Launched with a brief blog post. Just trying to sample the decades that have occurred these past couple of weeks.
Note: Generally, the dates are the date that I encountered them, to keep some sense of narrative order. Started with normier sources, will also fill in some stranger things as I work out a story for them.
25 April: LOL this was a terrible idea! Being constantly inundated with this, with everyone else also deeply invested in it, I have no edge or interest in spending more time on this in this pseudo-public way. My Roam notes were sufficient for me. Anyway, added some notes from across April, especially to Reflections section.
3 April: Updates after a period of offline-only recordkeeping. Lots of the new global stuff is Peter Zeihan because he was a recent read of mine. I also still need to digest this piece by Toby Shorin et al.
21 March: A few link updates. Highlight is Tyler Cowen’s article in culture.
19 March: Started project. Moving and organizing notes from my Roam notebook. A lot of missing pages to this book, completeness is not really the aim. Excuse the mess.
- Instant classic Scott Alexander post. It’s about risk management, not prediction. TheZvi is seriously concerned about the impact that treating models as clairvoyants can have. (See also: health systems readiness section.) He responds to Alexander in depth about whether and when predictions are hard.
- I read “The Decadent Society” early this month.
- Marc Andreessen essay re-emerges, “It’s Time to Build“. “Our nation and our civilization were built on production, on building. Our forefathers and foremothers built roads and trains, farms and factories, then the computer, the microchip, the smartphone, and uncounted thousands of other things that we now take for granted, that are all around us, that define our lives and provide for our well-being. There is only one way to honor their legacy and to create the future we want for our own children and grandchildren, and that’s to build.”
- Venkat responds by quietly filtering it through the lens of normalcy bubbles and Carlota Perez, in “How, What, and Where to Build“.
- Ezra Klein at Vox invokes vetocracy as the reason Why We Can’t Build.
- Kieran Corcoran makes the case for “boring competence” over flashy megaprojects. It is a genuinely decent case. Medical procurement, contact tracing, and sustained adherence to social distancing works well Sending in navy ships and building new hospitals is very impressive but underperforms.
- John Lutti argues that the internet’s maturation will mean an increasingly zero-sum world, and the cessation of some tech tail winds. “The Internet’s maturation will have ripple effects across every financial and cultural aspect of the technology industry. There certainly will be $10 billion dollar companies started within segments slow to adopt technology: legal tech, construction, agriculture, and mining are all prime candidates for massive new technology entrants. But new $100 billion dollar outcomes are less likely to come from pure Internet companies.
The Silicon Valley of tomorrow will not look like that of today – success stories rarely repeat themselves – but new Internet opportunities certainly aren’t going away. Quite the opposite: recognizing where we are in the Internet adoption curve clarifies the opportunities in front of us. Founders may seize this moment to build new tools to better understand operational investments, create the financial layer of the Internet, or look beyond the Internet to build new platforms in biotech or energy.”
- Alex Barnes on NYT’s the Daily Podcast. Episode titled “The Return of the Governor”
- Got a lot of play on my networks: Ed Yong on how Coronavirus will end.
- The US fell behind and failed the initial COVID test.
- In order to avoid worst case, several things need to happen:
- Rapidly produce PPEs
- Massive test rollout
- Social Distancing
- Clear, well-communicated coordination
- The endgame:”Under these conditions, there are three possible endgames: one that’s very unlikely, one that’s very dangerous, and one that’s very long.”
- The first is that every nation manages to simultaneously bring the virus to heel, as with the original SARS in 2003. Given how widespread the coronavirus pandemic is, and how badly many countries are faring, the odds of worldwide synchronous control seem vanishingly small.
- The second is that the virus does what past flu pandemics have done: It burns through the world and leaves behind enough immune survivors that it eventually struggles to find viable hosts. This “herd immunity” scenario would be quick, and thus tempting. But it would also come at a terrible cost: SARS-CoV-2 is more transmissible and fatal than the flu, and it would likely leave behind many millions of corpses and a trail of devastated health systems. The United Kingdom initially seemed to consider this herd-immunity strategy, before backtracking when models revealed the dire consequences. The U.S. now seems to be considering it too.
- The third scenario is that the world plays a protracted game of whack-a-mole with the virus, stamping out outbreaks here and there until a vaccine can be produced. This is the best option, but also the longest and most complicated.
- Afterwards: perhaps further isolationism and a new foreign threat perception. Or perhaps a new public spirit and cooperation/appreciation.
- Conor Friedersdorf claims that big gov’t vs small gov’t isn’t the right debate for framing this crisis. The government does too little (crisis response & mgmt) and too much (bureaucratic redtape)
- Yuval Harari argues that Coronavirus gives us a choice between national surveillance and personal quantification, and a national choice between isolationism and solidarity.
- The President at this time was entertaining an “Easter reopening”. This has been pushed back to end of month reevaluation.
- Going back to work is “murderous, naive unsanity” because “the Coronavirus disaster hasn’t happened yet. “I’ve covered and survived a lot of disasters—earthquakes, hurricanes, and multiple epidemics among them. I’ve learned from experts that disasters are not momentary events, as it sometimes seem, but series of stages. The Federal Emergency Management Agency describes them in a cycle like this—the idea being that all communities are in at least one of the stages at any given time: Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, Recovery”. Chris Hayes said on Twitter that we’re “between the lightning and the thunder”.
- Steve Waldman (Interfluidity) says the same, emphatically. Effectively, going back to work is a collapse risk.
- Peter Zeihan gives a positive view of American ingenuity in the face of a challenge (and our capacity to overreact, for better or worse). He talks a lot about America’s manic-depressive behavior in his latest book, which I’m listening to now.
- Sinofsky on Crisis Leadership. “Yes this was a subtweetstorm.”
- Adam Elkus on the “profoundly radicalizing experience” of cascading failures of elite institutions: “[A]ll of this is astounding in both its scope and simultaneity. And it makes a mockery out of the cottage industry developed over the last few years to preserve our collective epistemic health. […]. as we have seen, these institutions are perfectly capable of unraveling themselves without much help from Russian bots and trolls and Macedonian teenagers. And if the fish rots from the head, then the counter-disinformation effort becomes actively harmful. It seeks to gentrify information networks that could offer layers of redundancy in the face of failures from legacy institutions. It is reliant on blunt and context-indifferent collections of bureaucratic and mechanical tools to do so.”
- It’s been remarkable to see how responsive the GOP has been in general to policies that wouldn’t traditionally fit them. More sources on this theme later.
- WHO on Jan 14: China claims no evidence of human-to-human transmission. Distrust of Authoritative Sources, pt n of m. Also ties into distrust of China.
- NYT: Why Telling People They Don’t Need Masks Backfired.
- An exciting metaphor – the need for an American ‘Meiji Restoration’: “Like Japan in the mid-1800s, the United States now faces a crisis that disproves everything the country believes about itself. […] The question, of course, is whether this crisis will shock us enough to change our ways. The Japanese did eventually react to Commodore Perry’s squadron of ships with something more than fear. They stopped talking about themselves as the vertex of the Earth. They overhauled their education system. They adopted Western scientific methods, reorganized their state, and created a modern bureaucracy. This massive change, known as the Meiji Restoration, is what brought Japan, for better or for worse, into the modern world. Naturally, the old samurai-warrior class fought back against it, bitterly and angrily. But by then the new threat was so obvious that enough people got it, enough people understood that a national mobilization was necessary, enough people understood that things could not go on that way indefinitely. Could it happen here, too?”
- How COVID Radicalized Me (American mind): “There are three reasons for our decaying institutions. First, we have become complacent. Second, vetoes have become too widely distributed, the tragedy of the anti-commons. Third, we have an elite that is fundamentally unserious.” Part of an ongoing series entitled “The Coronavirus and Our Future Discontents”.
- Samo Burja argues that we have failed to cultivate a competent elite in an American Mind response: “It is no victory for free society that a small segment of the online commentariat are right when all major institutions are wrong. Their prolific tweets are evidence that society has failed to harness their capacities, leaving them misapplied and our elites adrift.”
- CDC website does not appear to be updating.
Public health communications, hospital readiness, etc. This section is pretty weak and will need attention later.
- Note: I ought to include more contemporary sources on bending the curve etc. Ubiquitous now but one day I’ll want the records of how we thought about the challenge.
- On Test & Trace.
- Over this month, the IMHE model became the prominent reference for many. It revised down over the month, damaging credibility with some. Even now, it looks like we are well likely to clear the model’s overall median death projection in short order. A couple of weeks ago, TheZvi argued that their models treat all interventions as equally weighted, which is bizarre.
- A leap forward in telemedicine regulations. I remember being a bit stifled by a strict court case on telemedicine in India. It sounds like something similar is happening over there, risks are being recalibrated and red tape is being cut.23 March
- The president cannot be relied upon to convey accurate information, cont’d.
- CDC loosens guidelines to include scarves and bandanas in extreme circumstances? Maybe not as dire as being reported, but doesn’t inspire confidence.
- Propublica: Hospital overruns coming. A few models.
- Volunteer’s produce 3D-printed valves for about $1. Turns out they were not legally threatened, the story was out of hand for a moment it appears.
- NYT list of Trump downplaying, undermining, miscommunicating on Covid-19. (Archive link)
- Mass confusion at airports as Americans rush home after the European travel ban speech. No capacity at Customs. Not good during an outbreak, needless to say.
- A sober seeming White House speech that had massive errors requiring immediate correction. Only odd because it was a written speech, really.
- “What’s the plan for the Grand Princess [docking tomorrow]?” Carson: “It hasn’t been fully formulated.” Tweet.
- Tyler Cowen on how the pandemic might reshape public opinion. Precarious economics means less egalitarian elites; now that the GOP embraces stimulus, it’s off the table for the left; mass transit, YIMBYism, and open international borders all look less desirable after a pandemic; climate change may look like a luxury (or in a bullish-vaccine world, techno-optimism towards climate change might kill policy). More government intervention in parts of the healthcare system, but focused on supply constraints and ICU instead of general universal coverage.
- Seeing a lot more Kaczynski-esque attitudes as pollution reduces, waters clear up, etc. The pictures and images are neat, though. Not linking the nastier messages, but cleanup images on twitter [POST-HOC: most of these are, in fact, fake. The attitudes are real.]: clear waters in Venice, drunk elephants in Yunan, satellite imagery over China.
- Aelkus on Moral Agency – Trump Phenomenon vs the Virus: “Trump, on the other hand, is stymied when he faces something indifferent to his reality distortion field. And the virus is, above all else, a reality that brutally imposes distortions rather than a reality that can be distorted.”
- Tabarrok’s tweet in response to a picture of partygoers “Downtown Nashville is undefeated”, . Tweeted post appears to be a “victory over fear” message, which is rational against terrorism but asinine and counterproductive against a viral outbreak. No moral agency to a virus, spreading terror is not the point.
- Drew on accelerated individualism: “the individualism that we’ve all internalized over time—which is partially structural, but also a development we’ve welcomed as consumers. […] as I watched the stock market tank along with the resultant 401k-related hand wringing, I fully grasped the absurdity of a 401k as a provision for one’s old age—an unstable band-aid on the absence of actual communities that care for one another, a mapping of well-being to personal productivity that we don’t escape even after we stop producing, and a powerful vector for the forced financialization of everyday life. I haven’t even addressed health care, but plenty about that has been said elsewhere. If this is indeed the slow-motion 9/11 that it seems to be—in broad cultural impact if nothing else—then we can expect the imminent demise of many norms that formerly seemed to make sense.
- This month featured the President coining the Virus after China and an exchange of various conspiracy theories. Updating w/ relevant sources later.
- Thoughts In Between: “China is expelling US journalists, visibly asserting soft power and, most importantly, pushing the claim that the US is the source of the outbreak (see here for a good summary). It may be a miscalculation, as Tanner Greer says. The US is, of course, pushing back, most obviously in Trump’s repeated use of the “Chinese Virus” label.
- T. Greer (a China skeptic) surprised by the China skepticism increasing in the United States.
- Sinocism: US-China relations near breaking point? – “The CCP is stirring anger against America inside China while embarking on a global campaign to sow disinformation about the origin of the virus and the CCP’s initial mishandling of the outbreak as part of the “we did everything we could, we tried to save the world, we bought you time” propaganda push, while now also offering help to fight the epidemics in other countries. As things get worse here, and no doubt in other countries as well, I am very afraid that the anger towards China and people of Chinese descent will only increase, and possibly explode. Perhaps the CCP will cynically see that as a benefit, if it drives more of the diaspora to want to return to the Motherland?”
- Serbian President: “The only country that can help us is China.” “By now, you all understood that European solidarity does not exist. That was a fairy tale on paper. I believe in my brother and friend Xi Jinping, and I believe in Chinese help.”
- Insane days for oil. May crude oil futures on CME goes negative. Technically an infrastructure concern, but future months may be impacted by fundamentals, perhaps globally. June contracts are at $17 currently. One of many Twitter explainers by a macro guy. Zeihan thinks we’re just getting started.
- This section is far out of date.
- Zeihan: “Oil prices are going to, and through, zero. Sometime soon, probably before the end of May, oil prices will be negative. Pretty much everywhere.” In this one, Zeihan plays out the Saudi-Russian oil price war origins and what their logistical situation looks like. Saudi production capacity and tanker-based distribution (instead of pipelines) does grant it some flexibility that will allow aggression to continue. Both countries have roughly equivalent cash reserves, but the Saudi’s have other financing options (and Russia also doesn’t hold US dollars). Culturally, Russia has the capability to take a good deal of pain though, it is often asserted.
- “We just had the second-biggest oil price drop on record as Asian markets opened March 8.”
- Per Zeihan, it takes 3 months to actually toggle production on/off in KSA. Which is considered fast, only the USA does it faster according to him (bc fracking is faster and depletes faster?).
- Putin Dumps MBS to Start a War on America’s Shale Oil Industry: ““The Kremlin has decided to sacrifice OPEC+ to stop U.S. shale producers and punish the U.S. for messing with Nord Stream 2,” said Alexander Dynkin, president of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Moscow, a state-run think tank. “Of course, to upset Saudi Arabia could be a risky thing, but this is Russia’s strategy at the moment – flexible geometry of interests.”
>To upset Saudi Arabia could be a risky thing
- This section created.
- Last week I finished Zeihan’s “Disunited Nations”. Listened to him on some podcasts. He claims that COVID is accelerating the unmooring of the USA from its own global order, and that Europe will be hit harder. His newsletter now has a running series on coronavirus’ effects on geopolitics.
- There are more sources on geopolitics than just Peter Zeihan, but his shop has been producing content regularly. In his ‘developing world’ coronavirus roundup, he highlights some of my biggest concerns: the relatively weak central government, porous healthcare coverage, rampant comorbidities, and world-historical density of parts of India making it especially susceptible. But at least they recognize the problem and are acting, unlike e.g. Brazil. “Elsewhere in the world, we are looking for where the witch’s brew of very dense population centers, minimal internal testing relative to population size, weak health infrastructures, and populations with a high percentage of pre-existing health conditions all meet. In addition to India and Brazil, Egypt, Bangladesh, Yemen, Pakistan, Iraq, South Africa, the Philippines, Algeria, Nigeria, the Persian Gulf states, and Russia all make the list.”
- “Why aren’t stocks down more?” The S&P isn’t representative of the pain inflicted bc large caps are most prepared (duh), and the pain is in there too, just unevenly distributed. In addition to the representativeness highlight, Fed liquidity and fiscal stimulus are going a long way, and the drop we still see is still significant, which is fair.
- My NY friends are becoming concerned about inflation, but are generally bullish about generational wealth transfer. I don’t share their optimism yet. My internet contingent is increasingly concerned about deflation, calling for US dollars, gold, and bitcoin.
- Returning to this section after a long period of neglect. BTC bottomed just under $5k and bounced back up 40% as of my typing this. I know from my business in India that the exchange rate is 77-1 (my ‘mentally cached’ exchange rate from when I was just there was about 72-1).
- On 30 March, Zeihan agreed about the flight to cash mentioned below. “Expect US dollar shortages globally as everyone tries to put their money into the only safe(ish) market available. Expect the 10-year Treasury to follow the 3-month Treasury into negative yielding territory before the end of April. Never before has the “exorbitant privilege” of being the world’s reserve currency felt more exorbitant or more like a privilege.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. The centralization of global wealth into US dollar assets will trigger cascade effects throughout the financial system domestically and globally, throughout the real economy domestically and globally, while simultaneously triggering political convulsions throughout the world that will impact…everything.”
- “If I believed in Austrian Business Cycle Theory, by Cowen. Straussian? I have no idea. He links to his last play at this game in 2005.
- Cash, Gold, and Crypto folks are drumming up support and attracting attention in this environment. Expectations of a strong dollar. One exemplar in this space is Raoul Pal & RealVision.
- Stocks and bonds falling in tandem.
- Cryptos are also positively correlated. People escaping to cash?
- Lots of conversation about bringing pharma production back to the USA
- Conclusion in several different discussions: Efficiency and JIT were important and rational focuses, but resilience and redundancy might tip the trade-off the other way if the global order is going to fracture up a bit anyway. Need to find a good external write-up..
- ft.com: “Accelerating the shift from transport to teleport“
- Cringley made a set of predictions last month, he believes this will burn down startups (makes sense), and will also accelerate the end of IT. “To quote the immortal Al Mandel (why am I the only one who ever quotes the immortal Al?) ‘the step after ubiquity is invisibility.’ IT was the last visible vestige of MIS and now it, too, is gone.
But wait, who will replace my keyboard?
Amazon has been replacing all of our keyboards for some time now, along with our mice and our failed cables, and even entire PCs.”
- Holographic buttons
- Balaji has consistently been ahead of the curve on flagging the seriousness of the coronavirus situation. Today he posted a thread about the value of wearables. “The virus is an information problem.”
- NYT has an article on this smart thermometer company and its public map that suggests influenza movements, often anticipating the CDC’s own tools by a week or two.
- We could add DIY or cheap medical solutions. Doctors may find that they like telemedicine, which has had some trouble taking off. (Although Epic system’s story shows that these things take time anyway.)
- Super cheap 3D-printed valves. (Some Twitterers are skeptical about quality, but this is an emergency situation.)
- ARK Invest: Sure, it’s a great work-from-home experiment. Teleconferencing, mass onboarding of software tools for remote work, opportunities for e-sports since they’re the only game in town, drones. Gaming is doing great- Steam breaks records with 20mm people on concurrently.
- Amazon: Cashierless stores
Public Health Links
Don’t rely on me for this! This entire project is more of a retrospective than a live resource.