Emerging Lessons from The Covid-19 Pandemic

March 31, 2020

As the Covid-19 pandemic has played out, lessons have begun to emerge about our society which, in blissful ignorance over the past seven decades, we have evolved in the interests of growth and efficiency in ways that are now proving to be dangerous – dangerous to our health, our economy and even civilization as we know it.

Globalism and Global Supply Chains:

Nothing became more readily apparent as the virus took hold than our inability to produce even the most basic medical supplies – masks, face shields, gowns, medicines and ventilators.  Why couldn’t we just crank up the capacity at our factories?  Because we don’t have any.  Like everything else, we’ve made ourselves totally dependent on foreign sources for these items.  Why couldn’t those foreign sources crank up their factories and just send us what we needed?  Because they were in the same boat and needed them themselves.  The whole world quickly found itself in the same boat.  “Globalism” has provided the perfect mechanism for spreading local outbreaks across the world almost overnight and has rendered us nearly incapable of fighting them.

At the beginning of the outbreak in the U.S., we were critically short of N95 masks, a shortage that, while being addressed, threatens to persist.  So just make more, right?  Some companies are tooling up to do just that.  But that’s the problem.  It takes time to “tool up.”  We haven’t been making any such masks in the U.S., so there’s no factory where we can just add more shifts or crank up the output.  The manufacturing has to be tooled up from scratch.

How hard can it be to make simple masks?  Start with the fabric.  No fabric of any kind is made in the U.S. any more.  It has to be engineered to screen out a minimum particle size.  Now it has to be thermoformed into the shape of a mask.  That takes special molding tooling.  To make that tooling requires sophisticated machining equipment.  We have that equipment, but almost all of it is foreign-sourced.  So what happens when that equipment breaks down?  Multiply that level of complexity a thousand-fold in order to produce ventilators which also aren’t made in this country (at least they weren’t until Ford, GE and GM began building factories recently to do it).

The same goes for test kits and pharmaceuticals, all of which until now have been foreign-sourced.

President Trump recently vented his frustration with this situation in one of his daily White House briefings.  He vowed that while we can engage in trade with everyone, we can never again let ourselves be dependent on anyone.  Others have made the same observation.  Complex global supply chains that depend on pulling together materials from all over the world in order to keep society functioning is a recipe for a disaster.

It’s interesting how quickly those who, in the past have mocked others as “protectionists” and “isolationists,” have resorted to exactly those measures to stem the spread of this pandemic.  Now, isolating ourselves is our only hope for saving hundreds of thousands of people and, while doing so, we’re put at risk by the globalism that they championed.

No Spare Capacity:

Global competition has fueled a relentless drive for efficiency, just-in-time delivery supply chains and cutting costs to the bone.  That means squeezing every ounce from every capacity available, whether it’s labor capacity, factory capacity, and even the capacity of our health care system.  Everything has been functioning with virtually no capacity to spare.  Even in the best of times, the intensive care units and emergency rooms at our hospitals function at near-capacity.  Most of you have visited hospitals before all this started.  How many empty beds did you see as you walked down the halls?  How many times did you pass a patient on a gurney in the hallway?

How many times have you gone to a store – any kind of store – and found that you were fortunate enough to get one of the few remaining items you’re looking for that are left on the shelf?  Maybe there are none, and you’re told that more are arriving tomorrow.  It’s because inventory management systems have cut to the bone the amount of inventory in the warehouse.  We’ve even learned that the stockpiles of critical items maintained by FEMA and the CDC, while sufficient for smaller local or regional disasters, are woefully short of what would be needed for any kind of major disaster.  (And isn’t it interesting how our definition of “major disaster” has just changed?)

That’s all great for minimizing costs, but now we can see just how risky that can be.  People are paying for that kind of efficiency with their lives.  There is a role for government to play in assuring that a certain minimum amount of spare capacity exists throughout our supply chains – supply chains that are not dependent on other nations – that can be readily tapped in the event of national disasters like pandemics, wars, etc.

The Risks of Dense Populations:

Consider where this virus originated and where it’s hit the hardest.  It originated in a country with one fifth of the world’s population, a country so densely populated that it’s people, at least in some quarters, rely on live animal markets as a source of food.  China is four times as densely populated as the U.S.  Pause and think about that.  Imagine if the U.S. had four times as many people.  Imagine New York city with four times as many people.  Or Chicago.  Or any other city you can think of.  Imagine our rural areas with four times as many people.  They’d no longer be so rural.

Where has the virus hit hardest?  Italy is almost twice as densely populated as China.  So too is Germany and the U.K.  Most of Europe is as densely populated as China.  Major cities in the U.S. and around the world are hundreds of times more densely populated.

Even in the best of times, living in a densely populated area is a little risky.  With a sky-high cost of living (especially housing), and with many (perhaps most?) people living paycheck-to-paycheck, you’re at constant risk of finding yourself homeless.  The supply of basic necessities relies on complicated supply chains that are vulnerable to disruptions.  In the worst of times – and what we’re enduring right now, while bad, is probably not even close to being “worst” – living in such densely populated conditions is downright dangerous.  Diseases can spread like wildfire.  Natural disasters or wars could cut off supply lines.

What’s the solution?  Live in a less densely-populated society.  How is that possible?  Modern civilization requires both urban and rural areas.  Cities are needed to pull together labor forces to manufacture goods and provide certain services, while rural areas are needed for farming, forestry, recreation, etc.

The way to achieve this is with fewer, smaller cities and more rural, wide-open space.  Consider countries like Canada and Australia – each with the same size as the U.S. but with one tenth or less population density.  Though each is dealing with coronavirus outbreaks, they’re no where near the scale of what the U.S. is facing.  Why?  Because they were already more isolated to start with.

On the other hand, think about India – a place so densely populated that it’s almost impossible for them to practice any kind of social distancing.  Will they pay the price, or will the fact that India is a hot climate where the coronavirus, like the flu, can’t survive to any great extent spare them?  No one knows.  Only time will tell.

Then there’s cruise ships.  Before any of this happened, we were already hearing constant stories of norovirus outbreaks that sickened passengers, cut cruises short and necessitated thorough cleaning of the ships.  Now we’ve seen that, given a deadlier virus, those ships are death traps.  And each is just a small-scale example of what can happen in a densely-packed society.

Secure Borders:

Together with the advocates of free trade and globalism, the open border advocates have also gone silent.  Our failure to quickly shut down international travel exacerbated the spread of the virus in the U.S.  How much worse could it have been had we not been able to shut down the borders at all?  How much worse could it have gotten had we not already taken steps to secure our southern border?  Now we can see the value in maintaining secure borders, and the need to further tighten down on illegal immigration.

Beyond these, there are many, many other lessons to be learned about preparedness for major disasters.  One lesson that will only become clear as our economy begins to recover is that we’re going to pay for decades for the folly of allowing our economy to be siphoned away to drive growth in the rest of the world.  Our dependence on deficit spending to offset the drain of the trade deficit had already become dangerous as our national debt swelled to an unsustainable level.  We were already bailing as fast as we could to keep our leaky boat afloat.  Now, the $2 trillion stimulus package, together with the $4 trillion in additional debt that the Federal Reserve is issuing, will blow the transom off the boat.  It will prove impossible to keep the economy afloat while maintaining a trade deficit.  It’s critical that we get serious about restoring a balance of trade, both to reinvigorate our manufacturing base and to stop the hemorrhaging of our national debt.

Economists have long boasted that “mankind is clever enough to overcome all obstacles to further growth.”  At the same time, survivalists have built bomb shelters, amassed stockpiles of food, ammunition, batteries and other gear, and have practiced survival skills.  Suddenly, the latter group looks a little less wacky and the economists seem a bit humbled.  Mankind is not clever enough to overcome all obstacles to growth because, in a finite world, it’s impossible for so many reasons that they can’t even be listed.  Try as we might to keep growing the population, nature will find a way to restore balance in ways that we can’t even imagine, and likely with consequences too horrible to contemplate.

We’d better learn these lessons, because next time it could be much worse.  Though this virus is very contagious and much deadlier than the flu, it’s not as deadly as it could be.  In 1918, the Spanish flu killed approximately 50 million people at a time when the world’s population was just 3 billion.  In 2003, the SARS virus killed 10% of the people it infected.  Luckily, SARS was only contagious when it when symptoms became obvious, making it easy to identify and isolate those infected, which limited the number of cases to just over 8,000 world wide.  Then there’s ebola, a virus that kills half of everyone it infects.  Imagine if a virus emerged that was that lethal and was just as contagious as the novel coronavirus.  It could wipe out three billion people or more and threaten the very survival of mankind.  It might be a hundred years from now.  It might be tomorrow.  But fail to learn these lessons from this virus, and that’s what’s going to happen.

 

 

 


How did unemployment fall in February?

March 13, 2019

On Friday, the Labor Department reported that the economy added only 20,000 jobs in February.  In spite of that number being significantly lower than what’s needed to keep pace with growth in the labor force, unemployment fell – not by just 0.1%, but by 0.2% – to 3.8%.  How can that happen?

It happened in large part because of some really good news – a piece of data that isn’t even a part of the unemployment report.  The official explanation is that the labor force actually shrank a little in February, while the employment level, as measured by the household survey portion of the report, actually grew by 253,000 workers.

But you have to look beyond the employment report to find the really good news that made this happen.  The employment report depends a great deal on the population estimate determined by the Census Bureau.  And in December, the Census Bureau adjusted it’s estimate downward by nearly 1.2 million people – an unusually large adjustment.  Why?  A combination of factors that include the birth rate, death rate and, probably most importantly, the growth in the immigrant population, whether through legal or illegal immigration.  It’s evidence that Trump’s crackdown on both categories of immigration is beginning to have an effect.

As a result, per capita employment has now grown for six consecutive months – something that has happened only  three times in at least the past twelve years.  (The longest such streak was July, 2011 through March, 2012 which occurred as the U.S. emerged from the “Great Recession” of 2008.)  Here’s a chart of per capita employment since November, 2007:  Per Capita Employment.

In addition, the Labor Department reported that hourly wages rose by an annual rate of 3.4%, the fastest pace of increase in quite a long time.

The point of all of this is that, in spite of the rate of growth in the U.S. population slowing and contrary to assertions by economists that population growth is vital to economic growth, there’s been absolutely no negative impact on workers or on the economy.  Per capita employment is rising, along with wages.  It’s evidence that the scheme of using high rates of immigration to suppress wages is beginning to unravel.


California Admits Failure in its Carbon Reduction Efforts

February 5, 2019

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-climatechange-california-insight/a-climate-problem-even-california-cant-fix-tailpipe-pollution-idUSKCN1PQ4MJ

Once in a while I divert my focus from the economic impact of population growth to highlight other impacts, like environmental.  This is one of those times, as the report in the above-linked article is so significant that I can’t let it pass without comment.  The state of California is admitting that its decades-long drive to reduce auto exhaust emissions is a complete failure.

For three decades, California has led the fight to control tailpipe pollution, with countless policies promoting cleaner gasoline, carpooling, public transportation and its signature strategy – the electric vehicle.  Californians now buy more than half of all EVs sold in the United States, and the state’s auto-pollution policies have provided a model being adopted around the world.

Indeed, California’s focus on reducing carbon emissions has been a model for the rest of the world.  In fact, such carbon reduction is the model upon which the Paris Climate Accord, whose stated goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a level at which sustainable development can continue, is based.  The result?

Tailpipe pollution here is going up, not down, despite billions of dollars spent by one of the most environmentally progressive governments on earth.

“The strategies that we’ve used up until now just haven’t been effective,” Mary Nichols, the head of the California Air Resources Board, told Reuters.

How is this possible – that such measures are having no effect?  The answer is quite simple, and it’s a point I’ve tried to drive home repeatedly.  The planet doesn’t give a damn how much you reduce your carbon emissions.  All it cares about is the total amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  Population growth is negating any gains in per capita carbon emissions.  What difference does it make if everyone reduces their personal emissions by 50%, let’s say, if the population doubles?  Not one damn bit.

That failure has less to do with energy or environmental policies and more with decades-old urban planning decisions that made California – and especially Los Angeles – a haven for sprawling development of single-family homes and long commutes, according to state officials.

Note the word “development.”  It’s the same word you find in the stated mission of the Paris Climate Accord – sustainable “development.”  It’s a code word for population growth.  “Sprawling development” doesn’t happen without it.  “Sustainable development” doesn’t happen without it.  In fact, “sustainable development” has been the biggest cause of climate change and those who continue to promote it are scamming you into supporting their real agenda – profit growth for global corporations.

The fact is that there is no solution to climate change or any of the other myriad negative consequences of population growth that doesn’t BEGIN with a focus on stablizing the human population.  That’s not to say that we shoudn’t also focus on minimizing our emissions of all kinds – not just greenhouse gases but gaseous, liquid and solid emissions of all kinds.  Nor is “sustainable development” a solution to poverty.  It’s actually making it worse, with over-crowding driving down per capita consumption and, with it, employment.

Of course, there’s no overt mention of “population growth” in this article – just “sprawling development.”  So don’t be surprised if the scam continues, but with a new, additional focus on trying to drive people together into tiny apartments in high-rise housing.  Yeah, that’ll work.  That’s a future we can all really look forward to.

 

 


Why is hate on the rise?

October 31, 2018

In the wake of the mail bombs sent to Democratic critics of Trump and the deadly mass shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, many are raising alarm about what seems to be a dramatic increase in hate crimes and speech.  I was thinking about this and these lyrics came to mind:

“… The whole world is festering with unhappy souls.
The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles.
Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch,
And I don’t like anybody very much.

… They’re rioting in Africa.
There’s strife in Iran.
What nature doesn’t do to us
will be done by our fellow man.”

Those lyrics are taken from a song titled “Merry Minuet,” released by the Kingston Trio in 1959.  Six decades have passed since then.  In spite of the strides we’ve made in being more tolerant of people who are different from us in terms of race, creed and sexual orientation, it does seem as though hate is more prevalent than ever before.  Maybe it is; maybe it isn’t.

The millenial generation now blames Trump and like-minded boomers for the rise in hate.  In 1959, the boomers were blaming their parents.  Hate and the primeval instincts that fuel it, like fear, distrust, envy, greed, and our territorial instincts, have always been with us.  Those instincts are critical to our survival.  One who wanders down a dark alley, oblivious to potential danger, ends up dead.  One who does so with an appropriate degree of fear and distrust is more likely to survive.

When driven to irrational extremes, however -as they can be when fed by false information, those instincts may cause us to unjustifiably hate others.  I and my fellow Christians believe that Christ came into this world to teach us to rein in our demons, to love our neighbor and to forgive those who wrong us.  Often, it’s not easy.  I see a couple of factors, beyond the political, that are making it much harder.

Number one is “social” media.  Not until the past few years have those beset with irrational fears and hatred had such a place to turn to for reinforcement, where their fears and suspicions could be stoked by gross propaganda designed to pull them in and exploit them.  There’s another factor, however, that few recognize – that high population densities are breeding grounds for hatred.  You can see it everywhere you look.  It’s not hard to understand.  Those who live in close quarters are more easily irritated by those around them.  Throw in obvious differences like race and creed and you have an explosive mixture.  “Good fences make good neighbors,” as the saying goes.  The point is that we can all more easily coexist when we have some separation.

I like to use what I call the “monkeys in a cage” effect as an analogy.  Build an enormous, beautiful cage – perhaps acres in size – with flowing streams and trees full of fruit and nuts.  Now put a monkey in the cage.  Will he be happy?  No, he’ll be lonely.  Put in another monkey.  Are they happy?  They’re happier, but still long for more companionship, being very social animals.  So put in some more.  And then more.  At some point, some monkeys will be driven out of the group, where they’ll move to the opposite side of the cage and form their own group.  Now put in more monkeys, and more and more.  At some point, the monkeys will turn on each other and you’ll return to the cage in the morning to find many of them dead, casualties of an enormous fight that broke out overnight.

Any child whoever had an aquarium or terrarium understands that their bowl  or cage will only support just so many fish or animals, in spite of their best efforts to keep them fed.  And so it is with us.  Our country and our planet is twice as densely populated as it was fifty years ago, and is many times more densely populated that it was just a century ago.  While mankind may be clever enough to overcome many obstacles to never-ending population growth, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that there are also many factors that are escalating beyond our ability to control them.  Rising hatred, fed by worsening over-crowding is one that shouldn’t be ignored.

 


U.S. Trade Deficit with EU Rises to New Record in 2017

April 5, 2018

The U.S. trade deficit in manufactured goods with the EU (European Union) rose to a new record of $148.2 billion in 2017.  Here’s a chart of that deficit, dating back to 2001:  EU.  After falling slightly in 2016, it rose again to eclipse the record 2015 deficit by $0.3 billion.

This deficit is a lot less than our deficit with Red China, but some perspective is in order.  The population of the EU is 556.6 million people.  The population density of the EU is 327 people per square mile.  The population of Red China is 1.38 billion people and their population density is 383 people per square mile.  Our trade deficit in manufactured goods with Red China in 2017 was $405 billion.  In per capita terms, our trade deficit in manufactured goods with Red China was $294.  In per capita terms, our trade deficit in manufactured goods with the EU was $246.

So the only reason that our deficit with the EU is that much less than our deficit with Red China is that the EU is that much smaller.  If the EU were the same size as China, our deficit with the EU (in manufactured goods) would have been $367.4 billion – only 9% less than our deficit with Red China.  The reason for this is that the EU is nearly as densely populated as Red China – only 14.6% less densely populated.

Some say that our huge trade deficit with Red China is due to low wages.  Then how do you explain that, in per capita terms (which factors out the sheer size of a country), the trade deficit with EU, where wages are about 2-1/2 times higher than Red China,  is nearly as bad as the deficit with Red China?  In fact, almost half of our trade deficit with the EU is with Germany, where wages are nearly on a par with those in the U.S.   How do you explain that?  It’s because trade imbalances are caused not by low wages, but by disparities in population density.  The EU is more than three times as densely populated as the U.S.  China is four times as densely populated.  Germany is six times.  Trade deficits with such nations are virtually assured because their over-crowded conditions drive down their consumption while they produce just as much.  They can’t absorb their own output, much less consume imports from America.

Trade negotiations with nations that are so badly overpopulated are utterly futile because it’s impossible to negotiate down the disparity in population density.  The only thing the less densely populated nation (the U.S., in these circumstances) can do to restore a balance of trade is to levy tariffs or set quotas.  It’s the only way.

If still not convinced, my next posts will take a broader look at U.S. trade results with the world as a whole, and you’ll see that the population density effect is absolutely undeniable.


Family immigration plunged in 2017

January 5, 2018

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-trump-effect-immigration/fewer-family-visas-approved-as-trump-toughens-vetting-of-immigrants-reuters-review-idUSKBN1ET15I

The above-linked article appeared on Reuters yesterday, reporting that in 2017, family-based immigration dropped dramatically.  But it’s not as though few visas are being approved.  The charts embedded in the article also paint a picture of just how out-of-control immigration had gotten since 2000.  Virtually all U.S. population growth is due to immigration, both legal and illegal, and family-based immigration accounts for at least half of that growth.  In 2015, over one million family, fiance and “other relative” visas were approved.  But in 2017:

  1. Family visas fell to 541,000 vs. 755,000 in 2015, a drop of 28%.
  2. “Other relative” visas fell to 62,000 in 2017 vs. 254,000 in 2015, a drop of 76%.
  3. Fiance visas fell to 33,000 in 2017 vs. 54,000 in 2015, a drop of 39%.

In addition, the Trump administration is seeking even more drastic cuts as a condition for allowing DACA immigrants (children brought here illegally by their parents) to remain permanently in the U.S.

And, based upon monthly border arrest data, illegal immigration declined in 2017 by about 40% – roughly equivalent to 400,000 people.

Add all this up and U.S. immigration in 2017 was cut almost in half, by over one million people.

It’s also important to note that, contrary to the dire predictions of economic decline by immigration advocates who claim that immigration is critical to providing needed skills and entrepreneurship, the decline in immigration in 2017 has been accompanied by a surging economy.

Trump should be applauded for doing a fantastic job of following through on his campaign promise to rein in out-of-control immigration.


No U.S. Population Growth for Six Months?!?!

March 21, 2017

As part of my monthly calculation of the size of the actual labor force (for the purpose of analyzing the monthly employment report), I use the U.S. population as determined by the “Population Clock” on the home page of the U.S. Census Bureau.  As I write this, it stands at 324.73 million.  This figure typically grows at the rate of about 180,000 per month.  That’s a scary rate of population growth.  The U.N. estimates that half of all world population growth by 2050 will be caused by the growth of the population in only eight nations – seven third world nations and – you guessed it – the United States, the only developed nation that continues to experience third-world-like population growth.

But I’ve noticed something strange in the last six months, and especially since the beginning of the year.  In December, the population clock actually fell back by almost 600,000.  Since then, the population has been growing at a rate of only about 80,000 per month.  Today, it stands at almost exactly the same level as it did at the end of September.

This is great news, but I suspect that some of the reason for the slowdown is not good news.  You may recall that sometime back around December, the CDC announced that death rates in the U.S. were rising while life expectancy had actually declined slightly.  But there’s some really great news too.  Illegal immigrants are being deported and the entry of new illegal immigrants has slowed dramatically.  Even legal immigration has slowed since Trump took office.

Although it’s still early in this new trend, a couple of observations are in order:

  • Most economists predict economic gloom and doom to accompany a lack of population growth.  Contrary to that, the U.S. economy has experienced its best growth in many years in the past six months.  A brightening economic outlook is one of the outcomes I predicted in Five Short Blasts that would accompany a stabilizing or even declining U.S. population.
  • A rising death rate is another outcome that I predicted in my book for nations whose population densities continue to grow beyond a critical level, driven by rising unemployment and poverty.

This is all something I’ll be watching closely as immigration continues to slow dramatically during the Trump administration.