Category: Econolypse

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I Wonder Which Will Flatten First: Us or the Curve?

Today, the global number of SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2), also known as COVID-19, infections topped 1 million and 50,000 deaths. As I write, based on data collated by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University: 1,015,709 confirmed cases; 211,615 recovered; 53,069 dead.

One month ago, there were eight reported Novel Coronavirus cases in the United States. This moment, according to John Hopkins: 245,213. The dramatic rise is part increased testing, part exponential community spread of the virus. This USA Today headline, regarding April 1, makes the point better than I could: “More than 1,000 in US die in a single day from Coronavirus, doubling the worst daily death toll of the flu”. That number doesn’t include collateral casualties—people who, being treated for something else, might otherwise have lived if not for overwhelmed hospitals in hot zones like New York.

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I Agree

Along several sidewalks in the neighborhood, kids who have been forced home by school closings express in chalk positive sentiments about beating back or overcoming the global crisis presented by the conjoined pandemics: Viral—SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2), better known as COVID-19—and socioeconomic. One message moved me more than the others, for being affirmative against adversity.

“We Can Do This” is a proclamation of will, of determination, of taking responsibility—with the plural meaning everything. We can be two or more all the way up to collective humanity. But the importance is greater, as the sentiment explodes in context: In California, like a handful of other states, Governor Gavin Newsom has ordered all 40-million citizens to “stay at home” and practice so-called “social distancing” behavior as a strategy to slow spread of the contagion. All businesses, but a handful considered to be “essential”, are closed. We are apart physically—separated by six feet or more—but we are close in desire.

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Something Stinks Here

There are the photo opportunities that you frustratingly miss, those you purposely pass on, and the ones you use for illustration—even when they’re make-do. That’s the context for our Featured Image, shot today using iPhone XS. Vitals: f/1.8, ISO 69, 1/1689 sec, 26mm (film equivalent); 10:05 a.m. PDT. Now comes some explanation.

In response to the SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2)—also known as COVID-19pandemic, federal and state officials have issued orders for citizens to “shelter in place“. Most businesses considered to be non-essential are closed; schools are, too. Staying home is fine most of the time, but some healthy outdoor activity is nevertheless necessary for the Wilcox family’s well-being. Turns out that walks are considered to be safe enough—and my wife and I continue to take them, mindful to try and keep the recommended six feet away from passersby (mostly dog walkers). At 8:50 a.m. PDT, we met someone, or I should say something, that we surely wanted to keep distance from: A skunk scurrying down the Meade Ave. sidewalk approaching us.

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To Slow the Pandemic, Commerce Crumbles

Last night, Governor Gavin Newsom directed the closure of restaurants—other than take-away or delivery—across California. San Diego County issued legally-enforceable health orders, 11 in all, that impose tighter restrictions. Sizable group gatherings are prohibited, and residents are instructed to stay home. Six days after the World Health Organization (finally) declared SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2)—also known as COVID-19—a pandemic, commerce shutters, slows, and stops.

My wife and I take cautious walks around the neighborhood, avoiding other people as we can. Today, as we approached Park Blvd from Monroe Ave., a strange sight greeted: Closed LeStat’s. The bustling coffee shop is normally open 24 hours every day of the year. We didn’t explore the remaining portion of University Height’s main street, but for sure the many bars and restaurants are dark, too.

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Pandemic!

A new era of uncertainty makes this an historic Wednesday, as the most transformative event in generations advances with rapacity. This morning (Pacific Daylight Time), and taking too long doing so, the World Health Organization officially classified SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2)—also known as COVID-19—as a pandemic. This evening, President Trump announced an unprecedented 30-day European travel ban—excluding United Kingdom—starting at 11:59 p.m. EDT on Friday the 13th. How appropriately unlucky is that?

The goal: To limit the contagion’s spread from the Continent, where Italy is besieged and has essentially quarantined (e.g. locked down)  the entire country. Earlier today, the government there ordered the closure of all stores, other than banks, pharmacies, and supermarkets. Yikes!

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Tent City

From the Adams Ave. overlook, seen across the canyon to the backside of Franciscan Way, a tented home hugs the hillside. In early Summer, My wife and I walked through the multi-level dwelling during one of its countless Open Houses over the course of many, many months. The overly-expansive layout, square-footage (3,860), and $1.7 million asking price were reasons for our disinterest—and perhaps many other people. There is a pending sale, as of the week before Christmas, for $1.55M, which explains the extermination rig.

Californians tent homes to fumigate, which is common practice before a new sale closes. Think of it as a temporary tent city for vermin, before insecticide snuffs them out. Funny thing, tent city also refers to where groups of the downtown homeless gather together. If neighborhood banter on the NextDoor social network is revealing, there are many University Heights residents who view indigents as vermin they would like to eliminate

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Sign of the Times

Two weeks ago, while walking around Hillcrest, my wife and I briefly stopped by the local, massive, used bookstore. To my surprise, the place was three-quarters emptied and going out of business. Yikes! I hadn’t shopped there for nearly a year, when purchasing a paperback for myself later given to my father-in-law. While 5th Avenue Books is gone, online counterpart Schrader’s Books will continue selling used titles through Amazon. As someone who almost exclusively reads ebooks, I occasionally—but, honestly, rarely—shopped out-of-prints not available in digital format, almost always finding the sought-after read.

That last purchase: The Past Through Tomorrow by Robert A. Heinlein, an old-time favorite selling for three bucks. When I first bought the anthology in high school, it came as a set with two other titles: Stranger in a Strange Land and Time Enough for Love. During the last year of my father-in-law’s life, reading became his main recreation. I donated the Heinlein title to that cause. Following the 95 year-old’s death nine weeks ago, I reclaimed the book to read and as remembrance. 

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How Did It Come to This?

Surely somewhere in the collapse of retailer American Apparel there is a metaphor appropriate for the policy platform put forth by Donald Trump. The President talks about bringing jobs back to the United States and renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement. Ironically, with AA, we see the demise of an iconic, hip “Made in the USA” brand, with its remaining assets being sold to Canadian-based Gildan. What’s up with that? Eh?

The Featured Image, and the pic following below the fold, tells a different story: Recent remembrance of another American Apparel, which allure popped pop culture’s cherry, for coolness and sex-appeal. On May 8, 2010, the retailer’s San Diego store held a rummage sale that drew long lines that wrapped around the block such that the end overlapped the beginning. I captured the moment with the Sigma DP2s. What a change in 7 years—and not just for the one clothier. Last year, local company Sports Chalet went out of business, around the same time as national chain Sports Authority. The Limited is shuttering all its stores, and Macy’s nearly 70. Should we blame China or, hehe, Amazon

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Perpetual Prosperity Psychology and the Housing Bubble

Something about the housing bubble narrative bugs me: Conspiracy. Evil bankers conspired to bilk Americans by financing home loans to people who could never pay, to then repackage bad mortgages as good investment products. While I lauded Matt Taibbi news analyses in 2010 and 2013 for exposing financial institution malfeasance, the blame game always seemed to ignore one other party’s culpability: Borrowers.

New research paper “Changes in Buyer Composition and the Expansion of Credit During the Boom” is a fascinating post-bubble autopsy. Its conclusions, if they survive the test, rewrite the bubble narrative, which revision makes more sense to me. 

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The Underemployment Crisis

When I worked as an analyst for Jupiter Research a decade ago, the editorial philosophy was “data-driven analysis”. But sometimes single stories—one or a few individuals—define a trend. That’s my renewed feeling today meeting Tim in the alley behind our apartment.

I measure San Diego’s economy, and in some respects that of America, by the people who dumpster dive our alley. We moved to the city seven years ago yesterday and were taken aback by the number of people who pull redeemable bottles and cans from recycle and trash bins. But the collectors’ character changed in 2009, following the financial crisis of late 2008. No longer did we see just clearly weather-worn homeless, but paler and better-dressed folks not long laid off from office jobs. Professionals. 

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Conspiracy of Debt

We’re doing the worst thing people can do: lying to our young. Nobody, not even this president, who was swept to victory in large part by the raw enthusiasm of college kids, has the stones to tell the truth: that a lot of them will end up being pawns in a predatory con game designed to extract the equivalent of home-mortgage commitment from 17-year-olds dreaming of impossible careers as nautical archaeologists or orchestra conductors.

One former law student I contacted for this story had a nervous breakdown while struggling to pay off six-figure debt. It wasn’t until he tapped into one of the few growth industries open to young Americans that his outlook brightened. ‘I got my life back on track by working for a marijuana delivery service in Manhattan’, he says.
Matt Taibbi

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Banks Play the Foreclosure Blame Game

Big business plays the kind of blame game that makes four year-olds crying “He made me do it!” seemingly mature. So, I’m not surprised that yesterday before the US Senate Committee on Banking, House & Urban Affairs, Bank of America’s Barbara Desoer blamed investors for the financial institution’s inability to modify more mortgages. It’s not her fault!—she claims. She makes a strange distinction between investors and shareholders, in the process casting blame as misdirection from a much larger problem: Banks and other lenders mishandling mortgage/foreclosure paperwork.