WARNING: LONG READ
During the last week, I had a chat with a friend about lockdown. I always start conversations with how’s lockdown been for you? For him, it’s been particularly bad.
Based in downtown New York City (NYC), USA, he described how hordes of homeless people, evicted by landlords, have started to create camps around a number of areas of the city. These camps of displaced people – many who had been good for the money until recently – included families, children and more. However, more importantly, it also includes those who are unwell, mentally ill and demented.
From a Facebook update:
In the last week:
I watched a homeless person lose his mind and start attacking random pedestrians. Including spitting on, throwing stuff at, and swatting.
I’ve seen several single parents with a child asking for money for food. And then, when someone gave them food, tossed the food right back at them.
I watched a man yell racist slurs at every single race of people while charging, then stopping before going too far.
Lots of violence. There have been many fights, stabbings and shootings.
My friend lives in a well-to-do gated community with security guards yet, even then, a person was shot to death nearby the other night. The result is that my friend is actively seeking to move out of New York and get to Canada, where the world is perceived to be much safer.
It sounded like The Purge. It also made me wonder if this was just a random view. I then received this article: NYC is dead forever. It’s not an official report or anything. It’s a personal view on a blog by James Altucher, but it makes for interesting reading.
The blog talks about how NYC will not return to its former glory as business is dead, people like working from home, they don’t want to come to the city anymore, the buzz has gone, the nightlife is dead, the restaurants are all shut … it’s a ghost town.
I guess his blog is summarised well by these lines:
In early March, many people (not me), left NYC when they felt it would provide safety from the virus and they no longer needed to go to work and all the restaurants were closed. People figured, “I’ll get out for a month or two and then come back.”
They are all still gone.
And then in June, during rioting and looting, a second wave of NYCers (this time including me) left. I have kids. Nothing was wrong with the protests but I was a little nervous when I saw videos of rioters after curfew trying to break into my building.
Many people left temporarily but there were also people leaving permanently. Friends of mine moved to Nashville, Miami, Austin, Denver, Salt Lake City, Dallas, etc.
Now a third wave of people is leaving. But they might be too late. Prices are down 30–50% on both rentals and sales no matter what real estate people tell you. And rentals are soaring in the second- and third-tier cities.
I’m temporarily, although maybe permanently, in South Florida now. I also got my place sight unseen.
It’s a long blog and worth a read if you’re a New Yorker and, unsurprisingly, New Yorkers don’t like it. After all, any article with a title “NYC is dead” is going to get someone’s goat. In this case, Jerry Seinfeld made an excellent rebuttal in The New York Times:
The last thing we need in the thick of so many challenges is some putz on LinkedIn wailing and whimpering, “Everyone’s gone! I want 2019 back!” Oh, shut up. Imagine being in a real war with this guy by your side.
Nevertheless, these discussions made me wonder about life in lockdown around the world. What’s lockdown like if you’re a Londoner or a Berliner or a Cape Towner or a Beijinger or a Singaporer or whatever? What’s lockdown like for you?
So, I asked. This is no official report or anything, but I find the news programs talk about lockdown life in our own countries but that’s it, and often not from a viewpoint of people like me. What’s lockdown life been like for people like you?
For me personally, it’s been ok. I don’t like it, but I don’t hate it. I feel happy to be in a country that locked down early, Poland, and has therefore also unlocked early. Life is pretty normal here. We eat out – although the keyword there is outside – and we had a holiday on the Baltic Sea. I didn’t like it when we locked down and, at the time, blogged about the politics of pandemics, but I thank the stars I’m not in the UK or the USA.
In fact, the core point of the politics of pandemics is that those countries who believe in freedom and the capitalist ideal have suffered a far harder pandemic than those who believe in control and the communistic ideal. Right versus left is a tough call in a pandemic.
For example, to pre-empt this blog, I posted on LinkedIn that I was thinking about this question:
Is Lockdown leading to Breakdown?
Now, I know this leads to a breakout of personal and individual views, some politicised and some just honest, but here’s a few tasty nibbles that came out of my questioning of a global community of friends (note: rather than quoting people, I’m summarising and sharing).
First, most believe NYC is not dead.
1980s New York experienced the worst levels of crime in the city's history ... the subway system became a hotbed of crime. Over 250 felonies were committed every week in the system, making the New York subway the most dangerous mass transit system in the world … it’s a fantastic city, melting pot and place of motivation! It will be back!
However, they’re not fans of the politics or politicians of NYC:
The pandemic did great damage but the politicians made it worse. First, minimizing the problem; then sending COVID patients to nursing homes and leaving the subways crowded and unsanitized for months. In their destructive embrace of anarchy – rioting, looting, handcuffing – the NYPD punished law abiding citizens resulting in increased violence and theft. Top it off with excessive taxation, poor infrastructure, ridiculous lockdowns, and you have a recipe for the flight of productive people.
That’s pretty much what James Altucher’s blog was saying, of people moving in swathes to second and third tier cities, or maybe even overseas and to remote villages.
But there’s a balance here.
It’s going to get worse before it gets better. There will be lots of stories like this until there is wealth equalisation and when the effects of global issues are not only burdened by the poor and middle classes especially in cities. There are so many opportunities for the super-rich to alleviate some of the suffering, yet they hide in their mansions and bunkers whilst camps form around NYC, one of my favourite cities of the world. Where are the leaders, altruists and philanthropists? They can inject so much good will back into society. They might even prevent the downfall of some major cities.
Another American friend of mine lives in LA and, like my NYC friend, wants to move:
We stopped our rent in a very nice condo in downtown LA to relocate to another district. I asked “Why?” Because of increased amount of homeless people and crime in the area, he said.
Another friend lives in Miami. Here’s what he shared:
In Miami we live in Edgewater, which is a very expensive district even by their standards, and we recently had two situations with shootings in the next condo from ours. It was crazy for me. Our office in Downtown Miami is now being called the Zombie District by our people since lockdown came into force.
And I’m aware from other US friends that between the political issues that are there – the Black Lives Matter movement, the way the police behave, the role of the NRA and lack fo gun controls, the way in which the country handled lockdown and more – that it’s a tough place ot be right now.
Compare this with comments from Asia.
My friends in China point to the Wuhan pool party that took place the other day.
VIDEO: 🇨🇳 Crowds packed out a water park over the weekend in the central Chinese city of #Wuhan, where the #coronavirus first emerged late last year, keen to party as the city edges back to normal life pic.twitter.com/SJFBmx5sU8
— AFP news agency (@AFP) August 17, 2020
We maybe cannot fathom how the centre of the start of the pandemic can have such a mad mix of bodies in one place, but there’s the Chinese take on it. The state-backed Global Times dismissed attacks on the pool party as “sour grapes”. In an article it said Wuhan was “now welcoming an influx of tourists, and its economy is reviving, which local residents believed should not only be seen as a sign of the city’s return to normalcy, but also a reminder to countries grappling with the virus that strict preventive measures have a payback”.
And my friend in China reports:
The daily life here in Chinese mainland is quite peaceful and as busy as pre-pandemic. There is still a little inconvenience, such as primary school students have to stay in the same city or town as they are studying for the last two weeks before the new semester begins. Similarly, when you get out of public places, you don't need to show the health code (a QR code representing a green health light in a mobile app). Only when you get into some public places and events, you need to show the code and wear a mask. But overall it's quite safe, except for cases that fly-in from overseas every day.
Building on this, there’s a very interesting Bloomberg article on Wuhan that appeared this week, and looks at the city as a leading light in a post-COVID world. One thing jumps out of the article through and through which is the shock the Chinese have that America could not control the disease.
Yao [Jun, a local entrepreneur] recalled how abandoned she felt on the eve of Chinese New Year in January, when Wuhan was being locked down but state television was broadcasting happy scenes of celebration from around the country. Now, she said, she’s looking on in disbelief at the news from the U.S., incapable of understanding why the world’s most powerful country can’t get the virus under control.
Simlarly when I talk to people across Asia, I hear similar positive outlooks. Most countries seem to have contained the spread of the virus highly effectively through test, trace, control and proactive government lockdowns.
This is generally true in Asia … unless you’re an expat. A friend in Singapore tells me:
Most of the impact I have seen is on families. A non-Chinese team member in our Shanghai office just had a child at the end of last year. His wife went back to their home country before Chinese New Year, and they haven’t seen each other since. Another foreigner in our Singapore office was just reunited with his Chinese wife and two young kids after six months of being apart. But these are both expat stories and really wouldn’t be applicable to the local population.
Another colleague pointed me to the fact that there is rising racism and abuse of migrant workers. Almost 90% or more of COVID19 cases emerging in Singapore were due to low-skilled foreign workers being locked up in dormitories together overnight.
In Europe, it’s different. It’s not homogeneous. Many in Northern, Central and Eastern Europe – Ukraine, Finland, Norway, Poland, Hungary and more – are giving me the same story. It’s ok. No big deal. We are getting on with life and it’s ok.
This is different to the UK. I would talk about the UK in more depth but, as I don’t live there anymore, most of my friends tell me it’s OK … as long as you don’t get the virus. My mom who is 92 hasn’t left the house since February for that reason. Her neighbour, who hasn’t spoken to her for twenty years, is doing her weekly shop. Things have thawed in some communities.
However coronavirus tedium has sunk in with the young people, who are partying their way to oblivion.
There were people everywhere and the noise was deafening. It was just before midnight on July 25 and the illegal party on Carlisle Street in central London was in full swing. The luxury short-term rental property hosting the party, which had been turned into a pop-up nightclub, was littered with disposable cups, nitrous oxide canisters and half-empty bottles of champagne. There was a DJ, a professional sound system, what appeared to be bouncers collecting payment on the door and a bar selling drinks. When council enforcement officers arrived to break the party up, they counted 106 drunken revellers. And it was all made possible by Airbnb.
They think they can’t get coronavirus, so why not ignore the lockdown?
Birmingham Police had to break up more than 70 illegal parties on Saturday night despite a rising number of coronavirus infections in the city. A street rave with marquees and a DJ in the Northfield area of the city, and a large house party in the Quinton area, were among those to be dispersed by officers enforcing the government’s social distancing guidelines.
Most younger people aren’t getting the virus. They just carry it and give it to their parents and grandparents, like my mom. Nevertheless, I can understand where they’re coming from, as they’ve reached what’s called coronavirus boredom and boredom can rapidly turn into violence.
The mayor of the Dutch city had issued an emergency order after scores of young people took to the streets, pelting police officers with stones and fireworks. Social workers cited "coronavirus boredom" as the motive.
And such restrictions are not just limited to Europe as you may have seen the 13 deaths in Peru last weekend, where young people were partying and the police didn’t like it:
Thirteen people died in a stampede at a disco in Peru after a police raid to enforce the country's lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic. The stampede happened at the Thomas disco in Lima, where about 120 people had gathered for a party on Saturday night. People tried to escape through the only door of the second-floor disco, trampling one another and becoming trapped in the confined space, according to authorities. After the stampede, police had to force open the door.
Speaking of Latin America, I have friends in many countries across the region. We all know that Brazil has been worst hit, so I asked my friend in São Paolo how it was going for him. Here’s his reply:
The Brazilian government has provided emergency assistance to the low-income population for the past months, but we know that the crisis is very severe. In particular, the issue here (like Singapore) is that we have a lot of informal workers, which makes lockdown very difficult. Most cities did not decree any full lockdown. São Paulo, for example, did not reach a 100% lockdown, not once. We had only quarantine and closed shops, public places etc. But it has been two months since the stores, shopping centers, public parks started to reopen.
The general feeling here is that a vaccine can save us and this is the optimistic view. The realistic view however is that this will go no through 2021. For example, the February carnival, the most important cultural festival in Brazil, has already been postponed. In other words, we already predict that the pandemic will last at least until the end of the year and into the beginning of 2021.
Interestingly, a friend who works in banking and FinTech in Brazil gave me some useful numbers:
On the Brazilian financial sector, we saw a significant increase in the use of digital channels. According to FEBRABAN Research, bank transactions made by users through digital channels is now 74% of operations in April. Smartphones represented 67% of these transactions.
We also had a significant increase in the granting of credit. There were more than BRL 1 trillion USD$180 billion) loans issued by banks and, on the humanitarian side, more than BRL 2 billion (USD$36 million) from the banks for solidarity actions and hospital support during the crisis.
What actually surprised me, as I hadn’t thought of it, is the cultural issue of lockdown in Latino countries.
Although they say the world is flat, which I guess means to be fully global, culture matters a lot more than we were prepared to assume. Latino culture needs much more than others to stay physically in touch, which means … in touch. Events are mostly an excuse to keep on working in a more informal way and that has disappeared, and is not being replaced. However, here, virtual events do not work and nor do Zoom calls. Culture matters, this an undeniable truth.
The world is not flat. Everyone is experiencing lockdown in a different way and handling it for better, for worse, in sickness and in health.
In fact, one of the key themes that came out of all of my call for comments, and maybe is a flat earth thing, is that lockdown shines a massive spotlight on social issues that pre-existed, but were not at the fore. Inequality was known globally, the rich-poor divide, the support system versus drift into being adrift and such like.
I heard this mentioned by all replies in all countries, but it was best exemplified by the comments of friends in South Africa.
There are now beggars at almost every intersection, and we are getting far more people ringing the gate bell asking for food several times a week. They say three million jobs have been destroyed and, if you add dependents and relations to each of those jobs, then that’s at least ten million people displaced. Add a thoroughly corrupt and incompetent government to the mix, and we’ve got a tough decade ahead.
My friend in Lagos, Nigeria, echoes these sentiments.
Our experience is not far from those described by your friends in America. Emotions are high and people are very fragile now. The beggars on the streets of Lagos have increased significantly. Despite the fact that the government has done a lot more in policing in some environments, petty thefts (stealing of phones, mobile devices and burglary) are being reported on a daily basis.
What I think is that these issues have been there beforehand, but are now being aggravated due to the fact that things have changed. A lot of people lived on a day-by-day income - street selling, per day jobs etc. - and they no longer have that due to Covid-19. The quest for survival of the people on the lower echelon of the economy has driven some of them to be more barbaric in meeting their survival needs.
Sounds like it could be anywhere in the world to me right now, to be honest.
The rest of the world is just experiencing what Africa has seen for years: increased crime; more social issues; a backlash against racism; high unemployment; excess government control; higher taxes etc. We just learned to get on with things. It’s a big bad world out there. Nobody is going to look out for you.
In summary, another friend in Africa gave me an insight that resonates:
One area to look at is the fact that these issues have been with us pre-COVID19. We all just turned a blind eye to them because we were all busy with life. Now that these issues are very much closer to all of our daily lives, we feel far more significantly threatened individually. Our survival and sense of security in our communities has been undermined. We are all asking: “what are we going to do about this”, as individuals, societies and government?
Very true but, to give a final voice, there are those who believe we shouldn’t have locked down in the first place, and that it’s politicians who are screwing up. Take Alan Jones on Sky News Australia:
Sky News host Alan Jones says governments must be nervous because it is emerging that politicians have “done more damage than the virus”.
Hmmm. Should we have locked down or shouldn’t we? Has the world gone made? How’s your lockdown?
I just wanted to ask: How’s lockdown for you?
Feel free to leave comments and thoughts if you want to – there are many on LinkedIn already, that are worth reading, if you haven’t already – but I’ll leave you with two parting shots from the feedback I’ve received so far:
2020 feels like a world after the zombie apocalypse.
2020 feels like Armageddon to me, regardless of where you reside.
Maybe or maybe not.
To me, it’s been a shift of thinking and focus. It’s not been pan-pocalypse but more like pan-reboot.
What’s your view?
If I haven’t said thank you for your many emails, comments and links via social media that allowed me to construct this piece, I apologise. I thank everyone for their help in trying to give an ‘in the round’ view of our flattened world that is localised by geography and globalised by technology.
Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...