Transcript of Extra: Key COVID-19 Decisions with John Robb

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

Jim: Howdy. This is Jim Rutt and this is the Jim Rutt Show. Listeners have asked us to provide pointers to some of the resources we talk about on the show. We now have links to books and articles referenced in recent podcasts that are available on our website. We also offer full transcripts. Go to That’s

Jim: Today’s guest is John Robb, thinker and writer about global level systems, strategies, and complex. His main platform these days is Global Guerrillas on Patreon. If you like his work, please support him on Patreon. I do. He’s a voice worth having.

Jim: So, John, the reason I reached out to you initially for this brief second visit to our extra COVID-19 episodes was a tweet that you made the other day, which I’ll read. “One of the most lasting effects of the pandemic? The accelerated emergence of the new political spectrum. Network consensus versus network dissent.” Could you say some more about that?

John: Yeah. One of the things I’ve been writing about for a long while is the emergence of a new decision-making system, a new social decision-making system that can, over time as we get our arms around it, complement the other social decision-making systems that we have. We have tribalism, which is nationalism. We have bureaucracy, and we have markets. And we’ve tamed them, more or less, over the last five centuries to effectively allow us to deal with environmental challenges.

John: Now that we’re in a global environment, a complex global environment, where the threats have become more difficult to deal with, it seems that the threats are exceeding our capacity to make effective decisions using the old methods. And, we need a new one, this network decision-making. But trying to figure out what it can be good for and what it is bad at will take some time.

John: The model that I’ve developed and that I’ve teased out of what I’ve seen, is that this network, one of the key decision-making systems that’s falling out of it is this idea of the consensus and dissent. The consensus is an agreement on a very simple proposition. It allows society to move very quickly once it agrees on that proposition. And the dissent is this very similar to what you see with a lot of what Trump does, it’s always finding the opposite view, and trying to disrupt through different means the consensus. A consensus that, from the outside, appears to be detrimental to the health and wellbeing of the people who are dissenting.

John: So, in the situation we’re in right now with the pandemic, we see a very clear example of a consensus developing in terms of this pandemic is bad and we should eradicate it. It developed very, very quickly, and then it allowed the shutdown of the entire US economy to occur within weeks, long before the governments actually even got to the point where they were starting to order shutdowns.

John: So, the consensus actually shut down air travel. Even though there really isn’t any restrictions on air travel, now it’s down 96% from where it was. It has shutdown commerce. It changed corporate behavior through pressure, both demand pressure plus internal, kind of social pressure to force companies to opt for work-at-home, cut corporate travel, et cetera.

John: Now we have the dissent, is the group of people on the outside who are saying, “Let’s open up the economy now. The pandemic is overstated.” That a lot of the information is fake, or the goalposts are moving, or that we should go through with a herd immunity strategy. So, that kind of dynamic between dissent and consensus is how we’re making decisions now.

Jim: Yeah. It’s very right. I love the point that you make that, in some sense, the social distancing, at least the wave started before the government acted. For instance, I read the signals and concluded that for myself and my family we were locking the fuck down around the 5th of March, long before any state did it. And so, I was an incremental network signal, and I passed that word along to my friends, and at least to some degree, on social media.

Jim: And so, the network itself started, at least parts of it coalesced around a consensus. I might’ve been wrong, but I had a person who had just had major surgery and is in the elevated age range, it struck me as a reasonable response. But whether it was a globally correct response or not, hard to say.

John: Oh, yeah. No, I mean it did a lot of things. There was an open source information discovery effort. I mean, there’s more information flowing, a torrent of information flowing on the pandemic, in comparison to kind of the black box trickle that we got in previous events. This information is constantly being vetted. It’s being torn apart, reassembled. New strategies are being produced. Information is then turned into knowledge and insight that the consensus puts into play. It’s been a pretty amazing process to watch.

John: And given that it’s really truly early days, the consensus idea stretches back to the big open source protests that we saw back in the Arab Spring all the way up through. Just recently we saw it in Puerto Rico, where they toppled the governor of Puerto Rico. Coming together over a single idea. So, a consensus can mobilize very, very quickly. And it can undertake an incredible information discovery effort and it can implement and act on that in a very complex way, and far faster, I think, than the old traditional government can.

John: But there’s a need for dissent. And if you have too much dissent, it seems chaotic. In the last three years or so, with Trump in power, it felt more chaotic than stable. But that doesn’t mean that we should not have the dissent, because a consensus can get locked in. And we’re going to find that out going out of this, trying to get out of this lockdown, is that it’s going to be very hard to get people out of the kind of siege mentality they developed as part of this consensus. And that the dissent is one of the keys to getting us out of that, constantly arguing in favor of moving the economy forward. But, we’re going to have to figure out other ways to break out of this lock-in achieved by the consensus.

Jim: That’s interesting. As we were chatting prior to going live on the show, you made a very good point. In fact, why did you make the point about the attributes of this particular virus, and how it’s perhaps a challenge for network sense-making?

John: Yeah. This virus is just this perfectly designed instrument for sitting astride this obvious need for a complete lockdown if it was really, really truly deadly, up to 20, 30%. Or, just letting it go through with a herd immunity strategy. It targets a very specific subgroup, so most people under 50 are not really impacted that much, and that gives a false sense of immunity to the effects of the virus.

John: And then, it requires an incredible investment of time to eradicate it with two weeks of quarantine, and the necessity of doing that early. Oh, what else about this? I had a whole brief that I wrote up on this. The design of this virus makes it really, really effective. And then the speed of transmission is absolutely insanely high. I mean, it’s up in smallpox territory according to some estimates. Exceeding smallpox, less than chicken pox. So, it can get out of control very, very easily and zoom to population scale levels.

John: Yeah, it makes decision-making on this very, very hard. You were mentioning that it was between these two valleys. It’s interesting to see us grapple that. It made it incredibly hard for the government to make decisions, because it’s really not clear exactly what strategy, exit strategy, or response strategy is the best. Do you do full quarantine, or do you do a big tech testing regime to stabilize the situation, or do you go with herd immunity? I’ve been evaluating all three of those, and I’ve kind of come to a conclusion on that. But, we can get that in a minute.

Jim: What’s your conclusion? I know you wrote recently about the Swedish experiment with herd immunity.

John: Yeah. Well, one of the themes that we see in the dissent is that herd immunity is probably better as a strategy, because shutting down the economy for months at a time is just not sustainable. It will cause more damage long-term than suffering through a couple hundred thousand dead.

John: So, I went in and I looked at the exemplar of the strategy in Sweden, and I found out that they were really very similar to what we see in many states, with a couple exceptions, is that they have not closed elementary schools and activities. So, there is a transmission vector, but evidence is that elementary school kids don’t carry high viral loads so it probably isn’t as big of a vector as you would get if you had universities still open.

John: And then, they let the bars and restaurants stay open. But the bulk of the actual mitigation of the virus is all being done by social distancing. And Sweden is really quite good at social distancing. There’s always a joke about … I saw a pretty interesting joke about that, is that if you really want to experience loneliness, stand in a bus line in Sweden because everyone sticks to seven feet away from each other.

John: But, I started looking at what the impact of just letting this roll through the population. Assuming that using social distancing and selective government efforts to mitigate the effects, to keep the level of people who are sick below the level of the capacity of the health system. The strategy in the herd immunity strategy is that as long as you can care for these people effectively using the health care system, you’ll let it run as hot as possible for as long as possible until you achieve herd immunity status.

John: And what that means is, typically, for something that’s a respiratory virus that’s highly transmissible, somewhere between 80 and 95% of the population has to get it and then recover from it, have some kind of internal immunity. Evidence suggests that you do become immune if you recover from it.

John: Now, that strategy, as I looked around the world and found where the virus is having the most impact, is that it works and it probably will work in relatively young countries. I mean, with a median age of less than 30. And that it proves to be deadly in countries where the median age is greater than 30. You have the places where the virus is having the most deleterious impact is in the old, sick, developed countries, the fragile countries of China, the US, and Europe. Median age is 38, 38, and 42 in the EU. A lot of really, really old populations.

John: What the virus did is, it turned our health care system, which is considered our strength, and one of our key strengths, into a weakness. A weakness so big that it made us fragile. It allowed us to keep a lot of people alive longer, but they accumulated chronic conditions. So in the US, we have upwards of 45% of the population has at least one chronic condition that they’re dealing with according to the CDC.

John: So, in that kind of population, old and sick, when you start to try to get to the 80 to 95% immunity level required for herd immunity, it gets really deadly very quickly. I did the calculations on what it would require, best case for the United States, is that we have upwards of two to two and a half million people would die from the virus in order to achieve herd immunity, because it would have to impact the at-risk populations in order to achieve it. That would be running the current levels at 5,000 to 15,000 people a day dead for a couple hundred days.

Jim: Yeah. That’s not going to happen. That’s politically not palatable.

John: Correct.

Jim: Of course, even though people point out, some of the more hardcore herd immunity people, that the actual number of lost productive years will be surprisingly small because the typical person who actually dies is like 78 years old and has an estimated two years of life left. Nonetheless, politically and from a humanitarian perspective, that just isn’t going to fly at all, particularly if the alternative is something in the 200,000 deaths range. So yeah, I think I agree with you. So, my intuition was correct to act as if lockdown was the right strategy. That’s good to hear.

John: Yeah. I mean, in places like India, the population over 65 is 6%. It’s tiny. Herd immunity is possible. It’ll burn itself out, go RO less than one pretty quickly, because there’s just so many young people that it runs into that it doesn’t really have an impact on.

Jim: And life expectancy is short there, so the number of people that are 80 with compounded complicating factors is small, too. Right?

John: Yeah.

Jim: So, that’s where the real horror of this comes. Late 70s onward with complications.

John: Oh, yeah.

Jim: By the way, I just looked up on the internet, the median age in Sweden is 41.1. So, probably not a good place to be running the herd immunity experiment.

John: Correct. Unless you’re a little fascist and you’re trying to cleanse the national body and make it a little bit stronger, with less deadly. Yeah, in Germany for instance, I think 48% of the people that have died are over 80.

Jim: And that’s typical. I think 78 is the best guesstimate in the West at where the average age of fatalities will be.

John: Right. And so, it’s interesting that the strength gets turned into a weakness and it makes herd immunity impossible. At a gut level, this is kind of the way we’ve handled respiratory pandemics in the past. We’ve let herd immunity take care of it, because we were younger and healthier, and it allowed us to do so. But yeah, it doesn’t work now.

John: The quarantine strategy that China followed doesn’t really work either. I mean, because it’s just so deleterious, so negative, in terms of its impact on the economy. You keep that fragility in place, even though you externalize the quarantine, meaning that if you can eradicate it internally, then you have to shut down your borders in order to prevent any new virus from entering back in. Already, the Chinese have lost, what, they’re running at a negative 7%, according to this morning’s figures, for their economy.

Jim: Well, that’s not too bad.

John: So, the first time it’s gone negative in 50 years, according to the Chinese stats.

Jim: Ours is likely to go down minus 30 probably by the end of the second quarter. So, put that in comparison.

John: Yeah. This is Chinese stats, and they increased their death toll by 50%, too. It’s still radically understating the actual negative impact. But, quarantine strategy really isn’t a good long-term strategy, particularly if we don’t develop a vaccine or effective treatment for coronavirus. It’s kind of like solving the common cold to a certain extent. We haven’t been able to do that for years, ever really, and we may not get that with this.

John: So, that leaves only one strategy left, and this is the one I’m working on today. I call it the big tech solution. The reason I call it big tech is that it’s kind of a testing, case tracking, monitoring solution. But the only way you scale it, particularly to a population as big as we have in the US, is through tech.

John: And the key thing to that, the cornerstone to that, the thing that actually could turn our population, it’s like adding a network decision-making system. Taking the consensus and articulating it with technology, and then saying, “Okay. We can turn our population into something smart enough that this virus, this pandemic isn’t a problem anymore.” I mean, it’s like an annoyance.

John: To do that, you would need to do in-home medical monitoring, use the smartphones for monitoring. A lot of big data and individual decision-making systems built in to get control of the information environment regarding health, regarding a transmission of a virus, this virus, and combine that with state-level hiring of case trackers and people to handle the monitoring, et cetera, et cetera. That kind of effort could pull off a long-term solution that actually allows us to operate as if we weren’t even threatened by the virus anymore, weren’t even threatened by the pandemic. But the big problem with that, obviously, is that we have almost zero trust in any effort to aggregate data. We’ve lost that trust.

Jim: It’s funny. I don’t, because I worked in the direct mail business in the ’90s. I realized by 1996 what the data aggregators had, Axiom, et cetera, there is no privacy. So, fuck it. Right? Just go.

John: Yeah. Privacy, it’s all hung up on this idea that we’ve been strip-mined for data by the big tech companies, and then before that the direct marketing companies for decades. We don’t have any trust in any of those companies to do right by us regarding the data. And we’ve treated data, which is one of the most valuable resources in the world, it’s a product of you, it’s a piece of your labor, as something that’s valueless. I mean, it’s valued by all the companies that can grab it, but our only solution to it is to treat it is to apply privacy, which is really just destroying the value of it. What we need to get over this lack of trust in the government and lack of trust in corporations is this idea that you actually own your data.

Jim: That’s clearly the right answer. Personally, I would sell all my health data for $5.00, because I believe that health data is more beneficial to the commons than the privacy of it is worth to me. But other people might make that different decisions, and it doesn’t really matter. That’s the key thing about the dance on the back side of this curve, is you don’t need data from 100% of the people. You need statistically valid sampling data, on a population of, let’s say at the state level three or four million, you may need a few thousand people providing high fidelity data to give you a sense of the native incidence rate, and have the powers that be be able to respond forcibly to a local flareup.

Jim: So, the idea of personal ownership of the data and voluntary opting in for a consideration, and then licensing to the commonweal for maybe only a specific use, only say to some consortium of Apple, Microsoft, and Google, who is doing monitoring for COVID. And, oh by the way, this grant has a time to live of one year. That if you violate it, there’s a $250,000 penalty. Something like that would make great sense. And then, if some people want to be paranoid about their data, let them. Let those of us who are more realists about privacy and the relative benefits of at least some data in the commons opt that way. Then, we’d get a clear signal, and it would make managing this very, very practical.

John: Oh, yeah. There’s a way to accelerate it, though. I’ve been pushing, because of the scale of the crisis, this emergency UBI thing. If we changed that to a pandemic response payment, a thousand bucks a month for contributing the data, for participation to do the individual health monitoring, the temperature checks on a daily basis, all the stuff that you’d opt-in with using the smartphone, you’d get 90, 95% participation rates. And you’d get data down to such a granular level. It would be going in, and you’d be getting paid for it. We’d set expectations that you would actually get paid for your data.

Jim: I like it. I like it a lot. Let’s talk briefly about UBI, then one other very interesting topic. You and I both liked UBI, I think in concept. But the more I’ve thought about it in respect to this particular pandemic, the less I’m convinced that an ongoing UBI is the right answer. At least in the form it’s currently being implemented, which is an electronic transfer to your checking account.

Jim: We go back to the 2008 financial crisis. We found that then, more than 70% of those stimulus checks, I think was it twice they were sent out, ended up going into people’s savings, which makes sense. When the system seems under stress, when uncertainty is high, those people who have jobs and have at least a little financial buffer will tend to add net liquidity to savings. And that’s, indeed, what I expect will happen with this one. So, 70% of this large amount of money is essentially wasted. It’s not truly wasted, because it has a little bit of impact on behavior, but not much.

Jim: As you’ve heard me say before, that if we could send these things out as debit cards that had a time to live of 45 days, and if you didn’t spend the money on the debit card in 45 days it evaporated back into the Treasury’s pool of money to be reallocated the following month, then I think UBI could be very stimulative to the economy. But since no one seems to be running with this debit card idea, probably the smarter thing to do is massively augment unemployment checks. Maybe just increase them by 50% or 100%. Because while-

John: Yeah, they’re doing that.

Jim: Yeah. Are they doing an actual … I know they extended the term. I think in some places they’re upping … But anyway, that’s where all the money should go. It shouldn’t go into UBI unless you can find a way to have it have a time to live so it gets spent into the economy and not just saved. Much better. Because most people, a lot of people, a huge number, a tragic number of people have lost their jobs and will continue to lose their jobs over the coming 45 days or so.

Jim: The vast preponderance of people still have their jobs, probably 80%. So, they don’t really need the UBI. In fact, frankly, we’re probably all financially better, who still have our jobs or our sources of income, are actually better off because we’re spending a shitload less. Think about how much money people wasted going out to restaurants and bars. I remember when I was 29 years old. It was a nontrivial percentage of my total income. Currently, we’re at home eating beans and rice. So, people’s expenditure has gone down. 80% of people’s incomes haven’t, of employed people. So, there’s really not a need for a UBI. But let’s focus it all, unless we can have time to live, let’s focus it on the unemployed.

John: Yeah. I found that their response, at least the bureaucratic government response to this crisis has been terrible. I think the scale of it, the timeframes, are so short, the scale is so large, that they have really just flubbed it. Even the complete bipartisan cooperation can’t get it done. I mean, that two and a half trillion, actually four and a half if you take in all the money, relief bill was an example of just total disaster.

Jim: Yeah. A shit show.

John: The rules weren’t simple.

Jim: Corporate welfare.

John: Oh, yeah. And the SBA stuff, I mean the Small Business Administration, what 96% of small businesses didn’t get anything. It was raided by the big companies. It just wasn’t thought out. They tried to make it nuanced. All the nuance they tried to add to this, from the means testing to the conditionality, is just working against them. This is why I focus on very simple solutions that work. This is a whole network disaster and we need a whole network response. We need to reboot the whole thing.

John: The thing with the UBI is that the top 10% don’t need it, granted. They wouldn’t need it afterwards either. They’re going to do fine. It’s the bottom 90%, and more than half of them supposedly have no savings. What this does is that it is income replacement. It’s taking off some of the sting, and it allows you to borrow for short-term needs because you have an ongoing payment that can be borrowed against probably at pretty reasonable terms. And, it allows you to plan for the future.

John: You know that this money’s coming in, and you get a job, and it’s supplementing your income, and you get a big boost in your income. At a thousand bucks a month in a two-income earner family, that’s upwards of a 50% improvement over the median income for the country. It would be a big boom. And people could plan against it. They would spend the money. They would feel more confident.

John: I think the big psychological effects at the network scale are going to be extremely important in terms of us getting out of it. Because in the previous crisis, in the financial crisis, it took forever to get out of the siege mentality that we had due to that event. And that was a much smaller event than this. I don’t want to spend a decade crawling out of a depressionary economy. I mean, the social cohesion factors alone are going to be extremely dire.

Jim: I agree with you there. And certainly, we’re both exactly on the same page that the team red/team blue shit show of the stimulus was nearly as bad as they could make it. The Dems demanded money for government. Oh yeah, that’ll be really useful. And then the Republicans basically lobbied for corporate welfare. So, both of them are wrong.

John: Yeah. The cool thing about a consensus and dissent framework that makes it really different from the old left/right framework that we used to have, the left/right, usually big government/small government values associated with each. The consensus/dissent framework is detached from specific policies, or detached from specific value sets. The consent can form around anything.

Jim: No, unfortunately, we need-

John: The dissent can form around whatever’s opposite-

Jim: Can do it. Yeah. We need to give those maybe the right answer, is the problem is the network doesn’t have its levers on power directly. Wouldn’t it be clever if that somehow the network and the dissent both could allocate the stimulus money, for instance. Something like my liquid democracy ideas, where people vote how they want to vote. They proxy the people who know more than they do. And then, let’s say the dollars are at the end of the day allocated by the number of votes that final leaf-level proxy holders hold. And then caucus, and they choose things to spend the money on. Something like that would be very interesting. But today, the network and the dissent is not directly coupled to the levers of power.

John: Not to political power, yeah. But I mean, it shut down the US economy.

Jim: It did.

John: And it’s going to keep it shut down until it decides that it wants to release it. The states and the federal government really can just cajole them, can make their arguments in favor of easing up, but the network is going to make the final decision. It’s the most powerful thing. The federal couldn’t have shut down the economy even if it tried. I mean, it just could not do it as quickly and as effectively as the consensus did.

Jim: Yeah. And in fact, this actually reminds of a 1960s saying by the new left radicals, which was Vote With Your Feet. In their sense, they were saying, “Quit your job and go become a hippie,” essentially. In this case, people voted with their feet by not going to work, not going shopping, and not getting on airplanes. It’s kind of very cool that we happen to be in a decision frame where we could actually vote with our feet. And it might be useful to think about other scenarios where voting with your feet is viable.

Jim: Let’s move on to my last topic. We’ve just got a few minutes. To my mind, one of the most interesting things that’s happened as we start approaching the peak here, and soon to the managing the back side of the curve, is the emergence of the state/regional compacts as the way to aggregate learning and coordination on the gradual reopening. I’ve got to say, it’s like Churchill said in his history of World War II, that he hadn’t had a good night’s sleep from May 1940 until December 7th, 1941 at Pearl Harbor, where he knew World War II had just been won by the Allies.

Jim: I had a similar reaction the day the two compacts were announced. I said, “Holy shit. Maybe we will actually do a tolerable job of reopening the country in a nuanced, regionally sensitive, data-driven, scientific fashion, rather than relying on the shit show in Washington.” What are your thoughts on these regional compacts, and what might they mean for the future?

John: Well, one of the ways that decision-making systems handle threats that they can’t handle, is that they decentralize. In this case, the level of governance that actually is effective was found at the state level, and I guess at the regional block level. In terms of what they’re doing, they’re sharing information, sharing resources. But they may accrue power over time. They’re extra-constitutional, so there is an open-loop element here. If it lasts a long time and these blocks prove effective, we can see a lot of power accumulating in them and it may change the way the nation is run.

John: They’re all around 50 to 60 million people, which seems to be kind of the more effective level of where the government can actually make effective decisions. Over 300 million, it becomes just too complex a problem, given the speed and scale at which these network threats emerge.

John: There was also a layer that I was surprised that no one seemed … well, maybe it’s because they don’t understand the way the dynamics of this stuff works, is that there was, there maybe even still is, an opportunity to grab the baton on the consensus a bit. It’s like running a daily program focused on specific things that we can all do together. There’s lots and lots of spare capacity in the consensus to get things done. Kind of the open source manager, so to speak, who focuses on tangible, near-term steps that can be taken in order to achieve the end goal, eradication of the pandemic. Not any of the standard political elements, anything that’s divisive, just focusing on things that everyone can agree on because it achieves that goal.

Jim: For instance, our local maker space, which I helped get started, is working on its own in coordination with the two local hospitals to build face shields. Build them by the thousands. There ain’t no politics involved there. This is basically pure grassroots, a community of makers who have access to some amazing tools, figured out first they did some prototypes. Sent them over to the hospitals. Said, “No, not quite right. What we really need is this.” Within a week, the makers figured out what the hospitals need, bought some materials, and are stamping them out by the thousands. Perfect.

John: Yeah. That all could be brought to a national level. I mean, look at the White House briefing, and it’s about marshaling the federal resources or not marshaling the federal resources to solve the problem. But kind of like a counter-programming, maybe live on YouTube for an hour every day, where you have some kind of celebrity MCs. Not celebrities from Hollywood, but maybe political talent that’s willing to step into this space in a relatively non-political way, and then MC an hour or two of highlighting specific projects like the one you mentioned, and bringing it to a national scale, monitoring its progress. Telling people what they can do to contribute and to get things done.

John: It could even be information discovery. What new information do we need in order to make more effective decisions? Having 10 or 20 million people working on it can get it solved really, really quickly. It’s a resource that we haven’t really tapped into, and it could be, if somebody moved into that space, it could yield an incredible amount of political power going forward.

Jim: Damn great idea, people. So, social entrepreneurs out there who have a decent followership on YouTube or something, let’s run with this idea. Let me know. I’ll help promote it. I’ll help you bring in guests and commentators and things like that. I think that’s a great idea. I can just see it now. There’s a vacuum waiting for this to happen. Somebody ought to do this. Whether it’ll happen right now or not because of the time is hard to say, but it ought to.

John: Yeah. I agree. Well, that’s just an opportunity that would’ve been better filled if it was done last month when people were still scrambling. But still build on that.

Jim: Exactly. I will point out, this is one of the things I’ve been hitting regularly, is managing the back side of the curve is going to be a shitload harder than managing the front side. As it turned out, there was one brute force rubber hammer that worked, which was social distancing. Period. Really, that’s the only thing that worked. If it hadn’t been for that, the whole medical system would’ve been overrun. Their weak-ass response on ventilators and PPEs would not have even come close to do the job. So, a D minus job on mobilization in terms of equipment and protocols, et cetera, was saved by one big brute force hammer.

Jim: There is not a brute force hammer on the back side of the curve. It’s a very nuanced and sophisticated dance. And so, the need for these things may actually be greater on the back side than there was on the front side as it turned out.

John: Right. Yeah, the back side, the exit strategies are tough. That’s why I’m leaning towards the big tech thing. The two other solutions are too brutal. It makes fragile developed countries ambulatory for the next decade. I can’t see us getting out of it, unless there’s some out of the blue tech fix in terms of vaccine or treatment, it’s absolutely brutal we adopt the big tech fix as I outlined earlier.

Jim: There was one other one, which I actually think is worth considering, which is the Paul Romer insane level of testing fix. The two could be combined. Paul Romer, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, has done some very interesting modeling which says if we do, the number sounds insane, 22 million tests a day. So, every adult gets tested every two weeks. And, there was essentially instantaneous contact tracking and quarantining on the back side of that, maybe publicly paid quarantining at hotels, which will still be underutilized for a long period of time, then we could get back to pretty close to normal more or less instantly. It might take us three months to ramp up that level of testing if we made a World War II level of commitment to it.

Jim: The thing I like about it, it doesn’t require any new computer systems. It doesn’t require anybody to cooperate. It’s a very brute force … They cooperate at the level of if you want to keep your job, you have to be tested at work. Not coercive, but pretty damn persuasive. Or not mandatory, but pretty damn persuasive. And when I look at the things that need to be done, brute force, just like social distancing, has a big plus, which is that it can be executed by the morons who run our systems.

John: There’s some problems with that, obviously, because that’s the kind of thing you have to do every day, potentially for a decade. I mean, this is a pandemic, and it’s not going to go away globally. It’s going to keep on coming back. We’re even having problems now getting beyond the 150,000 tests a day level. I mean, they’re automating it. That will allow us to reach higher levels, but that’s an incredible amount of scale.

Jim: There’s no doubt about it.

John: And data’s easier.

Jim: Look at World War II. How many fucking tanks did we build? It took us a while to ramp up, but we were putting them damn things out every few minutes. Well, I think we have to think about all these.

John: Yeah. I agree.

Jim: I will say that I, having done IT development at very large scale during much of my career, anything that requires a lot of data, a lot of data processing, user interfaces, et cetera, it takes a fuckload longer than you think to make it bulletproof, et cetera. And it might actually be ramping up testing. I don’t think you need 22 million a day, but say five million a day. They’d be actually done much more faster and we’d be robust.

Jim: Anyway, John, as always, incredibly interesting conversation here, which I hope our audience will appreciate. I’ll remind people to check John out at Global Guerrillas on Patreon. Put a few alms in his cup so he can continue doing his work. Let’s do this again soon.

John: All right, Jim. Thanks.

Production service and audio editing by Jared Janes Consulting. Music by Tom Muller at