Portland at sunrise from Pittock Mansion on a clear but hazy spring day

COVID-19 Diary: habits

Published 2020-03-20


I have done 4 things that made this week much less stressful than it might have been:

  1. get up at 6:30 am & ride my bike 20mi every day

  2. scaled way back on alcohol

  3. walk the dog every day at about 3:30 or 4:300

  4. watch a fun kid movie every night with the kids

A thought I had while mind-wandering on my “commute” this morning:

How would regional/national/global systems look, that could endure periodic halts in economic activity? What if we get a pandemic like this with some recurring (but not necessarily predictable) pattern? Not just pandemics; consider all the climate-change-related disruptions of the past few years: forest fires, floods, hurricanes, droughts? How can we build new systems that account for disruptions at many scales?

Social-democrat(ish) answers would include:

  • universal basic income
  • universal health insurance
  • housing guarantees
  • bridge funding for businesses disrupted by these changes
  • deficit-tolerant and disruption-tolerant trading systems
  • replacing private (disaster/business) insurance with a government system that encourages relocation, regeneration & regrowth, not just rebuilding

This all might be enough! but these answers all presuppose a more-or-less “return to normal” in periods between disruptions, and also a continuation of the underlying system (generically: “capitalism.”)

Past societies — less equitable, much less technologically capable — built in resilience through structural inefficiencies. As globalism has fine-tuned our world systems, we’ve slimmed away excess capacity.

What scifi authors have imagined systems with this kind of resilience? (I'm thinking of NK Jemisin’s Fifth Season series.) How do we envision such new systems? They will emerge organically eventually — people will need to endure somehow, unless we all die in a nuclear fire. (I have faith, based mainly on a kind of hostility to temporal observation bias that some humans will survive the next 10,000 years). But organic, unplanned, unimagined systems might not be very equitable, just, or hospitable. Feudalism and chattel slavery might have had sufficient resilience for example, but I would like not to repeat those experiments.


Good article on Politico: Coronavirus Will Change the World Permanently. Here’s How. Apparently its primary effect will be to confirm your priors!

Here are some obvious (to me) effects, or maybe more accurately emperors now exposed as naked:

  • labor is the true source of wealth
  • physical offices are bullshit
  • so is working more than a couple hours a day
  • so is paperwork on actual paper (including voting)
  • value of commercial real estate will plummet
  • kids need physical contact with other kids, oh geez so much, not even funny
  • there are way way way too many people in jail
  • we live in a society