← Back to Kevin's newslettersPublished: 2020 Mar 30

Hi friends,

It’s been a minute! Sorry for not writing last month, I was traveling for work in the British West Indies and, long pandemic story short, ended up in Taiwan, where I’ll be for the next few months.

Normally around here we talk about computer stuff, but two weeks self-isolating in a window-less hotel room has me wondering about other topics too. Thought I’d share in case you also wanted to ponder — please write/blog replies, I’d love to hear from you!

Next week we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled nerd content.

RIP efficient markets hypothesis?

My faith-by-default in the efficient markets hypothesis has been shaken — US equity markets reached an all-time high around Feb 20, several weeks after the WHO declared the virus a global emergency and lots of non-specialists had already heard about it. I’d always assumed that, I dunno, analysts at hedge funds paid attention to this stuff and traded accordingly, “pricing in” all available public information. But it feels like the financial markets, uh, discovered that pandemics are bad for the global economy suddenly all at once, about 8 weeks after epidemiologists started yelling. (Though good work from one rationalist commenter who was paying attention and traded up 5200%.)

Given this observation, what, if anything, should I change about my (millennial, sweet child of the springtime) “put money into index funds” savings strategy?

Will masks become pro-social in the West?

Will Westerners start seeing public mask wearing as polite behavior, like many Asians do now? In 2021, will a bare face on the subway seem as gross to us as double-dipping into the salsa at a party?

Personally, I hope so — even ignoring the current pandemic, wearing masks in public would probably prevent thousands of deaths and millions of being-home-sick hours from old favorite respiratory diseases like the flu and common cold.

Aside: Of course masks “work”; they keep the wearer from spraying their gross aerosols everywhere. Please wear one if you can, even if it means busting out the ol’ sewing kit and making a homemade one like the baller president of Slovakia. (Seriously, what else are you going to do at home this week?)

Why am I shocked at government competence?

Immediately after landing in Taiwan (before customs) my partner and I were interviewed by a Taiwanese CDC official about travel history and medical information. She gave us “self-health management” forms instructing us to take our temperatures twice daily and record our (lack of) symptoms.

While we provided our information via paper form, there were also officials walking around holding up QR codes on big placards so the enqueued masses could submit information via smartphone.

After walking past the infrared camera that checks for fevers (a permanent arrivals hallway feature) and explaining that the “British West Indies” is not in Europe (AKA “go directly to quarantine”), we were cleared through customs.

At the taxi rank they sprayed disinfectant on our bags and bottoms of our shoes and checked our CDC paperwork before fetching a cab. (Quarantined arrivals take special cabs which are cleaned more thoroughly and the driver paid extra by the state.)

My hotel was unsure if they were allowed to accept us, so they verified our paperwork by calling the government pandemic hotline, which confirmed in about 10 minutes that we were cleared to stay.

Since then, the CDC has been sending me texts to ask how I’m feeling and one time even called to chat (between my partner’s OK Mandarin and the caller’s OK English we all agreed no one felt sick and everyone was doing a great job).

Mind you, we’re not even in quarantine! Individuals who are in quarantine (at this point, all international arrivals) are paid $33/day for the trouble, tracked by cell phone (to ensure they stay at home), and visited in person by officials who deliver snacks + masks, make sure rules are understood, and help solve chores like food delivery; see this Australian arrival’s experience.

I’m embarrassed to admit how surreal the experience felt — not the pandemic part, but the…government competence? (And that’s just from our personal experience, not including the other things the Republic of China is up to!)

Sure America has the technological capacity to photocopy health questionnaires, use infrared thermometers, and send “reply 1 if you are feeling OK” text messages, but somehow it lacks the state capacity to set those things up on card tables in front of arrivals hall Duty Free stores?

Why is such competence is not something me or my fellow citizens seem to expect or demand from our government? It’s certainly not the wealth: Taiwan’s household income per capita is about $14k, compared to America’s $31k.

What, if anything, will I be doing differently 12 months from now?

No idea. Is that good?

Stay safe!

If there’s anything I can do for you — making introductions to companies that’re hiring, design/code reviewing your stay-at-home quarantine projects, hooking you up with a furnished two-bedroom Oakland apartment for a while, spotting you some cash — please let me know.

We’ve always been in this together, it’s just more obvious now.

Pandemic links

Non-pandemic links