COVID-19 Baby Bust update and data

Joe Pinsker at the Atlantic has a piece out on the coming (probable) baby bust. In it he reviews existing evidence for a coming decline in births as a result of the pandemic, especially including historical comparisons and Google search data. Could we see this already?

Pinsker writes:

The baby bust isn’t expected to begin in earnest until December. And it could take a bit longer than that, Sarah Hayford, a sociologist at Ohio State University, told me, if parents-to-be didn’t adjust their plans in response to the pandemic immediately back in March, when its duration wasn’t widely apparent.

If people immediately changed their plans in February, we might see a decline in births in October, but Hayford is right that’s early. And what about September, for which I’ve already observed declining births in Florida and California? If people who were pregnant already in January had miscarriages or abortions because of the pandemic, that would result in fewer births in September, but how big could that effect be? So maybe the Florida and California data are flukes, or data errors, or lots of pregnant people left those states and gave birth elsewhere (or pregnant people who normally come didn’t arrive). Perhaps more likely is that 2020 was already going to be a down year. As I told Pinsker:

“It might actually be that we were already heading for a record drop in births this year … If that’s the case, then birth rates in 2021 are probably going to be even more shockingly low.”

Anyway, we’ll find out soon enough. And to that end I’ve started assembling a dataset of monthly births where I can find them, which so far includes Florida, California, Oregon, Arizona, North Carolina, Ohio, Hawaii, Sweden, Finland, Scotland, and the Netherlands, to varying degrees of timeliness. As of today we have October data for some of them:

As of now Florida and California remain the strongest cases for a pandemic effect. But they are also both likely to add some more births to October (in November’s report, California increased the September number by 3%).

Anyway, lots of speculation while we’re killing time. You can get the little dataset here on the Open Science Framework: https://osf.io/pvz3g/. Check the date on the .csv or .xlsx file to see what I last updated it. I’ll add more countries or states if I find out about them.

New COVID-19 and Health Disparities lecture

I recorded a new version of the lecture I created last spring: COVID-19 and Health Disparities. It defines health disparities, introduces the theory of fundamental causes, and then describes COVID-19 disparities by race/ethnicity and age with reference to education and occupational inequality. For intro sociology students.

Using data from Bureau of Labor Statistics (inspired by this piece from Justin Fox), I showed the percentage of workers working at home according to the median wage in their occupations, illustrating how people in lower-paid occupations aren’t working at home, while professionals and managers are:

And, using age- and race/ethnic-specific mortality rates from CDC, with population denominators from the 2018 ACS (I don’t know why I can’t find the denominators CDC uses), I made this:

The greatest race/ethnic disparities are in the working ages, which suggests they are driven at least partly by occupational inequality.

The lecture 23 minutes, slides with references and links are here.

Are pandemic effects on birth rates already detectable?

As birth data approaches, maybe we can get beyond analyses like Google searches for pregnancy-related terms to see what’s happening with birth rates.

At this writing we are a few days shy of 35 weeks from February 1st. If I read this right, 10% of US births occur at 36 weeks of gestation or less. But the most recent complete data I see is from August, so it’s early. However, most fertilized human eggs do not come to term, being lost either before (30%) or after (30-40%) implantation. That’s from a paper by Jenna Nobles and Amar Hamoudi, who write:

Evidence suggests that multiple mechanisms may be involved in pregnancy survival, including those that affect placental development and function, fetal oxidative stress, fetal neurological development, and likely many others. These, in turn, are shaped by more distal processes that affect maternal nutrition, maternal exposure to biological and psychosocial stress, maternal exposure to infection, and management of chronic conditions. Pregnancy survival varies with women’s body mass index, consumption of folic acid, and in some studies, reports of stressful life events (citations removed).

The pandemic might reasonably have contributed to a higher rate of pregnancy loss from these factors. And then there are abortions, which people have probably needed more even though they had less access to them (see this report from Guttmacher). So the net effect is unclear.

Setting aside how the pandemic might have affected fertility intentions and planning (I assume this is negative, as reported by Guttmacher), there might already be fewer births, from loss and abortion.

I haven’t looked at every state, but Florida and California report births by month. In Florida, there were 9.5% fewer babies born in August 2020 than in the previous year (they revise these as they go, but the August number has been stable for a little while, so probably won’t increase much). In California there were 9.6% fewer births in August of this year compared with last year. Here are the monthly trends, including the last three years (I included Florida’s September number as of today, but that will certainly rise):

This is going to be tricky because birth rates were already falling in many places. But the average decline in the last three years was 2.9% in California and 0.7% in Florida, so these numbers clearly outpace that naïve expectation. Also, what about spring? Maybe the pandemic was already causing a decline in live births in California in March (from immigrants not coming or staying in Mexico or other countries?), but if the decline in March was unrelated, then it’s not clear how to interpret the drop in August. So it will be complicated. But this is a bona fide blip in the expected direction, so I’m posting it with a question mark.

I assume other people will be way ahead of me on this, though I haven’t seen anything. Feel free to post other analyses in the comments.

Early pandemic demographic indicators

A couple new ones and a couple updates.

Pregnancy

The pandemic could be affecting the number of abortions, miscarriages, or infant deaths, but unless those effects are large it should be too early to see effects on the total birth rate, given that we’re only about 7 months into it here. So for possible birth indicators I did a little Google search analysis using the public Google Trends data.

I found three searches that were pretty well correlated in the weekly series: “am I pregnant”, “pregnancy test,” and “morning sickness”, which all should have something to do with the frequency of new pregnancies. I ran Google Trends back five years, created an index from these searches (alpha = .68) , smoothed it a little, and this is what I got:

There was already a big drop in 2019 from the previous three years (reasonable, based on recent trends), and then 2020 started out with a further drop. But then it spiked downward in March before rebounding back to its lower level. So, maybe that implies birth rates will keep falling but not off the charts compared with recent trends.

I also checked “missed period,” which was not well correlated with the others, and got this:

Again, 2019 was already showing some decline, and 2020 started out lower than that, and now searches for “missed period” are running lower than last year, but not more in the middle of the year than they were in the beginning. So, inconclusive for pandemic effect.

Weddings

Here’s a new take on the Google trends for weddings. I took the averages of searches for “wedding invitations”, “wedding shower”, “bridal shower”, “wedding shower”, and “wedding dresses” (alpha=.94). With a little smoothing, here is 2020 compared with the average of the four previous years (unlike pregnancy searches, this one didn’t show a marked decline in 2019 compared with previous years).

March and April showed catastrophic declines in searches for wedding topics, and the rebound so far has been weak. However, weddings aren’t the same as marriages. Maybe people who had to cancel their weddings still got married down at whatever the pandemic equivalent of the courthouse is. So here’s the same analysis just for the search term “marriage license.” This shows a steep but not as catastrophic drop-off in March and April, and a stronger rebound. So maybe the decline in drop in marriages won’t be as big as the drop in weddings.

Actual marriages

I previously showed the steep decline in recorded marriages in Florida. Here’s an update.

Florida lists recorded marriages by county and month, one month behind (see Table 17). They update as they go, so as of today August marriages are probably still not all recorded. The comparison with previous years shows a collapse in March and April, and then some rebounding. August is preliminary and will come up some.

Marriages in Florida normally peak between March and May. Of course it’s too early to say how many of these were just being postponed. The cumulative trend shows that through July Florida is down 24,000 marriages, or 27%, compared with last year.

Divorce ideation

When the going gets tough, the afflicted want to get divorced, but maybe they can’t. It’s expensive and time consuming and maybe people think it will upset the children even more. (I’ve written about divorce and recessions here and here). So my initial assumption going into the pandemic was that there would be a stall in divorces even though the intent to divorce would rise, followed by a rebound when people get a chance to act on their wishes.

Here I use Google search trends for four searches: “divorce lawyer”, “divorce attorney”, “get a divorce”, and “how to divorce”. The alpha for this index is .69 (when I just use the attorney and lawyer, the alpha is .86, but the result looks the same, so I’m showing the wider index). The results show a drop in divorce ideation in March into April, followed by a rebound to a level a little above the previous year average. Note this pandemic-spring drop is a lot less pronounced than the wedding and marriage collapses above.

Actual divorces

Divorces take time, of course. Like births, I wouldn’t expect to see definitive results right away. In fact, it’s hard to know how long divorces are in process before they show up as recorded. However, in my favorite real-time demography state, Florida, they have been recording divorces every month, and have a look at this:

It’s a giant plunge in recorded divorces, almost 60% in April, followed by a weaker rebound. Again, the records are not yet complete, especially for August, so we’ll see. But comparing these patterns, it might be that there was a short suspension in divorce ideation as people were distracted by the crisis, followed by a rebound which hasn’t yet translated into divorce filings. Googling about divorce seems cheap and easy (and faster) compared with pulling it off, but this might mean there is growing pent up demand for divorce, which is bad (and may imply greater risks of conflict and violence).

Young adults living “at home”

I previous wrote about young adults living with their parents and grandparents using the June and then July Current Population Survey data made available by IPUMS.org. Subsequently, the Pew Research Center did something very similar using the data through July (with additional breakdowns and historical context). Pew used living with parents, apparently including those in households where the parents are not the householders. I prefer my definition — young adults living in the home of parents (also, or grandparents) — which fits better with the popular concept of living “at home.” So if your parents come to live with you, that’s different.

Anyway, here’s the update through August, which shows the percentage of young adults living at home falling back some from the June peak. I will be very interested to follow this through the fall.

Stata code for the living at home analysis is available here: https://osf.io/2xrhc/.

The pandemic and its attendant economic crisis is having massive effects on many aspects of family life. These early indicators are just possible targets of future analysis. There is a lot of other related work going on, which I’ve not taken the time to link to here. Please feel free to recommend other work in the comments.

Families, inequality, and sociology in pandemic times (video)

This fall I will be recording video lectures for students in my undergrad class. I’m thinking about the technical aspects, but also the voice and posture. Sitting at my desk at home is quite different from my lecture hall (I usually get a few thousand steps during an hour class). We’ll have to see how it goes.

In June I had a chance to do a one-hour consulting with a “major corporation” to talk about what’s happening in the world, which I recorded and rewrote into this post. I just did another one on the subject of modern families and inequality. This one was like an interview, where I answered questions. I transcribed some of my answers, and then edited that text, figuring it might give me a nice blend of formal and conversational voice, which might work in a video.

After recording the video, I went back and added in some graphics using Photoshop as my video editor (did you know we can get Photoshop as part of our university site license?). A much quicker and easier way, which I assume I’ll be reduced to in the fall, is just to record the lecture live using Zoom or some other PowerPoint screen recorder. Anyway, here is the result, in 12 minutes.

Note: The video includes an update to data from this post on weddings in Florida, and this report on the impact of the epidemic on reproductive health experiences, from Laura Lindberg and colleagues at Guttmacher.

Graduation remarks, 2020 edition: ‘We need you.’

Graduations are online this year. The good news is you can shop around for whatever speeches they want (Your choice: Barack Obama or Melania Trump). If you want one that’s under 5 minutes, with a 75/25 dark-uplifting ratio, aging leftist sensibility, and a little sociology, here’s the text:

 

Congratulations to the students graduating this year. You deserve to be congratulated for your accomplishments and the accomplishments of your family and community members as much as any other graduating class in history. Congratulations.

If that’s all you wanted to hear you can turn it off now. I won’t begrudge you. Because what’s next is going to be dark.

It’s common in graduation speeches to tell the promising graduates that the future is in your hands. That you will determine the course of our history in the future. I hope that is true. I sincerely hope that’s true. But I can’t promise you that, and neither can anyone else. Because we don’t know what’s going to happen next.

Humanity has gone through and is still going through a tragedy of unspeakable proportions. Millions of people have been sickened, many have suffered horribly, and hundreds of thousands have died, in the pandemic. And everyone has been disrupted, personally, economically, socially.

This virus travels the world on the backs of the healthy to infect and kill – among others – the old and the weak. The devastation has been worse in the United States than anywhere else, because of our systemic weaknesses, but now that it has set its sights on the poorer countries of the world, that likely won’t be true for long.

And that’s not the extent of our problems, of course. We’re in this predicament now because “normal” was already not on a sustainable path. Trump and the racist, nationalist horse he rode in on, the obscene concentration of wealth, climate change, guns, segregation, xenophobia, sexual violence, the degradation of our infrastructure, including science and science education, were all setting us up for this moment. Even if we can contain this pandemic, there is no sustainable normal to get back to.

And our tools for responding may not be up to the task. Our democracy is frail. Our discourse is polluted. Social media generates ever-expanding spirals of polarization, and it has displaced many of our other communication tools. Like journalism.

This pandemic will bring out more bad things. It will exacerbate inequality. It will lead people to shut down, and shut in, fear others, blame others. It has already put a damper on travel and social exchange across all kinds of boundaries, which has been a force for good – and that might last for a long time. And more people will suffer and die, many unnecessarily.

It could make bad things worse, if the economic crisis is long and deep, xenophobia rises, conflict flares up, war, political paralysis. No one can tell you these things are not very real possibilities.

But. In the contours of this crisis we can also see how to begin to make things better, how we could turn things around. If we make it possible, we could recognize the importance of collective action for global problems, including public health but also climate change. We can learn the importance of science and education. We can see the value of investing in social and material infrastructure, including the tools for public health. We might even learn the usefulness of government for saving us from the threats we face.

And you – You can still have great lives. Happy and productive and kind and generous and adventurous and doing the best you can. Which is what people have always hoped for. And you can do those things even if you can’t turn this all around. Look, people have made good lives in hard times before. You make life worth living by what you put into it, which is no more true in good times than bad.

And, we do need you. Even if you’re not not ready to invent this vaccine or fix our broken government. I hope you have your chance to do things like that, too. But before that we need you to figure out how we live with purpose and perspective. How we avoid turning inward and shutting down even as the physical distances between us grow. How to pull down barriers within our own walls. I hope you’ll help us, and yourselves, and the generations to come, figure this out.

Thank you. Good luck.

How big will the drop in weddings be? Big

With data snapshot addendum at the end.

In the short run, people are canceling their weddings that were already booked, or not planning the ones they were going to have this summer or fall. In the long run, we don’t know.

To look at the short run effect, I used Google Trends to extract the level of traffic for five searches over the last five years: wedding dressesbridal shower, wedding licensewedding shower, and wedding invitations (here is the link to one, just change the terms to get the others). These are things you Google when you’re getting married. Google reports search volume for each term weekly, scaled from 0 to 100.

Search traffic for these terms is highly correlated with each other across weeks, between .45 and .76. I used Stata to combine them into an index (alpha = .92), which ranges from 22 to 87 for 261 weeks, from May 2015 to last week.

For the graph, I smoothed the trend with a 5-week average. Here is the trend, with dates for the peaks and troughs (click to enlarge):

wedding plans searches.xlsx

The annual pattern is very strong. Each year people people do a lot of wedding searches for about two months, from mid-January to early-March, before traffic falls for the rest of year, until after Thanksgiving. There is a decline over these five years, but I don’t put too much stock in that because maybe the terms people use are changing over time.

But this year there is a break. After starting out with a normal spike in mid-January, searches lurched downward into February, and then collapsed to their lowest level in five years — at what should have been the height of the wedding Google search season.

Clearly, there will be a decline in weddings this spring and summer, or until we “reopen,” whatever that means. A lot of people just can’t get married. When you think about the timing of marriage, most people getting married in a given year are probably already planning to at least half a year in advance. So even if no one’s relationships are affected, and their long term plans don’t change, we’ll still see a decline in marriages this year just from canceled plans.

Beyond that, however, people probably aren’t meeting and falling in love as much. People who are dating probably aren’t as likely to advance their relationships through what would have been a normal development – dating, love, kids, marriage, and so on. So a lot of existing relationships – even for people who weren’t engaged – probably aren’t moving toward marriage. Even if they get back on track later, that’s a delay of a year or two or however long. This says nothing about people being stressed, miserable, sick (or worse), and otherwise not in any kind of mood.

In the longer term, what does the pandemic mean for confidence in the future? The crisis will undermine people’s ability to make long term decisions and commitments. Unless the cultural or cognitive model of marriage changes, insecurity or instability will mean less marriage in the future. This could be a long term effect even after the acute period passes.

What about a rebound? Eventually – again, whenever that is – there probably will be some rebound. At least, just practically, some people who put off marriage will go ahead and do it later. Although, as with delayed births, some postponed marriages probably will end up being foregone. On a larger scale, when people can get out and get together and get married again, there might well be a marriage bounce (and also even a baby boom). Presumably that would depend on a very positive scenario: a vaccine, an economic resurgence, maybe a big government boost, like after WWII. A surge in optimism about the future, happiness. That’s all possible. This also depends on the cultural model of marriage we have now, so that good times equals more marriage (and childbearing). In real life, any such effect might be small, dwarfed by big declines from chaos, fear, and uncertainty. I can’t predict how these different impulses might play against each other. However, on balance, my out-on-a-limb forecast is a decline in marriage.

kissing sailor

Data snapshot addendum

I didn’t realize there was monthly data available already. For example, in Florida they release monthly marriage counts by county, and they have released the April numbers. These show a 1% increase in marriages year-over-year in January, a 31% increase in February, then a 31% drop in March and a 72% drop in April [Since I first posted this, Florida added 477 more marriages in April, and a few in the earlier months, changing these percentages by a couple points as on June 5. -pnc.] Here is a scatter plot [updated] showing the count of marriages by county in 2019 and 2020. Counties below the diagonal have fewer marriages in 2020 than they did in 2019. Not surprising, but still dramatic to see it happening in “real time” (not really, just in quickly available data).

florida marriages.xlsx

Pandemic path dependence and the future

Someone paid me for an hour of my opinions about what’s happening and what might happen next. I’m not supposed to say who or why, but I can share what I think. These thoughts are distilled from that conversation, yours for free, courtesy of someone richer than both of us, with a few links and figures.

Pandemic path dependence

One way to think about what the pandemic will change is path dependence. Things we invest in now, the momentum we get now in all the changes we make, are likely to continue. The idea of going back is always a myth, but I think it’s especially the case with such a big change, so fast. For example, look what I did. They moved my classes online. I looked at the different video platforms that my university had subscribed to at that point – WebEx, Zoom, Google – I decided I liked Zoom the best. Zoom had the green screen option, so I invested in this green screen, which was only 20 dollars, but I rearranged this room and set it up – so now my first choice is Zoom for meetings. That’s not likely to change right away. So you think of all the changes we’re making like that, in terms of our consumer choices, or communicating with our family members, or other investments, and whatever we’re doing now is likely to continue.

On the path dependence idea, we’re in the process of finding out right now a lot of people who are redundant at work. When organizations start losing all this money, and they have to make drastic cuts that might become permanent, their choices will have to do with what everybody’s contributing right now. We’re going to discover that we do without what a lot of people are doing. So a lot of people are going to be restructured out of their jobs. There will be lot of turnover and change and uncertainty, and that wreaks havoc on people’s personal lives. People aren’t good at making long-term decisions under conditions of existential uncertainty. So if you don’t know where you’re going to be in the big picture in five or ten years – including career, family, and so on – it’s hard to make decisions like, Let’s get married, Let’s have children.

The US birthrate has been falling since the last recession, and hasn’t been coming back. I think that may be accelerated. I don’t think people will be rushing to have children, which involves a long-term, permanent, future orientation. In the US we have a lot of unplanned births, so those may still happen, but I don’t think more people are going to decide to have children and make other long-term decisions like marriage.

country fertilitiy trends.xlsx

People are asking, Will there be a baby boom? People are stuck together, they’ll have sex more and have children. That’s not really how it happens. Most people are planning. We have modern contraception. People don’t just have more children because they spend more time together. Long-term commitments may be undermined, and people making long-term decisions may be less common, up to and including marriage and childbearing.

2018update

Divorce, on the other hand, may be different. We were seeing a decline in divorce before this. Now there may be more people who want to get divorced right now, because of COVID, but fewer people who can. Divorce is logistically difficult. They may stay together because they can’t separate. That also means we are at risk of increased family violence and abuse. For some people, their families are happy and they’re doing well and they enjoy being locked up together, and it’s rejuvenating and so on – and for the people for whom family is not safe or comfortable, that could be getting worse and worse.

Unequal uncertainty

We already see the job loss and economic insecurity is divided by race, gender, and class. You can look right now at the people who compelled to keep working at personal risk – people in services, grocery stores, delivery people, medical providers, versus people like me, who can work from home. That makes me safer and that’s stratifying. We’ll have relatively more stability and security on the professional/managerial side of the occupational divide.

Slide16

There is also the issue of trust. Some of us are feeling like we must trust the government and scientists for our survival. And some of us are thinking, The government and scientists are terrible and we can’t believe anything they say. That divide was already happening, and I think it’s going to widen. That division is partly on education but also very partisan.

F3

Social division

We have a principle of fractal polarization, where if you take any group of people, no matter how small, we have the social dynamics in place to generate polarization among them. In politics, the division between Republican and Democrat, then within the Democrats, then within the Bernie movement, etc. And that’s partly social media and the way we communicate, where in order to get noticed you have to say something outside the margins, and that pushes the margins further and further apart.

On the other hand, some things could be unifying. Not just trust in science and the government, but also things like investment in public health and infrastructure. If you look at past crises, there are precedents for coming out of this with a unifying policy agenda, like investing in the healthcare system. We could end up with an even great majority for universal healthcare, and the expenses may not seem so large compared to what we’re going through now. The role of youth is important. We have seen big movements of young people, for example on climate change and gun control. Those things are still important, but we may see some of that energy swing to more health issues. We could have a unifying swing toward collective orientation on issues like that.

On technology

The organizations that have the resources now to innovate, that realize they have to in order to survive… for example, universities. They were already developing online education, and they just increased the speed of that greatly. So the investment is going to be there for that. And that may apply to other services, such as telemedicine. We’re going to continue having appointments with doctors online. A lot of them will continue providing those services even when it’s not necessary. And I think the same may also be true for social services, government services. There could be benefit for that, being able to drop services directly into people’s homes. That can help with people who are either socially or physically isolated, people with disabilities, people who can’t leave the house for whatever reasons. Things may end up getting better because we end up delivering services in those situations.

Global mobility

It’s hard to imagine that travel won’t be permanently reduced. Travel for work certainly will be, with all this investment in doing things remotely, in addition to the fear of traveling. We have, in academia, massive conferences multiple times per year, around the world. And in the next year or two we’re going to discover that we can have academia without those things. And those things are really expensive. And so it’s not clear, when we realize the budgets are permanently shrunk, that we’re going to spend money again on things that we did without for a couple of years.

The free moving upper classes that did work in different countries, that saw colleagues around the world, that vacationed in remote places – although that’s very unequal, it’s a positive influence on social life anyway. I’m afraid that will be reduced. That can contribute to nationalism and ethnocentrism.

On the one hand we’re realized our global interdependence in ways that are important. Ninety percent of ibuprofen in the U.S. comes from China. So if we all depend on China for our ibuprofen, we could learn from that that we’re all interdependent, or we could conclude, Wow, we need our own ibuprofen factories. Or the same with surgical masks. That can be bad in the sense of global divisions and isolation.

When staying in is prosocial

Trust in the government, or science, is not just about the faceless bureaucracy. It’s an investment in a kind of solidarity. If you follow a government directive, at your own expense, that is an expression of faith in humanity, to some degree (unless you’re acting out of fear of enforcement). It’s paradoxical that by isolating ourselves we’re contributing to the collective good. There is a group of sociologists who are trying to get us to use the term ‘physical distancing,’ partly because physical distancing is how we stick together, socially.

However, that might not be persistent. We will get used to the habits of staying home, and having services delivered, and entertainment delivered – not going to the movies, or go to bars to hear music. After we adapt (even more) to those things, so we are less inclined to pay more if we can do it at home, then when staying home isn’t for the collective good anymore, those habits may persist, and that could be bad.

Privacy

This is all undermining privacy, especially digital privacy. For example, if we end up embracing the Google and Apple app for contact tracing, but not trusting the government to do that, that pushes us in the direction of surrendering more digital privacy to tech companies. That was already happening, but it’s likely to go further, if people see it as in their interest to surrender their privacy more explicitly. To the extent there was at least a cultural niche of people who object, I think that will be weakened. People won’t be as reluctant to give that up after they’ve been through a period when turning over their personal information was important to their survival.

Local versus online community

If we’re all stuck in our homes, then the neighborhood becomes a very different concept. I’m an academic, I’ve been a professor at three different universities. I always subscribe to the New York Times, so in a way I live in a suburb of New York no matter where I am. If everything’s inside the home, then your neighborhood is your Zoom background, and the things you get delivered, and there’s already no local news anymore – so there is a sense that the local matters less. But people still want it to matter. When you get out of the house and see the people in your actual neighborhood, that’s still something important. So there’s a paradox, a good and a bad side to that. The idea that I can be in the same virtual neighborhood as people who are thousands of miles away is socially good, but on the other hand if it undermines my relationship with my actual neighbors that’s bad. I don’t know how to bridge that.

Threats

What could get worse? War. It might seem crazy for countries to go to war at a time when national boundaries seem to matter less and less. But with the instability this has cause, and with our reliance on technology, a relatively small thing can set off huge cascading events, including flipping the switch on something like war. Even if that seems ridiculous. How could we go to war with China? Everyone would lose. But big things can go wrong, and our dependence on technology makes it more possible for those catastrophic events. I don’t think that’s that likely, but I didn’t think this was that likely.

History

We already had a history problem. Obama was part of this story of social progress. Trump undermined that drastically. The same with the threat of climate change versus technological advances. Maybe history doesn’t have a direction. Maybe there is no arc that bends toward justice. Maybe there’s just a series of random events. This pandemic feeds that sense. That creates anxiety, and dread, but also opens up a world of possibilities for directions to change. That means extremism becomes more enticing to some people, because they think they can change the direction of history. But it might also mean we have more imagination for positive developments as well.