Watching and Ignoring

What We're Watching

Shifting Saudi Arabia — A Saudi prince paid $1 billion to make corruption allegations go away — and maybe to offer fealty to soon-to-be king Mohammad bin Salman. This is yet another sign that MBS is firmly in charge.


Narita, Japan — Narita is known for both its international airport, which many a weary traveler wishes was a little closer to Tokyo, and its freshwater eels. How then to design the city’s mascot? With more than 800,000 votes, Narita has won a contest for Japan’s best regional mascot by creating a character that is half airplane/half eel. We’ll be watching next year to see this thing defend his/her/its crown.

“Mad” Mike Hughes — Apparently unaware of the works of Tom Friedman, self-taught rocket-builder Mike Hughes has promised to shoot himself 1,800 feet into the California sky in a scrap-metal rocket to take photos that prove the Earth is flat. We’ll be watching to be sure this idiot doesn’t land on us.

What We're Ignoring

War of the Roses: Part II — Faced with news that Britain’s Prince Harry will marry Meghan Markle next year, you’re probably worried that the bride’s Roman Catholicism could prevent Harry from one day becoming king. You don’t need to sweat this one. By the time Harry weds Meghan next May, he’ll be sixth in line for the throne, with two toddlers and a baby ahead of him in the queue. This guy loves mischief, but he’s no Richard III, so the kids are safe. Also, new rules went into effect two years ago that allow royals to marry Catholics, so you can safely go back to worrying about Brexit.

Venezuela’s chances of producing more oil — Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro named an army general with no energy experience to run PDVSA, the state-owned oil firm, in a country that draws more than 90 percent of export revenue from oil. That’ll go well.

The price of bitcoin — Bitcoin began 2017 at less than $1,000 and this week topped $10,000. I continue to ignore this story, because I never invest in things I don’t understand. #CryptoTulips

The danger to informal workers grows: Coronavirus lockdowns have created a world of uncertainty for businesses and workers around the world. But one group of people that could be hit particularly hard are those working in the so-called "informal economy," where workers lack formal contracts, labor protections, or social safety nets. Nowhere is this challenge more widespread than in Africa, where a whopping 85 percent of the work force toils in the informal sector. These workers, which include street vendors, drivers, and the self-employed, don't have the luxury of working from home, which makes social distancing unviable. As a result, many continue to go to work, risking exposure to the virus, because not turning up is often the difference between putting food on the table and starving. What's more, even where governments are trying to provide support, many people lack bank accounts, complicating efforts to get them aid. In Nigeria, for example, some 60 percent of people do not even have a bank account, according to the World Bank.

More Show less

As Europe inches past the peak of COVID-19 deaths and the US slowly approaches it, many poorer countries are now staring into an abyss. As bad as the coronavirus crisis is likely to be in the world's wealthiest nations, the public health and economic blow to less affluent ones, often referred to as "developing countries," could be drastically worse. Here's why:

More Show less

What's the new normal going to look like? Now that numbers are at least plateauing, if not leveling off in hard hit countries in Europe. An effective lockdown may last 4 - 8 weeks. Once you start pulling back on quarantine measures, what's life look like? What's the economy look like? The idea that life is back to normal anytime soon is really, really overstated.

Assuming workplaces get fully functional with suitable personal protective equipment, feel comfortable that we're not going to get significant additional cases. In the workplace, you organize social distancing in offices, you give people more flexibility on work from home, and everybody in contact regularly with people gets masks. You should be able to get to that point within 3 months in the world's developed economies. They're there functionally in China. That allows you to get the economy going again.

More Show less

Ben White, Chief Economic Correspondent for Politico, provides his perspective on the coronavirus-related news in US politics: What's the coronavirus update?

Well, we've gotten at least a little bit of good news that perhaps the rate of deaths in New York City is plateauing and may start to come down. God willing, we'll see if that comes to pass. Also, some indications that if we keep social distancing in place through the end of May, we could see fewer deaths than we worried about and fewer hospital beds need it. So, God willing, that happens.

More Show less