2020: The Year The World Ended
Friday 13 sounds like the best day for expressing some thoughts regarding the state of the world in the times of the COVID-19 outbreak. (And yes, I know: there is a book with the title “1914: The Year The World Ended.” Now there’s another world that is about to end.)
As I am writing this, the world is a mixture of panic and nonchalance, chaos and laissez-faire. Governments lack leadership and cojones, the measures taken are chaotic. Even countries that are supposedly in different stages of a lockdown are allowing public gatherings of less than 1,000, 500 or 250 people (75 in Rhineland-Palatinate), instead of banning all public gatherings altogether. Schools and kindergartens are closed in some of the affected countries, but not in all of them; in Germany, only half of the states are closing them (with Baden-Württemberg declaring on Friday that schools will be closed since the next Tuesday, not Monday!); France is closing them, but today they’re still open, and on Sunday they’ll keep local elections in those schools. Isn’t it just crazy? As a matter of fact, France’s president Macron addressed the nation to announce the new measures on March 12 at 8 PM, exactly 24 hours after having tweeted that “We’re not giving up anything. Especially not laughing, singing, thinking, loving. Especially not at terraces, concert halls, at summer evening parties.” Is there anything to comment on this?
Maybe it is. Sibeth Ndiaye, the most incompetent speaker the French government ever had (to the point that people might question her IQ) had the cheek to say that France was smarter than Italy, as it was “constantly guided by scientific and sanitary findings” and didn’t take “useless measures” such as using fever screeners at the airports, or closing the borders to those coming from areas at risk. But this kind of arrogance is a constant among politicians: Agnès Buzyn, former Health Minister, declared on January 24 that the risk of importing the disease from Wuhan was “practically null.” On March 11, Professor Éric Caumes, head of the infectious diseases department at La Pitié-Salpêtrière, finally started talking of “the Italian scenario” where the Intensive Care Units (ICUs), for lack of enough devices, would have to make a choice about who are they going to put on mechanical ventilation–after having downplayed the situation for some time.
And downplaying, there was a lot of it, not only in France. In Germany, two experts had diametrically opposed opinions: Prof. Alexander Kekulé (Munich) pleaded for a long time in favor of closing the schools, whereas Prof. Dr. Christian Drosten (Berlin) strongly opposed any such measures, despite being one of those who believed that in the worst-case scenario up to 80% of the population could get infected; the figures, as conveyed on March 11 by Chancellor Angela Merkel eventually went down to 60-70%, but the measures taken were timid. The Chancellor and the Federal Health Minister Spahn, just like the French Health Minister Olivier Véran the same evening, seemed more concerned about the impact on the economy of any such measures as working from home (where possible), and they definitely thought that the kids should go to school no matter what. Oh, and Bundesliga was of a great importance too. Who elected such irresponsible nincompoops?
That Italy is a “red zone” in its entirety since the evening of March 9 is not a secret to anyone; but not all have noticed that Italy’s prime minister was scared shitless while making the announcement (I avoided using the acronym PM, as in Italian this stands for public prosecutor, from Pubblico Ministero).
Panic buying, initially mocked when the Aussies started hoarding huge amounts of toilet paper, had and still has outbursts in different countries at different times. At least, people are now also stockpiling non-perishable foods too (suggestions on what to stock coming from Corriere della Sera: Tomato sauce; Canned fish; UHT milk; Dried or canned legumes; Pasta; Rice; Frozen vegetables; Flour; Hard cheese and eggs; Crackers and biscuits; Packaged cold cuts; Onions and garlic; Potatoes; Tea, coffee, sugar, yeast; Oil, vinegar and lemon). The fact that people were able to stock toilet paper for 6 months or a year, and food for at most two weeks is explained by some psychologists by the fact that the packs of toilet paper offered a quick feeling of reassurance for little money. I wonder whether the social phenomenon would have been the same if toilet paper were only sold in small packs of two rolls, and at at a much higher price.
Human irrationality and also the lack of discipline is considered by many to be the source of Italy’s current disaster: should they have given up their customary social habits earlier, the virus wouldn’t have spread so quickly. I very much understand the social fabric all’italiana, and it generally makes life worth living–if the French have partially lost their joie de vivre, the Italians still enjoy a mix of la dolce vita and dolce far niente, which incidentally includes socializing in caffè, bar, ristoranti–but pushing it beyond the limits of irresponsibility is unacceptable. I don’t even dare to think of the possibly everlasting damage to the image of Italy that will outlive this pandemic–should the world as a whole still remain a civilization once it’s over, if it’s ever over—but it’s a fact that being an Italian right now is far from being pleasant. Their responsibility in this pandemic might be overrated though.
As I am writing this, the world map is increasingly red because of COVID-19 and based on the figures, the estimates are that France is about 8 days behind Italy, and Germany is delayed by about two weeks, but if energetic measures aren’t taken, they’ll be following in Italy’s steps with mathematical precision! The governments still deceive, and the general public isn’t any better.
March 8, Landerneau, France: 3,549 Smurfs (FR: Schtroumpfs, DE: Schlümpfe, IT: Puffi) have established a new world record, and they couldn’t care less: “the coronavirus is no big deal, it’s nothing.” March 11, Parc des Princes, Paris: despite PSG-Borussia Dortmund being played without public, thousands of fans gathered outside the stadium. These are only two extreme examples of human stupidity that make me fear that France will soon experience a sanitary disaster à l’italienne–and why wouldn’t Germany follow, no matter most championships were called off?
At the beginning of March, YouTube decided to demonetize all coronavirus-related videos, by applying their policy of not associating advertisers with current events that involve losses of life, and the “creators” went mad. Scott Adams complained. News organizations complained that even when covering the topic responsibly, they couldn’t generate revenue from their YT videos. The decision seems to have been at least partially reverted, but if anyone–news organization or a private individual–relies on YT and on the COVID-19 to make money, they’re pathetic and despicable. At least, the demonetization is an effective mean to stop the fake news regarding this pandemic: conspiracy theories, cure miracles, whatever else a sick mind might produce. Let’s favor the official sources, those who aren’t communicating about this pandemic for the sake of the money.
Not that people are believing their governments anyway. Of the World Health Organization. Sometimes, I don’t wonder why: here’s the WHO just saying that “it doesn’t help to restrict movement.” Yes, they actually said it today, this is not fake news. But we already knew that “viruses have no borders,” didn’t we? The EU leaders and eurocrats did their best to avert any closing of borders.
But the WHO also declared that only FFP2/FFP3 and N95/N100 masks are effective, and that surgical masks are “useless” in protecting against SARS-CoV-2 aka COVID-19. Of course, this virus is about 0.12µm, yet it doesn’t travel per se, but embedded in the droplets resulting from coughing and sneezing. Such droplets can be much larger, although there are dozens and dozens of studies (mostly focusing on influenza, some also on coronaviruses that lead to the common cold) that disagree on the size of the droplets: some say most are in the range 0.3-0.5µm, some even place them in the 0.15-0.20µm range, but other studies found average sizes 55 to 85µm, or 80 to 180µm, if not even 360µm. Well, if one doesn’t trust science, what else to trust? Either way, the “miracle masks” are tested for particles of 0.5-0.6µm, so let’s hope they help. The real news is that later on, WHO stepped back and declared (although not on their website) that surgical masks can be of some use after all, even if they’re mostly protecting other people from the bearer, and not the other way around. Was this reversal meant to counter the general selfishness (“if such a mask is not protecting me, I don’t care about the others”), or the acceptance of the fact that any protection is better than no protection? After all, in the shortage of FFP2/FFP3 masks, the police, i carabinieri and even the medical staff were already using plain surgical masks.
I have some bad news though: two researchers on COVID-19, the virologist Julian Tang, professor at the University of Leicester, and Professor Kin-on Kwok, from the Jockey Club School of Public Health and Primary Care (Hong Kong), agree that the same way one can smell that someone had e.g. garlic for lunch, one can also catch the virus from the breath of the infected person! No need to sneeze then. Oh well, let’s just keep the “social distance,” and make the physical one not just of 1 meter.
This leads us to a crucial question: how could it happen such a quick spread around the globe? Despite the excessive travel that takes place on planet Earth (and I mean flights), it’s unthinkable to have it everywhere as quick as in a couple of months: how did the coronavirus reach Tom Hanks and his wife in Australia, Justin Trudeau’s wife in Canada, so many officials in several countries–Romania’s government self-quarantined en masse for 14 days on March 13, and Brazilian President Bolsonaro has tested positive–and literally everyone that has been hit?
Trying not to succumb to any conspiracy theory, I’m afraid there’s much we’re not told of, and not necessarily because “they want to keep us in the dark” or to avoid panicking, but simply because they don’t know!
First things first: the spreading of the contagion. How on Earth… Well, of course it was bound to happen on Earth, but the SARS, the MERS, and even the aviary flu H5N1 somehow managed to fade out before having spread so widely. Something’s fishy here.
What’s known so far is that COVID-2 is much more contagious than other viruses. For one, it can survive up to 3 days on steel or plastic surfaces (why didn’t anyone tested it on the aluminum?), up to a day on cardboard, and up to 3 hours in the air. Think of what this happens when almost everyone is using mass transit systems and when shopping carts in supermarket are seldom washed, let alone disinfected. But SARS too was a survivor: at 20°C, it could last for two days on steel, four days on wood and glass, and five to nine days on plastic, and ceramics.
The fact that roughly 80% of those known to have been contaminated are experiencing mild symptoms–if any–might be the key factor here. With SARS, it was impossible not to know you’re having it, despite the non-negligible incubation period (4-6 days); however, despite the common idea that “with SARS you’re likely to die rather than to survive,” the overall mortality rate was somewhere between 9.6% and 11%.
So far, two major factors: this coronavirus tends to be a survivor; and in 80% of the infected it’s so well hidden that nobody suspects it’s there. The first one only gains relevance in the presence of the latter.
Any yet… The basic reproduction number R0 (the number of people an infected person contaminates) is believed to be somewhere between 2.28 and 2.5, sometimes more (depending on the study). That’s quite a low value, knowing that at the same stage of the outbreak, the R0 value for SARS was believed between 2 and 4 (later it was reduced to 0.4). Even with four fifth of the infected merrily spreading the virus without even suspecting it, it doesn’t add up.
My take is that R0, just like the mortality, was computed based on the known cases of infection. If 80% of the known cases are asymptomatic, it’s more than likely that we’re simply unaware of millions and millions of asymptomatic cases! (This would explain why three Italian tourists visiting Cuba had to be infected with the COVID-19!)
Think of it: when they questioned the different mortality rates, from 0.7-0.8% in South Korea, to a declared average of 2-3% in China and 3-4% worldwide, or 8% at some point in the US (and now in Lombardy too!), the clues were obvious: the deaths were compared to the known cases which, with a disease that’s mostly asymptomatic (unless it’s severe), are only the visible part of the iceberg. With South Korea quickly testing any possible suspect, I’d trust their death rate rather than that of the US, where financial and ideological issues delayed the testing (which is billed $3,700).
Unfortunately, as the disease spreads quickly, even when all persons an infected person has been in contact with can be identified, they’re simply self-quarantined without testing for COVID-19. Only when the symptoms become severe are those people tested. So again, whoever belongs to the 80% “silent part” (of the iceberg) is not taken into account. This seems to be the new policy in Italy, France, Germany, and not only there. We might eventually find out that mortality for COVID-19 is probably in the range of 0.2-0.4%, closer to the typical value for influenza, which is 0.1%.
This would also mean either that R0 is severely underestimated, or that the disease has been spreading for a long time, possibly even prior to December 2019, when the first case has been acknowledged in Wuhan.
An opposite standpoint considers that even in Germany the deaths are underreported or the dead are not tested for COVID-19; and that, knowing that countries such as India most likely don’t even know the causes of most deaths, we really don’t have any realistic numbers regarding the death rate. In the context of the ICUs quickly getting full for not being designed with such a rapidly spreading epidemic in mind (despite Lombardy being in top 5% of world’s health care conditions, and France being also at the top), and as it’s already the case for hospitals to be forced to make a choice (“who are we going to give a chance to live by putting them on a respirator?”), the death rates will be sky-rocketing soon–unless the Governments impose severe restrictions on movement and gatherings, provided that such restrictions will be enforced and observed.
Random recent figures went from 98% of the ICUs full in Northern Italy to 85-92% in Paris, where the epidemic is less severe, but there are other patients in need of life support too. Keep in mind that people with influenza, those with severe heart conditions and other diseases always existed, and hospitals didn’t have an excess of ICU equipment. If the spreading curve is not flattened, we’ll be like in the 1950s (the 1957 Asian flu), when no life support apparatuses existed: you were at most given an oxygen mask and an IV drip, and either you recovered, or you kicked the bucket. Except that it’ll be like with the 1918 Spanish flu in terms of mass graves…
We’re not sure about the death rate, we definitely don’t know how many people had the virus, and we still can’t explain how did it spread. Let’s admit there are (or were) hundreds of thousands–if not millions–of silent contaminators who didn’t have as little as a fit of fever. But how come Italy became the emissary of COVID-19 in Europe?
Let’s take this attempt at an explanation: many Italians in Northern Italy sold their leather goods and textiles companies to China; or at least they moved most of the manufacturing in China. This doesn’t mean Italy got “invaded” by the Chinese, as even the products labeled “Finished in Italy” are manufactured in China and only labeled in Italy, but it means that there’s a lot of traveling between China and Northern Italy. The infection might as have as well started from Italian managers coming back from China, not necessarily from native Chinese people. I’m not sure how much of this makes sense, knowing that it all started in the three little towns of Codogno, Vò and Lodi, of which none has any significant textile or leather industry. On the other hand, important Chinese minorities are located a little bit southward, e.g. in Prato (10% Chinese). Nope, there isn’t any satisfactory explanation as yet.
Unless we find out how and why Italy played such an important role in the COVID-19 pandemic, we won’t be able to tackle it. Let’s stop blaming Italy as a whole and admit there are things we don’t know, and that we don’t even know what we don’t know.
There is another mystery that nobody–the WHO included–bothers to clarify. Those happy ~80% that won’t be hit hard if at all. How does it get along with the extremely severe, lethal complications in other people?
This is atypical for any coronavirus–from the benign ones we all know by the means of the common cold to SARS–and it isn’t explained to us, the populace. The initial theory said that COVID-19, being based on a mutation that took place in an animal, is very different from what our immune system is used to. And then:
- Children, having an “incomplete” immune system, would react very mildly to the virus, usually being totally unaware of it and somehow being spared of any outcome (care to explain, anyone?).
- Young adults that don’t have any underlying conditions should either lack symptoms too, or experience mild ones, possibly like a common cold with some fever, but nowhere like a flu.
- Older people (70+), whose immune system is underperforming, as well as people having one or more chronic diseases or heart conditions, diabetes, dialysis-dependent patients, etc., not only they’d need life support (including medical ventilation), but they’d perfect candidates for death as long as they’re both old and with preexisting conditions.
Now, there are two issues here: one, that an increasing number of healthy people aged 25-45 need intensive care once they got infected and two, the talk about an “overreaction” of the immune system.
Prof. Alexander Kekulé said the other day on ARD that children have milder COVID-19 symptoms because their immune system is not fully developed; and that adults’ immune system overreacts to this new virus, leading to severe breathing difficulties. It wasn’t clear to me whether he was referring to the inflammation of alveoli the way it happens in a pneumonia, the milder way it happens in a bronchitis, or to something more like asthma, which typically has an allergic background. It’s an important distinction to make, and people would benefit from understanding the actual mechanism.
For starters, is this “overreaction” similar to a histamine reaction in allergic asthma? There are other inflammatory mediators too, especially cytokines, chemokines, and leukotrienes among others, but either way, it’s important to know whether this virus strongly interferes with histamine, or not.
Then, should this overreaction be the trigger of pneumonia (as this suggests), are the immunosuppressed subjects less at risk? Would life be so ironic that HIV-infected patients, and those following a treatment for cancer have better survival chances from COVID-19 than perfectly healthy yet “overreactive” people? After all, if a child’s incompletely developed immune system helps, why wouldn’t be the case here?
This sounds like a sophism to me. A fully developed immune system puts an adult at risk, whereas a less reactive one can both help (in children) or kill (in aged people). Does this make sense to anyone?
I’ve even heard a Health Minister (of Romania) saying that massive doses of vitamin C don’t help, but the argument wasn’t the traditional one–no amount of vitamin C could improve an immune system overnight, if there ever was such a chance–but one based exactly on this so-called overreaction: apparently, vitamin C intakes risk of making one’s immune system “overreactive.” Wait, in any other infectious disease, wasn’t an improved reaction of the immune system a good thing?
As long as absolutely nobody–especially not the WHO–bothered to explain and clarify this overreactiveness, and generally the factors that make COVID-19 switch from “you might not even notice me” to “you’re going to have a severe pneumonia now!“, I’ll reserve my judgment with regards to the medical profession–the so-called experts, not the exhausted doctors who are risking their lives in hospitals.
Someone deems us too dumb to be informed. Very kind of them.
As for how little we know about this virus, here’s a reason to panic: apparently, one should avoid the anti-inflammatory drugs (Advil, Nurofen), and use paracetamol (Tylenol, Doliprane) instead. And the stupid American doctors should stop prescribing steroids.
The French Health Minister’s tweet is based on reports from hospitals; no study has been made so far, but the Fake News factories already packaged this info in nicer habits:
And yet, an April 2019 communiqué suggests that anti-inflammatory drugs favor the aggravation of infections, although it was about Streptococcus and Pneumococcus: Anti-inflammatoires non stéroïdiens (AINS) et complications infectieuses graves – Point d’Information.
Oh, wait, some good news. Actemra® (Tocilizumab, an immunosuppressant used in rheumatoid arthritis), proved to be instrumental in saving some COVID-19 patients with severe pneumonia. The mechanism seems to be its ability to prevent cytokines from exploding due to the overreaction of the immune system. So it’s about cytokines, not histamine. The relative effectiveness of Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine), normally used for rheumatoid arthritis, also suggests that this is about a hyperactive immune response to the virus called a cytokine storm. There’s a break in the clouds, although the “right” amount of reactivity of the immune system is still to be determined. On the other hand, the antiviral Galidesivir (Bcx4430) also showed a certain effectiveness.
Meanwhile, what are we going to do, while waiting for Death to let us know if we’re on her shortlist? Europe is already the epicenter of this pandemic, with more new daily cases than China had at the height of its epidemic. Some countries have declared a state of emergency, and Trump just declared national emergency too. Italy reached 250 deaths a day from the COVID-19. Major stock exchanges had crashed at level unseen since the 1987 Black Monday for most of them (Europe and the US) or since the 2008 financial crisis (Nikkei). The Turkish-Greek border looks like it were a war of invasion taking place there, which is exactly what we need in this sanitary emergency (hold your tears: only 4% are from Syria). The economy is severely hit, the tourism is dead, and despite governments, the EU and the ECB (duh!) announcing supportive measures, I wouldn’t trust them that much.
As recently as on March 9, Ursula von der Leyen was fiddling when Rome was burning: she was keen to report on her first 100 days in office. Her top priorities were:
- Turning the fight against climate change into an opportunity for jobs & growth.
- Reaping the benefits of technology & making it work for people.
- Strengthening the EU’s geopolitical clout.
Yeah, keep believing in the Union.
Governments are the last to take the necessary measures that so many regular people saw as necessary (despite so many others being totally dumb and irresponsible).
We’re on our own.
Even so, we’re not lost.
One cannot purchase face masks or hand sanitizers (funny cultural note: what Italians now call Amuchina® is any disinfectant gel, but originally this trademark start being used as a common name in 1939 as a sanitizing solution containing sodium hypochlorite). The antibacterial wipes are gone too. Alcohol is also hard to find, but beware: according to the CDC, an alcohol-based sanitizer is only effective if it has at least 60% v/v alcohol (60% ABV means 120 proof in the US). Solutions of 0.5% hydrogen peroxide or 0.1% sodium hypochlorite can also inactivate the virus. But washing with soap is the most effective preventative measure, as soap dissolves the fat membrane of any virus.
But what to do at home? I can foresee people claiming that they’ll be getting bored. Reading books, listening to music, watching the TV or online movies, or even YouTube videos–these are only a few self-evident activities. The online contents is not only a waste of time, it can also help people learn “sewing, juggling, CPR, drawing, wood turning, the Cyrillic alphabet, solving cryptic crosswords, cooking, meditation, temari, knitting, video editing, offspin, yoga, coding, [or] the accordion.”
It’s worth saying that the private sector might be more innovative in helping everyone get through this. Here’s Discord increasing from 10 to 50 the limit of free users able to share a computer screen. This got me an idea: what if here in Germany, Telekom (and the other ISPs) were increasing the bandwidth to the maximum possible for any given physical connection, at no extra charge? No, that wouldn’t cost them; it’s not like they’d been giving physical buckets of gigabytes. In the long run, everybody wins: once getting used with better Internet, many will eventually agree to pay more to avoid getting back to a lower bandwidth. But hey, this is not going to happen–not in Germany. (In the US, AT&T, Comcast and dozens of other providers won’t disconnect service to customers who can’t pay their bills for 60 days because of the coronavirus outbreak.)
But are we getting through this? Nothing is less certain for now.
We’ll all get increasingly scared by the statistics coming from Italy. Let’s tone them down though: Italy has one of the oldest populations (possibly right next to Japan), and therefore it’s no wonder that the average age of the infected is 65 (or maybe 69), that 76.6% are 51+ (39.2% are over 70), and 24% needed hospitalization (or maybe only 21%). While “only” 56.6% of the deceased were over 80 (expect this value to raise as a result of prioritizing the access to the available respirators based on the survival chances), two thirds had 3 or more pre-existing chronic diseases.
And then there’s the case of the US, where 60% have at least one chronic health condition, and 40% have more than one. Brace for some very bad news.
Even if we survive, we risk having a 20-30% drop in lung function (for at least 6 to 9 months if we’re to judge by the experience of SARS). Then we’ll have to wait for the second wave. In the case of the Spanish flu, the first wave of the virus only had symptoms like high fever usually lasting about three days, and mortality rates similar to seasonal flu. But then, “somewhere in Europe, a mutated strain of the Spanish flu virus had emerged that had the power to kill a perfectly healthy young man or woman within 24 hours of showing the first signs of infection.” When the death rate skyrocketed, there was a huge spike in the age range 25-35. Not good at all.
But let’s say we really survive. Safe and sound. What’s going to happen to the world?
How many of us will still have jobs? How many small companies will still be able to recover, no matter the help from one Government or another?
More importantly, will capitalism have learned a lesson?
Don’t hold your breath. Notwithstanding the current situation, a real change is likely to be wishful thinking.
50-60 years ago, the world didn’t seem that fragile. Back then, international trade and globalization were distinct concepts. Should the borders–hypothetically–have been required to be closed, most nations would have survived. Around 80% of the necessary–not the optional–was available from the internal production. One could have survived without English tweed, Belgian and German beer, French foie gras and smelly cheese, Italian parmigiano, Italian and French haute couture and wine, Portuguese Porto, Dutch tulips, and Chinese… china. Most countries could have lived of their agricultural produce, clothing factories, and pretty much everything else they were producing. Electronic components were produced and devices were manufactured even in Eastern Europe, and not for the West. The idea that almost everything of relevance–except for food–could came to be produced in a single region of the world, or depend on components made there, would have seemed eccentric.
Today, we’re so “optimized” for profit maximization that once something–anything!–goes wrong, we’re doomed. Anyone farts? S&P 500, Dow Jones, Nasdaq, FTSE 100, CAC 40, DAX, Nikkei, Hang Seng are spiraling downwards. Most protection masks are Made in China. Respirators could be produced e.g. in Italy, but they require components made somewhere in Asia (American ventilator manufacturers are not ramping up production yet, suggesting they’re stupid as shit). As we all know, there’s zero electronics truly Made in Europe (or in the USA for that matter), and when there’s an exception (say, for military use), most of the electronic components are still made in China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, etc.
One would expect this COVID-19 pandemic to have already taught us a lesson. No, we shouldn’t try to become 100% self-sustaining, the way Nicolae Ceaușescu tried (and failed) in the 1980s, or the way North Korea tries to do nowadays (with even worse results, as they heavily rely on imports from China, and their exports are pathetic compared to those of Romania in the 80s). But we might want to return to normality, where the products imported from any given country are specific to that country, not just made there because the cost of the workforce is lower, the working conditions are abysmal, human rights are ignored, and the environment is destroyed. With the increasing automation, the manufacturing costs aren’t so much different anymore (robots don’t care where you install them). I can show you identical Bic® pens made in China, France, US and Mexico, all retailing for the same price! Or toothbrushes Made in Germany that retail for €0.59, whereas similar Colgate toothbrushes Made in China retail for €2.69. This is pure greed, not economic reason.
For some unexplained reason, the Europeans are even lazier and more suicidal than the Americans, if that’s possible. No, I’m not thinking of the way they’ve imported the American management dogmas; I’m deploring the fact that there isn’t a single Operating System that’s not made in the US (Linux can’t be counted here), and not a single relevant searching engine Made in Europe. Software-wise, Europe is dead. The fact that currently all the bugs in Windows 10 are Made in India doesn’t help much. When America dies, Europe goes down too.
Critic of the neoliberal dogma, Prof. Enzo Pennetta is reserved in prognosticating the post-COVID-19: after mentioning Milton Friedman (“Only a crisis … produces real change.”) and the pro-EU Jacques Attali in the context of the 2009 swine flu (“L’Histoire nous apprend que l’humanité n’évolue significativement que quand elle a vraiment peur … La pandémie qui commence pourrait déclencher une de ces peurs structurantes.”), he relies on the catastrophe theory to conclude that whatever happens–for better or for worse—it’s going to take a long time to reverse the change and push the system in the opposite direction. The impossibility to forecast the direction of the change is due to the split between those who claim that there isn’t enough globalization (and this is the root cause of the crisis) and those who claim the opposite, that there’s too much globalization, and we need to return to a multipolar world.
As a matter of fact, the Christian Science Monitor reports that “some nationalists” in Europe and the US “are now pointing to the virus as an added reason to … bring factories back home.” But…
The vast majority of business experts say the real lesson of the new coronavirus outbreak is, if anything, the very opposite. They don’t foresee any wholesale retreat from today’s web of far-flung commercial ties among nations, or benefits in doing so. Still, they expect the virus outbreak will alter the patterns of trade, perhaps in ways that have a local as well as a global character.
Any reasonable board member would expect a CEO to be responding with greater supply redundancy and be prepared to pay for it,” says Mary Lovely, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “To the extent that this crisis appears to be heading toward a global phenomenon, it is a nudge toward a different, more diversified globalization rather than less globalization.”
Indeed, supply-chain specialist Rolf Zimmer in Germany says his clients are looking to make their supply networks more resilient, not more insular.
And this, even as businesspersons declare that “all that stuff comes from China. The truth is, I never thought about this risk. … Now, there is no fix. There is no Plan B.” And also regardless of the fact that reasons for deglobalization include:
- reducing greenhouse gas emissions (or pollution altogether, as the CO2 in itself is not a pollutant);
- enhancing national security;
- enhancing the ability to customize the products and to respond to shifting customer demands when factories are closer to the shoppers;
- automation makes labor costs much less relevant.
We’re doomed even if we manage to stay alive.
The current crisis is already masking whatever else might be happening that’s not COVID-19 related (as the French SNCF used to say, “un train peut en cacher un autre”). In such a crisis, just about anything can happen, so stay alert.