Risk and Global Systems

Moving around the world has typically been something to aspire to do, and so an article pondering the ethical implications of leaving South Africa caught my attention. Cynical reasons for working abroad include optimising conspicuous consumption (easyJet). Less cynical include resume bolstering (worked at UKTechCo Ltd). My reasons include perspective, which by definition requires distance to obtain. Perspective seems invaluable in forming a robust view.

Imagine a person who thinks that national loyalty is of great importance. Perhaps, from their perspective, no amount of potential “bad” can ever outweigh the “good” of being loyal to one’s country …

Imagine someone else who thinks that globalism, or internationalism, is an important ideal. From their perspective, moving countries is just the exercising of a human right to travel the world. The grass, to this person, is green everywhere, and so there is nothing disloyal about going in search of it.

Am I unpatriotic for leaving Cape Town to work in London, I wonder? My wandering path thus far ending in London is mostly due to whim, and perhaps a whiff of opportunity.

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However this week I wonder more than usual what the implications are for my/our Globalism, or internationalism as a larger trend.

Deglobalization has risen through Brexit to the top of a few agendas, but the end of February arrived with the sharp reality of what an over optimised globally linked supply chain looks like when the impacts of a seemingly predictable flu pandemic hit.

There may be four phases of economic impact from the coronavirus:

Phase 1: Economic and corporate damage

Phase 2: Financial contagion and feedback loops

Phase 3: Bottom formation

Phase 4: Longer-term effects

Stage 4 is apparently the final stage, where we learn from the mistakes made in allowing this seemingly predictable event to cause global disruption. Deglobalization, as occurred in 1930s and 2010s, seems probable if a financial crisis does occur, typically triggered by demand shocks in the wake of financial crises.

Deglobalization ala Brexit suddenly looks like a prescient move; a contrary vision for a self-reliant country against the grain in an increasingly globalised world.

Unlikely prescient. However, an increasingly decentralised (or decreasingly centralised) could limit impacts from predictable black swaneventslike the coronavirus, and potentially even reduce the impact of real black swan events.

That this crisis is being triggered by the transmission of a physical virus, resulting in equally physical goods not being produced/shipped/assembled, will result in a critical look at the nature of the movement of things. Global travel, rapid urbanisation and supply chains are all to be reconsidered once the dust settles.

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In the meantime, a few interesting things to ponder:

  • Certain tech categories in the dotcom collapse fared worse than others: advertising and media, employee activism, idealistic mission statements and diversity/inclusion efforts all suffered. I’m somewhat anti-digital-advertising, but the other items on that list are worrying. Hopefully coronavirus’ few upsides include more than just a blip of reduced pollution.

  • Bitcoin was created on the back of the previous recession, for the next one. Adding to the suspense is both the block reward halving and the interest rate cut.

  • Finally, Sequoia Capital has some punchy black swan advice for any VC backed business feeling vulnerable:

    Having weathered every business downturn for nearly fifty years, we’ve learned an important lesson — nobody ever regrets making fast and decisive adjustments to changing circumstances. In downturns, revenue and cash levels always fall faster than expenses. In some ways, business mirrors biology. As Darwin surmised, those who survive “are not the strongest or the most intelligent, but the most adaptable to change.”

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Short A wheelbarrow full of phones creates a traffic jam

Medium How Africa’s wealthiest, Isabel dos Santos, shielded her fortune

Long A worthwhile video on discovering your principle, what you stand for

Book The Finance Curse: How Global Finance Is Making Us All Poorer

This well-researched but somewhat intemperate book argues that the financial sector in all modern economies is much too large.

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Who is Matt Arderne

I’ll be posting these here for further discussion