Coronavirus Predictions Over the Next 6 Months #COVID

This may be an unpopular thing to say during a time when people are equating #StayAtHome with doing your civic and patriotic duty, but I believe that the stay-at-home orders that the US has implemented in the last few months were largely a mistake. And a lot of this has to do with Americans’ fundamental misunderstanding of how density works.

Me and my friend Harry Pottash have been trading ideas this week about what might be the outcomes — especially unexpected outcomes — of the COVID-19 crisis overall, especially in the United States going forward. Harry approaches this issue from a data-driven standpoint, myself, more from a political/cultural one. I think there might be some interesting insights that emerge from these discussions so I’d like to share some of them with the readers out there while we can.

Here are the main data points Harry is working with so far:

  • ~1.2 MM Covid cases in USA
  • Daily growth rate of Covid is ~2.5% or about 30,000 cases per day
  • Dow Jones is at about 23,500, semi-stable
  • We are at ~20,000 Covid tests per day at the high end.
  • 20% Unemployment (U3) based on a wild guess compiled off of what a few analysts have said.
  • Nationwide shelter in place in the US, and also in basically every other country in the world.
  • Some people protesting the shutdown, some relaxation of shelter in place.
  • The Fed is doing Quantitative Easing as hard as they can (~$8 Trillion), and have gotten in bed with the treasury department to do it even harder. This makes them now subject to much more political control. The Money Printer Goes Brrrrr

(You can read his conclusions by clicking on the original post, which is an ongoing process.)

It needs to be said that nobody knows what is going to happen 6 months from now, so everything written here is for entertainment purposes only. But since we’re all locked up indoors anyway right now, we figured that we might as have a little bit of fun. Because my background and expertise is in housing, most of my points will come from that perspective for the remainder of this article, maybe with a little cultural analysis thrown in here and there.

COVID in United States — As Always, We Do Things Exactly The Wrong Way

A lot of people have been saying that the coronavirus has exposed a lot of weaknesses in our social systems by simply being there — the government has been outsourcing itself to private and special interest groups for decades now, and the cracks are starting to show. The lethality rate of COVID, compared to deadlier diseases like cancer, pneumonia, malaria, etc. is actually very low, relatively speaking. But COVID is the devil we don’t know, as opposed to the ones we know. It’s out of the realm of things we *expect* people to die from, which has become its main source of panic among the public. Americans hate negativity and have a tendency to be very suspicious of new ideas in general — and the coronavirus, unfortunately, brings both.

The fact that we have allowed this pandemic to literally shut down our entire economy goes to show how weak our social safety nets and response systems have become. The Yang Gang (which I’m a proud member of) and other forward-looking progressives have been strongly pushing for Universal Basic Income (#CongressPassUBI), but it will be a very hard-fought, uphill battle. While other countries get their 80% pay and monthly government checks as they move back to normalcy, we’re barely at the start of maybe considering actually helping out our citizens in a direct, effective way.

Whether you consider yourself to be left or right (an axis that won’t matter in a few years anyway), the things that both sides can usually agree on is that both parties are largely out of touch when it comes to representing the interests of the people that put them into power. And in this case, they would both be right.

Density vs. Overcrowding

Since the 80s, Ronald Reagan popularized the idea that politics can be won through magical thinking, best characterized by the “cut taxes, increase spending” approach that has put the US government in a permanent state of debt. Debt, as opposed to competitive subsidies, has become the primary vehicle in which Americans have come to understand how “betterment” works — scholarships have been replaced by student loans, sub-prime loans over savings, health insurance over universal healthcare, etc. The same mindset has been applied to housing as well — most US cities right now are in a state of “housing debt”, where the lack of housing supply has directly contributed to the problems of homelessness and rising rents all over the country.

Not Enough Housing -> Homelessness Goes Up, Rents Go Up

You would think that something as simple as this would be common sense and enacted into our laws and regulations (providing enough housing to meet population levels seems like something the government should be interested in), but if you’ve ever been to a city council meeting where homeowners come out very aggressively against low-income housing, apartments, condos, public housing, homeless shelters, even duplexes and triplexes, you’d quickly find that magical thinking is still alive and well, even in 2020. A lot of the work I’ve done regarding my political activism was to try to point out these obvious flaws to get Americans to support policies that actually make sense. I’ve been only mildly successful so far, but not enough to solve the problem at its root.

This may be an unpopular thing to say during a time when people are equating #StayAtHome with doing your civic and patriotic duty, but I believe that the stay-at-home orders that the US has implemented in the last few months were largely a mistake. And a lot of this has to do with Americans’ fundamental misunderstanding of how density works.

Overcrowding vs. Density, by Alfred Twu

Discouraging public gatherings? An inconvenience, but understandable. Screening processes during travel and going to work? Sensible. But locking people in their homes? Well, that could be good or bad, depending on where you live. And that was the step-too-far that the US has taken, to its own detriment and demise.

Most of US cities, even in highly dense metropolitan areas, continue to be mostly zoned for single family homes. (Los Angeles is zoned 70–80% single family, despite being in a 1-million unit housing shortage right now, for example.) Most cities in the world deal with population increases by increasing density and public transit lines, but the US has decided to take its own approach to increasing housing supply: suburban sprawl. It’s the “big house, big lawn, big car” combo of the American Dream, after all.

We have continued to aggressively pursue this dream, even at the cost environmental damage, long commutes, oil and car dependence (which has become a national security issue), rising housing costs for both landlords and tenants, wasted land/resources due to roads, and social segregation (e.g. gated communities) that encourages paranoia and fear towards our fellow neighbors as a whole.

When most people think of the suburban single-family home, they tend to think of this:

Car, lawn, your spouse and 1–1/2 kids, what more could you want?

This may have been true in the 70s back when the US was building enough housing to meet population levels (imagine that), but that was a long, long time ago. The reality right now on the ground is more like this:

When the Kitchen is Also the Bedroom (Article by the New York Times)

On the surface, the United States *feels* like a wealthy country full of single family homeowners, and those are the types of folks that both businesses are governments are eager to count and cater to. The reality, however, is that in the last 10–20 years people have been cramming themselves into these small single structures, purely out of necessity. Usually this is only a problem for the colored and poor folks to deal with, but you know things have gotten bad when the upper-middle-class whites start to panic, too. It’s not unusual, especially in major metropolitan areas, to have several times the amount of people living (often illegally) in lots and parcels that it was originally designed for.

In Japan, the COVID rates remain extremely low, despite the fact that the nation is one of the oldest, most densest populations in the world right now. On the surface — literally the surface — it feels like Japan is an overcrowded, very unpleasant place to live, but once you’re there you realize that there is actually a lot of space to go around. Why? Because they are willing to build upwards, where there is an infinite amount of space to build. There might be a lot of people running around on the outside, but once you’re at home, there’s actually a lot of space to go around, at reasonable prices. These things, however, do not show up on traditional maps where the only thing you can see are the top-down views.

Most of Japan is actually inhabitable, due to the numerous mountains that makes housing development very difficult.

In the US, data points like the above will typically not show up in official records because a lot of people’s living situations are happening under the table — it’s not unusual for low-income families to cram several families onto a single plot of land, but it will not be reported for fear of retribution — in cases of immigrant families, the fear of deportation is a very real concern. And to the government’s credit, there are many good folks working internally that are willing to look the other way, knowing that turning a blind eye to these “infractions” is actually the morally right thing to do. But the problem is that since this information doesn’t get reported to the higher-ups in an accurate way, they are formulating policies and strategies around bad data: as the saying goes, garbage-in, garbage-out.

There’s been a lot of debate over how COVID is contracted and how it spreads, but there seems to be widespread agreement that the virus tends to thrive in moisture-ridden environments where a lot of people are hanging around each other. Well, that sounds like what every home is right now, including the single-family single-family homes who are using services like AirBnB to rent out their extra rooms so they don’t fall behind on their mortgage payments every month. By forcing people to stay indoors with many other people, we are literally creating breeding grounds for the virus to thrive. Though technically not illegal, people are now encouraging others to never leave their homes, even for a breath of fresh air.

Again, we would be fine if Americans were known for their cleanliness and attention to detail when it comes to their living conditions at home. But most of us know that we’re kind of slobs when it comes to this stuff, especially during times when we are out of work. We are, once again, doing exactly the wrong thing.

This doesn’t even take into account the huge homeless populations we have literally running around everywhere in the States — for these folks, their largest concerns are where they’re going to find their next meal, protecting themselves from physical/sexual assault, protecting their belongings from theft, avoiding government officials looking to remove them, keeping their own sanity from the inhumanity that they face day-to-day. The last thing on their mind is whether they’ve washed their hands, or if they have the right masks on to keep “society safe” from an invisible force that can’t be seen. They have bigger problems to deal with, if anything.

COVID is Everywhere and Nowhere at the Same Time

Conservatives tend to perpetuate the argument that the reported COVID rates are “overblown”, citing that many places are caving into political pressures and are doing sneaky things to inflate the infection/death rates when it comes to the disease. I would, however, argue that the true infection rates are much higher even beyond that, because most of whom have caught the disease have never bothered to check themselves into the system to begin with.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, because that would mean that per capita, the death rates of COVID is actually much lower than what the numbers are saying right now. If the unreported cases are significant — and I do think that it is — the death rate per capita is probably much, much lower than what it says in the news. Many of us have probably contracted and recovered from it already, in fact.

The #CancelRent Disaster in the Horizon

PSA: the “Cancel Rent” movement is not quite accurately messaged — you are allowed to defer on rent and may get additional protections from evictions in the near term, but you are ultimately still responsible for paying back the money you owe once the pandemic is over. It is a deferment, not a cancellation.

Since having gotten into real-estate and property management work since all of this started, I’ve been able to see things from both the tenant and landlord’s perspectives, which has been pretty interesting. Since it’s a hot button issue I don’t want to get too deep into the politics and activism sides of the #CancelRent movement, but I do have to say that depending on how long it lasts it will likely be a disaster for most people out there.

As said above, there are many people who didn’t get the memo that #CancelRent was never meant to be literal — it is a rent deferment, not a forgiveness, which makes tenants still liable to pay back the money eventually. A lot of people will be completely taken off guard in a few months after they realize that they’re now thousands of dollars in debt and have no means to pay it back. This is the big disaster that is waiting to happen.

The other side of the #CancelRent equation is that it will put many landlords into bankruptcy, which will force them to sell their property elsewhere — most likely to large real-estate firms who have the cash right now to take advantage of the situation. The mega-corps will then run tenants through their usual checks, and evict them anyway after the pandemic is over. They also have stronger lawyers to defend themselves in cases where there might be a dispute. Corporate America wins again.

Andrew Yang has the right solution here, which is for the government to step in and pay the rent costs to landlords to relieve the burden on both sides. But whether or not the government does the sensible thing here is yet to be seen. If the people don’t demand it, nothing is likely to happen, yet again.

What Comes Next?

Is this the End of the World? No. There might be a few riots here and there as a result of high unemployment and inequality, but as always, there will be good things and bad things happening at the same time. I would prefer for a smoother transition towards the new normal, but I’m also prepared for the worst to happen too, just in case. Either way, the new normal will come, probably a few months after the November elections.

But add “as we know it” at the end of the statement and it will likely become correct. For people who only know one type of world, it will certainly feel like the Apocalypse, since they will see the worldview that has shaped their views on society up to now start to unravel. The coronavirus scare will no doubt be an experience that shapes the generation of the lifetime, good or bad. But it also marks the end of the Ironic-era (and as a result, postmodernism) for the United States as a whole.

Irony and postmodernism presents to its audience many sequences of non-sequitur and stories of self-sabotage, but never of solutions to deal with the problems at hand. This, I would say, is a pretty good description of how politics is operating in the US right now. Good intentions turn into nightmares (and paves the way to hell), good people become corrupted by the system, and eventually, the whole system collapses on itself. (Kind of like Lady Gaga’s clout in the last few years.) It seems like even culturally, we are on track for a big change in the near future.

Systems Theory vs. Specialization was the framework I used to structure my content on my YIMBY Arts YouTube channel. Systems theorists are due to take over for the specialists, moving us from the 3rd industrial revolution to the 4th.

Some industries, like delivery services, online content, streaming services, video services and “social distancing”-friendly automation services have been during extremely well since the COVID crisis started to emerge. Once the orders are lift, there will be a new set of winners and losers that emerge as a result. The ultimate irony is that many of the people who have resisted these industries both in business and politics (especially around housing) have made their enemies stronger through their own self-sabotage. Oh well, yet another example of ironic postmodernism in action, I guess?

Since I’m more of a politics kind of guy now, I’m looking at this November as a moment of change when the tides begin to turn. The fact that fringe candidates like Andrew Yang, Marianne Williamson, Tulsi Gabbard, and Bernie Sanders gave the DNC a run for their money this year says a lot — the fact that they were able to get as far as they did is a sign of a weakened status quo, which is only likely to get weaker as time goes on.

We’re going to get yet another uninspiring Biden vs. Trump presidential election this year, but the races to pay attention to are the congressional and state level elections where candidates — especially younger candidates — are gunning to overturn the political narrative as a whole. There will be insurgencies from entry and mid-level workers — tired of the everlasting ironic self-sabotage — gunning for the senior-level positions as many people start to retire or resign in disgrace.

Harry’s post calls this “election madness”, and he’s not wrong. The elections this year will be completely insane, especially with the COVID crisis looming over everything in the background. Aside from “insane”, though, I can’t really predict what it’s going to actually look like in practice, honestly.

So it’s not the end of the world, only the world as we know it. A lot of people say they want a more rational, honest government, but will they be ready? Honesty has its own set of problems that Americans may not be ready to deal with, since it has become such a foreign concept to them at this point. But that is what is coming — what is poised to replace the old way of doing things as a whole. Not because we really want it, but because at this point, we have no other choice.

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