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The Global Repricing of Assets Can’t Be Stopped

The Global Repricing of Assets Can’t Be Stopped

All bubbles pop, period.

The financial elites are pushing a narrative that asset prices, sales and profits will all return to January 2020 levels as soon as the Covid-19 pandemic fades. Get real, baby. Nothing is going back to January 2020 levels. Rather than the “V-shaped recovery” expected by Goldman Sachs et al., the crash in asset prices will eventually gather momentum.

Why? It’s simple: for 20 years we’ve over-invested in speculative bubbles and squandered borrowed money on consumption and under-invested in productivity-increasing assets. To understand why the market value of assets will relentlessly reprice lower–a process sure to be interrupted with manic rallies and false dawns of hope that a return to speculative good times is just around the corner–let’s start with the basics: the only sustainable way to increase broad-based wealth is to boost productivity across the entire economy.That means producing more goods and services with less capital, less labor and fewer inputs such as energy.

Rather than boost productivity, we’ve lowered productivity via mal-investment and by propping up unproductive sectors with immense sums of borrowed money–money that accrues interest.

The poster child for this dynamic is higher education: rather than being pushed to innovate as costs skyrocketed, the higher education cartel passed its inefficiencies and bloated cost structure onto students, who have paid for the bloat with $1. 6 trillion in student loans few can afford. (See chart below.)

As for Corporate America squandering $4.5 trillion on stock buybacks (Wolf Richter)– the effective gains on productivity from this stupendous sum is not just zero–it’s negative, as the resulting speculative bubble suckered in institutions and individuals who’d been stripped of safe returns by the Federal Reserve’s low-interest-rates-forever policy.

What could that $4.5 trillion have purchased in terms of increasing the productivity of the entire economy? Considerably more than the zero productivity generated by stock buybacks.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Covid-19 Helicopter Money: Go Big Now or Go Home

Covid-19 Helicopter Money: Go Big Now or Go Home

This is why it’s imperative to go big now, and make plans to sustain the most vulnerable households and small employers not for two weeks but for six months–or however long proves necessary.

That governments around the world will be forced to distribute “helicopter money” to keep their people fed and housed and their economies from imploding is already a given. Closing all non-essential businesses and gatherings will crimp the livelihood of millions of households and small businesses that lack the financial resources to survive weeks without any revenues.

The only question is whether governments which can borrow or print fresh currency will get ahead of the implosion or fall behind, creating a binary choice: go big now or go home.

Half-measures in helicopter money work about as well as half-measures in quarantine, i.e. they fail to achieve the intended objectives. Dribbling out modest low-interest loans is a half-measure, as is cutting payroll taxes. Neither measure will help employees or small businesses whose income has fallen below the minimum needed to pay essential bills: rent, food, utilities, etc.

Meanwhile, the ruling elites will be under increasing pressure to bail out greedy financial elites and gamblers–the same scoundrels and parasites they bailed out in 2008-09. But this is not just another speculative bubble-pop, this is a matter of life and death and solvency for the masses of at-risk households and small businesses. It is a different zeitgeist and a different crisis, and bailing out greedy parasites (banks, indebted corporations, speculators, financiers, etc.) will not go over big while households and small businesses are going bankrupt.

The Federal Reserve, was just handed a lesson in the ineffectiveness of the usual monetary “bazooka” in bailing out the predatory-parasitic class of overleveraged gamblers.

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The Covid-19 Dominoes Fall: The World Is Insolvent

The Covid-19 Dominoes Fall: The World Is Insolvent

Subtract their immense debts and they have negative net worth, and therefore the market value of their stock is zero.

To understand why the financial dominoes toppled by the Covid-19 pandemic lead to global insolvency, let’s start with a household example. The point of this exercise is to distinguish between the market value of assets and net worth, which is what’s left after debts are subtracted from the market value of assets.

Let’s say the household has done very well for itself and owns assets worth $1 million: a home, a family business, 401K retirement accounts and a portfolio of stocks and other investments.

The household also has $500,000 in debts: home mortgage, auto loans, student loans and credit card balances.

The household net worth is thus $1,000,000 minus $500,000 = $500,000.Let’s say a typical financial crisis and recession occur, and the household’s assets fall 30%. 30% of $1 million is $300,000, so the the market value of the household’s assets falls to $700,000.

Deduct the $500,000 in debts and the household’s net worth has fallen to $200,000. The point here is debts remain regardless of what happens to the market value of assets owned by the household.

Then the speculative asset bubbles re-inflate, and the household takes on more debt in the euphoric expansion of confidence to buy a larger house, expand the family business and enjoy life more.

Now the household assets are worth $2 million, but debt has risen to $1.5 million. Net worth remains at $500,000, since debt has risen along with asset values.

Alas, all bubbles pop, and the market value of the household assets decline by 30%, or $600,000. Now the household assets are worth $2,000,000 minus $600,000 or $1,400,000. The household net worth is now $1,400,000 minus $1,500,000 or negative $100,000. the household is insolvent.

On top of that, the net income of the family business plummets to near-zero in the recession, leaving insufficient income to pay all the debts the household has taken on.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Goodbye to All That: The Demise of Globalization and Imperial Pretensions

Goodbye to All That: The Demise of Globalization and Imperial Pretensions

The decline phase of the S-Curve is just beginning.

Globalization and Imperial Pretensions have been decaying for years; now the tide has turned definitively against them. The Covid-19 pandemic didn’t cause the demise of globalization and Imperial Pretensions; it merely pushed the rickety structures over the edge.

It’s human nature to reckon the current trend will continue running more or less forever, and that temporal, contingent structures are permanent. Globalization flourished because a unique set of conditions created fertile ground for the transfer of production to China and other emerging economies and the global expansion of the magic elixir of skyrocketing consumption, credit.

Credit-starved economies which are suddenly flooded with credit (for example, China) experience an explosion of investment in production, infrastructure and in business and household consumption.In this boost phase of globalization, capital flows from stagnant developed economies to emerging economies to earn higher returns, and production moves to these low-cost economies to take advantage of low labor costs and lax environmental standards.

It’s a win-win dynamic for credit-starved emerging economies and stagnant developed economies, as the emerging economies get investment capital, jobs and technology transfers while the developed economies get higher profits due to the lower production costs and lower-priced goods and services.

Put another way: globalization is simply one manifestation of the financialization of the global economy. Developed-world central and private banks create trillions of dollars in fiat currencies that then slosh around the world, seeking the highest return. Whatever can be exploited in the short-term is exploited and then capital moves on, leaving environmental destruction and distorted economies in its wake.

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Could China’s Overlapping Crises Spiral Out of Control?

Could China’s Overlapping Crises Spiral Out of Control?

Threats, propaganda and the Orwellian dissolution of social trust cannot stop a withdrawal from the status quo. 

Longtime readers know I’ve had an active interest in what differentiates empires/nations that survive crises and those that collapse. There is a lively academic literature on this topic, and it boils down to three general views:

1. Collapse is typically triggered by an external crisis that overwhelms the empire’s ability to handle it. Absent the external shock, the empire could have continued on for decades or even centuries.

2. Crises that could have been handled in the “Spring” of rapid expansion are fatal in “Winter” when the costs of maintaining complex systems exceeds the empire’s resources.

3. Civilization is cyclical and as population and consumption outstrip resources, the empire becomes increasingly vulnerable to external shocks.

External shocks include prolonged severe drought, pandemics and invasion. In many cases, the empire is beset by all three: some change in weather that reduces grain harvests, a pandemic introduced by trade or military adventure and/or invasion by forces from far-off lands with novel diseases and/or military technologies and tactics.

More controversial are claims that political structures become sclerotic and top-heavy after long periods of success, and these bloated, brittle hierarchies lose the flexibility and boldness needed to deal with multiple novel challenges hitting at the same time.

We lack internal-political records for most empires that have collapsed, but those records that have survived for the Western and Eastern Roman Empires suggest that eras of stability breed political sclerosis which manifests as a bloated, parasitic bureaucracy or as ruthless competition between elites that were once united in the expansive “Spring” phase.

By the “Winter” phase, the elite hierarchy is willing to sacrifice the unity needed to survive for its own short-term advantage.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Did Covid-19 Just Pop All the Global Financial Bubbles

Did Covid-19 Just Pop All the Global Financial Bubbles?

Once confidence and certainty are lost, the willingness to expand debt and leverage collapses.

Even though the first-order effects of the Covid-19 pandemic are still impossible to predict, it’s already possible to ask: did the pandemic pop all the global financial bubbles? The reason we can ask this question is the entire bull mania of the 21st century has been based on a permanently high rate of expansion of leverage and debt.

The lesson of the 2008-09 Global Financial meltdown was clear: any decline in the rate of debt/leverage expansion is enough to threaten financial bubbles, and any absolute decline in debt and leverage will unleash a cascade that collapses all the speculative bubbles in stocks, real estate, collectibles, etc.

What’s the connection between Covid-19 and the rate of debt/leverage expansion? Confidence and certainty: people will make bets on future growth and take on additional debt and leverage when they feel confident and have a high degree of certainty that the trends are running their way.

Over the past 20 years, the certainty that central banks would support markets has been high, as central banks stepped in at every wobble. Today’s 50 basis-points cut by the Fed sustains that certainty.

What’s now broken is the certainty that central bank interventions will lift risk assets and the real-world economy. Given the uncertainties of the eventual consequences of the pandemic globally, confidence in future trends has been either dented or destroyed, depending on your perspective and timeline.

Certainty that central bank interventions will push markets and real-world economies higher has also been dented. What happens if the market tanks after every 50 basis-points cut by the Fed?

We wouldn’t be in such a precariously brittle state if the global economy hadn’t been ruthlessly financialized to the point that market dependence on central bank intervention is now essentially 100%.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

No, The Fed Will Not “Save the Market”–Here’s Why

No, The Fed Will Not “Save the Market”–Here’s Why

The greater the excesses, speculative euphoria and moral hazard, the greater the reversal.

A very convenient conviction is rising in the panicked financial netherworld that the Federal Reserve and its fellow dark lords will “save the market” from COVID-19 collapse. They won’t. 

I already explained why in The Fed Has Created a Monster Bubble It Can No Longer Control (February 16, 2020) but it bears repeating.

Contrary to naive expectations, the Fed’s primary job isn’t inflating stock market and housing bubbles, though punters are forgiven for assuming that, given the Fed has inflated three gargantuan bubbles in a row, each of which burst (1999-2000, 2007-08 and now 2019-2020).

The Fed’s real job is protecting the banking/financial sector from a richly deserved and long overdue implosion. Blowing speculative asset bubbles is a two-fer, enabling rapacious, parasitic financiers and banks to profit from debt-serfs borrowing and gambling in rigged casinos (take your pick: student loan casino, housing casino, stock market casino, commodities casino, currency casino, etc.).

Blowing guaranteed-to-burst bubbles also generates a bogus PR cover, the Fed’s beloved “wealth effect,” an idiots’ delight belief that the greater the speculative bubble, the more tax donkeys and debt serfs will spend, spend, spend on defective junk and low-value services they don’t need–in essence, speeding up the global supply chain from China et al. to the local landfill, all in service of Corporate America profits.

The Fed’s secondary interest is maintaining some measure of control over the financial sector and the real-world economy it ruthlessly exploits. Just as the Fed gets panicky if interest rates start getting away from its control, the Fed also gets nervous when its speculative bubbles get away from it via infinite moral hazard:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

When Will We Admit Covid-19 Is Unstoppable and Global Depression Is Inevitable?

When Will We Admit Covid-19 Is Unstoppable and Global Depression Is Inevitable?

Given the exquisite precariousness of the global financial system and economy, hopes for a brief and mild downturn are wildly unrealistic.

If we asked a panel of epidemiologists to imagine a virus optimized for rapid spread globally and high lethality, they’d likely include these characteristics:

1. Highly contagious, with an R0 of 3 or higher.

2. A novel virus, so there’s no immunity via previous exposure.

3. Those carrying the pathogen can infect others while asymptomatic, i.e. having no symptoms, for a prolonged period of time, i.e. 14 to 24 days.

4. Some carriers never become ill and so they have no idea they are infecting others.

5. The virus is extremely lethal to vulnerable subpopulations but not so lethal to the entire populace that it kills its hosts before they can transmit the virus to others.

6. The virus can be spread by multiple pathways, including aerosols (droplets from sneezing/coughing), brief contact (with hotel desk clerks, taxi drivers, etc.) and contact with surfaces (credit cards, faucets, door handles, etc.). Ideally, the virus remains active on surfaces for prolonged periods, i.e. 7+ days.

7. Those infected who recover may catch the virus again, as acquired immunity is not 100%.

8. As a result of this and other features, it’s difficult to manufacture a vaccine that will reliably protect against infection.

9. The tests designed to detect the virus are inherently limited, as the virus may be present in tissue that isn’t being swabbed.

10. The symptoms of the illness are essentially identical with less contagious and lethal flu types, so people who catch the virus may not know they have the novel pathogen.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

When Bubbles Pop, Only the First Sellers Escape Being Bagholders

When Bubbles Pop, Only the First Sellers Escape Being Bagholders

Hapless bagholders have two options: buy the dip and be destroyed, or hang on hoping for a reversal and be destroyed.

One often overlooked characteristic of the current stock market bubble is the extremely small exit for sellers trying to avoid becoming hapless bagholders. Bubbles always present small exits because once sentiment turns, buyers vanish and so price goes over the waterfall and crashes on the rocks below (accompanied by the screams of all the punters who reckoned they’d exit at the top).

But modern markets have characteristics which have diminished the exit to a tiny hole in the wall. These include:

1. The dominance of index funds. When shares of the index are sold, every constituent stock gets sold. This triggers cascades of selling that overwhelm “buy the dip” buying.

2. Computers do most of the trading, and the algorithms are set to follow trends with extreme ferocity. Once the trend is “sell,” the program selling will self-reinforce the cascade.

3. Central banks have generated a mesmerizing moral-hazard propaganda field that implicitly suggests “we’ll never stocks go down again, ever!” Yet the only way central banks can causally intervene is to buy stocks directly in size, i.e. in the trillions of dollars. (Recall U.S. stocks are around $35 trillion, global stock markets about $85 trillion. Yes, buying futures contracts through proxies works in stable markets, but not so much in panic cascades of selling.)

Beneath the illusory stability, modern markets are extremely illiquid, meaning that when the bubble pops and punters/money managers try to sell, there are no buyers at any price.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Covid-19: Global Retrenchment Will Obliterate Sales, Profits and Yes, Big Tech

Covid-19: Global Retrenchment Will Obliterate Sales, Profits and Yes, Big Tech

If you think global demand will rebound as global debt and confidence implode, you better not be making consequential decisions based on Euphorestra-addled magical thinking.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the global economy was slowing for two reasons: 1) everybody who can afford it already has it and 2) overcapacity. One word captures the end-of-the-cycle stagnation: saturation.

Everyone who can afford a smartphone (or can borrow to buy one) already has one. Everyone who can afford an auto loan already has a car. Everyone who could afford an overpriced house already bought one. Everyone who can afford a tablet or laptop already has one. And so on.

This saturation isn’t just in the consumer market–the corporate market is equally saturated. Corporations leased too much space, bought more cloud services than needed, increased headcount willy-nilly, and increased capacity just as the market for their goods and services stagnated from global saturation of markets and debt.

Paint-daubed members of the Keynesian Cargo Cult (paging Chief Humba-Humba Paul Krugman) love to claim that “debt doesn’t matter” but in their frenzied dance around the campfire they ignore one little feature of debt: interest. In a world in which money is borrowed into existence, all new money issuance and all new debt (the same thing) accrues interest.And as Japan has proven, even if the interest rate is near-zero, if you borrow relentlessly enough, the interest due even on near-zero interest rates soon dominates your entire income.

The Keynesian Cargo Cult, busy with their rock radios (the dials are painted on), ignore the sad reality that marginal borrowers default because they can’t afford to make the principal payments, never mind the interest, and the inevitable result is cascading defaults throughout the financial system.

It’s not just marginal borrowers who blow up; marginal lenders also blow up as all the loans they issued to marginal borrowers blow up.

Then there’s overcapacity. Yes there are shortages such as pork in China due to the spread of Swine Fever, but in one manufactured commodity after another, there is more capacity than customer demand.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Violent Collision of Market Fantasy and Viral Reality

The Violent Collision of Market Fantasy and Viral Reality

When the stampede tumbles off the cliff, buyers vanish and markets go bidless.

The shock wave unleashed in China on January 23 is about to hit the U.S. economy and shatter everything that is fragile and fantasy, starting with the U.S. stock market. The shock wave is still reverberating through the vulnerable Chinese economy, toppling all that is fragile: auto sales, sales of empty flats in Ghost Cities, shadow banking loans that cannot be paid, workers’ wages that won’t be paid, businesses that won’t re-open, supply chains dependent on marginal enterprises and most saliently, the faith of the people in their hubris-soaked, self-serving leadership.

The fantasy in the U.S. is that the shock wave doesn’t exist. Since the shock wave has been hurtling with undimmed force toward the shores of all-mighty American complacency beneath the Pacific, unseen, America’s laughable fantasy has spread through the thundering stampede triggered by the fools in the Federal Reserve in early October.

Not only is America’s economy invulnerable, so is its stock market. This fantasy has fueled a blow-off-top bubble of such classic proportions that even the fools in the Fed recognize it as a bubble. And even the fools in the Fed know blow-off-top bubbles always burst, and with rough symmetry: if the bubble rocketed higher in six weeks, it will crash to Earth in about six weeks.

If we look at the Fed’s balance sheet, we can discern the Fed fools’ implicit attempt to engineer a “soft landing,” i.e. stocks will remain at a permanently high plateau.The Fed balance sheet has gone nowhere for six weeks while the stampede in stocks gathered momentum:12/25/19 $4.165 trillion


1/1/20 $4.173 trillion
1/8/20 $4.149 trillion
1/15/20 $4.175 trillion
1/22/20 $4.145 trillion
1/29/20 $4.151 trillion
2/5/20 $4.166 trillion

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Pandemic, Lies and Videos

Pandemic, Lies and Videos

Will we wonder, what were we thinking? and marvel anew at the madness of crowds?

When we look back on this moment from the vantage of history, what will we think? Will we think how obvious it was that the coronavirus deaths in China were in the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds claimed by authorities?

Will we think how obvious it was that the virus would spread around the globe, wreaking havoc on the global economy and social order, even as the authorities claimed only a handful of cases had arisen outside China?

Will we be amazed at the delusional confidence that the U.S. economy would be untouched by the virus as stock markets quickly soared to new all-time highs while the world’s largest economy ground to a halt in a desperate attempt to close the barn door after the horses had already escaped?

Will we look back at the patently false data being promoted by authorities and wonder why the majority accepted it all as credible?

Will we re-examine all the smartphone videos posted on the web by average people and wonder why all the lies were given more credibility than actual videos?

Will we recall how content that didn’t parrot the approved narrative that everything was under control and the global impact would be near-zero was suppressed, banned, de-platformed or marginalized? Will we wonder at the complacency of all those who accepted this orchestrated suppression with such obedient passivity?

Will we look back at the claim that only twelve people in the entire U.S. had the virus, despite all the direct flights from Wuhan and the tens of thousands of people who’d traveled from China to the U.S. in January, and marvel at our credulity?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Brace for Impact: Global Pandemic Already Baked In

Brace for Impact: Global Pandemic Already Baked In

If we accept what is known about the virus, then logic, science and probabilities all suggest we brace for impact.

Here’s a summary of what is known or credibly estimated about the 2019-nCoV virus as of January 31, 2019:1. A statistical study from highly credentialed Chinese academics estimates the virus has an RO (R-naught) of slightly over 4, meaning every carrier infects four other people on average.

This is very high. Run-of-the-mill flu viruses average about 1.3 (i.e. each carrier infects 1.3 other people while contagious). Chris Martenson (PhD) goes over the study in some detail in this video.

Let’s say the study over-estimates the contagiousness due to insufficient data, etc. Even an RO of 3 means the number of infected people rises geometrically (parabolically).

This matters because it negates any plan to track every potentially infected person who came in contact with a carrier.

Coronaviruses tend to be contagious in relatively close contact (within two meters / six feet) but masks may not be enough protection, as it may spread by contact with surfaces and through the eyes.

All available evidence supports the conclusion that this virus is highly contagious, i.e. it isn’t that difficult to catch.

2. Along with its contagiousness, the most consequential feature of this virus is that asymptomatic carriers can transmit it to other people, who will also be unaware they’ve been infected with the pathogen.

This means carriers have no reason to self-quarantine until they develop symptoms, which may be a week or more after they’ve begun spreading the virus to others.

It’s easy to imagine a situation where an asymptomatic carrier from Wuhan took a flight to Beijing, infecting passengers and people in the airport, who then got on flights going to international destinations, where a few days later they become asymptomatic transmitters of the virus.

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Has the Global Economy Finally Exhausted its Good Luck?

Has the Global Economy Finally Exhausted its Good Luck?

All of these guarantees and redundancies are as illusory as the “unsinkable” technologies of the Titanic.

The past three decades of global growth are rarely attributed to luck: it’s all the result of our brilliant fiscal, monetary and trade policies. Those in positions of wealth and power are delighted to take credit for this tremendous success, but as a general rule, the more knowledgeable you are and the higher up the food chain you are, the greater your awareness of the role of luck in any unbroken chain of success.

There are various moving parts in what we call luck. One is what we don’t know but think we know, or put another way, we know enough to be confident everything will work as intended and expected.I described how this worked in the Titanic disaster in Why Our Financial System Is Like the Titanic (March 15, 2016).

The technologies of the early 1900s enabled shipbuilders to construct enormous steel-hulled ships almost 900 feet in length capable of steaming at 24 knots, transporting passengers across the Atlantic in comfort. The technologies that made such ships and transits low risk were largely already present but in forms that were deeply flawed in ways that were not readily visible or understood.

Unbeknownst to the era’s designers and shipbuilders, the Titanic’s hull plates were brittle due to high sulfur content in the steel, especially at cold temperatures (the water was near freezing at the time of the collision with the iceberg).

Rather than deform as the iceberg scraped against the hull, the plates and rivets fractured, opening the irregular gash that sank the ship.

The watertight bulkheads appeared to make the ship “unsinkable,” but this was only true if the hull was compromised across no more than four watertight compartments. The bulkheads may have actually accelerated the sinking, as later studies found the ship would have stayed afloat an additional six hours without any watertight bulkheads, as the ship would have settled evenly rather than sinking bow-first as the forward compartments filled.

The presence of lifeboats seemed to offer a guarantee of safety, yet outdated regulations only required enough lifeboats for half the crew and passengers.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Coronavirus and the “Unsinkable” Titanic Analogy

Coronavirus and the “Unsinkable” Titanic Analogy

Unthinkable doesn’t mean unsinkable.

As we all know, the “unsinkable” Titanic suffered a glancing collision with an iceberg on the night of April 14, 1912. A half-hour after the iceberg had opened six of the ship’s 16 watertight compartments, it was not at all apparent that the mighty vessel had been fatally wounded, as there was no evidence of damage topside. Indeed, some eyewitnesses reported that passengers playfully scattered the ice left on the foredeck by the encounter.

But some rudimentary calculations soon revealed the truth to the officers: the ship would sink and there was no way to stop it. The ship was designed to survive four watertight compartments being compromised, and could likely stay afloat if five were opened to the sea, but not if six compartments were flooded. Water would inevitably spill over into adjacent compartments in a domino-like fashion until the ship sank.

We can sympathize with the disbelief of the officers, and with their contradictory duty to simultaneously reassure passengers and attempt to goad them into the lifeboats. Passengers were reluctant to heed the warning because it was at odds with their own perceptions. With the interior still warm and bright with lights, it seemed far more dangerous to clamber into an open lifeboat and drift off into the icy Atlantic than it did to stay onboard.

The evidence was undeniable, but humanity’s first response is denial, regardless of the evidence. The evidence that the coronavirus is contagious is undeniable, as is the evidence that carriers who have no symptoms can transmit the virus to others.

Just as the eventual sinking of Titanic could be extrapolated from the basic facts (six watertight compartments were flooding), so the eventual spread of the coronavirus can be extrapolated from these basic facts.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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