What I Have Been Reading – April 2020


Americans saving for retirement weren’t panicking last quarter even as markets crashed and their 401(k) nest eggs deflated.

Only 5.6% of people enrolled in a 401(k) plan changed their portfolio allocations in the first three months of 2020, according to a Morningstar Inc. analysis of more than 635,000 participants.



Worldwide more than 1.5 billion children are out of school right now.1 This has dramatically increased the need for childcare. In addition, grandparent-provided childcare is now discouraged due to the higher mortality rate for the elderly, and given social distancing measures, sharing childcare with neighbors and friends is very limited also. Thus, most families have no choice but to watch their kids themselves.



Hurried Into Lockdown

Yet faced with murky data, a clamouring press and terrifying reports from Italy, the current lockdown was hurriedly declared, in order to buy time for the NHS to build further capacity for the approaching storm. Given the paucity of data available when the decision was made, and how things could have gone, perhaps the government did the right thing. It has, indeed, used the time to create impressive capacity, and can now assert that the UK does have capacity (both hospital beds generally and ICU beds and ventilators in particular) for whatever comes our way.

The critic


Work From Home:

Our classification implies that 37 percent of U.S. jobs can plausibly be performed at home. We obtain our estimate by identifying job characteristics that clearly rule out the possibility of working entirely from home, neglecting many characteristics that would make working from home difficult.



Re-opening and freewill:

OpenTable bookings had declined 70% before US restaurants were closed. Swedish movie theaters are open but revenues are down 90%. “When will government open up the economy?” is the wrong question. Open doors and no customers is not an economy!



Air Travel:

The number of Americans getting on airplanes has sunk to a level not seen in more than 60 years as people shelter in their homes to avoid catching or spreading the new coronavirus.

The Transportation Security Administration screened fewer than 100,000 people on Tuesday, a drop of 95% from a year ago.

Historical daily numbers only go back so far, but the nation averaged 97,000 passengers a day in 1954.



The Move To Online

The death of physical communities and the rise of virtual communities will be one of the greatest accelerations this pandemic produces. Through it all, we must remember, however, that we are human beings, social animals, physical animals, and physical animals cannot do away with intimate interaction. Governments must devise policy to combat the urge for citizens to isolate. The attractiveness of online environments is something we already find ourselves struggling with. The cognitive impacts of a society that’s extremely online are already well-documented.



Quarantine and Divorce:

Although China publishes nationwide statistics on divorce only annually, media reports from various cities show uncouplings surged in March as husbands and wives began emerging from weeks of government-mandated lockdowns intended to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. Incidents of domestic violence also multiplied. The trend may be an ominous warning for couples in the U.S. and elsewhere who are in the early stages of isolating at home: If absence makes the heart grow fonder, the opposite might be true of too much time spent together in close quarters.



Video Conference Attire:

Walmart EVP of corporate affairs Dan Bartlett tells @YahooFinance that amid coronavirus: “We are seeing increased sales in tops, but not bottoms” because so many people are doing video conferences from home. and all that matters is the above the waist shot.



Second Level Thinking:

It follows that we should—as incomprehensible as this may sound — hope for a deep, short recession, caused by a cliff dive in many forms of economic activity. That would be a clear signal that people have gone home and that the face-to-face economy has been shut down to limit the spread of disease.

The Atlantic


The Economics Of Toilet Paper:

In short, the toilet paper industry is split into two, largely separate markets: commercial and consumer. The pandemic has shifted the lion’s share of demand to the latter. People actually do need to buy significantly more toilet paper during the pandemic — not because they’re making more trips to the bathroom, but because they’re making more of them at home. With some 75% of the U.S. population under stay-at-home orders, Americans are no longer using the restrooms at their workplace, in schools, at restaurants, at hotels, or in airports.



Its Time To Build

In fact, I think building is how we reboot the American dream. The things we build in huge quantities, like computers and TVs, drop rapidly in price. The things we don’t, like housing, schools, and hospitals, skyrocket in price. What’s the American dream? The opportunity to have a home of your own, and a family you can provide for. We need to break the rapidly escalating price curves for housing, education, and healthcare, to make sure that every American can realize the dream, and the only way to do that is to build.

Marc Andreessen

Advice From A 68 Year Old

Always demand a deadline. A deadline weeds out the extraneous and the ordinary. It prevents you from trying to make it perfect, so you have to make it different. Different is better.

Never use a credit card for credit. The only kind of credit, or debt, that is acceptable is debt to acquire something whose exchange value is extremely likely to increase, like in a home. The exchange value of most things diminishes or vanishes the moment you purchase them. Don’t be in debt to losers.

When you are young spend at least 6 months to one year living as poor as you can, owning as little as you possibly can, eating beans and rice in a tiny room or tent, to experience what your “worst” lifestyle might be. That way any time you have to risk something in the future you won’t be afraid of the worst case scenario.

Trust me: There is no “them”.

Saving money and investing money are both good habits. Small amounts of money invested regularly for many decades without deliberation is one path to wealth.

Over the long term, the future is decided by optimists. To be an optimist you don’t have to ignore all the many problems we create; you just have to imagine improving our capacity to solve problems.