This article was originally published by Charles Hugh Smith at Of Two Minds Blog.
If we have indeed begun a sustained “reversal of fortune”, it might be prudent to consider the possibility we’re only in the first inning of a sustained run of bad luck.
In our self-deluded hubris, we reckon we’ve moved beyond the influence of fortune, a.k.a. Lady Luck: our technologies are so powerful and our monetary policies so godlike that nothing as random as luck could ever crush our limitless expansion.
Thus does hubris beg for a comeuppance: the greater the hubris, the greater the reversal of fortune, the greater the confidence in our godlike powers, the greater the collapse of our prideful faith in technology and economic policies.
So we’ve enshrined our hubris-soaked happy story: the virus will naturally weaken, vaccines will conquer the Covid virus in short order, and by opening the monetary spigots and flooding the global economy with trillions in newly created currencies, we’ll unleash the greatest boom in history, because it’s so righteously “green.”
We seem to have forgotten that to elicit a laugh, tell God your plans. We confused a sustained run of good fortune with godlike powers that are impervious to mere luck.
Unfortunately for all the true believers in our vaunted technology and human agencies, luck still matters, and after 50+ years of under-appreciated, fabulously good fortune, we’re in the first at-bat of a sustained reversal of fortune, for as noted here many times, the way of the Tao is reversal: good luck doesn’t last forever, nor is it some birthright of technologically advanced civilizations.
Are we ill-prepared for seven lean years of increasingly bad luck? Absolutely. Whatever technology can’t resolve, trillions in newly issued currency will: either the magic of technology will work miracles, or the magic of limitless free money will work whatever miracles are left after technology wipes up the spot of bother.
If you wanted to script an unprecedented collapse of faith in the false gods of technology and money-printing, you’d outline exactly what transpired in 2020: a reckless dismissal of the pandemic followed by a monumental financial crash that opened the floodgates of free money, which triggered a massive “recovery” rally in risk assets, driving gamblers’ confidence to new heights of fantasy.
All hail our new secular gods, the Federal Reserve, the most powerful force in the Universe!
Then you’d release miraculous vaccines that promised a permanent resolution to the pandemic and a measured return to the carefree pre-pandemic orgy of debt-based consumption. (Never mind the doubts of some experts about the vaccine protocols: Covid-19 Vaccine Protocols Reveal That Trials Are Designed To Succeed (Forbes.com) by William A. Haseltine)
Then you’d script the opening inning of the tragi-comedy unfolding in 2021: rather than fading as so many were pleased to confidently predict, the Covid virus has made remarkable gains in function, becoming more contagious and more elusive as multiple variants emerge globally.
Rather than conquering the virus, we’re unable to even keep pace. The variant ravaging Britain was finally identified in late December, and subsequent sequencing of previously collected samples indicates that it emerged (or arrived) in September. In the meantime, this variant (and other mutations with similar characteristics) have spread around the world with business travelers, tourists, etc. One or more of these variants may reduce the efficacy of the much-hyped vaccines. It’s all in this report from the New York Times:
As Coronavirus Mutates, the World Stumbles Again to Respond (New York Times)
Everything that was supposed to work smoothly due to our oh-so-advanced technological and administrative prowess is now either in doubt or in shambles. Consider the potential for less than 95% efficacy in the vaccines due to the interactions and mutually reinforcing dynamics of 1) vaccine hesitancy in those who understand the conventional processes of testing vaccines best, i.e. healthcare professionals; 2) the potential for consequential numbers of those who receive the first shot of vaccine failing to come back for the second shot due to unpleasant experiences after the first shot or other conditions such as being overworked, evicted, etc., and 3) variants further reducing the efficacy of the vaccines in unpredictable ways.
So let’s say the efficacy drops from the promised 95% to 65%. Are you in the 2/3 camp who are protected by the vaccine from serious illness (though you may be a carrier and infect others, a possibility that was not tested by the trials protocols), or are you in the 1/3 camp who for whatever reason is no longer protected by the vaccine?
Since we’re chasing a fast-mutating virus, there may not be a fast, accurate way to identify who’s fully protected and who isn’t. Since this may be unknowable, everyone will have to continue the behavioral methods of limiting exposure and transmission of the virus. In which case the vaccines will have accomplished very little in terms of returning the world to the pre-pandemic glory days of 2019.
If we have indeed begun a sustained reversal of fortune, it might be prudent to consider the possibility we’re only in the first inning of a sustained run of back luck. We might want to consider learning a new theme song for 2021, Albert King’s Born Under a Bad Sign (composed by Booker T. Jones and William Bell): “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”
The cycles of human history are amenable to a reversal of fortune: please consider historian Peter Turchin’s three indicators of systemic disorder: check, check, and check.
Suppressing discussions about the potentially lavish banquet of consequences set by a reversal of fortune won’t actually change the outcome of the next eight innings, it will only serve to increase the odds of catastrophically consequential decisions being made by those at the top of the hubris-heap.