Friday, April 24, 2020

Our president. Just asking questions about disinfectants, potential remedies. Grasping at straws hoping to restart a dangerous economy.

Trump is now really getting flack for those questions about use of ultraviolet light and disinfectants in the body. dangerous things to try, of course.

Still, it seems like he was just asking questions. I guess there are stupid questions tho I have sometimes heard the phrase, "there are no stupid questions."

Seems like he is looking for signs of hope which is often described by another phrase, "grasping at straws." Hope that the economy can get rolling again pretty soon. In reality, the economy may need to remain in a slower condition for quite some time. A difficult pill to swallow for many people; speaking of swallowing something.

It's amazing that people would jump to a conclusion and do something like ingest something deemed poisonous, or semi poisonous just on far fetched speculation. I guess that's a common problem in a society of over 320 million. There's bound to be someone, or unfortunately many, out of that large number of people who will try something. Another phrase comes to mind, "there's a fool born every minute."

Yes, warnings do need to come out about these things. In this news clip, the commentator actually apologized for insulting people's intelligence stating what he felt was the obvious, but the warning does need to be given.

Also in that now famous discussion by the president; some evidence being discussed, by scientists at the meeting, that ultraviolet light from the sun might kill the virus rather quickly. The president is thinking that summer may provide hope; like summer usually ends the flu season. Who knows for sure about any seasonal variation with the spread of this virus, however. Seems like there still could be problems related to being in indoor spaces whether summer or winter.

Ultraviolet light and cleaners do have benefits, even in indoor environments, but outside the body. Reduces spread of disease outside the body, but ultraviolet light is harmful to the body. There's the need for protection such as sunscreen.

I think about some of that information in terms of being outside, however. One of the problems we face is that much of our normal economy is based on being in indoor spaces; people in offices, crowded businesses, factories bars, stadiums, aircraft and so forth. Indoor places where diseases spread.

There is more space, outdoors, so it makes the social distancing easier to accomplish. There's outdoor breezes that can disperse droplets more easily. There could be the added benefits of, maybe, less worry about common surfaces, for instance, door handles that have been exposed to direct, outdoor sunlight. For ultraviolet light, it does need to be outdoors. Sun shining through glass significantly reduces the ultraviolet. Another benefit of spending time outdoors can be exercise, of course.

I'll admit this thinking relates to my own "confirmation bias;" given the amount of time I like to spend on my bicycle and walking.

Voluntary simplicity, not necessarily antagonistic toward the establishment

I tend to be a critic of mainstream society and I lean a bit to the left, but I understand (or at least I think I understand) why business, corporations and the government operate the way they do. Why mainstream society that is thought of as the "establishment" is the way it is. A lot of it is the numbers, issues like economy of scale (we studied that in economic geography) and the way people, in our culture at least, tend to behave in a mass market.

The way the establishment runs could be better, but I tend to focus on how we can radically, in some ways, change culture and our personal lives. I'm a fan of less wealth oriented lifestyles, but at the same time I don't necessarily see prosperity as evil. I also am a fan of advancing technology.

Tho I don't see prosperity as evil, I do see much of it as unsustainable. Unsustainable given our environment and especially our current fossil fuel based technologies.

Prosperity can also be unsustainable given our health and our ability to keep up with the rat race. The natural human body. A life less based on traditional measures of prosperity can offer joys that most people seem to overlook. Slowing down has much virtue. Slowing down doesn't necessarily mean giving up on modernity, tho. Not necessarily giving up on technology. I find there is a big disconnect between advancing technology and wealth. Technology, such as often is the case on the internet, can be very disruptive of wealth.

While I tend to blame people for most of our problems, I realize that there is a need to control the power of business; especially large corporations.

Our problems are often the result of a vicious cycle between people's market behavior shaping business decisions while business shapes human behavior. There's the power of advertising, media and laws that are often in favor of the status quo. What could be called crony capitalism.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Something that transcends traditional left right divide

As our country, the USA, seems to be taking up it's traditional battle lines between left and right over how quickly to reopen things, I find it useful to look at situations which cross that divide; such as in Sweden. Sweden, often considered a model of left leaning economics is doing a strategy that is more like the open earlier philosophy that's associated more with the right wing, here in USA. Different from Sweden's other Nordic neighbors.

Who knows what the best strategy is as much of the science is still being found out. The science is evolving; especially when one takes into account what the best long term strategy is, for instance what are the results several years from now. The science becomes more complex when including not just deaths from this virus, but also the consequences of other things in society, such as increased poverty and domestic violence from cabin fever.

On the other hand, maybe society will be better due to a more shut down strategy. We may be learning to develop a society that is less fixated on money and / or being in crowds. That could be a long term argument for putting parts of the economy on hold.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Some feelings about dancing in front of the computer on Zoom; distancing innovations during the virus scare.

Last Saturday I went dancing. Virtual dancing using Zoom, but I also experienced the limits of this experience. I found myself missing the real world dance floors I've experienced; such as at Bellingham's Rumors Cabaret in recent years before the corona virus shutdown.

There is a difference between looking at a screen and being immersed in the experience. In real dancing, the people, lights, music and so forth is all around. Online, it's contained in a screen. As technology evolves, more immersive online experiences can happen.

Having said that, it was a good experience. Folks dancing in front of their webcams. I was dancing also, but felt a bit funny doing it in my small apartment. I did work up a sweat which is good; like aerobics online.

The Faeries have some other things on Zoom; such as a talent show and personal sharing in events called "Heart Circles."

How they choreograph the dances is by placing the images from each webcam up on the feed as the main image. These images would change frequently. I was "on" for a few brief periods.

I kept looking out the window at the sunny day outside, tho. I thought, maybe I'd rather be biking somewhere? Biking is an immersive, all around, off the screen experience. One that doesn't rely on being in crowded spaces; such as dance floors.

Actually, some dance floors aren't that crowded. One can spread out in large dance studios with a small number of people relative to the space. Economics plays it's role. Can dance venues pay the overhead with smaller gatherings? Are people motivated to go to smaller dances or do they fizzle out below a certain threshold of excitement? Are some dances like trying to build a fire with wet wood?

Dancing happens in parks during summer months with outdoor music, but it looks like local park dances have been cancelled here in Bellingham for this summer. Public officials don't want to take the chance of people being too close spreading the virus.

Often, at park dances, the park is admittedly quite crowded. In the past, most of the crowd is sitting in lawn chairs listening to the music. A smaller number of people are actually dancing. If it was just the dancers, they could spread way out across the space, but people do tend to like to cluster. Maybe people should learn to dance farther apart.

I was going to say, "more spaced out," but that has a different context.

Meanwhile the cyber dance, I did Saturday, was good in it's own way. It was put together by Radical Faeries from all over the world. Maybe around 100 dancing, and 200 watching?

People can be creative in front of their cameras. Lights, background videos, folks outside in front of their Smartphones. Lovers and groups of people cuddling. Various stages of undress. Sometimes eroticism was included, rather than banished; as is so often the rule in mainstream society.

The Radical Faeries are going online more and more. This makes their events accessible in places like Bellingham that don't really have much of a faerie presence.

The Faeries have a social network that's like an alternative to Facebook. It is a membership site, but no cost for memberships.

It's not as exciting as Facebook, in some ways. Less going on. Remember, there's an economy of scale in the phenomenon called "the network effect." More people, more friends more stuff on Facebook, but the faerie site does have some good things including information about the dance party and other events. Also there's nudity on the faerie site. Something that isn't allowed on Facebook.

On Saturdays, the faeries have been doing a talent show called the "No Talent, Talent Show." It's usually live streamed on Facebook as well. Kind of wacky and fun.

While I'm at it, here's a link to the Faenet site.

Monday, April 20, 2020

The stimulus bill tried to do too many things at once. Two strategies are better. One to survive shutdown and the other to restart business.

I think the virus recover package was hastily cobbled together by Congress. Glad they did something, but it really needed to be two strategies for two different times.

The first strategy would be money so people and businesses can pay the rent, mortgages, overhead, whatever to stay put and not work. Also money for the front line people and businesses, like medical care and vaccine research that still need to work. Phase two would be stimulus to bolster consumption, a bit, after business is allowed to open up again (whenever that would be).

The two concepts were conflated in the bill that passed.

Depending on what epidemiologist specialists say, we may need to figure out how to put a big part of our economy on hold for a long time. This is a hardship for people and a lot of businesses; especially small businesses. We may need to print money to keep people solvent. Printing money can cause inflation, in normal circumstances, but this is uncharted territory. To keep the virus from spreading, demand needs to stay low at places like restaurants, shopping malls, airplanes and so forth. Demand normally pushes inflation. This would be uncharted territory (I guess I said that before). Money is needed to maintain lease payments, mortgages, insurance premiums, and therefore bank solvency on up the food chain; so to speak.

The type of stimulus to restart business is a different thing. It would need to be in a second bill, but who knows when that bill would be needed. As they say, "the virus sets the timetable."

Friday, April 17, 2020

Why housing costs outpace wages in a nutshell. At least in my opinion.

Interesting article came up in my Facebook feed.

Coronavirus has cost more than 100,000 people around Seattle their jobs. So why aren’t rents going down?

Here's some of my related thinking.

The disconnect between high property values and much of the rest of the economy becomes more apparent during the corona virus shut down.

I would say that the disconnect between housing costs and much of the economy is driven by several factors. A big factor is that housing has become a for of savings. A more lucrative alternative to low interest rates at banks.

Other factors drive this problem as well, but the savings bank issue is a big factor.

Population growth, in popular areas, is big also, but it can't explain the entire thing.

Bad planning around automobile dependency and low density is part of the problem as well. These factors vary from region to region.

Possibly the biggest factor is the investment problem. Housing has become too much of an investment vehicle. It's become an alternative to low interest at banks. This relates, to some extent (I think), to the printing of money which has propped up low interest rates over recent years.

The inflation one expects from printed money hasn't shown up across the whole economy. Much of the economy remains based on cheap goods and services and the low wages these activities pay. The Walmart style economy. Much of the economy experiences pressure to keep prices and wages low. Pressure that comes from automation, globalization and other efficiencies. Think of all the low cost and free things available on the internet, for instance.

Inflation has shown up in housing costs. Costs at least in popular areas, like Seattle and to some extent here in Bellingham. It's also shown up in things like executive salaries and the high costs of education and healthcare associated with these salaries.

It's shown up in what economists call "asset bubbles." The stock market experiences asset bubble economics where the bubbles, sometimes burst. People, in general, tend to be wary of stocks so they invest in real estate instead.

Real estate has become the investment vehicle for the average American. Stocks are part of the investment picture, also, in terms of a portion of people's retirement plans, but most investment in stocks is highly skewed toward high income investors. Housing has become too much the investment of choice for more average people. Average as well as wealthy people.

Now some of those chickens are coming home to roost. In order to keep up with these prices, while maintaining the corona virus shutdown, our economy has had to resort to more printed money just to keep people whole. New printed money chasing after old printed money.

We now need more government spending for unemployment, aids to business, tax rebates and so forth. We probably also need more long term solutions such as expanded Section 8 housing vouchers and, of course, subsidized health insurance.

Cancelling people's health insurance is a bad idea in the middle of a pandemic. That's what happens when insurance is based on employment and people are ask not to go to work. Folks are being asked to refrain from working for the health of society. Lots of folks being ask not to work except for people in what is deemed "essential services," some others such as folks that can work from home.

Nothing is totally wrong with printed money as long as we can stay healthy and stay housed. Inflation can be a problem, but if all income classes can stay on the same page, or at least on a similar page, we can survive. If renters can stay on the same page as property owners, we can survive.

Across the board inflation isn't a problem now, but inflation is a problem if one's rent, or mortgage payments, are high while their income is low. This type of inflation has been apparent over recent years. Inflation has been in confined sectors; such as home values. Inflation is not evenly spread across all regions as well.

Folks setting economic policy often think of inflation as one figure. In reality it's a complex story of different inflation rates for different sectors. It's almost impossible to create rational policy in this environment.

Now we are just having to resort to printing more and more money just to keep people whole.

If overall inflation starts to rear it's ugly head, it isn't likely to be as bad as in past eras. This is an era when money is, basically, just a computer entry.

If a loaf of bread costs $100, in the future, someone will not need a wheel barrow full of heavy, awkward coins to purchase the loaf. It will just be a case of moving the decimal point over.

Here is a thought experiment. What if someone was to try and buy a "fixer upper" house, in Seattle, for 1 million dollars in pennies? That would truly be an inconvenient truckload. Several truckloads.

We don't really have that problem these days at least.

Myself, I am fortunate to be in subsidized housing so my rent takes my income into account.

We are now in uncharted territory.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

I'm letting our leaders a bit off the hook, but big changes are needed in economic orthodoxy in light of COVID-19

Leaders of our various societies have made quite a few mistakes in this situation with the pandemic that's unprecedented in modern history.

The authoritarian system, in China, had people afraid to sound the warning for fear it would offend higher ups. Some did try to sound an alarm, but were even persecuted. We have similar problems in our US corporations and institutions. There's pressure not to rock the boat.

On the other hand there's the concept of "crying wolf." Alarms are sounded all the time and "business as usual" doesn't stop each time. For instance, some folks are worried about health effects of 5 G cellphone technology. That isn't a worry of mine, but who knows. 20 years from now we may discover a lot of problems that aren't really detectable in today's science. We can't stop for everything, however.

There's another phrase that says, "hindsight is better than foresight." Bad choices were made in the early days of this epidemic that may have not looked as bad at the time. In hindsight these choices look bad. There needed to be more money spent on testing, hospital preparedness and so forth. For the most part, more domestic spending, but there's always worry about busting the budget. Worry about needlessly burdening the taxpayers.

This virus is kind of like the "straw that broke the camel's back;" to bring up another old phrase. It exposed faults in our society and our economy. For instance people having to work so hard to pay inflated rents that they weren't likely to take sick leave. Coming to work slightly ill looks worse today than it did just a few months ago.

We have situations like large numbers of folks who loose their health insurance as soon as they have to cut back on working. A very bad system given this epidemic; employer based health insurance.

We have a society that has trouble taking a break, but now it's learning it must take a break. Most of society has had to slow down to slow the spread of the virus.

Lots of things that normally pay the bills have had to stop temporarily. Big time sports and theater productions, frequent world travel, crowded bars, restaurants and so forth.

Rents are still due and high property values are still needing to be maintained, somehow. That's where a lot of the stimulus checks will go. Money from the government to allow people, and businesses, to tread water, so to speak. Money to hold onto our homes, leases, retirement plans and so forth. Money that's largely printed from thin air, I guess, but money has been printed before.

Ever wonder why fixer upper houses, in cities, like Vancouver, BC, have sold for over one million dollars? Ever wonder how we could afford all those wars and tax cuts at the same time? It must be printed money.

Now we need printed money just to hold our places in the economy. To hold tight. To hang onto our homes, businesses and dreams till the economy can pick up again.

We are having to learn a new form of economics. Something far from past orthodoxies. There are also other challenges, such as climate change, that require us to part with much of our orthodox beliefs in economics as well as other areas of life.

Hopefully adversity becomes the mother of innovation.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

The virus adds new meaning to the phrase, "shop till you drop." That's why so many businesses are asked to close.

This whole virus situation adds a new twist to the phrase, "shop till you drop."

It's been about 5 days since I've been to a grocery store. My kitchen supply is holding out okay. Trips to the store can be less frequent.

Compassion over the almighty dollar

Quite a few of my friends are what would be classified as vulnerable. People with various health conditions. So far, I am not aware of anyone, I know, who has died. It seems like society's attempts to protect the vulnerable from this virus has been working; to some extent at least.

It's like the economy stepping on the brakes to let a slower person cross the street.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

The dance of avoidance or connection. Cute guys at the supermarket.

I've been doing fairly good reducing my trips to the store. Frozen vegetables are a great alternative to salad bars. A stash of these can last quite a while in the freezer. I just parcel out a serving each day heating it up in the microwave with a bit of salt, water and butter.

My weakest link is fresh milk. I go through close to a gallon in two days. Yes, I do drink lots of milk; now made with sugar free baking chocolate and just a dab of brown sugar; it's heavenly. People have suggested I stretch my milk supply with dried milk. Interesting to note that my dad had a big part in the development of powdered milk.

I do think cutting my fresh milk with powdered milk is a good idea, but, so far, I have had trouble finding powdered milk where I shop. Looking for powdered milk means lingering longer at the store. I must admit that long aisles of products can make my head spin. The aisle with all those tiny bottles filled with naturopathic supplements is scary.

One of the dance studios, I have gone to, talks about the dance of the supermarket. These days, it's the dance of avoidance. That dance studio is now doing it's dance practice online; or at least trying to recreate the experience of dance online. All this stuff always gets me to thinking. In the supermarkets of today, it is the dance of avoidance. Before the virus, I'd even alter my path to a different aisle just to walk past some cute guy in the next aisle over; like taking the scenic route to that pragmatic need for a product.

This kind of "dance" can still happen, even now, as it is easily done maintaining even 15 feet of separation. In today's grocery stores, most people just look like masked bandits so I'm more apt to do the dance of avoidance than connection. I still say hi, when seeing folks I know. Also I see little point in being anxiety prone when people quickly pass closer than a 6 to 10 foot radius of me. This sometimes happens on narrow, lonely trails in the woods as well, but I doubt that's a problem in quick passing. Sometimes I do hold my breath passing folks on the trail in a park, but I also let out enough breath to say, hi. If longer conversation happens, we can stand back even 20 feet as there's usually lots of distance along a trail. The few stores I have shopped at have been okay. Not real crowded. I haven't been to the big stores that can often be magnets for the big crowds. I have just been to some medium sized places.

As for the dance on city streets, I'm usually on my bicycle. The bicycle is a god send for relieving cabin fever while still maintaining distance from other folks.

Recently, I've noticed, here in Bellingham at least, that that traffic is much more careful than normal. Cars and people are maintaining distance better around me on my bike. The virtues of not being in a hurry.

Someone suggested I buy more than one gallon of milk at a time. Duh. I bought two gallons last trip to the store. That should last me the greater part of a week.


Earlier I wrote.

I'm learning to eat at home more. I used to use restaurants, delis and salad bars each day. Cooking is still not my forte. I only know how to make macaroni & cheese out of the box, but I can toss in lots of vegetables, tomato sauce and so forth. I can put things in the microwave. Cook a frozen pizza in the oven, heat up stir fry vegetables, make a peanut butter sandwich.

I'm enjoying lots of my low sugar chocolate milk mix from the blender using baker's chocolate and a dab of brown sugar. Just a dab. I've always eaten lots of apples. Apple sauce is easy to store. Things like canned tuna fish are good. Bran cereal with nuts and raisins; good.

Turns out I haven't been panic buying, but I do, for the first time in my life, have a better stocked kitchen. One of my goals is to be well organized and not buy stuff that goes to waste.

More of my thinking about shopping on Flickr.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

When the doctor recommends slowing down Mr. economy, high overhead makes that difficult

After corona virus shut down, things may have to open up gradually to avoid the spread of the virus continuing to haunt us. Things may need to come back toward normal gradually and cautiously.

Maybe there will need to be new sets of rules for maximum capacity. Rules set by health departments, rather than just the existing capacity rules set by fire departments. Places trying to be less popular, so to speak, but just having a mellow flow where distancing can still be maintained.

There needs to be long term relief on overhead costs, such as rent and insurance costs, so business can survive at a slower pace. Less overhead could make society more resilient to this kind of situation where slowing down, at least temporarily, is just what the doctor ordered.

Relief even if it has to come from printed money because I think it's printed money, to a large extent that has lead to dramatic inflation of property values, rents and other overhead in the past few decades. To keep solvent, we may be in a situation of printed money to keep up with prices created by earlier printed money.

The rat race; another problem in normal society revved up by high overhead, high rents.

A somewhat slower economy could be better for human well being and the natural environment. Progress in science and other fields can still happen, but just a bit more intentionally. During the corona virus shutdown people were dragged, in some cases maybe kicking and screaming, farther into online existence. Schools moving their classes online, people shopping online, things like Zoom video conferencing getting real popular. Less commuting traffic, more work from home. History keeps moving on.

Monday, April 06, 2020

A different twist on Kurzweil's back to basics ideas only tech industry more prominent rather than less.

A while ago, I noticed a news item where the government was loosening some restrictions on the southern border realizing that many of the people who cross are the people who pick our crops. Food is something we do need. Otherwise American citizens would have to get out into the fields and pick the crops. American citizens doing that in mass is still not a likely prospect.

The whole prospect of US citizens having to go out into the fields to eat does remind me of predictions that have been made by the author Ray Kurzweil who spoke, a few years back, at Village Books here in Bellingham. Related to global warming and the possible break down of economics as we know it. Kurzweil spoke of Americans having to go back to the basics of survival. Give up our frivolity. For instance use our ports more for actual shipping of necessities rather than harbors for fancy hotels and casinos. He was even quite critical of the technology sector. He describes companies, like Google, as being mere toys that will not save us given the harsh times ahead.

I tend to be more of an optimist than that. During this pandemic crisis, internet technology is helping us in this era of face to face distancing. I doubt the foreseeable future is likely to be as stark as Kurzweil predicted, but I do think Americans, in general, could learn a bit of humbleness. Farm work, custodial work and so forth is valid work. Changes we could be making now might be good practice for some of the changes we need to make to address global warming. We need a more nimble and innovative society.

As a custodian, I have used the internet a lot listening to many a podcast. Intellectual stimulation; a good supplement for manual labor tasks. The combination can be meditative.

They've called me a digital janitor.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Everything at once stimulus bill is a bit haphazard, but it's good to be paid to not work during the virus shutdown at least.

Seems like stimulus legislation is always haphazard. People do need to be paid for not working, of course, to reduce transmission of the virus. To "flatten the curve" as they say. Much of our economy is dependent on folks congregating in so many places like churches, bars, restaurants, theaters, stadiums, shopping centers, gyms and so forth.

People in these sectors do need to be paid for not working so large parts of the economy can go into suspended animation. Folks and businesses need to be able to pay the rent and ride this out.

Other stimulus ideas are part of the stimulus package as well. Things that are designed to stimulate consumer spending once the economy gets rolling again, depending on when that happens. Who knows when. I think these stimulus things may be a bad idea now as people are being ask not to go shopping; so to speak.

After the virus scare passes, is a time for the other stimulus measures. The time for this isn't even truly known yet.

Too bad that legislatures just haphazardly throw everything into one bill and then adjourn. We may need some better strategic planning, but politics doesn't usually provide that.

Paying people not to work is good, in this situation. Something Republicans don't like to do. I do think, however, that some construction sites, factories and other things can reopen if distancing can be maintained. Also there are folks who are still working hard, like grocery store clerks and medical staff, police officers, computer operators (with all the folks on the internet) and so forth. I appreciate that.

Printed money might help make us whole again after economy takes a rest.

What's considered good for the economy is often not good for people's health. Looks like our economy is needing to learn how to be put partially on hold to protect our health. Lots of money is being lost, but money is just money. We've worshiped it like a god, but it's basically just a number system. Today, it's not heavy coins in a wheelbarrow, but just weightless numbers and decimal points on computers.

More importantly, besides our health, are the assets that we also consider part of our economy. Assets like the knowledge we gain, such as science. Assets such as our buildings, infrastructure and equipment. Things like airplanes and houses are assets. If they can be preserved, along with human lives, we haven't really lost that much.

These assets may be worth a lot less, in terms of dollars, but if maintained, the assets still exist. Stocks, real estate values and other things may drop in price, but the assets still exist. From what I hear, some airlines are mothballing planes temporarily in the deserts of southern California so, I guess, they are less likely to rust.

Dollars have disappeared as people and businesses, who are no longer working, can no longer pay the rent; so to speak. Rent and overhead has been extremely high and hard for most folks to keep up with anyway.

We could be headed for some deflation which also means lower prices for many things, but it's likely that the Federal Reserve is just printing more money so some of these dollar values can be maintained. For instance new housing construction could go bankrupt if people couldn't afford rent, but if printed money can prop up things like expanded sick leave and expanded rent subsidies, even values of assets, as measured in money, can be maintained. The stock market, for instance, could go back up in not too long of a time. I do think many of these assets were priced too high, before this virus situation, anyway. Propped up with low interest rates and printed dollars.

To some extent, keeping up with these high dollar amounts, high rents, high overheads and so forth has been stressful for workers. It's been bad for our health.

In the long run, I'd like to see economics relax, a bit. Less concern about pure money. That would be a step forward for our health and also a better mindset for tackling the long term problem of climate change.

That's my outside the box economic thought. Maybe it's not orthodoxy. I've taken few economics classes, but I do hear a lot of people starting to think more this way. Economists on NPR and so forth.