future anxiety

Generally Speaking on July 8th

Happy Wednesday! Thanks for signing up, I’m really happy to have you here.

I’m hoping to use Generally Speaking as a place to share original thoughts, questions, news, and some personal updates. I want to ask questions and hopefully spark interesting conversations! 

The format will vary - today I just want to talk about… everything going on right now. 

I WOULD LOVE FEEDBACK! Please reply with any thoughts!

Future Anxiety

I tend to be fairly optimistic about the broad, ambiguous future - on a macro scale, I think society tends to improve and resolve itself over time; on a micro scale, I think most personal situations tend to just figure themselves out and if they don’t, we eventually move on emotionally from them.

But in the past month, I’ve felt a growing anxiety about the future. Part of that might be that I’ve been cooped up at home in Seattle since March without much to do or much to think about other than this whole.. thing.

I’ve been thinking that there might be something bigger, however. I’m starting to get worried that this thing is much worse than we’re all realizing, and that we might not be close to being done with it.. at all.

It started in early June when I had a call with a much smarter friend of mine, who had happened to do research on diseases and specifically the Spanish flu. He told me that during the Spanish flu, the second wave came in the fall of the first wave and was actually much larger and deadlier. Part of that was due to the lack of advanced medicine, a deadly mutation, the trenches of WWI, and general lack of understanding of the virus, which are not true today.

However, he explained that a few factors for our second wave will still be true:

  • More volume - instead of the virus being highly concentrated in areas like NYC and Seattle, it has reached every state and almost every county in America. We no longer have just one outbreak, we have thousands.

    • There is also a higher volume of confirmed cases. There were almost twice as many confirmed cases this week (365,000) than the entire month of March (188,000). Part of that is due to more testing, but the point still stands.

  • More transmission - as flu season begins, R (the transmission coefficient) will quickly increase, meaning each individual will get more people sick.

    • This is because our immune systems are weaker in the cold, and possibly as we spend much more time inside.

    • Arguably, we will also be even more relaxed about it than we were last month.

  • We might delay closing again, because US leaders are very reluctant to shut down our economy again. We know how bad for the economy the first closing was, and a second one would be terrible - unemployment would rise again, businesses would close permanently, the government would need to bail individuals and corporations out again.

So, the virus will be more in places, at higher volumes than in March and it will spread faster than it does currently. And we’ll probably be reluctant to close as harshly as we did back then.

And in the meantime, we’re still not all wearing masks and avoiding big gatherings. Our country is struggling to deeply care about this and unite to fight it the way others have. Part of that is due to how decentralized our system is and the lack of any central leadership - the responsibility has fallen to governors and mayors, who just don’t have the same experience and thoughtfulness that national leaders could have.

The entire EU has as many cases as Arizona on some days. It kind of feels like this - 

“It’s going to be fine”

Instead, I think as a country we’ve just been naive, individually and collectively. I don’t know about you, but in April, I didn’t even think about how this could last another 6 months. I thought things would get better. We’d figure it out. This was temporary. On a psychological level, I think we all want it to end up fine.

Our collective feeling can be summed up by Donald Trump’s “I hope it will just go away.” We’re exhausted from the anxiety of the last few months. We pretend it’s going to be okay. We say that we’ll re-open colleges, the NBA, Disneyland in the future. We set a date and expect things to be okay by then. July, then August, then September. 

But by ignoring a potential unpleasant future, do we make it even more likely? 

We’re in a weird “normal” at the moment, with some distancing. We expected this to last for a while, and then once we’d have a vaccine, we’d be back to our full, old normal - no masks, no distancing, no problems. 

Instead, I think the second wave will be worse than now, and potentially worse than the first wave. Things will get worse before they get better.

And the vaccine won’t be here for a while. Fauci is “cautiously optimistic” we’ll have a vaccine by early 2021. We’ll still need to distribute it across our country - how long will that take? Who gets it first? Who pays for it? What if we don’t have it before summer 2021? When do big offices reopen (I don’t think I’ll be in one until Spring 2021)?

And once we’re out, what happens? How do we move on as a country from this tragedy? Will we develop a collective PTSD? What happens to our economy, the unemployed? How does this position the US compared to other countries who handled this better?

There are so many questions about the future of the world, and I wish US leaders, systems, people, culture were just… better. But, like everything, we will eventually get through it. 

I hope this moment in time motivates us to improve all of our country’s systems and never have anything like this happen again.

The Election

On a much more optimistic note - I actually think Biden is in a very good place right now, barring any sort of major shift (which is fully possible). I know that after 2016, Democrats are fairly cautious, and Biden is no Barack Obama, but read this article on Why Biden’s Polling Lead is Different From Clinton’s in 2016.

In addition, I think we’ll also see a lot more House and Senate Democrats elected as general disapproval of Trump by moderates increases. There are numerous polls showing that voters in swing states disagree with Trump on race, something he’s been doubling down on, and on his handling of the coronavirus. While this isn’t good for our country in the short term, he’s essentially digging his (and the Republican Party’s) own grave.

Barring a second wave right before elections, and any major impediments to vote-by-mail, I think Democrats can be optimistic about Election Day. Which, by the way might be more like Election Week if things are close.

But in the same way that undesirable futures aren’t as unlikely than we think, desirable futures aren’t as likely.

Overall, this year so far has taught me a lot about the fundamental unpredictability of the future. In December, I knew I’d have a big graduation and then travel this summer. I knew it. There was no chance of something like this happening.. Yet here we are!

Personal Updates

  • I’ve been doing short-term options trading during the week, an interesting “hobby”. I call it nerd gambling. It’s always interesting to learn new skills!

  • Trying to read more articles and books. Currently reading The Intelligent Investor, an investing classic. I’m building my own long-term investment portfolio!

  • I’m still at home in Seattle! Summer is just starting here. Lots of hiking!

  • I’ll be joining Stadia on August 17th! I’m very excited to be working on video games, one of my first hobbies.

Thanks for reading! I’m hoping I can improve every week, so thanks for joining me!

- Martin