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Coronavirus, Economic Networks, and Social Fabric
By Richard Heinberg — 15. March 2020
Connections will be strained in the coming weeks—some of them interpersonal and local, some economic and global. It’s up to us to nourish the connections that are most essential, while finding backups for those that can no longer be relied on.
The COVID-19 pandemic offers intriguing insights into how networked our modern world has become, and how we’ve traded resilience for economic efficiency. Case in point: someone gets sick in China in December of 2019, and by March of 2020 the US shale oil industry is teetering on the brink. What’s the chain of connection?
- January 2020: The coronavirus epidemic explodes, forcing China to institute a massive quarantine.
- Chinese oil demand craters as a result of hundreds of millions staying home and untold numbers of businesses going offline.
- March 7: Saudi Arabia asks its OPEC partners and Russia to cut oil output to keep prices from crashing.
- March 9: Russia refuses, so the Saudis decide to provoke a price war by producing even more oil and selling it at a discount.
- As a result, world oil prices fall from $50 (Feb. 17) to $33 (March 9).
- Meanwhile, it is arguably the US, not Russia, that will be hurt most by the price war. As the world’s largest oil producer, the US has seen nearly all of its spectacular production growth in recent years coming from light, tight oil produced by fracking. But fracking is expensive; even when prices were higher, the fracking industry struggled to turn a profit on this unconventional petroleum source.
- With an oil price heading toward $30 or possibly even lower, not even the most efficient fracking companies with the very best acreage can make investors happy. So, dozens of domestic US oil producers are set to go bust (unless the Trump administration bails them out).
What set off this unraveling? It was China’s deliberate—and arguably necessary—pull-back from economic connectivity. This tells us something useful about networked systems: unless there is a lot of redundancy built into them, any one node in the network can affect others. If it’s an important node (China has become the center of world manufacturing), it can disrupt the entire system. What would redundancy actually mean? If we made more of our products locally, we wouldn’t have to depend so much on China. If we produced more of our energy locally, then our energy system would probably include more redundancy (by way of more types of energy sources), and the world energy economy would be more resilient as a result. Problems would still arise, but they would be less likely to affect the whole system.
So, redundancy is important. However, redundancy is the enemy of economic efficiency. Over the past few decades, economic engineers have created just-in-time supply chains in order to minimize warehousing costs, and have lengthened supply chains in order to access the cheapest labor and materials. Fine—everybody got cheaper products, and China has grown its economy at a blistering pace. But what happens when everybody suddenly needs an N95 facemask while international supply lines are down? Officials can’t just call up the local facemask factory and order a new batch; that factory likely closed years ago.
That’s just one of the ways in which the coronavirus pandemic presents a daunting challenge to our globally networked economy—while our networked economy also complicates efforts to slow the spread of the virus. When you start to take more networks into account, the picture becomes daunting indeed. What happens to the tourism industry if millions are quarantined and nobody wants to be in close quarters with lots of strangers? How about the airlines? The restaurant and hotel chains? Even a few weeks of dramatically reduced business could be critical to their survival.
Hence government leaders and the masters of the financial universe—the central bankers—are huddling daily to try to figure out how to keep what is currently (in the US) merely a stock market blowout from turning into a serious economic depression. Unfortunately, the tools at their disposal may not be up to the job. That’s because the core problem (the pandemic) is not financial in nature. Around 70 percent of the US economy is driven directly by consumer spending. But putting money into people’s pockets through lower interest rates or government spending won’t make them suddenly decide to go on a cruise, book a flight, or even go out on Friday night to dinner and a movie.
But that’s not what concerns me most these days. Instead, it’s the social dimension of the coronavirus epidemic. Financial crises are inevitable in an economy that prioritizes the rapid growth of shareholder value and the profits of the investment class. Even more they are inevitable in an economy based on a fundamentally flawed understanding of reality—the implicit assumption that growth in resource extraction, manufacturing, and waste dumping can continue indefinitely on a finite planet. Many ecological thinkers have been making that point for years. But the response to this intrinsic vulnerability that makes the most sense, and the one my colleagues and I have been recommending, is to strengthen community resilience. That means supporting local farmers, manufacturers, merchants, arts groups, and civic organizations of all kinds. Trust is the currency that will enable us to weather the storms ahead, and trust is built largely through face-to-face interaction within communities.
However, the necessary response to the novel coronavirus is social distancing—i.e., reducing face-to-face human connectivity. As people voluntarily retreat from public gatherings, or are forced to do so by regional quarantines, severe impacts are bound to be felt by faith communities and local arts organizations, as well as local restaurants, farmers markets, and merchants. Sporting events and concerts are being canceled, and the public’s direct engagement with local and national politics is suffering as well. Public transit systems are emptying.
We need to be thinking of ways to keep civic connections alive for the next while. The pandemic will not last indefinitely: the virus itself may be here for good, but one way or another it and humanity will negotiate some sort of biological accommodation. \ Most likely, humans will achieve herd immunity, perhaps aided by vaccines. Our urgent task is to keep our communities healthy and resilient in the interim.
Of course, we still have the internet and social media. We should make the most of them, even though in “normal” times these often distract us from face-to-face interaction or reduce our social skills. For the time being, we can use these tools to keep up not just with the news, but with all the people we care about. I’ve even heard of innovative communitarians setting up Zoom conferences with their neighbors so they can stay in “touch.” Unfortunately, there’s no app yet that can show up at a farmers market, admire the produce, talk about the weather, and bring home a basket of fresh veggies.
Humor can help with emotionally processing difficult information (though its use can be tricky, as many people’s emotions are raw these days). There’s a lot to process—and not just fears of getting COVID-19 or of seeing a 401k disappear. Will we have to cancel our vacation? Should I go to my yoga class or stay home? How can I make ends meet if I can’t work for the next few weeks due to quarantines? How much should we disrupt our routines? Should my company be doing more to protect employees and customers? These questions and more are stoking interpersonal tensions between spouses, between parents and children, between co-workers, and between employers and employees. Normalcy bias and denial can lead to complacency when action is needed, while panic can lead to poor choices and the dismissal of one’s genuine concerns by friends and colleagues. One solution is to engage friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family in conversations about the virus, actively listen to their concerns, and gently steer those conversations in a prosocial direction that takes into account the seriousness of the situation and our need to change behavior. Ironically, the most pro-social behavior at the moment is to stay home. Meanwhile, make commonsense preparations: stock up on enough supplies to get you through a month without going out, and think about what you’ll do.
Remember: humanity has survived epidemics much worse than this one. My wife Janet just passed along this historical tidbit: it seems that early in William Shakespeare’s career as an actor and writer, London theaters were closed by order of the Privy Council (June 23, 1592), which was concerned about a plague outbreak and the possibility of civil unrest. But the theaters reopened in June 1594 and Shakespeare went on to write his most famous plays. Like Will, we’ll get through this.
Connections will be strained in the coming weeks—some of them interpersonal and local, some economic and global. It’s up to us to nourish the connections that are most essential, while finding backups for those that can no longer be relied on. What do we need and value most? How can we support one another? These are the sorts of questions we might ask ourselves in the days ahead—and we may have plenty of time on our hands at home to contemplate them.
Richard Heinberg is a senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute and the author of thirteen books, including his most recent:Our Renewable Future. Previous books include: Afterburn: Society Beyond Fossil Fuels, Snake Oil: How Fracking’s False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future; The Party’s Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies; Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines; and The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality. Originally published by Resilience
"We will observe how the populations respond to these measures ..."
- Imperial College London (17. March 2020) ... and then they will feed the data into their computer models and algorithms to improve their global grip on YOU! The most perfiduous response-mechanism triggered is the self... quarantine, self ... isolation, self ... distancing, self ... enslavement.
Scientists after the Nuremberg Trials at the end of WWII were hanged for their experiments abusing humans, while scientists today seem to get away with the very same, though the Nuremberg Code is still applicable International Law.
Stand Up Against Isolation Tactics - Network and Help!
Mar 16, 2020
"Normal" flu was a far worst killer every year, but nobody made a fuss about it - as long as BigPharma made their money with vaccines that admittedly might help in maximum only 40% of the people.
The Long-Term Political Fallout of Coronavirus
By Dr. James M. Dorsey March 17, 2020
3D medical animation still shot showing the structure of a coronavirus, image via Wikimedia Commons
BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,488, March 17, 2020
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: As the coronavirus spreads, so does its likely political fallout. For authoritarians and autocrats, this is likely to be a mixed bag. Some will benefit from invasive tracing and monitoring of those affected by the virus, which is likely to boost the evolution toward a “Big Brother” surveillance state as well as nationalist economic policies propagated by populists and nationalists like Donald Trump. Others are seeing perceived government failures to effectively confront the virus undermine already shaky public trust, which can fuel demands for greater transparency, accountability, and freedom of expression.
The coronavirus pandemic, which is by definition egalitarian in the extreme and recognizes no physical or social borders, could cause complete breakdowns in already weak public health systems in conflict areas such as Syria, Yemen, and Libya.
The risks are magnified by the deliberate targeting during conflict of hospitals and other medical facilities and the mass dislocation of millions who are forced into bare-knuckle, unhygienic refugee camps with hardly any services and rampant malnutrition.
Protesters in countries like Iraq and Thailand, who demand an overhaul of the political system, and Hong Kong, where reform is the driver, have dashed government hopes that fear of contagion would take the wind out of the demonstrators’ sails.
Protesters in Iraq, which has so far reported 124 cases and 10 deaths, have refused to abandon mass public gatherings, calling instead for the virus to take its toll on the country’s leadership.
“Listen to us Corona, come and visit the thieves who stole our wealth, come and take revenge from those who stole our dreams, we only loved our homeland, but they killed us,” protesters chanted.
“The government uses coronavirus as an excuse to end the protests. They tried everything—snipers, live bullets, tear gas, abduction and so on and on—but they failed. They are now finding another way to stop us, but they will fail again,” said Yasamin Mustafa, a teenage protester from Basra, referring to government warnings about the virus.
Similarly, students in Thailand have ignored calls by military-backed PM Prayuth Chan-Ocha to end the protests because of the virus risk. The students are demanding Prayuth’s resignation and political reforms after the Constitutional Court disbanded Future Forward, a popular pro-democracy party.
In Hong Kong, with Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s approval rating sinking to a record low of just 9.1% after her government faced criticism over its handling of the virus, protests have moved from the street to online public gatherings in support of longstanding demands for reform.
At the same time, Lam’s backers in Beijing are confronting demands for greater freedom of speech at a moment when the government of President Xi Jinping has imposed absolute media conformity.
Xi’s critics claim that greater transparency and freedom could have prevented the virus from turning China into the world’s most affected country with economic consequences the severity of which has yet to be fully appreciated.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg’s former China bureau chief Dexter Roberts warned that the long-term fallout of the virus could be fundamental, with hundreds of millions of domestic migrant workers “still facing unprecedented virus-related disruptions in their lives and work” as incomes have dried up, aggravated by enforced quarantines and “a skewed health care system (that) relegates (them) to understaffed and underfunded clinics.”
As occurred in the wake of the SARS crisis in 2003, the government will likely benefit in the short term from middle- and upper-class support for increased political and social controls enabled by its rollout of a 21st century Orwellian surveillance state, Roberts argued.
“The coronavirus may eventually fade as a threat, but it has exposed the deep inequities that divide Chinese into two classes… That split remains the biggest obstacle to China’s development,” with disadvantaged migrant workers posing “the biggest threat to its economic and political future,” Roberts said.
As for Iran, the virus crisis is not the last nail in the government’s coffin, but it has significantly widened an already yawning gap in public trust ripped open by widespread corruption, repressive policies, lack of transparency, and the government’s mishandling of the downing in January of a Ukrainian airliner.
“The relationship between the government and the public is severely damaged. The government is suffering a massive loss of confidence. And this shows in critical situations like now. Due to this distrust, society ignores information given out by the government. In recent weeks, the government has too often had to correct its own statements,” said sociologist Saeed Paivandi.
Paivandi was referring to faltering efforts by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the government to persuade Iranians to observe disruptive health precautions at a time when the country is struggling to cope with the devastating economic impact of harsh US sanctions that have complicated its access to medical products.
Initial government failure to confront the crisis head on by, for example, quarantining the holy city of Qom, the Iranian hub of the virus, has turned Iran into a source of the virus elsewhere in the Middle East and beyond. The extent of the health crisis at home combined with the impact of the US sanctions threatens to put the Islamic Republic in the same risk category as Syria, Yemen, and Libya.
The virus crisis is also grist for nationalist mills, prompting President Donald Trump to pressure US pharmaceutical companies that have moved overseas to shift their operations back to the US.
“The coronavirus shows the importance of bringing manufacturing back to America so that we are producing, at home, the medicines and equipment and everything else that we need to protect the public’s health,” Trump said.
If Trump sees a silver lining in the virus crisis, so do religious ultra-conservatives and critics of European measures to impose Western behavior on segments of Muslim minority communities.
With governments advising against customary physical greetings such as handshakes, kissing, and hugs, ultra-conservatives like Salafis, who refuse to shake women’s hands, observe privately that that their attitude is going mainstream at a time when their practices are under fire in Europe.
Dutch parliamentarians last month took Salafis to task for their refusal, arguing in a parliamentary inquiry into “unwanted influencing by unfree countries” that shaking a woman’s hand was part of Dutch culture and refusal to do so impeded integration. The coronavirus has, at least for now, undermined that argument.
Danish authorities have suspended citizenship naturalization ceremonies that require a handshake as part of the process in line with legislation adopted in 2018 to force the hand of ultra-conservatives that refuse to shake hands with the opposite sex.
Critics of the law said the suspension highlighted the absurdity of forcing people to have physical contact. “It’s absurd. The path to Danish citizenship should be about inclusion, not exclusion,” said Peder Hvelplund, a green lawmaker.
Dr. James M. Dorsey (Ph.D. University of Utrecht). Specializes in the Muslim world's political, social, and economic fault lines as well as Chinese policy towards the region with a focus on geopolitics, social movements, and political and militant Islam. James also focuses on the nexus of sports, politics, and society. Email: - Dr. James M. Dorsey, a non-resident Senior Associate at the BESA Center, is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture.
On June 13, 2012 a 60-year-old Saudi man was admitted to a private hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with a 7-day history of fever, cough, expectoration, and shortness of breath. He had no history of cardiopulmonary or renal disease, was receiving no long-term medications, and did not smoke.
On May 4, 2013, a sample of this Saudi SARS (aka novel Coronavirus) from the very first infected Saudi patient arrived in Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg via Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands who sequenced the virus sample.
In March 2019, in mysterious event a shipment of exceptionally virulent viruses from Canada’s NML ended up in China. The event caused a major scandal with Bio-warfare experts questioning why Canada was sending lethal viruses to China.
Four months later in July 2019, a group of Chinese virologists were forcibly dispatched from the Canadian lab – the only level-4 facility equipped to handle the world’s deadliest diseases where Coronavirus sample from the first Saudi patient was being examined.
The scientist who was escorted out of the Canadian lab along with members of her research team is believed to be a Chinese Bio-Warfare agent Xiangguo Qiu.
Dr. Xiangguo Qiu is married to another Chinese scientist Dr. Keding Cheng – the couple is responsible for infiltrating Canada’s NML with many Chinese agents posing as students from a range of Chinese scientific facilities directly tied to China’s Biological Warfare Program.
Dr. Xiangguo Qiu made at least five trips to the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory located only 20 miles away from the Huanan Seafood Market which is the epicenter of the outbreak.
The Canadian investigation is ongoing and questions remain whether previous shipments to China of other viruses or other essential preparations, took place from 2006 to 2018, one way or another.
Meanwhile, in a very strange turn of events, renowned scientist Frank Plummer who received Saudi SARS Coronavirus sample and was working on Coronavirus (HIV) vaccine in the Winnipeg based Canadian lab from where the virus was smuggled by Chinese Biowarfare agents has died in mysterious conditions in Kenya.
Scholars or Spies
The Thousand Talents Plan or Thousand Talents Program was established in 2008 by the central government of China to recognize and recruit leading international experts in scientific research, innovation, and entrepreneurship – in other words to steal western technology.
China’s national strategy of military-civil fusion has highlighted biology as a priority, and the People’s Liberation Army could be at the forefront of expanding and exploiting this knowledge. Chinese military’s interest in biology as an emerging domain of warfare is guided by strategists who talk about potential “genetic weapons” and the possibility of a “bloodless victory.”
GreatGameIndia is a journal on Geopolitics and International Relations. Get to know the Geopolitical threats India is facing in our exclusive book India in Cognitive Dissonance. Past magazine issues can be accessed from the Archives section.