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Chicken little forecast

Still Chugging Along

Volcanoes are erupting in The Philippines, but on-fire Australia received some welcome rain. The Iran war cries have been called off and The Donald’s military powers are about to be hamstrung by the Senate. Meanwhile, his impeachment trial is starting, and we’re all on Twitter for a front-row seat.

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Boom Times Are Coming

Our latest newsletter looks forward to the post-pandemic economic boom, rights a few wrongs with regard to the US' fiscal response to the pandemic, and more.

Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas

This is an extract from our now-weekly newsletter, What Could Go Right? Sign up here to receive it in your inbox every Thursday at 6am. You can read the full newsletter here.

There’s a strange feeling in the air, perhaps unrecognizable for those of us who haven’t experienced it before in our adult lifetimes: economic optimism. Over at The New York Times, economics writer Neil Irwin details 17 reasons why he thinks the world might soon enter a period of “roaring growth.” It’s not just about the pandemic relief legislation, although that was a mood-lifter. Three mega-trends that have defined what he calls the economic “gut punches” of the last two decades—lack of innovation, surplus of global labor, and low demand for goods and services—are about to reverse. That summary might not sound so sexy, we grant you, but the full article is

While we look forward to future boom times, we were also interested this week in a couple Twitter conversations that addressed misconceptions about the US’ fiscal response to the pandemic. Here’s Derek Thompson of The Atlantic:

Down the thread he links to the International Monetary Fund’s January analysis of fiscal measures by country, if you want to take a look at the numbers yourself. Even without counting the just-passed relief bill, the US’ spending was amongst the highest in the world, along with New Zealand, Great Britain, Singapore, and Australia. It was also remarkable in that the US sent direct cash payments, unlinked to employment status, to most of its citizens. 

“There is an unhelpfully doom-pilled approach to Twitter,” Thompson wrote, “where the game isn’t to figure out true stuff, but rather to sign on with one’s most pessimistic and disappointed opinion about the world, irrespective of accuracy . . . It’s the opposite of the boy who cried wolf. Rather than incorrectly predict bad things will happen and then accurately warn against disaster, this tactic holds onto correct observations about a godawful past long after so many things have changed for the better.”

We couldn’t agree more, although we don’t think this habit is limited to Twitter. By the way, how to get better at accurately warning against disaster is the subject of our new interview with TPN Member R. P. Eddy, the man who led the construction of the first-ever White House pandemic response plan. (Remember the mask shortage at the beginning of the pandemic? Wait until you hear about the secret stores of N95s hidden all over the country that we weren’t able to use . . . ) Click here to watch, or if you’re not convinced yet, scroll down to the yellow box below for more info.

Last thing on the economy: around here we’ve been celebrating the stimulus bill as well as highlighting the potential minimum wage raise. But a crucial next step for long-term worker protection is to understand that the “economy is increasingly moving away from a model in which workers receive hourly wages from a single employer,” as TPN Member Adam Davidson wrote in The New Yorker recently. Think of the driver who works for Lyft, Uber, and Via, and maybe delivers food for Doordash, too. The PRO Act, Davidson writes, would allow gig-economy workers to more easily bargain collectively. It has passed the House but is unlikely to pass the Senate. So while this isn’t something that will be solved straightaway, it’s an important conversation to keep an eye on. 

And actual last thing: Is the AstraZeneca vaccine safe or not? It’s yet another story about properly understanding numbers in context. Tom Chivers explains why it’s likely a big mistake for Europe to pause its AstraZeneca rollout and gives 11 lessons in how to navigate stats in the news. It’s written for journalists, but most of the lessons are applicable for readers, too.

From us: What if we could predict and avert catastrophes before they happened? It’s possible. In this interview, founder of The Progress Network Zachary Karabell speaks with R. P. Eddy, CEO of the strategy and geopolitical intelligence firm Ergo, about Cassandra theory, a methodology that uses data to analyze and assess future threats—everything from the COVID-19 pandemic to the rise of ISIS to the Madoff fraud. Watch now.

Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas is the Executive Director of The Progress Network. An editor and writer specializing in nonprofit media, she was formerly Executive Editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and is the editor of two books from Wisdom Publications.