As the light turns green, the drivers standing at the crossing press the accelerator.
That is, all except one. The first car in the middle lane is at a complete standstill.
Impatient, the cars behind start honking.
As new pedestrians gather at the crossing, they figure the car has broken down. It’s not something out of the ordinary, they think.
But then the driver starts flailing his arms.
‘I am blind, I am blind’, they hear him say.
Right there, in his car, while waiting for the light to change, the man has unexpectedly lost his vision.
Pedestrians help the man out of the car and reach his home. A kind Samaritan offers to move his car and steals it.
The driver is patient zero of ‘white blindness’, a bizarre sickness that sweeps the city leaving almost everyone blind.
This is how Blindness, the book by Portuguese author Jose Saramago begins. In it, the author explores the limits of how far human beings will go in their willingness to survive.
When I first read the book, now several years ago, I thought the possibility of a worldwide pandemic was remote.
Yet here we are…
Hope everyone is keeping safe in these uncertain times. This is a time to take good care of yourself, and of others.
I’ve spent the week working from home, in fact, all my colleagues have, as a preventative measure. As far as I know, no one has the virus.
We may all be working remotely, but there is still plenty of conversation going on over email and Twitter. You can see some of our chats on my Twitter account, @selvafreigedo.
I’ve been following the events in Spain closely. Regular readers of this newsletter know that I’ve recently spent time in Spain with my family after my father passed away.
When I left Spain three weeks ago, there were 80 or so cases. Today, that number keeps growing and is now over 18,000, even with the country in lockdown. Today is day six of quarantine.
I’m worried about my mother, who is back in Spain. About my brothers. They’re all spending their quarantine together, and doing well.
With the country in lockdown, their boredom means I get lots of regular updates from them and my friends. Thank you, internet!
So far, I hear there is plenty of food to go around. Truth is, Spain is a food producing country.
So is Australia, even though we are still seeing food shortages and a scramble in the supermarket.
Australia only imports 15% of the food we consume regularly, and we even export about 50% of what we produce agriculturally. So, I don’t think there is much need to panic about running out of food.
It’s a rush to cash
What I’m more concerned about is liquidity. It’s a rush to cash as the global economy comes to a standstill.
Central banks and governments are trying to increase liquidity and confidence in the system.
The Reserve Bank of Australia lowered the cash rate to a record low 0.25%.
And took an unprecedented step, as News.com.au reports:
‘With a word from the RBA, Australia is entering brand new territory, deploying the extraordinary monetary policy that is quantitative easing.
‘On Monday, RBA Governor Philip Lowe said the RBA was ready to start up quantitative easing. “[T]he Reserve Bank stands ready to purchase Australian government bonds in the secondary market,” he said.
‘Today, he pulled the trigger. “Purchases of Government bonds … will be conducted.”
‘Quantitative easing (QE) is the same kind of extraordinary monetary policy the US used to help it escape from the global financial crisis. It’s designed to get the economy back on track.’
While it’s the first time Australia deploys this, the US, Japan and Europe used this resort after the 2008 crisis.
Central banks have spent the last 10 years of the boom flooding the system with liquidity instead of taking the economy back to normal. It’s only brought lower growth and higher asset prices.
What this means is that we have never really recovered from the 2008 financial crisis. Remember, we were already having problems with liquidity before the virus hit.
Author Jim Rickards has been warning for a while now that our economic system is ‘exhausted’ and ready for a 2020 reset.
You can read all the details here.
What’s clear is that we are starting to see a shift.
People are increasingly looking for value, in things like gold and cash.
But also, we are valuing more of our relationships with each other.
While the COVID-19 is a tragedy, I wanted to leave you with some beautiful initiatives I’ve seen coming out of this crisis in Spain this week.
I’ve heard of exhausted hospital staff working non-stop.
Of volunteers offering to go to supermarkets for the elderly to decrease their risk of exposure.
Of neighbours checking in on each other, playing bingo or exercising together from their balconies.
Of parents spending their time in quarantine as a chance to play and spend more time with their kids.
To quote one of my favourite phrases from Blindness:
‘Joy and sorrow can go together, not like oil and water’.
Make sure you take time to find some happiness in all this uncertainty.