A reader sent me the image above, of Park Avenue in Manhattan just before 5 p.m. today. The height of ‘rush hour.’

This is a major avenue in the heart of our largest city, that in normal times would be jam-packed with cars, and taxis, and delivery trucks, and pedestrians. But it was all but deserted due to the government-ordered rolling shutdown of the economy to delay the spread of Wuhan coronavirus.

Madison Avenue also looked like a ghost town, in another photo the reader sent:

Used with permission reader WAJ

I’m not sure how long this can go on before things come apart. I’m thinking Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict, and New York during numerous blackouts. But it’s more.

For now the food supply is stable, as are the electric grid, and water and energy supplies. But should scarcities appear as factories shut down, then the social breakdown will not be limited to big cities.

With some large cities limiting arrests and with large-scale prison releases possible to prevent viral outbreaks inside the walls, the old adage that ‘when seconds count, the police are only minutes away,’ will seem quaint. The police may be hours away, or nowhere to be found. People are stocking up on guns and ammo for a reason.

You can’t just stop an economy, and expect it not to tear at the seams that hold society together.

I don’t know when the end comes. I think we’re okay for the current 15-day “social distancing” period. Maybe another 15 days after that. But not for several months.

The approaching cash stimulus to people and business assistance will buy a little time. But not indefinite. The government cannot bail out an entire economy.

At some point, we’re going to have to weigh the risk of a virus against the risk of ripping our societal bonds. I think the economic shutdown inflection point comes sometime in May, June at the latest. Beyond that, the center will not hold.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite poems.

THE SECOND COMING

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

 

 
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