Happy the Most Friday the 13th Friday the 13th of All Time,
Here’s some stuff you might like reading in your bunker.
Business: I was born in 1975. I’ve been through two events that rapidly and fundamentally changed Americans’ lives for the worse: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the Great Recession, kicked off by the collapse of Lehman Brothers on September 15, 2008. Now I have a third: coronavirus. There’s the same feeling of a downward spiral to the news cycle, leaving us to wonder, how bad is this going to get?
One of the at once fortunate and unfortunate traits of our era is that we are all cynics. We know that everyone has a bias and an angle and they’re probably using us to try to make money or win votes. The cynicism’s a good thing in that it’s almost always true; it’s bad in that when we really need information there’s no one we trust. If you’re like me, you’ve been wondering just how big a deal the coronavirus is, or, more to the point, whether the closures, cancellations and warnings are overkill.
The best source I’ve found for information on the appropriate public health response to the virus is, as on so many topics, facebook, where I read that drinking bleach can cure the disease. Nah, it’s Scott Gottlieb, who’s an MD and formerly head of the Food and Drug Administration. He lays out why, even for healthy younger folks, it’s important to practice social distancing. A lot of it comes down to the availability of hospital beds and especially ICU beds. If they get filled up, then mortality rates go way up like they did in China, Italy and Iran. If we can slow the spread of the disease by having less direct contact with other people, then we keep the demand for hospital beds within the supply and a lot fewer people die. This is the “flatten the curve” thing people are talking about.
Fewer people dying is a manifestly good thing, but it will also help prevent further panic and disruption. An outbreak in which a bunch of people get sick and the sickest are able to get good care in hospitals is a re-inforcement of the stability of the health care system and society generally; an outbreak in which the health care system clearly cannot meet demand results in a lot more deaths and social disruption. The economic consequences are already severe – by following appropriate measures we can limit the duration and scope of those consequences, and preserve more of the liberties that define us as Americans. If we fail, the disruptions to our lives will be longer-lasting and perhaps permanent.
Coronavirus is one of those rare creatures in modern America: it ought to and largely has transcended partisan politics. If we all do our part, this thing will be over soon and we can go back to fighting about stuff that matters a lot less.
Law: NBA, March Madness, Major League Baseball, schools and all kinds of other businesses and government entities have cancelled events. Have they done so in part due to fear of lawsuits from people who get sick and maybe die because they were at an event? You bet. It’s a big factor, and so is wanting to appear to be conscious of customers’ and workers’ fears.
While the motives are largely out of self-interest, the effect is likely to benefit us all by reducing in-person human interaction. Come to think of it, it’s a really good example of Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” theory. Our litigation system has a lot of downsides, but one upside in light of our current crisis is that it forces potential defendants to value human lives very highly, in dollars. The result is that businesses and local/state government should, if not immediately but soon, if anything overreact to keep people from contracting the disease. The litigiousness of Americans, a trait about which I am often skeptical, will probably help us pull out of this sooner than we otherwise would.
Politics: Coronavirus is like a series of hand grenades going off in races up and down the ballot. Even those of us who hope for little more than a bland rather than overtly offensive form of incompetence expect our governments – local, state and federal – to have their act together on stuff like this. With the stock market cratering and the economy likely faltering, prior assumptions about the desirable characteristics of elected officials and the likelihood of voters approving incumbents have to go out the window. In 2008, the onset of the Great Recession rocked races from the Presidency on down. There’s more time before the election this time but the impact could be as big nonetheless. Buckle up!
Social Distancing 1: If you’re looking for something off the beaten and virus-sodden path to do this weekend, you could do worse than Fort Rock. Anna was out of town last weekend, so myself, Aiden (5) and Elijah (3) (jointly, the “EagerBoyz”) drove the 1.25 hours to Fort Rock to indulge in some real eastern Oregon fun. The rock itself is amazing. You can walk around inside of it and make echos and look for petroglyphs and there’s hardly anyone there.
For lunch, we stopped at The Waterin’ Hole Tavern, where one exceedingly efficient and friendly woman was taking orders, pouring drinks and cooking up some good burgers for ten or so patrons, all on her own. They have electronic darts and a stuffed mountain goat wearing a baseball cap; needless to say, a big thumbs up from the EagerBoyz.
Social Distancing 2: Friend, do you trust me? If you do, at all, click on this and watch it with the volume on. If you’re social distancing properly, it shouldn’t bother anyone. You won’t be disappointed.
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Have a great weekend and stay well!