CORONAVIRUS | WORST CASE PLANNING


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.

Mindset

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.

Cunning Plan

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 …

6 comments

  1. One factor that I believe is unique to our times is in the West and SE Asia the relatively high % of the population that is elderly, often carrying disease, that is kept from death’s door by modern health systems. CV-19 might just be the virus that is adept at killing off predominately the ill old.

    In past times our species, any species for that matter, left behind the ill and weak in order to ensure the survival of the fittest. In our modern society it’s right we should protect the most vulnerable though. However, with CV-19, Singapore and South Korea seem to have shown that The West was ill prepared and logistically incompetent in taking on and fighting CV-19. The deaths from CV-19 in these countries don’t even register as a blip!

    This Tory government, NHS bosses, PHE etc will IMO face one hell of a reckoning when this is over, starting with their abysmal failure to implement the outcomes of the pandemic simulation, Exercise Cygnus carried out in 2016

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Adrian · ·

    Hi MM,
    Been reading your stuff since the comments section in The Telegraph… loved it all and this article is no exception.
    Nothing to add — sorry! — but as I’m in Thailand I hope you enjoy your chicken curry pie 😉
    All the best… and keep up the good work.
    A.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. moraymint · ·

      Thanks Adrian; great to hear from you! Thai Chicken Pie was a tremendous success. Leftovers tonight too. Stay in touch … M

      Like

  3. flyer · ·

    I don’t know what you think of this?

    https://patents.google.com/patent/EP3172319B1/en

    Like

  4. Lady Magdalene · ·

    Prior to CV, the Italian people had worked out that the Euro wasn’t working in their country’s interests.
    Post CV, they now know that neither the Euro NOR the EU itself work in their country’s interests.
    Their tourist industry has been devastated by the virus and, even when the crisis subsides, it will be a long time before tourists flood back. Their best hope of attracting visitors is to devalue to become more competitive, but that is impossible all the time they remain in the Euro.
    It is easy to envisage the Italians deciding that membership of the EU is no longer in their interests.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. reallyoldbill · ·

    Interesting perspective. Like you, my previous life involved planning for the unexpected, some of which came in useful when the unexpected became the reality, although in my varied and reasonably extensive experience few if any plans survived first contact because the unexpected is invariably accompanied by its best friend the unconsidered, and on occasion the even less welcome second cousin the inconceivable. This might yet turn out to be one such appearance of the latter.

    As you rightly point out this present and previously unknown virus, Covid19, is still in its early stages and much has still to be established about just how virulent and toxic it may actually be for humans. It does, however, seem to be much easier to transmit from individual to individual than previous versions of Corona virus’ hence the emphasis on strict social distancing and hand hygiene. Undoubtedly, to judge from reports by those unfortunate enough to have contracted it, it is a very unpleasant disease which nobody would wish to experience, but is it so much more lethal than “normal” winter outbreaks of seasonal flu? I have no medical training or knowledge beyond that of an interested layman with first aid training, but how else can we explain the extreme measures that have been adopted, not just in the UK or Europe as a whole, but right around the developed world? Like many of your readers I am sure, I am old enough to have lived through the influenza pandemics of Asian ‘Flu in the late 50’s (as a child) and Hong Kong ‘Flu in the late 60’s (as a young adult who had just started work), neither of which I seemed to catch. Neither outbreak, despite the staggering numbers who perished worldwide, caused a shutdown of the global economy.

    The sheer scale of the international reaction is barely believable, and yet here we are. It raises several important questions, not the least of which is: are we being told the whole truth or is there more to this than is in the public domain? I have never been a conspiracy theorist and have little tolerance for the inevitable wild theories and speculation which is swamping social media, but something just doesn’t seem to add up. Even if every reported fatality in the worst affected countries so far was of someone killed BY Covid19 rather than just WITH Covid19, will the numbers exceed those of the 1957 or 1968 outbreaks of ‘Flu? I have no idea, but am starting to question whether the cure will turn out to be worse than the disease. Unless there is something I am not being told.

    Whether or not the extreme measures we are seeing around the world are justified by the science, and for the moment at least I am giving our leaders the benefit of the doubt on that, I am starting to wonder what the world will look like when we emerge from under this cloud. Just as with Brexit before it, this virus has exposed deep divisions in the fabric of our society. Not only has the anti-social behaviour of a substantial minority, from those who stripped shelves bare with no regard for the needs of their neighbours to those who refuse to comply with legal restrictions on gatherings introduced for the public good, been spotlighted for all to see, but authority itself – of the police, the military and the state – is increasingly being called into question. If this doesn’t end soon we may find ourselves in a very different world.

    On a final note, if this virus does indeed pose a mortal threat as we are led to believe, then societies like those in some countries – the shanty towns of South Africa, the slums of India to example just 2 – where people are crammed cheek to jowl with no hope of social distancing let alone basic hygiene, will experience a cull and population drop that might rival the effect of the Black Death in Europe, from which we took generations to recover. Interesting times doesn’t seem to do that possibility justice.

    Liked by 2 people

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