This is an in-between post, breaking up the series of three posts I’ve been writing on the economic implications of the Covid-19 pandemic. Incidentally the two main reasons I write are (a) to shape my understanding of subjects and (b) because I enjoy the pleasure of prose. That’s it really. If I can share these two reasons for writing with others productively then we’re in a win-win situation (dreadful term, but useful nonetheless). My science education and military career together mean that I endeavour to deal with facts in support of whatever opinions I express. At the risk of inflaming certain readers, it was the facts about the history, strategy, structure, workings and culture of the European Union which made me opposed to the UK’s continued membership of that organisation. My prediction in this context is that eventually Covid-19 could well destroy the euro currency. This could happen because euro nation states have precious little control over their combined fiscal and monetary policies without which their economies and hence their societies could conceivably implode on the back of the extraordinary political response (lockdown) to coronavirus. My worst-case thinking about the EU – which some of you will reject outright – is consistent with the overall thrust of this particular post. Read on if you will.
Slowly and then Suddenly
I was prompted to write this post on impulse partly because of some news headlines I saw this morning and partly because the subject itself has been niggling me since it became clear that Covid-19 could cause us some significant grief. The subject I’m talking about is in the form of yet another question: how bad could this get in the short- to medium-term? The longer-term implications of Covid-19 will be covered in my next post, the third and final one in that series.
There’s a scene in Ernest Hemingway’s novel, ‘The Sun Also Rises’ when Bill asks Mike, ‘How did you go bankrupt?’. ‘Two ways’, Mike said, ‘Slowly and then suddenly’.
What’s the significance of that metaphor? Well, there’s a risk that the impact of Covid-19 on our way of life could conceivably shift from ‘creeping effects’ to ‘sudden effects’ to the extent that they surprise us completely. Here’s another analogy. Have you ever watched a tipper truck unload a consignment of sand? The dump box is raised by the operator. The sand starts to flow smoothly and predictably from the box. The box continues to rise and the sand continues to flow. All very predictable. Then, when the dump box reaches a certain angle, the load of sand just drops from the box instantly, in one almighty heap. If it was the first time you’d ever watched the procedure, that transition from ‘slowly’ to ‘suddenly’ would shock you. ‘Wow! I wasn’t expecting that’ might be your reaction.
We face the same sort of possibility with Covid-19. It’s a form of chaos theory. You think you understand what’s happening and that you’re analysing effectively all the variables and the relationships between them. Then, bang! You’re buried under 5 tons of sand. I’m beginning to think that Covid-19 might hit a tipping point at some stage setting off a chain reaction which could overwhelm us, not so much from the health perspective but rather from the economic and social angles. I’m not predicting this necessarily, but I’m contemplating its likelihood.
Some of you reading this will already be thinking, ‘Oh no, more doomongering’. Fair enough. How we deal with situations is a result of the proverbial nature and nurture axiom; a mixture of the genes with which you were conceived (nature), and your life experiences thereafter (nurture). In my case, I’m a defensive pessimist by nature and a worst-case planner by nurture. I can’t account for the former, but the latter is consistent with me having spent the first 20 years of my working life as a commissioned officer in the British armed forces. Worst-case planning is intrinsic to military operations.
In the armed forces, when conducting what in my day was called a ‘combat appreciation’ you’re taught at each stage of the appreciation (analysis) to ask, ‘So what?’. So, for example, this morning I saw four newspaper headlines which made me do just that: I read the headlines and found myself asking, ‘So what?’. The headlines were:
‘Prepare for blackouts electricity firms warn householders’
‘Oil wells to shut as global storage runs out’
‘Bin collections could be cut back as councils run short of healthy workers’
‘Social unrest and the mafia emerge from Italy’s shattered economy’
Now, I could identify several of my friends whom I know to be the polar opposite of me in the mindset/nature department: they’re optimists and in some cases Panglossian or pathological optimists. ‘Get away, Moraymint. Everything’s going to be just fine. The lights will stay on. Oil will now forever and a day be as cheap as chips. You can bury your waste in the garden, and the mafia are only what you see in films. It’ll be alright on the night’. OK, if that works for you, that’s good.
However, what I intend to do is this. Like most people (up to about 2 billion of us now, actually) I’m reorganising my life somewhat. This morning, I explained to Mrs Moraymint that henceforth my days under lockdown will have two main components. In the mornings, she and I will work together in our walled garden on the seed beds and in the hen run and on other gardening-related tasks to make the place both as fruitful and as enjoyable as possible (the two go hand-in-hand I suppose).
In the afternoons we shall do whatever takes our respective fancies but will include messages (a Scottish term for shopping) for us and the elderly and other neighbours in our village that we’re assisting, and exercise, of course. My exercise has always included me walking and training my English Springer Spaniel gundog, Poppy. Mrs Moraymint will do her cross-stitch and other creative things like baking and decorating cakes. I’ll read and write; I’ll bake and cook (this afternoon I shall be baking a Paul Hollywood ‘Thai Chicken Curry Pie’); I’ll chip away at my infinitely-long list of DIY tasks. Here is Poppy, by the way …
Next Post (On This Topic)
In my next post on this particular topic I’ll share with you some of the gems obtained from my decade-long interest in …
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See you down the pub …