Life behind the Mask

Back in the US, we are woozy…out of phase. Like a wilting orchid in the Arctic.

We landed in Miami. It felt like a foreign country.

We rented a car. The idea was to drive up the coast, pausing to visit friends and family.

First, we were surprised at how many people were in the airport and how many cars there were on the I-95. We didn’t think the plague had let so many get away.

We stopped for the night in Savannah. The old part of the city is gracious and beautiful. It was designed in 1733. Even back then, people knew how to lay out an attractive town. It is surprising that they’ve built so many ugly ones since then.

There, too, there were people out and about…all wearing masks, of course. It was as if everyone decided to rob a bank at the same time.

Puzzling and strange

Yesterday, back on the family farm in Maryland, for a moment, we were puzzled to see the sun to the south of us. For the last nine months, it has reliably arced across the northern sky.

And it was low. Even at noon, it barely rose above the treetops. A week ago, it was almost directly overhead.

And then, in the hardware store, we were caught off guard again:

Sir, you have to wear a face mask to come in here.

Everywhere you go, people are wearing the holy rag. Even old friends are hard to recognise.

Catching up with them is odd, too.

One said she ‘didn’t feel comfortable’ coming for a visit with the coronavirus on the loose. Another said his family had not celebrated Thanksgiving. The risk was low, he admitted, but ‘why take chances?

Taking chances

Of course, taking chances is what we do. We cross the street. We eat mushrooms. We fall in love.

Heck, we even invade foreign countries.

We run risks all our lives. From our first whimper — as soon as we leave our mothers’ wombs — to the final sound of mud falling on our coffins…life is risks — and rewards.

But do face masks reduce the risk?

Last week, many dear readers wrote to say that we were wrong about face masks. They are scientifically proven to work, they say. They especially insisted that masks ‘protect other people’ from your germs.

The very next day, a news item in The Daily Beast suggested that they were right:

New CDC Study Shows Mask Orders Work — No Matter What Governors Think

A new study released by the Centers for Disease Control on Friday adds to the evidence that mask mandates do, in fact, slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The researchers looked at Kansas while it was in the throes of a surge this summer. Gov. Laura Kelly implemented a statewide mask requirement, but counties were allowed to opt out of it.

Some did and some did not, giving epidemiologists a chance to do side-by-side comparisons. And what they found was clear-cut: counties that abided by Kelly’s mandate saw their cases drop 6 percent, while those that shunned a mandate saw increases of 100 percent.

But ‘slowing the spread’ is not the same as keeping you from dying. Is it a good idea to ‘slow the spread’? Or would it be better to isolate those at risk…and let the virus spread quickly, so that life could get back to normal?

Social science

Of course, we don’t know. And neither does anyone else. This is social science…not real science. It involves not just the actions of a virus…but the actions of humans, too.

And in human activity…there’s always more to the story. There’s risk…and reward. A 90-year-old may be safer if he locks himself in his house and refuses to see his granddaughter. But where’s the reward?

In the Financial Times is a report that in China, one of the main places the virus spreads is in ballroom dancing classes. But who would want to give that up?

It may be safer to drive under 30 mph…but it will take a long time to go from Miami to Annapolis.

Besides, humans are not like iron filings or even tree squirrels. They react as well as act — often in subtle, science-confounding ways.

In the above-cited study, for example, the counties and states that pushed face masks on their citizens were those that had been worst hit. Maybe they had less of the virus going forward simply because they had already had more of it and there were fewer people left to be infected.

Or maybe…with so much coronavirus on the loose in the worst hit counties…people there took extra precautions.

Meanwhile, in the counties with little coronavirus, people may have seen little need for the masks…but they were virgin territory for the virus; naturally, when it arrived there, it found more targets.

What does this prove? Nothing. We don’t know why some counties had fewer cases than others. And we don’t know what the final score will be.

Weak hypothesis

But the mask hypothesis is weak. Argentina has had one of the strictest mask-up rules in the world. Gauchos, riding alone, way out on the prairies, were required to wear face masks (obviously, it is difficult to enforce).

With roadblocks every 20 miles or so, police checked to see if people were masked up. Every weekend, we drove up to our ranch in Gualfin. And every time, we had to put on the face covering before we got to the police stop — even though we were in our own car.

How did it work out for the Argentines? After nine months of roadblocks…compulsive, Lady Macbeth-style handwashing…enforced social distancing…and mandatory masks, they have suffered 848 deaths per million.

In other words, not only did the masks not protect the wearers…they didn’t protect other people, either.

The US has had hit-or-miss masking. Still, only 823 people per million have died from the coronavirus here.

And Sweden, which is said to have the most relaxed mask policy in the world, had fewer still — 660 per million.

What do we make of these numbers? They prove nothing. But they hint that as a matter of public policy, mask wearing requirements don’t really do much good. The disease goeth where it willst.

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But what about private policy? What can you do to protect yourself?

We’re over 70 with a history of lung problems. If we get it, well, there’s no way to know how it will go. So we’re going to try to avoid it.

All we know for sure is that the ultimate death toll will be 100%. The best we can do is try to live as long as we can — without becoming an embarrassment to the family.


Dan Denning Signature

Bill Bonner,
For The Rum Rebellion

*** A final note of warning from the Group Publisher ***

What will Australia’s place be in the global renewable energy step-change over the coming decade?

And which stocks and industries are mostly likely to benefit?

Tomorrow, we release our vision.

It’s the culmination of months of work.

And it’s a decidedly left-field take compared to what’s being trotted out by the mainstream media.

I’m almost certain the stocks we’re going to shine a light on are ones you’ve never heard the names of.

All I ask is this: Before we drop the research, starting tomorrow:

Park any scepticism you might have at the gate.

You might well believe this green energy boom is a bit of a mania. That fossil fuels won’t just go quietly into the night…and that our roads will growl and pop to the sound of the great V8 for years to come.

Fine. You can hold that view…and STILL benefit greatly from the story we’re going to break this week.

Like it or not, a once-in-a-lifetime money migration has been set in motion.

It’s a migration that will have second-order consequences.

You’re already seeing these manifest in certain stock prices.

But it’s just the very beginning.

The idea is to do your best to foresee, measure and put a dollar value on these second-order consequences. And give yourself the best possible chance to make money from them.

The stocks we’re going to profile give you a great shot at doing exactly that.

While they are inherently risky, they’re optimal buys right now if you’re a speculator.

But even if you’re not…this is a story you need to hear.

Tune in tomorrow for Australia’s Green Energy ‘Second-Order Effect’…

James Woodburn,
Group Publisher

Since founding Agora Inc. in 1979, Bill Bonner has found success and garnered camaraderie in numerous communities and industries.

A man of many talents, his entrepreneurial savvy, unique writings, philanthropic undertakings, and preservationist activities have all been recognized and awarded by some of America’s most respected authorities.

Along with Addison Wiggin, his friend and colleague, Bill has written two New York Times best-selling books, Financial Reckoning Day and Empire of Debt. Both works have been critically acclaimed internationally.

With political journalist Lila Rajiva, he wrote his third New York Times best-selling book, Mobs, Messiahs and Markets, which offers concrete advice on how to avoid the public spectacle of modern finance.

Bill has been a weekly contributor to The Rum Rebellion.

The Rum Rebellion