Is COvid19 a black swan?


Nassim Taleb wrote a book ”The Black Swan:  The Impact of the Highly Improbable” in 2007.  I read it a few years later and the basic premise was that unlikely events can lead to major changes that can only be seen afterward.  So, let’s speculate about the changes from the highly unlikely (although predicted) covid 19 pandemic that continues to run throughout the world, including the US.

First let’s start with universities.  Webex live capture is what our college did.  That means the students have an assigned class time and a webex meeting invitation to join.  The lectures are provided live at that time, and recorded for later posting.  The reality is that the connection with students is the important part of the equation.  Face-to-face is preferred, but even once that returns, expect higher education to include webex (or similar) to be an ongoing presence in the higher education field.

Second, we figured out that most meetings can be done from home.  Respect for the time of others is still evolving, but the truth is that once people figure out working from home (you need a place – not the bedroom or your dining room) you can be efficient.  If there are few distraction and appointments are set up on a schedule, efficiency is remarkable.  It begs the question -are those downtown office spaces really needed.? You can rent space from many fedex offices and some banks and incubator sites. I expect these will be more common and already we are hearing about devaluation of commercial office space.

Home offices will become more robust.  In truth, diverting funds form that central office to home offices is less costly in the long run.  So, expect to see far more telecommuting, which should decrease the demands on highways   and downtown parking spaces.  Expect downtown parking costs to fall.  Expect downtown property values to fall.  Expect vacancies in downtown offices to increase.

Next, mass transit will get a new look.  If people can work from home, then demands for mass transit will diminish.  People may want to move to cities to permit access to services, but they will not have the hustle and bustle of rush hour to deal with.  Expect roadway traffic to decrease, and money shifted from road-building to road maintenance.  Maybe we can actually catch up a bit on the backlog.

Expect the demand for faster internet to increase and expect companies who telecommute to be willing to participate in new fiber optic phone line to residences.

Expect more “robots.”  That means expect more self checkout at grocery stores and Home Depot, even restaurants.  They are already there but I expect more.  Unfortunately, this comes at the loss of jobs for the existing checkout people.  And I will bag my groceries. Sounds great, but note that it irritates me no end that Bank of America eliminated its drive-ups (would that not be really useful right now BOA???!?!?!?!?!).  I don’t really trust their checkout machines and this move cut jobs (but made more money for their stockholders).

Expect malls to close.  Why go to a big store and risk your health when anything you could ever want in available from (or someone else on the internet).  The internet permits options that were not available 10 years ago.  Small business commerce on the internet is way cheaper to set up than a store.  No rent, utilities, etc.  Inventory can be low.

Other jobs may lead people to work remotely from more rural areas or have more options in their lives because of the internet.  I am looking at the option to webex from Colorado next summer if we can get covid19 behind us.  My wife wants to travel and she deserves too.  We both want to.  Who knows where we could end up if it is safe to do so.  Iceland, England, Glacier Nat. Park, Olympia Nat. Park, Banff?   But classes won’t have to stop.


Other things will change dramatically in ways we cannot predict – thinking Disney and sporting events.  There was a discussion years ago that the cost to go to sporting events was becoming too expensive for the average person and that sporting events would eventually be done without crowds.  The Back Swan is making that a reality.  At the same time, class distinction falls – Covid19 has leveled the playing field – we all now have equal access when we cannot go to the game.

Black swans turn the world upside down, but coming out of them creates a very different world.  True black swans cannot be predicted – unfortunately our health officials had planned for such an event, but their warnings went unheeded.  Proper planning aside, black swans are difficult to address ahead of time.

The other side of covid`19 will be interesting.  May all my friends survive to the other side!  There is a whole new world awaiting.


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