The Billionaires Are Winning

From Farhad Manjoo’s, “Even in a Pandemic, the Billionaires Are Winning”. The title should begin, “Especially in a Pandemic”.

Manjoo turns to Chuck Collins, a scholar of inequality at the Institute for Policy Studies, to tell the sordid story.

“In previous recessions. . . billionaires were hit along with the rest of us; it took almost three years for Forbes’s 400 richest people to recover losses incurred in 2008’s Great Recession.

But in the coronavirus recession of 2020, most billionaires have not lost their shirts. Instead, they’ve put on bejeweled overcoats and gloves made of spun gold — that is, they’ve gotten richer than ever before.

On Tuesday, as the stock market soared to a record, Collins was watching the billionaires cross a depressing threshold: $1 trillion.

That is the amount of new wealth American billionaires have amassed since March, at the start of the devastating lockdowns that state and local governments imposed to curb the pandemic.

On March 18, according to a report Collins and his colleagues published last week, America’s 614 billionaires were worth a combined $2.95 trillion. When the markets closed on Tuesday, there were 650 billionaires and their combined wealth was now close to $4 trillion. In the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, American billionaires’ wealth grew by a third.”

Meanwhile, as the rise in homelessness and strained food banks illustrate, ordinary people are losing.

We All Have Fears

The Rev. Melanie Wallschlaeger, Director for Evangelical Mission for the Southwestern Washington Synod.

“We all have fears of some kind. We can also have these fears in our lives as congregations. . . . We can have fears about the future, fear that our congregation will die, or not be relevant. Do we fear what our congregations might look like if they become more welcoming to our neighbors? Do we fear what our congregations will look like after the pandemic? Do we fear what our congregations might look like if others come and join us and help make decisions, and bring their gifts?

When we think about our congregational ministry, when we think about worship, will an openness to gifts of diversity in our congregations change what I feel is most precious? Will it mean we sing songs I don’t know or like? Does it mean I will lose what I know and hold most dear or value? Will I lose my place of privilege if we welcome others? Am I afraid of the future at this moment because it’s largely unknown?”

My sense of our congregation is yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. Major props to Wallschlaeger for asking the exact right questions.

Related. Last night on NextDoor (please remind me, why am I still a member?) someone reported on a Black Lives Matter protest. Since NextDoor has no journalistic standards, a certain hysteria quickly set in. Some of the numerous commenters said they regularly check the online County police scanner to learn what bad things are happening before leaving their home.

Let that sink in.

One of two things is true. A mostly unfounded epidemic of fear has descended upon the land or I’m dangerously naive of the many risks to life and limb.

We’re Too Optimistic?

That’s AC Shilton’s sense in “Why You’re Probably Not So Great At Risk Assessment”.

Shilton closes this way:

“Our brains may sometimes be too optimistic. While that isn’t always bad (going through life thinking constantly about every bad thing that could happen isn’t healthy either), in a situation like this, your brain could expose you to unnecessary risk.”

AC Shilton’s bio* says she’s a two time Ironman finisher and a chicken farmer, so what’s not to like, but I think she gets this wrong. Most people’s challenge lies in the parenthetical note—constantly thinking about worse case scenarios.

Where’s that essay?

Coronavirus deserves attention and we should beat it back through proven mitigation strategies. But I’m not going to fool myself. I’m four months closer to dying than pre-pandemic. Could be skin cancer. Could be someone texting while driving who takes Blanca and me out this afternoon, could be heart disease, could be a tree during tomorrow’s run in Priest Point Park.

I use sunscreen, I wear a mask when inside or unable to maintain proper distance, I eat healthily and exercise regularly, I use seatbelts; but I’m not going to fool myself. I am going to die. The humble blog will be no more. Guessing whether ‘rona or one of the other myriad possibilities is gonna get me, it ain’t even close.

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Not For Sale

These are strange days. The Good Wife kicks off most with an early morning walk through the hood, visiting assorted animals, and then stopping at Jim’s at the end to pick wild flowers.

We never met Jim, who lived two houses away, he died before we moved in, but his story lives. He was generous to a fault, much more committed to caring for others than himself, which explains his dilapidated home that’s now owned by some bank. Like Jim, his yard keeps giving even in its natural state, especially in its natural state—apples, pears, and amazing flowers.

The GalPal should’ve been a florist because she is a natural at arranging flowers. And they bring her incredible joy. She just beams at them. I’ve tried talking her into setting up a table out front where she could sell her bouquets to passersby so that I could buy more raspberry chocolate gelato as the weather warms, but she has no interest in homegrown laissez faire capitalism.

Probably because she studied abroad in Sweden in college. Whatever the reason, do not look to her to jumpstart our moribund economy. But by all means, do look to her for natural beauty.

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Being Twenty Something Right Now

Empathy for our young adult friends and children is in order. Imagine being them and trying to:

  • cultivate a sense of purpose
  • find a job that contributes to the common good, pays a livable wage, and comes with medical benefits
  • find an affordable place of your own to live
  • afford a car or other forms of reliable transportation
  • get out of debt
  • save some money each month
  • develop the self discipline and knowledge to smartly invest for future expenses
  • find a caring, loving, compatible partner with whom to be intimate
  • decide whether to marry and have children
  • decide whether to commit to a faith community, if so, finding a compelling one
  • contend with friends and acquaintances inauthentic, curated selves on-line
  • create a close circle of friends who aren’t so overwhelmed with all above that they have the energy and desire to spend time together
  • worry about growing social inequities and the fate of the natural world
  • cultivate the discipline to eat well, exercise, and maintain decent physical health
  • manage your anxieties about all of the above and maintain good mental health

In the context of a global pandemic about which so much is unknown. How bad will it get? When will it end? How should we “reopen”? What exactly will the “new normal” be?

This pandemic presents unique challenges to many twenty somethings, whom for whatever reasons, already struggle with anxiety, depression, and related mental health challenges.

Extra patience and kindness with our young adult friends and children are in order.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pressing Pause

This blog was born out of a desire to step off the treadmill of life long enough to think about meaning and purpose in life.

Since our collective treadmill has been rendered inoperable by the coronavirus, we have an unprecedented opportunity to think more deeply about how to live.

But how do we do that when we’re like sedentary people trying to create exercise routines, how do we start being introspective and reflective, of thinking conceptually about what we want for ourselves, our neighbors, the world? How to reimagine our post-coronavirus lives?

One way is to rethink what’s most important. For example, many people are being more thankful for the non-materialistic joys in their lives, whether that’s a daily walk, deeper appreciation for nature, shared meals with family, or renewed conversations with lapsed friends. Similarly, many people are rethinking their consumer habits, realizing how little most material things adds to their lives. Many, of course, will have to spend less post-pandemic, others will choose to.

And yet, this isn’t such a golden opportunity to press pause or do much of anything for the 90.1% of people who are deeply worried about how they’ll meet their basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare. Many, many people can’t get past the most basic of questions, “How will I/we meet our basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, medical care?”

As a member of the New American Aristocracy, I have the luxury of reinvigorating my inner life; meanwhile, hundreds of millions of poor, working class, and middle class people around the world wonder how they’ll feed, house, and cloth themselves without steady work that pays livable wages.

Gideon Litchfield, in an essay titled “Where not going back to normal,” points this out:

“As usual. . . the true cost will be borne by the poorest and weakest. People with less access to health care, or who live in more disease-prone areas, will now also be more frequently shut out of places and opportunities open to everyone else. Gig workers—from drivers to plumbers to freelance yoga instructors—will see their jobs become even more precarious. Immigrants, refugees, the undocumented, and ex-convicts will face yet another obstacle to gaining a foothold in society.”

He concludes:

“But as with all change, there will be some who lose more than most, and they will be the ones who have lost far too much already. The best we can hope for is that the depth of this crisis will finally force countries—the US, in particular—to fix the yawning social inequities that make large swaths of their populations so intensely vulnerable.”

The cynic in me thinks it’s more likely that heightened scarcity—especially of decent jobs—will cause people to be even more self-centered. The negative critiques of globalization add to my skepticism, if not cynicism. The worst case scenario is every person and every country for themselves in an increasingly cutthroat survival of the fittest competition. I hope I’m way off.

If the “New American” or “World Aristocracy” are smart, they’ll realize it’s in their own enlightened self-interest to think about how to assist and empower the “ones who have lost far too much already”. Ultimately, we will all sink or swim together.

In the end, it’s a question of time and perspective. Like any uber-lucky ten-percenter, at age 58, I can “circle my wagons” and save, invest, and spend with only my family and me in mind. I would live very comfortably, but my daughters’ children and their children would inherit an even less hospitable world.

Instead, I intend on taking the long view by focusing less on my comfort and more on the common good, or as stated in the humble blog’s byline, small steps toward thriving families, schools, and communities.

Leaders Manage the Unknown

The New York Times is hopelessly old fashioned, still practicing fact-based investigative reporting and all.

Today’s lead article, He Could Have Seen What Was Coming: Behind Trump’s Failure on the Virus, was the work of six people.

Unfortunately, we live in an age when only the liberal “choir” will read it, which is too bad, because it’s incredibly restrained.

For example, this is not politicizing the pandemic.

“There were key turning points along the way, opportunities for Mr. Trump to get ahead of the virus rather than just chase it. There were internal debates that presented him with stark choices, and moments when he could have chosen to ask deeper questions and learn more. How he handled them may shape his re-election campaign. They will certainly shape his legacy.”

“Ask deeper questions,” when has Trump done that?

I listened to Scott Galloway interview Tim Armstrong on his podcast this week. Galloway asked him about leadership during crises. Armstrong talked about interviewing many top executives during the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. He summarized their insights this way, “Managers manage the known and leaders manage the unknown.”

The President has not managed the known well and has shown no aptitude for the unknown. Governors, mayors, business leaders, epidemiologists, selfless healthcare workers, and other “essential” people have filled the void brilliantly, managing the known extremely well against all odds.

Armstrong was talking about commercial enterprises, but what about noncommercial ones? What about the common good? Who will manage 21st century unknowns related to public health, environmental degradation, and global poverty?

 

Pandemic Ponderings

  • I’m worried about one of the humble blog’s most faithful readers, MZ, who is the Seattle Mariners #1 fan. I hope she is doing okay without beisbol. Then again, as a Mariner fan, she’s proven to be extremely tough, so she’ll probably be fine.
  • Sigh. Tomorrow would be the men’s NCAA national championship basketball game between the surprise of the tournament, the UCLA Bruins, and Dayton.
  • If the Royal and Ancient really follows through on cancelling the The Open Championship, MZ and all of the humble blog’s loyalists should begin worrying about me. Why go on living?
  • The key to surviving our lockdown is going to bed with a clean kitchen. If I keep waking to a clean kitchen, I could do this for a very long time. Then again, I’m an introvert and I’ve been cutting my own hair for decades.
  • How much $ have I saved cutting my hair over the decades? Where is that $?
  • ESPN is considering televising a game of H-O-R-S-E. They are almost having as hard a time with this pandemic as the Trump administration.
  • After considerable thought, I’ve decided not to wear a mask and instead just pop the malaria pills I have leftover from my last trip to Africa.
  • To young scientists just getting going, epidemiology is sexy.
  • Pray for my soul. I will not be going to church on-line.

 

 

 

 

Higher Education Teeters

Every sector of the economy is going to be severely tested by pandemic closings and related fallout.

As one example, the pandemic will test every college and university and could be a deathblow to some of the growing number of economically distressed colleges and universities. Here are a few of the pandemic’s probable ripple effects:

  • fewer campus visits of prospective students, leading to a decline in applications
  • far fewer international student applications
  • reduced yields of accepted students because families will be unable to afford even deeply discounted tuition, room and board
  • a loss of good will as upset families seek refunds from March-May tuition, room and board
  • shrinking endowments meaning less “passive income” to pay salaries, keep the lights on, and maintain campus facilities*
  • reduced alumni giving due to widespread loss of income and wealth
  • due to a spike in unemployment, graduates will struggle even more to find white collar jobs that pay a “livable wage” and provide benefits, further complicating the sine qua non of higher education

Educational institutions change slowly, but the pandemic is likely to accelerate The Great Contraction. The most distressed institutions will close shop. Others will seek partners with whom to merge. Every college and university has to become much clearer about the two or three things they do especially well. Even if they successfully refine their missions and curricula, a growing number of faculty, administrators, and staff will lose their jobs.

Tough times indeed.

*the total amount of deferred maintenance is an excellent indicator of relative fiscal health