Transcript of Currents 014: Steve LeVine on COVID-19 Futures

The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or by Steve LeVine. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.

Jim: On today’s currents episode, our guest is Steve LeVine. Steve is editor at large, at Medium writing on the impact of technology, science, economics, and demography on jobs, society, politics, and geopolitics. Prior to Medium, he was editor for the future at Axios. Steve is also a senior fellow from the Atlantic Council’s Foresight, Strategy and Risks Initiative. And is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, where he teaches energy security and the graduate level security studies program.

Jim: Steve’s also been on the show before where did a really excellent episode about battery technologies. If you’re interested in climate change and renewable energy, check that episode out, Jim Rutt Show, Steve LeVine, you’ll find it. Anyway, today’s currents episode is based on a Medium post, which I happened to catch titled, “Remote working is killing the hidden trillion dollar office economy.” Steve, welcome.

Steve: Hey, Jim.

Jim: Tell me when you’re trying to get at with that essay.

Steve: This is something that it’s a big thing that’s hiding in plain sight. And that’s that we know of course that very few of us are going to work. Office buildings, those enormous dense areas of our big cities are ghost towns. But though a lot of those people, the white collar folks who are working in those big buildings have kept their jobs. They’re just home working but what they are, they’re the core of a much larger ecosystem of suppliers for the buildings, mom-and-pop shops that surround, or are built within these concentrated areas.

Steve: And when you add all those businesses up, you come to about a 100 million workers. And so that when we’re talking about remote… perhaps the permanence of remote work or the semi-permanent, or only half of us going back, we are talking about a tremendous blow to a very, very large part of the U.S.A. economy.

Jim: Yeah. Indeed, and those who have listened to some of my earlier podcasts on COVID-related topics, know that we often frame the discussion in complex systems terms. When we talk about hysteresis and homeostasis, which are two terms we use that when a system receives a shock. Homeostasis means the tendency for it to return to its previous state, to essentially buffer the shock and things get back to normal, may take a while.

Jim: Hysteresis on the other hand is a term originally from physics that when a shock to a complex system is of sufficient magnitude it never comes back. And when I’m thinking about these kinds of effects around the pandemic, I like to think about hysteresis, what are homeostasis, which things will come back and hysteresis which things will never come back, or at least will never come back totally. They’ll go on a new trajectory. If I were to put down a bed, I’d put down at least a small one that with respect to traditional, high-dollar, big city office space, we’re talking hysteresis at least as much as homeostasis. I kind of doubt it’s going to come back. What are your thoughts on that?

Steve: When you’re in the middle of the shock, then I think that you’re not silly and it’s hard to have a sensible, balanced appreciation of what the long-term impacts are going to be, ensure you can think, “Will this ever end, is this ever going to end?” And things seem like… If history is an example, prior pandemics, 1918, we did go straight into the roaring ’20s. And so, that’s an antecedent we have to look at, but what we’re seeing now is that time is not standing still.

Steve: So companies are taking stock of how their businesses have gone during this period, they’ve made adjustments using Zoom and other video conferencing systems and… My own company, Medium just announced last Friday, we’re not going back to the office at least until this time next year, one more year like this. And so I have to wonder if the hysteresis thesis at least to some degree is appropriate here simply because companies see an upside in embracing home from work.

Jim: Indeed. And I think the other thing that’s really important to think about when we’re considering these questions is compared to 1918, the technical substrate really does make a big difference, in 1918, there weren’t really any choices other than going back to the office, today with things like the internet and Zoom and lots of interesting and cool other technologies that are just about to emerge like VR conferencing, et cetera, there’s an alternative.

Jim: And in fact, I’ve been arguing for some time that business travel was stuck in a sticky global suboptimal. There was really no reason for as much business travel as we’ve had at least since maybe 2010 or 11 when inexpensive or nearly free video conferencing came on and reliable video-conferencing came on the scene, but there’s habit and there’s also signaling. I’m not showing you the proper respect and deference if I don’t travel out to California to sit down with you to sell you a $5 million software package.

Jim: When the shock to the system comes and it gave an excuse for people to get out of that suboptimal instead of spending three days and $2,000 to make two sales calls, one could make 20 sales calls in the same amount of time. And so being knocked out of that basin of attraction essentially allowed us to escape the previous stickiness that I believe a lot of it was around signaling, social signaling of people’s relative importance and such. Those may have the makings of hysteresis because it’s not really in anybody’s interest. I’d much rather talk to some sales guy over Zoom than have his sweaty and greasy self in my office. And as the sales guy himself, he could be way more efficient if he doesn’t have to be traveling around the country. So, I think that kind of cultural inertia kept us in some of these basins and the shock allowed the marble to fly out of the bowl.

Steve: Yeah. This is… Jim such an interesting point. Your use of this term, social signaling, because this is absolutely a key factor in this, in terms of business travel, if you were in an important meeting sitting with the CEO and the COO and whomever else and you’d flown out to Phoenix, so you were sitting with them, but the other guy is on the video. He’s on the video call, he’s up there on the screen, that guy on the screen, he’s got a delay. It’s very awkward to butt in and you were a second class citizen. You were not… If you wanted to be in, to be really in on decision-making you more or less had to be there. But COVID has turned everyone no matter where they are into equal citizens in that meeting. And that’s likely to linger when this is all over.

Jim: Indeed. And the other thing that’s interesting, and it’s become very clear, because I do probably 10 to 15 Zooms a week in addition to two or three podcasts a week, usually two, sometimes more, I’ve noticed people are getting better at it. So there’s adaptation and social learning around how to use these tools. And again, that’s kind of trajectory dependence evolution, if we hadn’t had COVID, the thing you described, in fact, I can still recall really hating to be on board meetings remotely because you are so ineffective compared to being there in person. And I would just, frankly, just say, “No, I’m not going to come on the Zoom, I’ll come in on the audio and just listen and play off fellow or something,” while the meeting was going on, but now we’ve all gotten way better at it.

Jim: So again, that reinforces the trajectory it’s cheaper and we’ve gotten good enough in general, and cheaper is important. One area that I’m quite involved in is science governance and facilitation of science. And of course I still do some scientific research myself from time to time and scientific meetings virtually are amazingly less expensive than face-to-face. In fact, I just agreed to fund three scientific meetings and the costs are literally a 10th of what they would be if this had been face-to-face meetings so that the ability to have more scientific meetings is actually a very substantially up-regulated by this system’s dynamics change of going to virtual.

Jim: On the other hand, there is some downsides and I talked to people, especially younger people who really miss the opportunity for doing the networking and the famous statement that, “The sessions aren’t that important, it’s the conversations at coffee that really matter.” So at least so far we haven’t evolved the virtual to be, to capture all the value of face-to-face, but we’re doing it at a 10th of the cost, let’s say. And I suspect because we are adaptive and learning animals our tools say in the next year, if Medium is a good benchmark of how long there’ll be a strong commitment to this work at home. And I suspect it’s not far off, we’ll get these tools and we’ll have the equivalent of the coffee conversations at scientific meetings and other kinds of conferences.

Steve: Yeah. That’s the serendipity factor. So a counterfactual on this would be Facebook is snapping up real estate in Silicon Valley, but around the country it’s cheap now, with folks going out of business and so on, why are they doing that? Facebook has announced that by 2030, it expects only half of its workforce to have returned to the office. If that’s the case, why are they snapping up this real estate? And that factor, that serendipity factor that the young scientists are describing to you. I think this technology is not there yet.

Steve: I get emails and pings from technologists with some frequency claiming that they’ve solved for serendipity, take a look at my technology. But no one thinks so, I mean, the folks who are actually using it don’t think that it’s the same thing as bumping it, creating a virtual room at a conference where you can enter it and everyone else is in there. I mean, it seems like it should be serendipitous, but somehow when you’re in there, it doesn’t meet the same bar. And maybe because you don’t have a beer in your hand while you’re there I’m not sure.

Jim: Yeah. I think you’re right. I mean, I’ve looked at some of these too, people are always pitching me on these things and I’ve yet to see one that actually does it for me. However, I am seeing improvement, some of the stuff originally, it was just laughable, but I’d say it’s now within striking distance. The area I’m most interested in is VR conferencing, that could do it. I’ve heard for instance, that the VR version of… What’s, that damn thing they do out in the desert? Burning Man, is apparently quite impressive. I’ve heard this from multiple people. I haven’t had a chance to, or didn’t get the chance to engage with it. But that’s just the kind of cutting edge thing. Will there be some cultural learning and we might get some serendipity out the other side that will be something very interesting to watch over the next year.

Jim: Let’s pivot now to the real estate market. I had not heard that Facebook was buying up real estate. It seems to me, I wouldn’t be doing it unless the prices were really cheap, but which they might be, buying assets at distress is seldom a bad idea. But before our call, I did a little research. And the number that I found is that the value last year, a year before the pandemic of all the office space in the United States was $2.5 trillion. That’s a damn big part of the economy, right?

Steve: Right.

Jim: And if you assumed possible contraction of maybe 50% in the value, which doesn’t strike me as crazy, because remember in market capitalism, everything happens at the margin. Marginal changes way less than 50% can produce a 50% decline in value. Just think of the fact that the stock market goes down 50% from time to time, and that’s probably only a 10% change in aggregate demand for stocks.

Jim: Anyway, a 50% contraction in the office market asset value would be a bigger shock in a financial system than the mortgage crisis of 2007, 2008. And so in which triggered the great recession. So it’s worth thinking about the fact that there’s going to be some potential financial follow-on if indeed there is a long-term or even a short-term diminution in the value of office space as an asset class.

Steve: Yeah, I totally agree, that… So you’re in a situation where already if companies are in distress and not just companies, because when we’re talking about the office economy, we’re also talking about retail restaurants, shops like shoe shine, dry cleaners, the cleaners, the list of occupations that are reliant on that office economy, it is very, very long. And the part of it, that’s just the white collar workers is not the majority.

Steve: And so when you talk about the office, if they’re in distress and they can’t pay their mortgage, then the guy who owns that office building, he’s got to pay off the bank too, and so, yes, you have a potential gut punch to commercial real estate and to banking. This is a very worrying situation economically and under appreciated the scale of it.

Jim: Yeah. Exactly. And in fact, the trend over the last 10 years, 20 years has been for most companies to sell their office buildings and then lease them back. And so the purchasers who have been financial purchasers typically pretty highly leveraged, 80, 90% debt finance. And so if you see a 40, 50% decline in asset value, the banks are going to have to call the loans.

Jim: The asset holders are going to have no way to repay the loans, and it will be a cascading domino, and the banks will then seize the buildings, put them back on the market at low prices, trying to get what they can get, and that will accelerate the downward trend in value, which will cause more office building mortgage holders to fail. So one could see quite explosive exponential financial crisis evolving from this, if it becomes clear that the demand for office space is on the longterm decline.

Steve: Right. And then Jim, I’m wondering, I haven’t looked into this. Maybe you have, but if not, we can talk about it. I’m certain that office loans too have been turned into bonds that have been sold and the same that amplifying impact of cutting those into pieces, reconstructing them into an allegedly AAA loan and they spread around the world.

Jim: Yeah, I would assume so. I don’t actually know. It’s a good question. I may do a little bit of research on that. Let’s move on to another related topic. I was talking to economics professor out at Stanford a couple of weeks ago. And he was confirming what I had heard anecdotally, that there is a very sudden, very substantial exodus of people from the big cities, San Francisco, New York, LA for sure and probably a bunch of others. And this could be an even greater phase transition than the retreat from A-class downtown office buildings and the Silicon Valley, if people just move out of the cities entirely and move back to where maybe life is better and a hell of a lot cheaper.

Steve: Yeah, this is… Now Jim, this can go both ways. So yes, you do end up, and we are seeing that folks who could barely afford to live in San Francisco, in New York are finding because of COVID that they can leave, or they have to leave. They aren’t employed anymore and that’s caused rents to drop. The last time I looked, which was a month ago, New York rents had dropped by 6%. That’s right. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a lot for a place like New York.

Steve: So yes, you do get the sexes, but the other side of that is… And I hope that I’m not upstaging a section you want it to lead to. And if so, just tell me, and we can pause and then talk about it later, but you can end up, the cost structure drops one or two levels, and then suddenly it’s affordable for a new class of people. And you rejuvenate these cities at a stepped lower, lower cost of living.

Jim: Yep. And that certainly will happen. I mean, that nothing is a linear, everything is a nonlinear systems with feedback loops. So certainly let’s say, because rents have been going down in New York for several years, which is interesting. They’ve been going down five or 6% for several at the high-end, especially the $3,000 one bedrooms and what have you, they’ve been coming down for a while interestingly and 6% is probably only a little faster than they were coming down. But you’re right. Yeah. Certainly there’s going to be then an opening up of opportunity. One of the things that’s New York in particular is horrendous for restaurant tours because the rents are so damn high. If commercial real estate rents fall on their ass, it’ll actually open up a lot of opportunity for restaurants that couldn’t have existed.

Jim: So it’s never just one part of the effect. There’s always a feedback loop. On the other hand, if we talk about hysteresis and homeostasis, people again lived in New York, lived in San Francisco or Silicon Valley, LA, because they felt they had to, I suspect an awful lot of them to pursue their careers. Again is just like business travel. It’s actually been technically feasible to do a lot of work living in a much lower cost and probably better quality of life place for quite a while, at least 10 years. But the pandemic actually gave people the opportunity to do it, to try it, and the bosses wouldn’t hold it against them.

Jim: I think it’s at least arguable that people will find that living in a rural area or a small city or even a medium-sized city like Pittsburgh, very livable place, very high quality of life, but the cost of real estate’s about… Shit, what is it? Maybe a fifth of what it is in the New York or San Francisco. This might be a permanent change. It may well be that particularly young people were the ones most beaten the shit in the big cities, because they don’t have the economic means, four of them living in a one bedroom apartment. They may no longer do that anymore. Maybe it will make more sense to live in a medium-sized city or even a small city and make your living remotely. That’d be very interesting if that happened.

Steve: Yeah, yeah. You’ve gotten me thinking about what happened in the Black Death, after the Black Death, the other big pandemic and it in the 14th and the 15th century, one of the things it did was lead to the disappearance of the surf system. That whole class divide that kept so much of the European population down with… And all the things we know about that, because tragically a third or a half of Europe’s population died, then suddenly labor was at a premium. So the survivors could demand and did demand much higher wages over decades and decades. Of course, the folks, the immediate survivors didn’t know they didn’t achieve any upside.

Steve: And that’s what happens this time is that the folks who lose their jobs, the folks who lose their businesses, they’re not the ones who are going to benefit from a next positive stage. It will be the next generation that achieves that. But nevertheless, if you just as a thought experiment, thought of an analogy to that of the creation, the elevation of a new middle-class, and that it’s thought that helped lead to the reformation and then the enlightenment and all that was set up for the industrial revolution. You could think here so many people’s living standards have dropped.

Steve: A lot of people have fallen out of the middle class over the last three decades for all of the reasons that I’m sure you’ve discussed on the show. And cities you’re ending up with superstar cities, superstar professions, if you’re not in these superstar professions, living in these superstar cities, then you’re stuck at these lower living standards living in lesser communities. Does the step change of COVID-19 create a new set of costs and places to live that sort of open up the gates for these folks to achieve the middle-class status that they no longer had?

Jim: I think the answer to that is probably yes, in fact in our Game B movement, which is our political social change, not really political, but social change movement that I’ve been involved with since the beginning. That’s one of our visions is that, we were actually working on long before COVID, but that a better way to live for a lot of people, particularly those not in the star occupations, that’s a good way to describe them, would be to live in rural areas or outside small cities, where land is inexpensive, but quality of life is good. Kind of on the model of the Israeli kibbutz, I’ve done a fair amount of research on the kibbutz in fact, I had a scholar of the kibbutz on the podcast recently. We’re actually starting to sketch out some of these settlements, which we call [Purdue bees 00:27:42]

Jim: There’s another version called Civium also part of the Game B movement. And the idea is they would be designed to provide a really good quality of living for young couples with children making maybe 70,000 a year between them. So that’s $70,000 a year, say where I live in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, you’re basically talking about an assistant manager at Wendy’s and a guy that worked in a warehouse for Walmart. That would bring you up to about $70,000 a year. He tried to live in New York City on that kind of income, and you’d be living in a rat infested cockroach, infested place, way out in one of the outer boroughs. If you’re lucky, under our plan, you could have your own house with a lot of shared infrastructure, extremely good quality of life, an excellent charter school system associated with the community, built-in daycare, et cetera, which you could never possibly afford in anywhere near any of the big cities.

Steve: Yeah. So we’re painting a future that looks in the short and medium term not so great, especially for the folks who have lost their businesses, part of this office ecosystem they won’t come back. They’re not, the guy who owned his own dry cleaners, mom-and-pop dry cleaners or their restaurant where do they… We don’t know where they go to, but the next generation, the folks who were coming into who are just graduating college, let’s say, or just entering college, those folks could end up benefiting from the upheaval caused by COVID.

Jim: Yep. That’s kind of like slash and burn agriculture. You burn out the old and then something new grows up.

Steve: Yeah. And the other thing that we’re… I mean, it’s an element that’s just sitting there and we’ve kind of mentioned it, but just to bring it back in, the cities themselves can become much more affordable and maybe not, I don’t know, maybe not affordable for those folks with a combined $70,000 income, but maybe a little bit more than that. If they’re young, they can move back. They can move back to the city.

Jim: Yeah. That’d be interesting to see how it goes. I mean, I’m not a 100% sure the big city is a humane place to live. I know a lot of people like it, but strikes me as it’s quite alien from those things which we actually resonate with as human beings, beautiful nature, the ability to have calm and quiet in one’s life, safety for one’s children, sense of knowing your neighbors, real conviviality, it’s maybe an opportunity to escape that whole urbanization thing that’s going on worldwide. And if that were to be the case, that would be the biggest outcome from this shock.

Steve: Yeah. Well, okay. So you raised two things. One is the consensus forecast of the big white shoe think tanks, like the Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey and all, Bain that were inexhaustibly urbanizing. This could reverse that, right?

Jim: Yep. That’s a hypothesis. And it probably doesn’t do it dramatically right away, but it may produce enough of the 2% innovators to show the way, people are rightfully skeptical about new ideas, particularly about how and where to live. But let’s say 2% of people actually do make the move over the next 10 years, 2%, 6 million people. That’s a lot. And if we have thousands of small communities on the order of a few hundred people who were actually showing how a really ultra wonderful way of life could be had at a quite reasonable, a level of income that could then attract the next part, the so-called early adopters.

Jim: And the next, when the Gen Z comes up and becomes ready to go out into the workforce, maybe 15% of them moved to these non-urban high quality of life communities. And then over another couple generations, it becomes the norm and the cities become depopulated. Of course, this has happened before. I’d like to point out that Rome at its peak at a population of, I don’t know, a million and a half, something like that, by 800 AD, the population of Rome, what was it? 15,000.

Steve: Oh, my God.

Jim: 15,000. So we have seen the decline of cities in the past and who knows, maybe this is the beginning of it. It won’t happen overnight. It’s going to be the work of generations, but truthfully, my view is that we’d be happier not living in these giant urban, monsters that kind of squeezed the humanity out of when I think of New York. And I go to New York, used to go on New York fairly regularly. The thing that always strikes me in my mind is sort of unhuman is when you’re riding the subway, everyone’s looking down at their shoes and not interacting with each other and intentionally shutting each other off. It’s just a weird, weird, weird way to live.

Steve: Yeah. But the… Yes, this… And that Rome example is so dramatic, urbanists argue for your homeostasis thesis on cities though, they say cities have forever been forecast for death. But they bounce back and Rome did eventually bounce back. I don’t know. What year did it come back to its prior level? I guess it must have taken a hundreds of years.

Jim: Yeah. I got a graph somewhere with that on it. One of the presentations that I do, I don’t have it accessible at my fingertips. And you are right, two of the scholars associated with our Santa Fe Institute, Jeffrey West, and [Louche Betancourt 00:34:28] have done a lot of work on cities. And they point out that cities last way longer than companies or even countries. Damascus, Syria has been around for something like 7,000 years through, one empire after the other, one conquer after the other. And Damascus is still there.

Jim: So there’s something about the form of cities, which are very good for longevity, but from time to time, they do disappear. And again, the other thing to keep in mind is that we talked about the very beginning is that the network substrate may change everything, prior to inexpensive, high quality ability to interact via the network. There really wasn’t a reasonable alternative to the cities for certain kinds of human collaboration that may no longer be true.

Steve: Yeah. That is right. So in 1347, there was no Zoom.

Jim: As far as we know.

Steve: Yeah, as far we know. But it’s interesting. It’s an interesting point, but just from a policy perspective, we’re going to have… Policy makers need to think about the potential impact to the cities. I mean to smaller places, that’s a positive impact. You don’t have to do anything except perhaps pave the roads and bring in more internet. But for the cities the impact, not just, it doesn’t matter if you’re a red state guy and why should we do anything for the blue state guys or the blue city guys? This is the… it’s at a scale that’s the economy, it’s the U.S. economy. It’s a 100 million people who are in that city economy. Everyone is going to be hurt.

Jim: Yep. And this transition is going to be painful for an awful lot of human beings. And we also need to consider the fact there could be some very adverse political, social impact from the short-term negative shock. I look back ominously at 1922 to 1933 in Germany, where the middle-class was first decimated by hyperinflation, which wiped out most of their savings. And then The Great Depression, a lot of people lost their jobs. And as you said, they just knocked out of the middle-class or even out of the upper working class.

Jim: And when such things occur, people are willing to try what in retrospect we can see is just crazy ass shit. And we’re starting to see it, both the left and the right in the United States are out in the streets, killing each other at low numbers so far. But that could accelerate at any time. I suspect that this more extreme, absolutest politics that we’re seeing on both flanks may actually be accelerated by the people who were being knocked out of the middle-class or even the upper workings.

Steve: Yeah. I love this formulation, the sort of standard that you’ve established for the possibility of where we could go on the extremes and it would be called the crazy ass shit metric.

Jim: Yes, exactly. And I think-

Steve: One to 10 or one to a 100. Where are you on this scale?

Jim: Wow. There’s a group of us that meet weekly to discuss this and some of the top, I won’t name their names, there’s some names you would know and our current thinking is, we’re about a 10 out of a 100, but we’re at, could well be close to a cusp where it goes to 80, out of a 100, which basically means a Civil War or an authoritarian crackdown. And we’re probably only one wrong event away from a phase change from 10 out of a 100 crazy shit to 70 or 80 out of a 100 crazy shit.

Jim: The fact that people on both sides are so amped up. So living in bubble chambers, where they interpret the world through a lens of radical ideology and where any a random happenstance event could be amplified and produce this phase change is I think what we’re really concerned about and the coming election could provide that opportunity, a single or very small group that creates some outrage, imagine the alt-right sets off a car bomb in the middle of a Black Lives Matter demonstration, well, within the capability of five guys who were former military people.

Jim: What would that do in terms of inflection point or suppose the on the other side the demonstrators in Portland actually burned down the house of the chief of police and the police respond with a police riot, what would that do to inflame the situation? So there’s an awful lot of close at hand nodes that could take our current 10 out of a 100 situation and move into a much bigger situation.

Steve: Yes, Jim, I’m totally with you. I’m totally with you. You get a Charlottesville was right. It was just a little thing, a relatively small group, but the butterfly effect the impact of this it’s remained with us. And then, I’m thinking about the other day, there was a report. It was just in the last two or three days. There was a report in the New York Times in Portland of protesters going into a BLM post protestors, going into white neighborhoods and demanding that people make a show of support for that cause, and then running across encountering a house where there was an American flag and making a big noise in front of this person’s house. And then quoted, “Again, this is the times, this is not crazy media, say if we come back tomorrow and that flag is still there, we’re going to burn down your house.”

Steve: That sort of thing could turn what you’re describing. It’s such a volatile time. I mean, I guess we’ve kind of gone off the… we’ve kind of diverged, but if people were employed, I mean, maybe it’s not disconnected if people were employed and there weren’t, COVID, maybe we wouldn’t have a lot of this stuff in the streets right now.

Jim: Yeah. That was exactly my point, which is that it’s people start having reason to have Alliance with the status quo, i.e they have a decent job. They can pay their rent, et cetera, then this kind of stuff gets… it’s happened before and pivots out over time, but so the great people are kicked out of the middle-class and don’t really see an alternative then the extremes of the right and the left start to make sense. And that was really my point.

Jim: So I think that hopefully, hopefully we can deescalate from this craziness but we may not be able to, and you probably, all of us individually should try to not get sucked into the vortex of the left or the extreme, I know I call them, by the way, I have a new name for them, the infrareds and the ultraviolet, and we have the red and the blue. And if you go on the spectrum beyond red and blue, you get infrared on the red side and ultraviolet on the blue side. So try not to get sucked into the vortex of the infrareds or the ultraviolets.

Steve: Yeah. But just to throw another wild card in there, a poll yesterday or the day before, how many Americans regardless of ideology are prepared to take the first generation of vaccine that comes out? Less than 50%, whether you’re Democrat or Republican.

Jim: Yeah. This is the erosion of our sense-making capability due to social media and its unintended consequences. How many Americans have died from the side effects of vaccines since 1950? [crosstalk 00:43:54] a 100.

Steve: Oh my God.

Jim: It’s a 100. And most of those were one bad case of the swine flu vaccine, vaccines are remarkably safe. This is insanity, essentially this anti-vaxxer thing. And if it wasn’t for the fact that we were connected via a network of contagion, I’d say, “Hail Mary fellows, let Darwinism work its magic.” But unfortunately when people don’t take vaccines, it puts us all at risk. So people don’t be idiots when the vaccines are out make sure you do your due diligence. I’m not sure I’d use these Russian and Chinese vaccines, which are already out without adequate testing. But if they’ve gone through the full three stages, no shortcuts of the FDA vaccine process, it would seem to me a nutso not to take the vaccine.

Steve: Yes, I agree, I agree. And just to close the loop on that, all the things we’re describing are the outcome, the outflow of COVID. If we get this under control even short of a vaccine, just get control of our health system that would resolve a lot of this.

Jim: It would certainly help, it would not be gasoline on the fire. I do believe we had, I mean, the country was going nuts before COVID, but COVID has been gasoline poured on the fire.

Steve: Yeah.

Jim: I think with that note, I think we’re going to wrap it up. We’ve kind of reached our 45 minute time window for our current episode. I really want to thank you Steve, for extraordinarily interesting conversation.

Steve: Jim, it was so great. Let’s do it again. I mean, we covered so many topics, but last time we talked about batteries, batteries are back on the radar screen with Elon Musk, we should return to that sometime.

Jim: Sounds good.

Production services and audio editing by Jared Janes Consulting, Music by Tom Muller at