Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Urban Jungle Unleashed



While governments worldwide are rolling over lockdown periods consisting of self-quarantine and social distancing often in two-week blocks in an attempt to “flatten the curve” of Covid-19 there is emerging a “lockdown fatigue” backlash both in democratic and autocratic societies.

In the US there are protests in at least five states against self-quarantine and social-distancing which are viewed as a kind of government-mandated “house arrest” and perhaps un-American. This trend may signal a creeping desperation in the American psyche that could manifest overnight ignited by the government’s lack of credibility at every level and fueled by the sudden mass layoffs and depression-level unemployment levels affecting all white, blue and gray collar jobs most of whom do not have a savings cushion.

In autocratic countries, specifically Southeast Asia and parts of China, there are reports of social unrest. By their nature these governments imposed restrictions on freedom of speech and public gatherings while ruthlessly suppressing dissent. Since the arrival of the pandemic’s wrath they have added emergency powers with severe punishments for those who disobey the self-quarantine and social distancing mandates. Although the worldwide practice of self-quarantine and social distancing is useful to “flatten the curve” it’s an exceptionally convenient tool for these governments to control and monitor the citizenry even more effectively.

The Growing Powderkeg

The elements for social upheaval are already taking place for the perfect crime storm. For this reason the disturbing lexicon creeping into mainstream media and often merely whispered is “social unrest”. With millions of workers suddenly unemployed with a paucity of cash on hand for emergencies and little savings there are growing pressures in their ability to buy food from an increasingly vulnerable narrowing and brittle supply chain.

A frightening descriptive overview of the increasing cascade of risks to the “farm to table” food supply chain can be viewed below as follows:

1.    Fewer farm workers and laborers [mostly from Mexico] to harvest labor-intensive work because of stricter visa requirements and the risk of higher infections because of the nature of the work and crowded housing that cannot adhere to social distancing.
2.    Fewer food processing workers because of Covid-19 illness.
3.    Fewer plants in operations because of shutdowns for cleaning which means less total nationwide food processing.
4.    Fewer truckers, an older demographic [55 is the average age] that is susceptible to the Covid-19 virus, to transport goods.
5.    Fewer trucks because of potential lack of spare parts because of limited imports from China and domestically because of vehicle plant closures.
6.    Fewer open food markets whether corporate and independently owned because either fewer workers are willing to work in a high-risk environment even with safety equipment or temporary closures because workers have become infected with the virus.

The food supply chain fear is compounded because the unemployed may not be able to buy despite a present-day bountiful food inventory. The next level of fear is that even those with ample savings may not be able to buy any food at all if the food supply chain breaks. This not so far-fetched and near future scenario would trigger a volatile powderkeg of desperation for survival.

Government unemployment offices and systems will continue to be overwhelmed resulting in administrative bottlenecks and delay in issuing checks whose amounts are probably insufficient to cover basic necessities.

Even by some miracle a vaccine was developed and distributed today and Covid-19 “disappeared” only a fraction of the laid off workers would be rehired because of the global economic demand destruction.

Law Enforcement and Security Readiness

Every society has its breaking point. In New York, the NYPD is under-staffed and compromised by at least 20% because of Covid-19 related sickness or self-quarantine of personnel which means fewer officers are available to patrol the already desolate streets.

There are ominous and growing security gaps featuring desolate streets, a handful of stores providing essential services and considerably reduced police presence.

The new army of the desperate include the newly unemployed and more disturbingly released prisoners who form prison gangs for self-protection. For the new dystopian urban cities these prisoners, possibly collaborating with the newly unemployed who intimate are familiar with their neighborhoods and vulnerable neighbors, will by necessity form wolf-packs to intercept and rob the locked down citizenry who venture to these essential services stores, banks/ATMs, etc.

Law enforcement is ill-prepared for the late spring and summer explosion of social unrest and violent crime as people are already fatigued of lockdowns particularly with warmer weather arriving soon with the traditional outdoor holidays of Memorial Day weekend and Fourth of July. Hot weather comes short tempers.

The Spark

The warmer spring weather will beckon and even compel people to go outdoors and congregate in open spaces. Although many will adhere to social distancing there will be more of these anti-social types who won’t.

In the US there are two scenarios which can provoke widespread civil disobedience:

The first is the resurgence of infections after governments ease restrictions and re-impose self-quarantine mandates.

The second is from the demographic bookends: young people who are naturally insubordinate to authority and who still feel invincible and the elderly who, in fatalist fashion, figure the end of days are near and fear not that they’re exposed to the virus.

The Aftermath

We’re doggy-paddling in that uncomfortable and perilous gap between the pandemic’s outbreak and the distribution of a vaccine. How long that gap will be is anyone’s guess although the general consensus is 18 months; and that’s assuming the scientific community has found a solution to defeat a dastardly clever and adaptable virus. After its development it must be produced at scale for billions of people worldwide.

Growing societal chaos fueled by the aforementioned reasons could worsen due to incompetent, dysfunctional and, in many countries corrupt governments not to mention a breakdown of government services because government employees themselves are adversely impacted by Covid-19. Such chaos could easily derail even a modicum of badly needed economic recovery.

A stalled economic recovery could plunge the global economy into a deep recession or even depression. This time around, thanks to the emergence of megacities and a world of urban living, unlike shantytowns in the first Depression, the second Depression will feature shantycities – favelas on steroids.


Copyright 2020 Indo-Brazilian Associates LLC


Indo-Brazilian Associates LLC is a NYC-based think-tank and advisory service that provides prescient beyond-the-horizon contrarian perspectives and risk assessments on energy investments, geopolitical dynamics and global urban security.

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