“Lord, it was an awful time, and then the war started” – Bill James
In some ways, what this modern American thinker wrote about the decade ending in 1919 fit yesterday. But does it generally?
The largest world news, of course, was Russia’s Ukraine invasion. I won’t comment on that itself except that it was depressing, horrendously misguided, and possibly ultimately suicidal for both de facto Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and his country. But we need to look at what it means to us domestically.
The clearest of several primers just out might be “Russia Is Sowing Conflict in Ukraine. What Does That Mean for the U.S. Economy?,” by Jeanna Smialek and Ana Swanson, in the previous day’s New York Times. Points these well-established authors made were that energy prices and those for “raw materials and finished goods” would head higher, “global unrest could spook American consumers, prompting them to cut back on spending and other economic activity,” there will be disruptions in food supplies caused by Russia and Ukraine combining for almost 30% of world wheat exports, we will have further supply chain shakiness, and may see “digital retaliation” from Moscow to American sanctions. While gold and silver have gained only modestly, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, though up 92 points yesterday, is still over 3,500, or more than 10%, below its January all-time high. Oil closed at $94.81 per barrel and may well see $120 within a month. The war may also push unemployment up slightly, but without as much effect as our domestic situations. All bad, but not affecting everything.
Otherwise, while the pandemic both worldwide and in the United States has been fading quickly – per the New York Times, Wednesday’s 7-day average of new daily cases was down over 90% from its peak 40 days before – it is still roiling business shipments, with truck drivers often still required to quarantine just after crossing international borders, and, per the November 17th Guy Platten New York Times “The Supply-Chain Crisis Is a Labor Crisis,” doing the same for ship’s crews and even cargo plane pilots. That sort of deleterious thing has improved, but isn’t over yet.
How else are Americans responding to these times? Although an ancient practice, we saw that “Shifting Side Hustle Statistics Reveal New Trends About How We Earn” (Jeff Proctor, December 17th, DollarSprout.com). This source’s “2021 Side Hustle Report” showed that of people with such earning propositions, the share putting in 15 hours per week on them shot up last year from 12% to 27%, over half of “side hustlers” had tried at least three different ones within 12 months, and the portion of those with these extra ventures using income from them “to cover necessary monthly bills and expenses” jumped in 2021 from 27% to 41%. Almost one-seventh of participants earned more than $1,500 monthly last year, tripling since May 2020, with the largest draws being “enjoying the work” and “flexibility over schedule.” Soon after Covid-19 became widespread, many started these activities when their regular jobs became endangered or went on hold, but the developments here go far beyond that. Expect people to be increasingly willing to pay for convenience, as more have less time but extra money.
Something unambiguously a response to where we are now, though, is our response to remote meetings, specified in “After Two Years On Zoom, Workers Finally Learned How To Fool Their Bosses” (Jack Kelly, Forbes, February 6th). Such techniques include participants “setting their laptop camera at an angle to make them look more domineering” (practiced by two-thirds of respondents), appearing “on an indoor exercise bike to appear disciplined, healthy and dynamic” (just short of one-quarter!), “wearing formal office attire on the upper body, while dressing casually below the waist” (82%), “thinking carefully about their onscreen backdrop and décor” (86%), and “regularly leaving Zoom calls to attend another work meeting that doesn’t actually exist” (56%). The last, along with other ploys to overstate busyness and therefore production and value, is an old chestnut updated for the current environment, and the upper/lower clothing split has long been common in MBA photo shoots, but some are indeed newer, and, with these robust percentages, seem now to be the norm. How will management respond?
When all else fails, we have something, as described in “Super Bowl wagers rise to records as online sports betting sweeps US” (Katherine Sayre, The Wall Street Journal, February 16th), long a distraction during as well as outside work time. Fortified by law loosenings, especially New York state’s January legalizing of it on cell phones, it reached a probable all-time American peak for its largest single betting game. Look for even more wagers, as fully legal American sites replace unlawful and gray-area propositions from the likes of offshore sportsbooks, and higher tax revenues if relatively few new jobs. It will spawn social problems from people unable to handle it, but never before have there been so many messages giving telephone numbers for help lines and the like. We will endure it, probably ending up like Great Britain and Ireland where it is both ubiquitous and largely ignored. And we will survive everything else here as well.