023):

What exactly is a dark age? This is the topic of her first chapter, which introduces the most interesting idea of the book: that dark ages are essentially episodes of large-scale amnesia…. Regardless of the quality of life of early medieval European people, it’s clear that they had forgotten many of the technologies, ideas, and institutions that made up life during classical antiquity.

Worse — in many cases, they suffered from what I might call “double amnesia”: they had forgotten what they had forgotten. … A dark age, according to Jacobs, is that: a breakdown of culture to such an extent that people forget what life used to be like, and even forget that life used to be different at all. Though the post-Roman Dark Age is the most readily available example in the West, dark ages have happened many times across the world, for reasons spanning from economic collapse to genocide.

“Double amnesia” seems familiar. We in the United States, for example, seem to have forgotten how to build aircraft; in a century, will we have forgotten that we ever knew? More to the point, the same goes for measles; when measles returns, how long will it take us to forget that we once conquered it?

I recalled Dark Ages because it treated the collapse of self-regulation and self-policing in the professional classes as a sign of societal collapse. Ian Welsh writes (2016):

Jacobs’ final example is about professional self-policing. She uses the decline of the accounting profession (right after their failure to notice Enron’s problems before it collapsed) as her case example, but arguments could be made for many professions, certainly including the clergy, medicine, and American psychologists. It’s very hard for government to regulate professionals properly, because they don’t understand the profession, so it is ideal for professionals to do it themselves. If they can’t, then the government must, and something important is lost.

Jacobs herself points to the management of professional identity through public relations as the central problem:

And it is true that the three characters I am about to look at are very much “the glitter is the gold” types. (I don’t view Dark Age Ahead as Jacobs’ finest hour — I would prefer a fully worked sociological case study, not rumination — but what is clear is that she was, in 2004, directionally correct, as her many critics were not.) Anyhow, a general theory of how and why the PMC collapsed in the face of the Covid pandemic must wait for another day (although this diatribe from 2016 is very suggestive).

These three ideal types are all PMCers at the pinnacles of their professions: A White House Press Secretary, the Director of a national public health agency, and the Chair of the Department of Medicine at a major public university. All have failed, morally and technically, as professionals, in dealing with the pandemic. In what follows, I will refer to them, for maximally insulting familiarity, as “Karine” (Karine Jean-Pierre), “Mandy” (Mandy Cohen), and “Bob” (Robert M. “Bob” Wachter).

Some may say that I’m guilty of the adhominem fallacy, but I’m with Taleb:

“In matters of expertise, you look at the credibility.” Karine, Mandy, and Bob should have no credibility. None.


From Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby, January 4, 2024, at the White House:

Q Thanks. Some hospitals in at least eight states have brought back some form of masking now due to rising cases of respiratory viruses, including the flu and COVID. Does the White House think more hospitals across the country should be considering that right now?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The masking piece?

Q Mm-hmm.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That is — and we’ve been — always been very consistent on this. That is something that is localized or — that — or hospitals, communities, cities, states, they have to make their own decisions. That’s not something that we get involved in.

Q And what about Americans broadly now? There’s 31 states in the latest data that have high or very high levels of respiratory illness: RSV, flu, and COVID. What should Americans be doing? What’s the recommendation?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, it is up to each and — each and every American to make their decision on what they want to do.

We have a range of tools. Right? That is something that we’ve been able to do these last three years for people to feel — to protect themselves from the impact of COVID — whether it’s a vaccine, whether it’s at-home testing, whether it’s treat- — and treatments. Right? All of these things are incredibly important.

So, there are tools available for folks. And we’re going to certainly — certainly encourage Americans to — to take those steps.

We’re not going to — it is up to them. It is up to them, as it relates to masking, what individual Americans want to do. That is not something that we’re going to regulate.

No mention of ventilation, of course; the implications of #CovidIsAirborne are entirely erased. That’s one dereliction; and a greater dereliction is the utter failure of the Biden Administration to lead by example (or rather, they are leading by example; right over the cliff). But to see Karine’s real professional collapse, you’ve got to watch the video:

The eye-rolling, the headshaking, the warding gestures, above all flipping through the briefing book while the reporter asks the questions; one might almost suspect Karine of having a guilty conscience…. And for a White House Press Secretary, surely that’s the ultimate professional failure. Anyhow, why not just toss the ball to the CDC? And speaking of the CDC–


A collection of memes on a single theme: #WheresMandy:

Everybody wants to know:

Mandy’s last appearance. Maskless, of course:

Now is not a good time:

Mandy, we’re worried!

We need your leadership!

The CDC Director vanishing during the second largest Covid surge in the current pandemic is surely an example of professional collapse.


Finally, Bob Wachter. We awarded Bob our coveted Sociopath of the Day Award on May 12, 2022, and you can check that post out for how he chivvied his wife to a writer’s conference that turned out to be a superspreader event (she got Long Covid).

I’m pressed temporally, so I will merely present “Tin Can Bob[2]’s” latest iteration of his personal risk calculator, which is the most outlandish example of the PMC fetish for homework that I have seen in a long time. I have helpfully added some notes:

[1] See the note at “**.” All Bob’s indicators are lagged, wastewater by days, and hospitalization by weeks (Bob doesn’t say if he’s using CDC’s infamous “Green Map,” but he would, wouldn’t he?) If a variant is really taking off, a two week lag could mean the difference between “not to worry” and “extremely dangerous.” So right off the bat — never mind Bob’s own health, or his poor wife’s– he’s built in the possibility of infecting many others if he has a case of asymptomatic transmission.

[2] It’s not clear whether Bob uses a respirator or a Baggy Blue (I’d guess the latter). Also, Bob doesn’t seem to understand aerosol transmission; Covid spreads like smoke through the entire institution, so only wearing a mask while treating a patient doesn’t prevent transmission or infection.

[3] Bob has an amazing fetish for “indoor dining.” Brunch, I guess?

[4] Bob, again, seems not to understand either asymptomatic transmission (no cough needed) or aerosol tranmission (if he did, he would include talking and breathing, as well as coughing and runny nose).

[5] Carry it? Why constantly doff and undoff? Why not just wear it?

[6] “When no need to talk”? Absurd. I can talk in a mask just fine.

[7] Bob always has these enormous loopholes in his masking policy: “When no need to talk,” “when no need to eat or drink.”

[8] Bob doesn’t seem to understand that reinfection (hence transmission) can happen in less than ten weeks.

[9] What the heck do “lean a bit to the right” and “not a full column-worth” even mean?

Why not Keep It Simple, Stupid? Forget all the homework, which is useless to begin with because of lag times. Just settle on a simple protocol and stick to it ffs.

Oh, and Bob is the dude who called our current Covid surge — second highest in history — an uptick:

Bob is also the dude who emitted this absurdity in Time:

“We’ve got to somehow reprogram our minds to think about this as a threat that is just not as profound as it was for a couple years,” Wachter says. “When your minds have been pickled in terror for a couple of years, it’s very hard to do.”

Given that Bob — after he knew that both he and his poor wife had Covid — actually considered staying overnight at her parents and then flying home — can hardly have been “pickled in terror” at any point, it’s hard for me to understand who is referring to. Perhaps people with a rational apprehension of inhaling an airborne Level Three biohazard?

Anyhow, I’m not an idealist like Bob; I’m a materialist. If we are to reprogram our minds, we should do so not to further promote infection, but to demand clean air, free from pathogens, for ourselves and our children.


All I can say is don’t listen to these three people about Covid, ever, “professionals” though they be. They have and should have no credibility at all!


[1] See, e.g., Record of the Proceedings, August 22, 2023, HICPAC, p. 72.

[2] One would wish to sympathize:

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Sub-Boreal

    If I’d known that this PMC autopsy was in the works, I’d have waited to add this to the mix. Please excuse this recycling from today’s Links comments.

    Ghoul Watch:

    “Last week Dr. Bonnie Henry was reading out infection stats like she’s talking about sales numbers on an investor call. “So we’re up 10% over the year!”

  2. RookieEMT

    Funnily enough, Jane Jacob’s little red book is on my bed. Page marked where she talks about the decline of the nuclear family, the dumbing down of taxes, and of course how suburban sprawl is a disaster. She died not very long after publication. I remember reading a suggestion somewhere that she knew there was only so much time left. Hence the book was small and she wanted to get her larger points down, not enough time to refine it further.

    It’s this kind-of dark realism that pushed me to be a Buddhist. Try being an EMT with mixed success. To be ‘prepared’ for what-ever is going to happen.

    1. CA

      “It’s this kind-of dark realism that pushed me to be a Buddhist…”

      Interesting comment, indeed.

      1. Thomas Schmidt

        Fantastic book. Are you a guardian or a trader?

        Second favorite is the Economy of Cities. She predicts that agriculture started in cities. Then 30 years later we unearth Gobekli Tepe which shows that agriculture started in cities.

  3. DanB

    I worked at a school of public health in the early 2000s and the calamitous consequences of neoliberalism were visible then. In 2014 I wrote my last article about public health, which at that time was experiencing steady declines in funding -and of course services- rationalized by arguments about efficient market solutions to public health issues. The public health system was in fact in decline. That article was titled: “Public Health’s Response to Decline: Loyalty to the 1%.” Thanks for this essay, Lambert. I awaken most mornings happy about my personal life and wondering what depredations and obscenities await in the news.

    1. Raymond Sim

      Your article was very helpful to me as I struggled to understand what the hell was happening in this country. I’m very grateful to you for writing it, many thanks.

  4. Screwball

    Thank for this Lambert.

    What a ride the last 3-4 years have been. I remember when they pulled us out of our classrooms, went remote for everything possible. People took it seriously, enough that a bunch of locals made masks for those who wanted them. Now, for most, a distant memory. I told someone the other day COVID is as bad now than it has been in a long time, and they looked at me like I was an alien.

    I find it all disgusting. If the last three or four years isn’t enough evidence these people don’t give one good hoot about “us” then I don’t know what would.

    Maybe I’m too old, stupid, and crazy, but instead of public health being the goal, the virus was politicized, weaponized, and financialized. And “they” couldn’t do it fast enough.

    “In matters of expertise, you look at the credibility.” Karine, Mandy, and Bob should have no credibility. None. – Lambert


    There is a laundry list of people who should be on the “none” list.

    Thanks again, and thanks to NC for providing the best COVID coverage throughout this entire cluster *family blog*.

    1. LawnDart

      Anosognosia wasn’t on my radar until recently– I flat-out had forgotten the term from psych classes even though I had two living examples of the condition quite literally in my face, with one suffering from Alzheimer’s and the other from an alcohol-induced dementia.

      Anosognosia is a condition in which a person with a disability is cognitively unaware of having it due to an underlying physical condition. Anosognosia results from physiological damage to brain structures, typically to the parietal lobe or a diffuse lesion on the fronto-temporal-parietal area in the right hemisphere, and is thus a neuropsychiatric disorder. A deficit of self-awareness, it was first named by the neurologist Joseph Babinski in 1914. Phenomenologically, anosognosia has similarities to denial, which is a psychological defense mechanism; attempts have been made at a unified explanation.

      So while I do think that my step-mother did have some awareness of her Alzheimer’s, and this awareness may have contributed to her wild and extreme swings between anger and sadness, but my father… holy-sh… “There’s nothing wrong with me!” said the man with untreated diabetes, who emptied his bladder and voided his bowels into his pants in public (rewearing these same clothes without thought), who didn’t seem to recognize his wife was ill, who was once performed high-level mathematical calculations as a matter of course for work as an engineer and now couldn’t manage simple addition or subtraction…

      Anosognosia is a nightmare in itself, and can make you wonder if you’re the one who’s nuts when you encounter it.

      Because Anosognosia, this total lack of self-awareness, is triggered by brain-damage, and we know that covid infections can cause brain-damage, what are the odds…

      Sorry for the rant, but this question had been nagging at me.

        1. LawnDart

          Yes, excellent! That seems like a good mordid romp to enjoy on a dreary evening.

          However, in her story, the afflicted are cognizant of their disabilities and jealous of those who still possess what were normal abilities (pre-pandemic), whereas in extreme cases of anosognisa the blind think that they can still see, and recently crippled believe they can still walk, etc.

          If covid can cause the type of brain-damage that creates the condition of anosognisia (and I do not know if it can or cannot do this), not only would this be a public-health/mental-health/no-health nightmare, but a societal one as well: lack of self-insight and self-awareness via communicable disease!

          And here I thought TV and Tik-Tok were rot…

      1. Neutrino

        How long until Anosognosia sufferers, or whatever the appropriate term is, become a protected class?
        Can they engage with others to form some intersectional fund-raising coalition? DSM-V, VI,… ∞
        Asking for a friend.

        1. LawnDart

          Ah, case-in-point!

          Well, we already beef about the seeming lack of self-awareness of our PMC and political class, also of the seeming disconnect from reality displayed by their supporters and followers, recent events would seem to indicate that not only do they have the Secret Service at their disposal, but the FBI as well– protection enough, wouldn’t you agree?

          Covid-induced brain-damage can only help strengthen America’s political system, aka “Our Democracy(tm)”.

      2. Raymond Sim

        I have some first-person experience of the phenomenon. As a consequence of stroke I have a degree of left-side visual neglect. My field of vision is almost entirely intact, but I’m only aware of things in my left periphery if I focus my attention there. I was aware that this could happen, but I didn’t anticipate that I would lose awareness of these things when I shifted my visual focus away from them. It’s been years now, and I’m still taken aback by the degree of forgetting and its instantaneous effect. I forget what was there, and I also forget any concerns I had about what was there. This is why I stopped driving.

  5. VietnamVet

    This is a time of change. The Houthis have closed the Suez Canal to Western Shipping and likewise the climate change drought is limiting the number of ships going through the Panama Canal. The US/UK Oceanic Empire cannot do anything about the closure of the logistic choke points. More shortages and inflation are a given. WW3 has started with two regional wars in Ukraine and the Arabian Peninsula. So far, MAD has prevented an apocalypse.

    Boeing no longer can build safe airliners. A second largest wave of COVID infections is underway completely ignored by government. There is no longer a functioning public health system. Hospitals, schools or workplaces are not safe. It is playing Russian roulette. Only N95 masks, plus limiting duration and degree of exposure to the virus reduce the risks of catching it and getting long-COVID.

    A new Dark Age of corporate-state propaganda has arrived to preserve the current plutocracy. Yet, survival in the West depends on the restoration of truth and reconciliation. Without it, there will be no way for Europe or North America to live within their means in diminished multi-polar world.

    This article is a very good start at grasping this reality. One of the basic shortcomings of alternative media is that only the right wing is producing criticism of the current professional managerial class in order to get rid of Joe Biden. They have as many foibles and mistaken beliefs as their professional opponents. The last thing they want is a “New Deal”. Oligarchs, managers and Ayn Rand radicals simply do not want good governance. It will end their gravy train whose last stop is hell.

  6. David in Friday Harbor

    I think that post-1980 rise neoliberal financialization and debt peonage have a lot to do with how the professions have placed form over substance and suffered an utter collapse of their integrity.

    I began law school in the Fall of 1981. My legal writing instructor was a drawling ex-public defender from Dallas named Tom Sullivan. At the outset of the course he informed us that 8 in 10 of us were only in the room thanks to the 1978 Federal Guaranteed Student Loan Program, that had allowed the law school to recklessly expand by admitting previously unqualified students. He accused that 8 out of 10 of us of having no business in the legal profession and of diluting the quality of the profession and the ability of decent lawyers to make a living.

    Tom was eerily prescient: my second-tier las school’s 82 percent first-time Bar-pass rate collapsed to 50 percent when our “expansion” class sat for the exam. With more hungry lawyers graduating each year, over the past four decades I watched the profession turn itself inside-out, from acting as counselors-at-law to tell-the-client-whatever-he-wants-to-hear sycophancy.

    Holding a law-license doesn’t make you smart or ethical, and precarity and careerism often makes sure that you won’t ever be. It’s the same with doctors, accountants, and press secretaries. Jane Jacobs saw all of this coming.

  7. Yaiyen

    This going to sound nuts but in my opinion PMC class never cared about COVID-19,it was just a tool they used to take down Trump and second no negative press about the vaccine is tolerated under Biden, they even stopped count death toll under Biden, it’s not pretty. Come general election I believe COVID-19 censorship will go on high gear.

    1. ambrit

      This election cycle, I’m expecting all censorship to go into hyperdrive.
      With the “emergence” of what is called Artificial Intelligence, but is nothing like real intelligence, expect the fakes to proliferate. As an unintended byproduct of that, expect people to develop a ‘sense’ for the real versus the fake. Secondarily, public belief in the “Official Narrative” in many fields should drastically decline as the distrust of all “official” sources becomes ubiquitous. This is a supercharged way to destroy larger Society.

      1. playon

        “…expect people to develop a ‘sense’ for the real versus the fake.”

        I really hope you are right about this, but I wouldn’t count on it.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > This going to sound nuts but in my opinion PMC class never cared about COVID-19

      Oh, I think they did, in their own little way. Remember when the focus was on “bending the curve” — not to avoid, infection, no no, but to prevent hospitals (big PMC hotbed) from being overloaded? Then WFH kicked in, everything could be delivered (by the working class, naturally) and their concerns rapidly waned. Same with solving how to dine out in restaurants, at least in NY.

      But for a brief, shining moment there was a sense of collectivity, of solidarity, however misplaced it was.a

  8. Mike Moschos

    When Taleb made that ad hominem post on Twitter, it related to him defending against accusations of making an ad hominem argument against an independent fintech journalist. He criticized her for having a background in art history before becoming an independent fintech journalist and daring to argue against him, a man with a finance background, about whether repo transactions are loans. However, she was absolutely correct: repos are a form of collateralized loans, if not in name, then wholly in substance.

    1. Adam Eran

      Yep, Taleb is a talented guy, but I’ve seen a speech of his in which he points out national “debt” is the occasion for national fragility. Maybe he’s not perfect, either…

    2. ChrisPacific

      Yes, I think Taleb is on shaky ground with this one. If someone is making an appeal to authority argument based on their own credentials, rather than an evidence based argument, they’re certainly fair game. But if they’re presenting a logical argument based on evidence, addressing that argument should be the first step. (I think Yves originally chose to start this blog pseudonymously for that reason, because well supported arguments should stand or fall on their own merits and not because of who made them).

      Now you might decide it’s not worth your time to examine the argument, which may or may not be reasonable. Some arguments can be quite involved, there’s a time cost involved in these things, and the author may not be operating in good faith. But if you choose not to engage and make a credential based argument instead, then you’re definitely in ad hominem territory. This happens all the time in academic publishing (as Taleb notes) which is why a lot of important theories needed multiple attempts before they were accepted, and the original author often wasn’t credited or recognized in their time.

      I think when Taleb refers to “letting every web guru with a theory create a mess” he’s engaging in an appeal to authority of his own. I don’t buy this at all. The peer review system is highly problematic (as has been discussed at length elsewhere) and serves mostly to perpetuate the biases of influential members. Crowd sourced review processes do exist and can be structured in such a way that they work effectively, and I’d argue are superior to the journal/peer review system when done well. I think this is Taleb engaging in a little guru behavior of his own. As a mathematician, he should know perfectly well that the quality of the argument is what matters.

      1. LilD

        Let me continue with another ad hominem

        I was briefly in the pit with him lo those many years ago, and later was a hedge fund cousin to empirica…. “Naseem the dream”
        Smart guy, arrogant and very fond of putting others down with vitriolic contempt for

        Bring nonscientists
        Wearing a necktie
        Not speaking French
        Liking certain genres of music

        I do like his books however

  9. Arcady Bogdanov

    It is not just the PMC. Although I must admit to being a member of the PMC, I am stunned at the lack of curiosity and lack of desire to learn ANYTHING that permeates this society. I’ve sort of fallen into a project management role, not due to my education, but due to my family history, which is steeped in the construction trades and management going back well over a century. I oversee projects and manage contractors for a government agency, and I have made a few observations that absolutely stun me, every time I think about them:
    People treat those of us with specialized technical knowledge as people that practice something akin to black magic. I routinely try to educate those around me in basic engineering and planning principles, and they either express deer in the headlights fear, or they only pay enough attention in order to pick up a few words or phrases to become better frauds. In either case, there is zero desire to learn.
    I cover a good chunk of a mid Atlantic state, and work on projects that range from $20k to about $2 million, I know a lot of contractors. Not one of them is under the age of 40. There are extremely few young people on their crews- 25 years ago, such crews were dominated by people in their 20s.
    I do not know a single owner/operator excavator under the age of 45- literally just ONE in his 40s-the rest are all over 50. Of course with the price of equipment nowadays, the barrier to entry is very high, but most of the excavators I know began purchasing equipment in their late 20s, or early 30s.
    Explaining practical limitations, how long things take to build, how weather affects schedules, why it costs more to build during certain seasons, why some things are impractical, why some changes are not possible at the last minute or once a project is underway is an exercise in patience, and I have found that the more highly a person is (formally) educated, the more difficult this is.
    Basically, the investment in time and effort to actually learn or understand something is seen as an inconvenience. People assume there will always be someone that will be able to take care of technical issues, but the big problem with that assumption, is that technically oriented people are an aging and endangered species. Learning such thing is disincentivized through cost and/or negative social attitudes. We have become a society of bullshit artists.
    I make one more observation. I grew up and live in northern Appalachia. People here cannot afford to hire specialists to do things for them (by specialists, I mean tradespeople mainly, but there is also a long tradition of things like medical self-treatment also) I recently turned 50, and I recall that both my parents’ and grandparents’ generation did things for themselves out of necessity. This also exists among my generation and the generation following me, but there is one general key difference- basic competency. The older generations, when they did something, made a good go at doing a proper job. Things looked professional or very near professional. My peers and those younger- well it often looks like a child performed whatever the job happened to be. No attention to detail, thought to longevity, effects on surroundings, and worst of all, no pride- and we are not talking about wage work. I’m talking about people’s own homes and property. To be clear, I’m not blaming these people or their generations, but something happened. It is very distressing to witness, and worse, it is terrible knowing that this collapse appears to have begun with my own generation/cohort. I wish I knew how to reverse this, but I am at a loss. I work very hard to motivate my family to learn and maintain skills, and I worry about what will happen to them when I am gone- sincerely hope they stick with it. There is a joy in all craftsmanship that I hope they come to appreciate as I have.

      1. JBird4049

        If all you create is bullshit, being unable to create the truth, will you then be able to see the truth?

        If most jobs that pay anything close to a living wage and gives “access” to healthcare are bullshit jobs consisting of word manipulation, spin, and the illusion of truth, does any wonder why occupations that are meaningful, which pays the least and denies healthcare, and the people in in them are mocked?

        For several generations, the factories and their jobs were shipped overseas, Americans working in the trades have been replaced with lower paying jobs, pink collar jobs have been cut and mocked, and the unions for all this have been destroyed. We can add the small and even medium sized businesses that were owned either by individuals or families that have destroyed at the same time with the individuals owners, management, and workers tossed into the streets.

        The last generation that truly had directly connections to all these jobs, and more as respectable, safe, well paying jobs would have been the grandparents of the current generation. At the same time, education, media, businesses, and government all lie more readily than they tell the truth when they are not actively betraying you.

        Our society is a garbage dump with most people being shoved into the piles and being forced to eat it just to survive. While telling someone that working hard and having pride in your work done well and learning skills connected to reality is good, everything for the past forty years has increasingly been telling people otherwise. Even if you actually are silly enough to not believe what your own senses tell you, it is getting harder, almost impossible really, to find the training and the ability to practice. That is if your increasingly sickly body, the multiple jobs, and all the stresses of just surviving allow you to even try. So, yes, Generation X was the last to know this truth, to have access to the skills, and the time to learn with the jobs available at the end of it. Today, it is to work very hard, using everything you have to just survive amongst the garbage, stay ignorant, get sick, and die young for the glory of our masters.

    1. Iris

      When the world was 90% entrepreneurs and 10% employees, the inherent pride in craftsmanship was a given. Fifty years ago, vocational training was offered to most high school students, many of whom (males and females) were also taught cooking, sewing, carpentry and mechanical drawing during junior high years.

      In today’s corporate monopolized world, products are made with the attitude “Well, we make them but we don’t eat/drink/use them!” Capitalism has turned into “wastism”; everything is disposable, the most egregious being the weapons industry, wasting natural resources with endless destruction/reconstruction, benefiting only companies like Halliburton. Unleashed capitalism has exposed the fascist mind, where there is no room for logic, human rights, efficiency or real environmental concern.

    2. steve

      Arcady Bogdanov, my favorite character in the Mars series. He would have ended up unemployed in the West.

      1. Arkady Bogdanov

        I am now distressed upon seeing that I spelled my own alias improperly. Using the keyboard on a tablet is something I need to avoid, I guess. Arkady is a character that has long been dear to me as well, obviously. I suspect, were Arkady to live in our society, he would be jailed for subversive or insurrectionary activity.

    3. Wukchumni

      There’s a similarity to field workers in the Central Valley, pretty much all Mexican-American immigrants, where the average age is 45 now.

      There aren’t any replacements on the horizon…

    4. David in Friday Harbor

      I’ve copied this thoughtful and beautifully articulated comment to my clipboard. Thank you for taking the time to post it.

      I just completed my retirement retreat. My builder is less than a year behind me going onto Medicare and has owned and skillfully operated excavators since he was in his twenties. He tried to bring along a couple of younger workers but they were useless — “children” is how he described them. We spent the entire project cutting through the bullshit of suppliers who had sold-out to private equity and abandoned all personal commitment to their products. Some materials were so blatantly unfit for purpose that we had to laugh.

      My builder has had the personal integrity to follow through even after suffering a stroke and a heart attack brought on in part by dealing with all the crap. He built me a solid house. Hopefully the manufactured components hold up…

    5. Adam Eran

      I’ll also second this observation. The expert contractors I’ve had to hire for a recent rebuild/repair (thanks global warming!) are universally immigrants/refugees. With over-40 two exceptions, they are Ukrainian, Syrian, or Mexican.

      One wonders whether acquiring such expertise is one real object of the forever wars…?

    6. Randall Flagg

      After a career in construction this comment/observation could not be have nailed it more, as well as the comments on it below. All, sad and scarily true.
      I hope this could again someday become the topic of a future post.

  10. Mikel

    People don’t usually walk away from or turn their backs on things that are working for themselves.

  11. Chuck Harris

    Thanks for this article and also excellent commentary. Good things to ponder on MLK day. I especially remember his warning of the three evils of racism, militarism, and materialism. The second and third are often forgotten, in memorial events.

  12. Mark Sully

    I grew up in an academic family — parents from NYC — educated, hard working, and we moved to the Caribbean and also around the USA at a time when it was the pattern for professors to change jobs every few years; and later I moved to Europe and learned more languages. The benefit was the ability to compare different ways of life, via cultures. There is not just one way of doing things.

    I have a sister who taught education at an Ivy League grad school and her husband was at the top of his class at Amherst, etc — and along with my in many ways admirable mother, to my ongoing surprise, they swallow wholesale the Democratic Party narrative — even now!.

    This is unbelievable to me. We used to be able to talk about politics but there is a bitterness just beneath the surface now — the sense that if you are not with them you are against them.

    EVERY vaccinated person in my family has had serious health issues since — stents , cancer, recurring bouts of covid, and yet none will make the connection. It is no longer clearly a health matter but a political one, also.

    I can relate to the words of the contractor from Appalachia above — I am self employed and obsessed with detail in my own work. My wife is from Japan and we spend a lot of time there –months at a time– and this is a super-society, the oldest, continuous one on the planet, that is extremely attentive and detailed — it is in some ways another planet. Influenced to be sure by technology and modernity and all the distractions — but still solidly rooted in traditional culture.

    There are no garbage cans in Tokyo, the biggest city in the world. You carry your own trash home in a bag after a day in the city. You will NEVER find a spec of litter. The trains run with Swiss precision. You feel competence everywhere at every level. There is a basic kindness and courtesy that is not staged — it is authentic.

    What you also come away with is how less selfish it is there than much of America.

    I just starting typing here, reacting to what I read above… I think because I mourn America now. It is so lost.

    Franz Kafka: ‘From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached.’

    I believe a solid 50% of us know this and are on the verge of action.

    Hard times are ahead! The plutocracy needs a war: there is now the existential threat to them of a collapse due to our gov debt. The dollar hegemony is over. Sovereign debt must default now, and they need to reset via another Bretton Woods. They will start a war with Iran, imo.

    At basis: our disintegration is due to a ruling class that has lost the mandate of heaven, squandered it, as someone said recently: those whose constant strategy to insure their own dominance is to do everything in their power to fragment our population and American culture — with formidable tools now.

    But they have gone too far. The assumption is that a strict surveillance society using tech, like China, will do the job soon.

    Xi met not only with Blinken and Biden in SF — but Larry Funk and the CEO of BOA, Microsoft leadership, among other business elites. The new senate?

    For the next few years what state or nation you live in will be important to your ability to survive the chaos.

    1. eg

      I think the US embraced the attitude expressed by Margaret Thatcher’s notorious “there is no such thing as society” with such unbridled enthusiasm that it has travelled further down the path of atomization than has ever been attempted in human history.

      It’s a dead end.

    2. NotTimothyGeithner

      My view is people hate self reflection. This goes back to Obamacare (insert the relevant problematic entry point). Instead of demanding action from Obama, the Team Blue PMC became thought police, feeding on or miss of future action. They peddled all kinds of nonsense over the years, most notably Reid’s dry powder. Now MSDNC provides an echo chamber and white noise keeping the doubts at bay. Obama’s excuses were just repackaged 3rd way tripe.

      Even much of our current Healthcare crisis can be traced to the path we embarked on in 2009. Over financialization of Healthcare was already a problem. Subsidizing insurers and including price controls with greater leeway than McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform was never going to succeed regardless of how relatively small c conservative one is.

    3. Otto Reply

      “We used to be able to talk about politics but there is a bitterness just beneath the surface now — the sense that if you are not with them you are against them.”

      Noted. I’m experiencing this as well in conversation with well-educated friends. And a couple of them “teach” critical thinking at university level. Rather than continually argue – or passively/aggressively not argue, I’m just not spending much time with them. And that makes me profoundly sad.

      To add to the kudos, this is an excellent post and another fine example of NC’s prescient coverage against the MSM grain. Thanks Lambert, Yves, I’m forwarding this to a carefully curated set of folks who get it. (my silo)

      1. Cat Burglar

        I have experienced it, too.

        Racism/stupidity is advanced as a wholly adequate way to understand Trump support, and consideration of the real needs being expressed through Trump support is emphatically, often angrily, rejected — because then you’d have to start talking about a policy program that could break down Trump’s appeal. At that point, I ask them, “So if the Trumpers are inherently racist or stupid, then there is no way to change the situation, is there? Where is the political solution? Are we stuck here forever, then?” The conversation peters out at that point, with mutterings that I might have gone over to the enemy, or become a less than virtuous person. Seeing a political conjuncture as a form of fate is the definition of what Marxists used to call false consciousness.

    4. Feral Finster

      “I have a sister who taught education at an Ivy League grad school and her husband was at the top of his class at Amherst, etc — and along with my in many ways admirable mother, to my ongoing surprise, they swallow wholesale the Democratic Party narrative — even now!.

      This is unbelievable to me. We used to be able to talk about politics but there is a bitterness just beneath the surface now — the sense that if you are not with them you are against them.”

      PMC solidarity.

      1. Adam Eran

        After having visited several local political clubs, I’m always surprised at how little interest there is in educating people about public policy issues. The clubs are exercises in social (PMC) solidarity, not forums for debate or discussion.

        I’ve heard one Australian planner said “You Yanks don’t consult the wisdom of democracy, you enable mobs.”

        1. Feral Finster

          Nobody of influence and authority gives a rat’s @ss about democracy, except when convenient.

          The voters don’t agree? Well, the voters clearly are confused.

          The voters agree with my preferred policy? In that case, then in that case, The Voice Of The People Has Spoken!

      2. notabanker

        I don’t believe there is a much solidarity as most people think. I think the PMC, and most would consider me a member of it, is very fragile and on the brink. I wrote a long comment on this in the WC and believe I deleted it before I posted it (which is something I do quite often). And in that comment I postulated that Healthcare is the achilles heel of the C-Suite and I still believe that. So I found this post most interesting.

        From where I sit, the C-Suites are becoming increasingly divorced from the reality of their workforce, not just ‘laborers’ but the whole workforce.

        Unfortunately, they have no choice but to double down on healthcare for profit. If a legit national healthcare option were available, the PMC workforce would be reduced by 30% or more overnight. Early retirements and gig jobs would shoot through the roof, and the remaining workforce would be extremely choosey over where to work next giving it a very significant amount of pricing power.

    5. Wukchumni

      Our situation will be somewhat similar to that of post-war Germany in 1918, defeated on the battlefield far away-with the homeland barely touched, and stony broke, its industries a shambles as everything was predicated on a war economy.

      All the citizenry really need to complete their ensemble in an uncivil war against neighbors and the like, is a military uniform in red or blue hue, they’re armed & dangerous already.

      1. ChrisFromGA

        One would think that should Raytheon, LMT, and other Beltway bandits get the outlaw justice they deserve, the DC-Baltimore metro area might face a depression the likes of which Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Buffalo had to face in the 70’s.

        All those cushy MIC contractor gigs gone … it might be like the the great migration westward, waves of refugees headed westward on route 66 driving Teslas with mattresses tied to the top of the car.

    6. CA

      Fascinating comment.

      That Japan has an especially long life expectancy and especially low infant mortality rate should be mentioned and considered:

      January 15, 2018

      Life Expectancy at Birth for United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, 2017-2021

      January 30, 2018

      Infant Mortality Rate for United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, 2017-2021

    7. CA

      That Japanese health characteristics differ so dramatically from those of the US, even though Japanese per capita GDP is so much lower, needs examination:,122,124,156,924,128,172,132,134,174,532,178,436,136,158,542,137,546,138,196,142,182,576,184,144,146,112,111,&s=PPPPC,&sy=2007&ey=2022&ssm=0&scsm=1&scc=0&ssd=1&ssc=0&sic=0&sort=country&ds=.&br=1

      October 15, 2023

      Per capita Gross Domestic Product, 2022

      United States ( 76,343)
      Japan ( 49,090)

  13. SD

    Thank you, Lambert, for writing this and for your superb coverage of COVID in general. The gaslighting around the pandemic is so extreme and widespread that I sometimes feel like I’m losing my marbles. NC’s/Water Cooler’s consistent, fact-based, and sensible presentation of information is both an irreplaceable source of trustworthy knowledge and an oasis of sanity for me.

  14. Goingnowhereslowly

    There is so much I want to echo here: the feeling of living in a state of constant mourning for what this country once was, the urgency of maintaining skills and supporting those who have them, and the anxiety about what comes after the Mandate of Heaven has been lost.

    When I was a bureaucrat (31 years at EPA) I enjoyed home cooking as the one area where I could develop and exercise mastery of a practical skill. In retirement, I’m learning to sew my own clothes: I’m sure any readers who are post menopausal women will understand the impossibility of buying good clothes that fit. I am fortunate to have found a wonderful sewing studio and a community of people dedicated to practicing and passing on this skill.

    I once saw my career at EPA as an opportunity to tweak the system into being less stupid and destructive while maintaining an economy that made real stuff. Obviously, things haven’t worked out that way.

    As few months ago I found myself writing a poem entitled “Well Dressed for the Nuclear Apocalypse.”

    I grieve for the young. I hope they learn how to make clothes, garden, fix engines, and concoct effective home remedies for common ailments. Because they are or soon will be utterly on their own.

    1. Irrational

      Thank you for your comment.
      It deeply resonates with me.
      I have been working in climate/development finance for the last decade or so, only to see what ultimately matters is not whether the investment brings real benefits to people (by improving water, sanitation, energy supply), but whether someone can use it to get ahead internally, because they met their signature targets.
      And, yes, the management jobs go to the sales people, not to anyone actually doing any work!
      Totally second the comment on women’s clothes. Alas we don’t sew, but we do garden and hubby does woodworking.
      Will it be enough to handle incompetence, to handle climate change? Does it matter? Personally speaking, once the pharma industry shuts down, my time is up. I don’t imagine I am the only one in that situation. Life is very prec(ar)ious.

    2. Eclair

      I hear you, Goingnowhereslowly! As for sewing clothes (which I took up again ten years ago,) you may be interested to know that my Amish friend, L, who runs a dry goods store, has a waiting list for the old fashioned pedal-powered sewing machines. A network of local ‘English,’ who frequent auctions and household sales, bring her their finds.

    3. Raymond Sim

      I think I can confidently speak for my wife in expressing her solidarity with you. She had been sewing since her teens, but really began leveling-up hard in her mid-fifties. I’m very impressed by the quality of her work now. She’s needed a lot of ‘leisure’ time to get here though.

  15. Falls City Beer

    It’s the logic of capitalism. The contradictions. The dead ends that we place ourselves in and can’t extract ourselves from. Supply chain disruptions killed nearly as many as the disease itself. The catch-22 of our own creation. I think we’ve landed in a spot where even the most nimble minds couldn’t extract us: spinning in the maelstrom.

  16. Camelotkidd

    “We’re not going to — it is up to them. It is up to them, as it relates to masking, what individual Americans want to do. That is not something that we’re going to regulate.”
    I vaguely remember some other woman back in the dark ages of the 20th century making a similar statement about how there is no society just individuals and their families.
    I guess that this is how that all turned out

  17. Samya Stumo

    > Karine: “it is up to each and — each and every American to make their decision on what they want to do”

    Perhaps the US government will starting taking COVID and Long COVID seriously when Long-COVID debilitation of IRS enforcement staff reaches a point that people feel safe making their own assessment that it’s not necessary to pay taxes.

  18. playon

    A dark age, according to Jacobs, is that: a breakdown of culture to such an extent that people forget what life used to be like, and even forget that life used to be different at all.

    We are close to that point I believe. I read that after the year 536 for example, the knowledge of how to build large buildings was lost for hundreds of years. In another generation or two no one alive will remember that the USA was at one time a better place to live for most people.

    I once was angry about the decline of this country, then simply sad, but now I just want to GTFO of here and live somewhere where a government has some respect for its citizens.

  19. ChrisPacific

    I have just realized that Mandy Cohen is a dead ringer for Marcie Frost, of CalPERS fame.

    I know this is pure coincidence and doesn’t mean anything. But it gives me a feeling of doom anyway.

  20. Samuel Conner

    I would think that there must be people somewhere in USG — perhaps in the part of the DoD that worries about staffing trends — that is concerned about the possibility that “COVID forever” will lead to progressive debilitation of the population. It’s not a cheerful thought that the people most aware of these problems might be the war-fighters, but I suppose that it’s better than no-one at all caring about them.

  21. Eclair

    I just had a phone conversation with a friend, another senior, in NY, who has been in bed for two weeks with …. whooping cough. I could hear her horrible cough, which kept interrupting our conversation.

    I talked about declining protection from childhood pertussis vaccines, but she assured me there was no booster for whooping cough. I checked and apparently the pertussis vaccine can be given separately to older. people, although some of the information seemed to be contradictory. (There is no one in charge?) The cases in Suffolk County, NY, reportedly were mostly among vaccinated children, and their parents, which is worrying.

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