Virus Diary V

As long as we’re shut in with time on our hands, here is another installment of a sort of rolling diary to consider consequences of the virus. It’s true that with a virus that spreads exponentially, each day’s events seem like a week’s worth. Here are some observations. Please add your thoughts.

Today is Sunday, 29 March, 2020:

• Feudalism redux. Literally: Carnegie Moscow Center reports that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has

“tasked each of the oligarchs with overseeing a specific region where they have assets: Rinat Akhmetov will be responsible for the Donbas and western Ukraine, Kolomoisky for Zaporizhia, Victor Pinchuk for Dnipropetrovsk, and so on.”

Joel Kotkin weighs the prospects of neo-feudalism in The Coming Age of Dispersion at Quilette.

• Digital Congress. Not a prediction, just part of a lengthening wish list. As Ethan Zuckerman writes,

“this is a great time for congresspeople to return to their districts and start the process of virtual legislating—permanently. Not only is this move medically necessary at the moment, but it has ancillary benefits. Lawmakers will be closer to the voters they represent and more likely to be sensitive to local perspectives and issues. A virtual Congress is harder to lobby, as the endless parties and receptions that lobbyists throw in Washington will be harder to replicate across the whole nation. Party conformity also might loosen with representatives remembering local loyalties over party ties.”

• In Virus Diary II I suggested

Shorter, stronger supply chains on the other side of this? This looks like a safe bet.”

To expand a bit, the idea I was after was redundancy. We don’t need tariffs and trade barriers for spiteful reasons of base nationalism, but in case other countries place restrictions on supply chains, restrict exports, shut down ports and such, as we are seeing today.

•••••

And a local note:

Fannin County, Georgia is around 100 miles north of Atlanta in the southern Appalachian mountains. My wife and I own property in adjoining Union County. Indeed, our last redoubt would be a cabin there, and to reach it we’d want (but not have) to drive through Fannin County.

Whether or not officials in Fannin County can prohibit people from using their own properties, it looks like they’re game to try. It’s medieval, pulling up the drawbridge, the stuff of a dozen apocalypse tales. And not surprising.

Seems to me it represents a fundamental fracture in the US’s secular worship of property and wealth. Attempting to deny the right to use someone’s property is kind of shocking in a US context, possibly appropriate, but as I say, not surprising. What is surprising is how quickly the thin veneer of civilization begins to come off.

What do you think?

Here are the firstsecondthird and fourth Virus Diary installments.

Take care and wash your hands.

 

 

Virus Diary III

As long as we’re shut in with time on our hands, here is another installment of a sort of rolling diary to consider consequences of the virus. It’s true that with a virus that spreads exponentially, each day’s events seem like a week’s worth. Things we speculated a week ago now look naïve. Still.

Today is the first day of Monday, 23 March, 2020:

• Everything about the novel coronavirus is novel. Branko Milanovic points out that here we have a problem of both supply and demand. Expanding on a thought in Virus Diary II, he injects time as a variable. “If national governments can control or overcome the current crisis within the next six months or a year, the world would likely return to the path of globalization….” But if not, not.

“The longer the crisis lasts, and the longer obstacles to the free flow of people, goods, and capital are in place, the more that state of affairs will come to seem normal. Special interests will form to sustain it….”

• If nature is exacting revenge for human-induced climate change, as some suggest, it’s doing it in an odd way, chasing people away from public transportation.

• Still, the virus by all rights ought to boost trust in experts, a reasonable and modest enough idea that UK politician Michael Gove, our American president and a cadre of Republicans have methodically batted at for years. Benefit: Climate Change.

• Christine Wilkie writes that “the ‘us vs. them’ approach to Washington and the federal government, on which the president has built his political brand” in fact, his entire public persona is gone. Entirely undermined.

I think if we’re all in this together, down the road a few beneficial changes will be hard to deny, like the prohibition of tax buy backs. Our pro-business president supports the idea, and I’m guessing even the most pro-business congresspeople can be shamed into it. More medium-term goal: worker representation in the boardroom. Over the horizon: replacing some of the more craven aspects of healthcare for profit with real, straight-up needs-based care.

• For now an us vs. them frontier sentiment bubbles to the top. In Scotland, the SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford MP warns people off heading to Scotland to self-isolate:

“I urge everyone to do the right thing; follow the government advice and please do not travel here. If these warnings are not heeded and people need to be stopped from travelling, then I am afraid that is what will have to happen. Those in camper vans please go home!”

• We’re all Social Democrats now. For the moment. Today,

“France’s relatively generous welfare state and the state’s broad authority to enact pressure on employers appear far more like advantages than deficiencies — as signs of modernity, not outdatedness.”

Meanwhile,

“’For the first time in our history, the government is going to step in and pay people’s wages,’” the British chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak,

said last week.

• When the world emerges from the rubble, two books for guidance: 1946, The Making of the Modern World by Victor Sebestyen and Year Zero by Ian Buruma.

• One more thing: everybody’s hair is going to get a lot longer. And there will be more beards.

Please share your thoughts, and take care.

 

Here are the first and second Virus Diary installments.

Virus Diary

As long as we’re shut in, with time on our hands, let’s have a go at this thing, record our thoughts as they occur, a sort of rolling diary of predictions. Please join in and once we bust outta here, we’ll see how much holds up over time.

Today, St. Patrick’s Day, 17 March, 2020, a few ideas to start:

• The Johnson/Cummings U.K. Tories coopted Labour and Lib Dem anti-austerity (at least as campaign rhetoric) to resounding electoral effect. Democratic candidates Biden and Sanders, in being tentative, leave an opening for President Trump to embrace the Universal Basic Income proposal of Andrew Yang and many others on the left.

• As an unexpected side effect, the virus will hasten the eventual adoption of UBI.

• The virus undermines the commercial real estate market. When it becomes apparent how many more functions can be carried out remotely, companies will wonder why they need all those buildings.

• It’s notable how, so far, only our physical selves are constrained. Our online world continues to flourish.

• Suddenly Amazon acts almost as a utility, prioritizing sales of items for the public good over the discretionary. Probably not a position they’d have chosen.

• This is more of a milepost than 9/11. As time goes on we’ll measure everything as B.C. and A.C. Before Coronavirus and After Coronavirus.

• A strong, skillful domestic response, still a possibility, could arrest American decline.

If you have any thoughts, please contribute.

Update, 18 March: Nice to see Tom Friedman is a CS&W reader, even if he is an idea thief. His column the day after my original post.

Taylor Testifies

American Chargé d’ Affaires to Ukraine William B. Taylor, characterized by the White House as a “radical unelected bureaucrat,” testified before the House Intelligence Committee today and I read his opening statement tonight. Remarkable. I’d just suggest that when John Bolton is the adult in the room, we are in an entirely new American foreign policy universe.

Quotes: Missed April Fools Day by a Day

Sunset through the haze over Dubai Creek, United Arab Emirates.

As everyone knows, oranges is another word for beginnings.

“I hope they now go and take a look at the oranges, the oranges of the investigation, the beginnings of that investigation.”

– our American president on the Mueller report, speaking to the press on 2 April, 2019.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m being unkind, hypercritical. He really said origins and just slurred it or something.

You can watch it here.

It came during remarks with the Secretary General of NATO, the defense collective the United States set up after the second world war, of which President Trump, a hotel owner accused of profiting from the presidency, is the de facto leader.

It came on the same day as an article at ForeignPolicy.com titled The American Empire Is the Sick Man of the 21st Century: Failure at the center has left the United States up for sale to the highest bidder.

The article gently points out that in one of the president’s hotels,

“located directly between the White House and the U.S. Capitol, … a Saudi-funded lobbyist rented 500 rooms in the month after the 2016 election.”

Update: On reflection, after all, the president is a go-to guy on orange.