Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Cascading Chaos into the Post-Pandemic Era

 


The present-day and near-future concerns are the omnipresent: viral risk, restrictive travel, continuing protests that sometimes morph into riots & looting, mass unemployment, explosive homelessness and the inevitable contentious presidential elections in November. Regardless of who wins the presidency the problems triggered by the pandemic will continue to terrorize the American citizenry well into a post-pandemic era.

Mass unemployment, paucity of savings and limited governmental support will put millions of Americans into a position usually typical for the citizenry of emerging countries, particularly food insecurity.

For evermore Americans the dilemma is the allocation and prioritization of limited income to purchase the critical essentials - food, housing, utilities and health. As short-term safety nets such as stimulus payments and suspension of eviction notices have or will expire soon with the arrival of fall and winter weather, the urgency is palpable.

Food Insecurity

According to Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, because of the pandemic 54 million Americans (including an estimated 18 million children) are food insecure, up from 35 million food insecure Americans in 2019 and 14.3 million food insecure Americans in 2018.

To provide you a perspective of the dilemma that millions more Americans will face in the coming months the following data provided by Feeding America entitled “Compromise and Coping Strategies”, make it clear that the survival choices are agonizing.

Category Choices

Percent

Food v Utilities

69

Food v Transportation

67

Food v Medical

66

Food v Housing

57

Food v Education

31

 

 

Inexpensive, unhealthy food

79

Receive help from friends & family

53

Water down food or drinks

40

Sell or pawn personal property

35

Grow food in a garden

23

 According to The Wall Street Journal article 28 September 2020 entitled “Grocers Watch Pandemic and Stockpile” since summertime large food companies are ratcheting up their production and inventory of food and non-food (sanitizers, cleaning items, toilet paper, paper towels) essentials in anticipation of increase demand. These inventories are now configured to last months instead of weeks.

The resiliency of logistics is the weak link whether it’s deliveries to food banks or distribution end points such as supermarkets and bodegas. Burgeoning inventories in storage facilities are meaningless if the product cannot be safely delivered uninterrupted in sufficient quantities to meet demand and the necessary security measures to distribution end points to serve the public.

Should an extreme event trigger panic buying such as viral surges compelling governments to lockdown once again, truckers may not want to risk transporting goods because of riots, roadblocks, and even assaults on the storage facilities or points of distribution themselves. If truckers are unable to fulfill the demand it would not be out of line for state governments to order the National Guard to assume the role of drivers and security.

Housing

As mass unemployment continues unabated evermore families will be vulnerable to be evicted from their homes as governmental housing protections expire. The following chart provided by The Aspen Institute entitled Up to 40 Million Americans Face Eviction in 2020 and provided by Statista, an online statistical firm, is a nationwide overview of housing vulnerability.



 The following chart entitled Over 40% of US Renters Now At Risk of Eviction provided by Stout Risius Ross, a Chicago-based management firm, and presented by Statista, is a state-by-state breakdown of renters at risk of eviction.

 


Utilities

Even if Americans are able to fulfill their food and housing needs they may run out of funds to pay for utilities which negates the former because there won’t be gas to cook the purchased food. Furthermore it negates the latter because there won’t be heat during the colder months exacerbating health issues because many Americans may have already forgone medications.

Health

The unemployed have no health insurance and must pay out-of-pocket for the medications they require. After paying for food, housing and utilities to avoid homelessness, they may have nothing left to pay for their medications.

Then there’s the ever-growing obesity crisis in America and its related conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and other related illnesses and the need for medication. For this reason this group has considerably higher medical costs which they can’t afford. The following chart entitled Obesity Rates Continue to Trend Up in US provided by the CDC and presented by Statista underscore the ominously high vulnerability of this group to Covid-19.



The following chart entitled Where Obesity Places the Biggest Burden on Healthcare provided by the OECD and presented by Statista, indicates that America is # 1 globally by far. This means that further budget cuts in healthcare will put millions of additional obese Americans at risk.



 Statistical data has shown a distinct correlation between obesity and a considerably higher risk of death from Covid-19 among the obese population. Present-day scientific data can only assume that this higher risk is a result of unhealthier bodies with underlying conditions such diabetes, hypertension and associated conditions as articulated in The New York Times articles published 29 September 2020 entitled “The Puzzle of Obesity and Covid-19”.

For this reason, according to the Wall Street Journal article 29 September 2020 entitled “Covid-19 Fuels Rise in Obesity Surgery” obese Americans with financial means and good health coverage are aggressively seeking to literally make themselves a smaller target from Covid-19.

Wild Cards

Climate change has produced in once-in-a-century storms that are now regular occurrences with an intensity and ferocity which makes even the most powerful countries vulnerable to social order breakdowns.

These new powerful meteorological patterns are causing havoc globally and have inevitably targeted the agricultural industry. Overseas unprecedented swarms of locusts due to an exceptionally rainy season has devastated crops in East Africa. Domestically in California we’re witnessing historic and uncontrollable wildfires.

The problem is that these severe climate events are occurring simultaneously. In the past the global community combined resources and collaborated in a region-specific or country-specific crisis. Nowadays every country faces its own severe climate crisis and justifiably must concentrate all its resources domestically leaving the less economically fortunate countries to fend for themselves.

Secondly, the man-made crisis in the economy are longer lasting and deeper such as recessions, excessive debt, mass unemployment, food insecurity, social unrest, etc. all which compromise government spending for public health and safety.

Mother Nature and technology are powerful forces but the difference is that technology, regardless if it has an infinite amount of foresight, money and brainpower, has its limits as clearly demonstrated by the historic floods in China which have tested the structural limits of the recently constructed Three Gorges Dam.

No Exit Strategy

No country has articulated or formulated an exit strategy from this morass because of historic short-term thinking and problem-solving vs. long-term necessities. For this reason a return to a new socio-economic-political normalcy will take at least a decade to achieve.

 

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.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Hyper-Consumerism Blowback

 

Photo: California Free Press 26 Nov 2019

Corporate Consumer Control

We naively assumed that the 21st century would usher in an era of light & progression that instead has turned into darkness and depression in less than 20 years - 9/11, the Great Recession and present-day pandemic. We’re still suffering from the residual psychological and economic effects from 9/11 and the Great Recession before the pandemic poured grease on the rungs of the ladder to recovery.

In the meantime corporations have leveraged the quantum advances in technology to super-charge our mindless charge down the consumerist road to financial (and sometime moral) perdition persuading us, as the adage goes, to “buy even more stuff we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”

There are particular insects in the animal kingdom that infect their victim’s brain to control them to be consumed by another to gain access and feast to this third party. Corporations have duplicated this quirk of nature through diabolical psychological genius and well-craved campaigns corporations targeting the consumer to engage in a destructive cycle of upscaling their aspirational dreams to the brink of personal financial insolvency.

Programmed Self-Destruction

In the early stages of internet age our devices were raw & basic such as the most beloved Startac mobile that had a reasonable useful operating life. It wasn’t until we approached the 21st century that connectivity to the internet from your desktop, laptop and mobile for other than emails and basic web browsing information justified the purchase of a far more sophisticated and expensive electronic device.

Eventually the useful operating life of the newer devices became much shorter necessitating the purchase of a new often pricier one. Despite the consumer’s assiduous efforts at protecting them and following the operating manual’s care instructions, the devices seemed to “self-destruct” on cue. Even if the warranty was still valid or an extended warranty was purchased, the repair of the device was just enough to have it limp along – perform basic services - like a doughnut wheel spare tire to safely get your car to the nearest service station.

For those fastidious consumers who actually protected their devices with alien strength cases those efforts turned out for naught because of supposed upgrade in technology as those devices could not run on the advanced systems which again necessitated a new purchase.

The short shelf-life of electronics parallels the policy of the Tyrell Corporation in the movie Blade Runner (1982). Because the newer replicants, Nexus 6, were so advanced and potentially more dangerous in the long-term, that the Tyrell’s creators built in a self-destruct four-year lifespan. Ironically the time-period of the movie is 2019 and the lifespan of Nexus 6 replicants is slightly greater than the handheld devices we have today.

Hard Sell on the Software

If you were lucky enough to purchase a device that was bullet-proof and could accept upgraded packages, the software upgrades and choices hit your wallet hard. “Package deals” with “value” gave the illusion of choice when the firms profit greatly when you make their choice not yours. The so-called choice of package deals is constructed in such a way that it’s impossible to itemize services to allow a fair comparison between them.

Finally the illusion of quality entertainment over dozens of channels is nothing more than regurgitated programming across the channel spectrum. This accelerates the dumbing down of Americans to make them more complacent and question less. It’s an insidious brainwashing, a psychological anchor wrapped around the minds of Americans that pulls them to the bottomless pit of stupidity and ignorance. The slick public relations marketing serves as the psychological emulsifiers which facilitate intellectual digestion.

Destructive Corporate Cycle

The high turnover of short shelf-life hardware translates to higher profits for manufacturers that compels the almost bankrupt consumer to pay increasingly more. It’s perversely ironic they corporations can make sophisticated accurate projections of sales and profits for the next 5 years but can’t manufacture (unwillingness) a device that will serve the consumer for the same 5-year period.

This policy is ultimately self-destructive when applied in an extended recessionary cycle because short-life planned obsolescence exclusively feeds short-term profits. Once consumers unplug because of survival necessity – to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads – then revenue dwindles and profits dry up. In this global recession this can occur dramatically quickly.

The following chart entitled How Long Does Apple Support Older iPhone Models?  furnished by Apple and presented by Statista, an online German statistical firm, indicates that the newer Apple iphones have an increasing longer life cycle than older models. What is not mentioned is that in order to “compensate” for potentially lower turnover is the considerably higher price for these newer models. Furthermore these newer models with greater memory can accommodate more memory to runs its expanded subscription services offerings and AI capability.



 

The following chart entitled Apple’s $50 Billion Side Business provided by Apple and presented by Statista supports the explosive growth in its subscription services as becoming an ever more important component in Apple’s revenue.



 With respect to AI, Apple’s voracious appetite for the acquisition of AI startups underscores their objective to install these features in their products according to the following chart entitled Apple Leads the Race for AI Domination provided by CB Insights and presented by Statista.



Consumer Revolution

Consumers are waking up to the horrifying discovery that the cost of “food & circus” is out of control. The nightmare of a costly electronic device with a short-term lifespan represents a short candle that’s burning quickly from both ends. For this reason consumers are bleeding to death financially.

Consumers can no longer afford to replace their rapidly obsolete electronic devices because they’re squeezed between the agonizing choice (and sometimes mutually exclusive) of “food & circus”. The cost of the newer models become prohibitively expensive for the growing unemployed with many non-essential yet newly “standard” features and packages with terms & conditions that are indecipherable and non-negotiable. Although cyber-communication is the new baseline making mobile devices a necessity, the consumer has fewer choices to purchase a device with the flexibility to request and receive customized basic functions.

From an industry perspective this situation opens enormous opportunities for smaller more nimble firms to capture this growing niche to offer affordable and sturdy devices to perform the 21st century everyday basics such as email, text, word processing & spreadsheets. It’s the cyber-Hyundai vs the cyber-Ferrari that will still get you from points A to B albeit slower and in less style but efficiently and it will get you there with plenty of money left over for the other essentials - the Jones next door be damned.

It wouldn’t be surprising if frugal might represent the inevitable blowback to hyper-consumerism and the aspirational lifestyle. Because of the aforementioned troika of disasters occurring in short order, a strong economic recovery, whenever it occurs, may be delayed. When it comes to survival even Americans who have notoriously short memories will be risk averse to buying non-essential services just in case yet another Black Swan catastrophe strikes in the near future.

 

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.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Canine Reconnaissance – The Paws on the Ground Urban Quality of Life Index

 


“There May Be Trouble Ahead”

Historically there is a plethora of quantitative and qualitative measurements utilized by urban planners, law enforcement and hands-on community residents to gauge the quality of life.

The best observers to notice the subtle changes in a neighborhood’s character are those intimately connected to the neighborhood’s vibe, specifically dog walkers, whether they be the owners or hired dog walkers. They are in the envious position twice daily to witness and assess the quiet changes that are missed by most other residents caught up in their own hustle & bustle.

I call my newly created and highly predictive urban security methodology the Dog Walker Index (DWI) that literally gets the scoop on the poop. The DWI is a methodology that fuses man and man’s best friend (or woman and her best canine friend & guardian) that enhances the vintage 1990s broken windows methodology because the additional observer is the canine himself whose paws on the ground senses are far keener and sophisticated than their master’s.

Small and seemingly inconsequential dynamics form new larger patterns and presage the measurable quantifiable societal changes. A handful of the visual and behavioral changes in the neighborhood are:

  • Empty billboards or those with aging ads that are no longer relevant that haven’t been changed.
  • Litter: Consistently more litter and types of litter on the sidewalks and in the gutters, and whether this change is the result of fewer garbage receptacles and/or fewer pick-ups?
  • Wild weeds growing uncontrollably in front of occupied residences and active businesses which were previously cut and maintained.
  • Graffiti the type messages (political or personal), location with respect to type buildings (residential, businesses and/or governmental) and street (side street or main street).
  • Store closures whether a recent arrival within last 2-4 years or a long-term fixture in the community. Furthermore the type of business: restaurant, café, grocery store, fashion store, etc. and their market share in their respective fields. If there is an overwhelming number of cafes then the demise of a handful is no big deal and attributable to a normal down economic cycle. However the demise of almost all grocery stores is a call for concern.
  • Social interaction - The comfort level of social interaction with the decrease in cordial encounters such as friendly vs brusque greetings, quick tempers, long silences, etc. amongst residents.

Consummate Canine Sense

Dogs are the proverbial canary in the coal mine who literally have their paws on the urban pulse. Adjusting for their particular breed and personalities, one can discern potential shifts in the dynamics of a community through their dog as follows:·  

  • Sudden and consistent behavioral change - unusual aggressiveness or fear towards new people or other dogs.
  • Reluctance to walk down particular streets – dangers unseen.
  • Heightened nervousness when indoors, appetite changes, sleeplessness, etc.
  • Is frequently in a rush to return home.
  • Does not want to walk far from home.
  • Strongly prefers to take detours vs usual routes.
  • A change in canine demographics in which there are more security-type dogs rather than fuzzy, wuzzy companion breeds.

 Canines and other animals can feel the change in vibrations and warn us if we pay close attention to their behavioral changes. The dog walker’s twice daily constitutional is an oxymoron because the pace is a stroll interspersed with unexpected stops. It’s almost a role-reversal because often it’s the dog that’s setting the pace and walking the human.

Data Gathering

This DWI paws on the ground methodology is undoubtedly an art almost to the point of forcing one to become a dog whisperer. A survey with perceptively worded questions of various dog walkers is an excellent start to best extract useful information. Furthermore one must consider that dog walkers live in different parts of the neighborhood and even within the same area taking varying paths. And let’s not forget that each dog walker’s perspectives and priorities are different. While one dog walker has a hissy-fit about litter another is more concerned with the overgrowth that promotes nesting by rodents.

The breed and purpose of dog must be considered. To the dog walker who handles (or tries to) Bruno, the big half-wolf security dog, is more business-oriented and views walking the dog a chore with a “hurry up and let’s get this over with” mindset. The last thing this dog walker wants is for Bruno to get loose, rip someone’s arm off and get sued.

On the other hand Fluffy, the standard issue, friendly, companion dog is more akin to a literal walk in the park, hanging out and basking in the glow of attention & adoration from his paparazzi admirers.

Finally the DWI cannot be universally applied to compare different neighborhoods because each neighborhood has its distinct make-up. What’s historically normal in one neighborhood is a red flag aberration in another.

This is how real life intel is performed - the unglamorous, down & dirty gathering of snippets and fragments when woven together provide amazingly useful data and to what extent it corresponds to, aligns with and supplements scientific data. The initial occurrences of urban decay does not manifest with a spectacular event rather through imperceptible breakdowns which create microscopic fissures.

Importantly one must not forget that unlike normal economic boom & bust cycles, Covid-19 is an extreme outlier event without precedent in a globalized world. Everyone knows that a post-pandemic world after mass inoculations will not be a return to a pre-pandemic world so any predictive speculation is plausible. But by utilizing this DWI canine methodology can provide an early warning system to prepare for the near-future.

 

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.

Friday, September 18, 2020

The Iron Bubble | Corporate Command & Control

 


Destruction of the Corporate Tribe

Like many governments who are using the cover of the pandemic to seek out political rivals and other “troublemakers” it is certainly plausible to believe that corporations are using similar tactics to consolidate their control.

When the pandemic went global isolation and telecommuting for non-essential workers were necessary so that the global economy wouldn’t collapse. For several months restrictions are easing however many corporations have mandated telecommuting indefinitely with, in some cases, skeletal rotation of offices workers on the premises.

In the meantime there are countless warm & fuzzy human interest stories with respect to the pros & cons of telecommuting including certain conveniences but lacking the in-person office camaraderie and the hopeful anticipation of physically returning to the corporate office sometime in the near future, or perhaps post-Covid vaccine inoculations sometime in 2021.

Humans are a tribal species. When we’re isolated it’s against law of nature that leads to our demise psychologically and physically. Corporations are tribes – business tribes. Corporations are members of an industry all of which provide the worker an identity on every level. Regardless of the capricious white collar labor laws there’s at least a modicum of affiliation and protection.

The following chart entitled Why Working From Home Shouldn’t Be Taken For Granted, provided by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and presented by Statista, an online German statistical firm, outlines the industries and percentage of workers who are able to work remotely in April 2020. Despite the easing of restrictions it’s unlikely that these figures have changed dramatically.





 

 

Never Waste a Great Opportunity

There is no better time or precipitous moment like now for corporations to institute lockdown precedent-setting policies for greater control over their workers using the cover of health safety & security for their workers with the coercive imposition of part-time and/or full-time telecommuting.

For decades the Iron Curtain kettled Eastern Europeans preventing their escape to and communication with democracies. The same pattern is occurring within democratic borders facilitated by a pandemic which has created a de facto state of emergency in which governmental and private industries are using emergency, or emergency-like powers, to dictate terms. Often these emergency powers become long-term and insidiously codified without public debate.

In an iron bubble telecommuting creates a static demographic environment for workers who will be perceived as nothing more as professional work-at-home drones with highly specific job tasks and thus limited ability or flexibility to change jobs or careers.

In this new work environment corporations are pulling away the proverbial slippery corporate ladders of advancement which effectively insulates every level of the corporation and isolates each department.

No longer do you have a glass ceiling rather a concrete one. Glass ceilings are visually transparent and can be shattered. Instead the corporation’s replacement is the insidious creation of organizational concrete concentric rings.

The Iron Bubble and Its Consequences

Physical isolation stymies and discourages diverse and innovative ideas. Furthermore there will be a lack of a mélange and cross-pollination of ideas and percolating perspectives across departments achieved only through person-to-person interaction.

Corporate management is building higher walls in their psychologically gated community making them more isolated, more disconnected, hopelessly out of touch, and losing the “vibe” of the workplace and industry. The corporate culture becomes increasingly Balkanized fiefdoms through virtual gerrymandering, ruled by malignant narcissistic warlord supervisors whose departments create a de facto corporate confederacy.

The irony that the ivory tower is now in the cloud whose ideas and decisions are made exclusively at the highest levels. The decibel levels in those corporate echo chambers are at eardrum splitting levels making them deaf as to their own self-destruction.

As corporate decision makers become ever-increasingly reliant on AI driven numbers than informational nuances from humans this leads to an erosion of competitiveness as the corporation develops a Maginot Line mindset. A medium to long-term isolation policy creates widening fissures in every nock & cranny of the corporation and eventually leads to a psychic break. First the corporation and then the industry itself will needlessly collapse onto itself and die.

These new normal policies are already mirroring the gross social inequities. The temptation to engage in immoral and unethical practices, albeit legal, is powerfully overwhelming, especially when no one can see you. There’s no need for an executive secretary on-site as the gatekeeper because they’re all hiding in the cloud.

The corporate mantra of advocating innovation from their staff is now officially nothing more than lip service. Without the proper outlet mechanisms to foster it, those lips are now gagged and sealed.

Even management who historically have applied the best intentions and ardently encouraged their workers to strive for innovation inevitably are entrapped and sucked into this toxic vortex.

The challenge for every business is to eschew these isolationist temptations and determine at what point to cease survival operations and instead formulate strategies for growth.

 

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.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The East Mediterranean Powder Keg – The Turkish Perspective

 


Albert Goldson CEO Indo-Brazilian Associates provides deep-dive perspectives and dynamics not discussed by western media on the increasing geopolitical tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean with respect to energy resources in disputed marine territories during a podcast interview entitled The Latest in Energy and the Eastern Mediterranean with Savannah Lane, Executive Director of the Turkish Heritage Organization, 15 September 2020.

A confluence of events is contributing to the intensifying geopolitical tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean between Turkey and Greece in their pursuit for energy self-sufficiency and dominance.

The mainstream media is supporting western governments’ contention portraying Turkey as the aggressor in their attempt at an energy power grab through naval intimidation.

Although Turkey has the largest economy in the region and the second largest military in NATO, they have been deliberately excluded from critical agreements which would make them equal partners with respect to dispute resolutions and access to resources in the region.

The legal discriminatory agreements that are politically isolating Turkey are the following:

  • ·      The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea which Turkey is not a signatory. This body is called upon to resolve maritime disputes.
  • ·       The newly formed EastMed Gas Forum, referred to as the Opec of Mediterranean gas, includes as members Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Greece, Cyprus and Italy, an oddball membership  all of whom have compatible economic interests in gas exploration in this region, not necessarily compatible political interests amongst themselves.
  • ·      Turkey is a NATO member, the second largest, but is not an EU member.


For this reason any discussions with respect to disputed maritime zones is hotly adversarial rather than diplomatic member-to-member conversations towards a mutually satisfying resolution.

Because Turkey justifiably refuses to be politically neutered it is unilaterally pursuing gas exploration in disputed maritime areas in the Eastern Mediterranean. Most notably Turkish drilling has not resulted in discovery of gas reserves.

Gas market prices are depressed and will continue for at least several more years as the global economy recovers unevenly in fits & starts. Furthermore, with respect to gas development in the Mediterranean, Egypt’s Zohr and Israel’s Leviathan gas fields are yielding copious quantities which will contribute to low global gas prices.

Despite low prices the priorities for countries in this region a reduction of gas import dependency reduces the risk of political/economic blackmail from their current suppliers (namely Russia and to a lesser extent, Iran), tremendous foreign reserve savings and ultimately internal social stability.

Food and energy supplies are heavily subsidized by governments in the region. Any reduction of subsidies because of an economic downturn can easily trigger internal social unrest. Less expenditures on energy through their own exploration provides greater social stability regardless of global commodity prices.

Because of Turkey’s ever-growing precarious economic situation, development of gas fields in the nearby Mediterranean is a form of economic salvation regardless of the leadership.

 

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.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Remote Workers - Prisoners of High Tech

 

 

Corporate Distancing

When global shutdowns began in March advanced cyber-technology enabled millions of white collar Americans to continue their work from the comfort & safety of their sanctuary home as the pandemic ravaged the less fortunate communities and essential workers.

After several weeks it became apparent to many firms that remote work provided more than just a modicum of business to survive and avoid financial collapse. Indeed performance and productivity exceeded expectations and continued through the progressive easing of restrictions.

For this reason many firms have overhauled their business model to maintain a quasi to permanent large remote workforce which translates into considerable fixed cost savings in the reduction of office space and leasing costs.

At first glance this trend may appear as a win-win for the employee and the firm. Remote workers can eschew commuting time and costs as well as avoid office politics. However many workers will realize that they’re prisoners in their own home office and whose movements may be just as equally scrutinized as if they were physically at the office. In other words they’re working in a larger, albeit, privately owned cubicle – hybrid gig workers.

There are a plethora of legal issues in this new work landscape with respect to the level of privacy the employee has in their own residence, whether rental or owned, utilizing or accessing company (often proprietary) hardware and/or software. One hot issue is surveillance and whether this is merely an issue of swapping the corporate prison cell for the home office prison cell. The employee is a prisoner on a longer leash within a soft electronic barbed wire cage with all the comforts of home.

Generations Born into Technological Slavery

According to the following Pew Research Center report entitled Majority of US Young Adults Now Live With Their Parents, presented by Statista, a German online statistical firm, 9 September 2020, the number of young adults living with their parents is challenging similar numbers during the Great Depression.

These Millennials, Generation Xers and Yers are generations who grew up with and are comfortable with the internet. It’s a technology that often serves as a surrogate friend or parent who is nothing more than a dispassionate, robotic frenemy who knows too much about them and tattle tales everything to their corporate masters. It’s Hal 9000 on steroids. Like the Matrix they’ve been born into technological slavery. These younger generations are subject to the “new normal” of permanent remote work and continued remote possibility of pay increases or advancement.

Furthermore these young people suffer from double isolation not only from the office but the present-day ability to make enough money to move out of their parents’ home. In effect they have two wardens – familial and corporate.

Stealth Discrimination

This new trend bodes badly for minorities, older workers and those deemed personas non-grata. Discriminatory actions or practices will be far more difficult to detect yet alone prove in such an environment leaving even the smartest, ambitious and talented minorities behind particularly since they’ll literally be “out of sight, out of mind.”

In claiming corporate social responsibility firms can cleverly shift their workforce demographic by promoting minorities to senior management positions (with great fanfare I might add) and brag about how the number of minorities in senior managements are a greater percentage than the country’s demographics. It’s called “front-loading” and provides the firm with a sleek & slick public relations façade. In the meantime firms can stifle the progress of their other well-qualified minority counterparts.

Cold Corporate Culture

The terrifying aspect not articulated in the chart is the suddenness at which this trend has developed. The Great Depression spanned several years while the present-day pandemic has accelerated this trend in mere months.

For firms remote work will eliminate the need to pay a premium to those workers who work in urban areas vs the suburbs since everyone’s new “home office” is identical because the only equipment required is a decent laptop and ancillary electronic devices such as a mobile and printer.

For this reason wages for remote workers will flatten. Opportunities for advancement will be far more challenging without the daily, face-to-face interaction that often determines qualitatively which candidates have what it takes to assume greater responsibilities and leadership roles. It’s the same work but different four walls.

The lack of person-to-person interaction creates profound psychological stress as compared to getting the heads-up via gossip channels on possible layoffs, firings, and reorganizations. For this reason you can neither hear or see your enemies plotting and sneaking up on you. Imagine yourself blindfolded with earplugs and placed in a tiger’s cage not knowing whether the type of feline that you share it with. Remote work is the psychological cost and illusion of freedom from the corporate yoke.

 

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.