Calm the f#*k down (pictorial edition)

Appending a few pictures to a thousand words from last year

Since T20s have been boringly one-sided, there’s disproportionate coverage of second ripple. Felt like a good time to revisit my CTFD advice from last year. To give you all a break from my verbosity, I took a pictorial approach.

One picture …

One more picture …

(Note that scales on pictures are different. I separated out 3-states that are way worse on ongoing covid-deaths/population to tell most of you to be even calmer. I’m still sanguine despite living on above grey line, although no-school gets my goat)

Pictures are worth more than my thousand words from last year (re-shared below).

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Calm the f#*k down

It’s bad enough being cooped up at home with a school-less kindergartner inside and an overrated disease outside. Throw in doomsday headlines, clueless yet confident experts, alarmist forecasts, a gaggle of unemployables wanting to revoke property rights and tyranny of the paranoid all around, and I have a double-Dolo headache. It’s either “We’re all gonna die” or “We’ll never have a life”. Here’s my unhinged rant on the counter-productive doom that seems all pervasive off and on media, mainstream and social.

If country shuts down, economic indicators will asymptotically approach zero. That’s self-evident. What’s gained by screaming “Aiyo Murugaa, PMI down 89%” every time some nonsensical measure of a transient, unrepresentative period comes out? Shutting down the economy for 15% of the year makes it a tad difficult to show growth. Duh! What’s with the insane amount of effort and coverage on the decimal points of that indeterminate negative number? CTFD.

Anyways, full-year GDP is meaningless. The worst decline is behind us, not ahead. What kind of bozo gets stressed about a projection about the past? Averaging quarters with widely disparate outcomes is silly, except for statistically challenged headline writers. The number that matters is, after an appropriate settling-down period, how close will we be, in aggregate, to a ‘normal’ trajectory. Since that’s unknown and unknowable, we might as well CTFD.

Now for the stereotypical “I’m not an epidemiologist, but” part. I’m not an epidemiologist, but the general idea of the lockdown was to avoid a doomsday spiral of an out of control disease overwhelming the very systems that can rein it back into control. To some people’s surprise and possibly disappointment, we appear to have succeeded. As I’ve written earlier, in a messy world, it’s prudent to entirely avoid ruinous outcomes. Once ruin is out the picture, shift to managing risks instead of avoiding them. We’ve done exactly that. If I may say so, we’ve done well. Denominator-adjusted, very well.  We have reason to feel good. CTFD.

Faced with a terrible emergency for which no playbook exists, everyone did and is doing their best. Politicians, bureaucrats, central bank, police, healthcare professionals, frontline workers, businesses, citizens. Tragic as they are, some trade-offs and screw-ups were inevitable. With hindsight, everything could’ve been done better. Especially to armchair commentators who’ve never held a real job. Even more so in an imaginary world where we have infinite resources. Sure, some criticism on this account is well deserved and even constructive. However, hypotheticals don’t take away from the fact that that we’ve done way better than seemingly better equipped places. It could’ve been worse. Way worse. CTFD.

While current situation on economy and livelihood is terrible, it’s on expected lines. It’s an inevitable consequence of a necessary extreme step. We’re gradually changing course, away from this surreal extreme. There’s no playbook for this return journey either. Like everyone else, we’re feeling our way back, doing our best in responding to an evolving situation. It will be uphill, uncertain and all that. Just as we didn’t know how we’d do on the disease front, we don’t know how we’ll do on the economy front. Then again, we did ok the former. CTFD.

I’m no economist, but restarting the economy might be vaguely linked to people getting back to work. Inconveniently, for most, work involves leaving home to make stuff. Worse, it requires people feeling normal enough to go out to buy the stuff that’s made. This return to normalcy isn’t merely a physical change of letting people out. It’s a psychological change. Especially when 99.99% of Indians are not medically but mentally scarred by the disease in question. Scared people need to become un-scared. It’s a feedback loop in the other direction, where feeling normal leads to acting normal and vice versa. With time, luck and nudges, we may even go from normal to confident. We’ve avoided a downward physiological spiral. Now, we have to avoid a psychological one. So, CTFD.

Our innate negativity instinct, beautifully articulated in Hans Rosling’s Factfulness, has enough fuel even in normal times. Right now, it’s running on steroids. As bad news sells, media will not change, but we have to see through them. If we can look past moving yet unrepresentative anecdotes, a majority of our factories are running. Ditto with our cities, shops and trucks. Agriculture held up even through lockdown. Electricity consumption is running at nearly 90% of normal. We’ve even had traffic jams. It’s up to us to recognize systemic positives over anecdotal negatives, for individual sanity and collective good. CTFD.

Objectives drive strategy. Strategy drives communication. Communication is about emphasis. When the goal was to bunker down, emphasis was on scaring the sh*t out of people. When the goal changes to livelihood, with precautions, emphasis changes accordingly. To use a poorly thought through analogy, emphasis changes from GMV to bottom-line. From a scary case-count that mostly comprises perfectly healthy people (and is way understated, all over the world) to a much smaller bottom-line of people who are actually sick. Without trivializing anyone’s trauma, it’s counter-productive to fret over a misleadingly a large GMV that includes feeling-fine and Benadryl-Crocin folks. Without a shift in emphasis, it’s hard to CTFD.

One last thing. I’ve opined on a topic that’s well outside my circle of competence. You should definitely doubt my credentials here. Perhaps, ignore me entirely. That said, here’s some food for thought. Personally, I live in the one city whose stats and stories are far from calm-inducing. Professionally, my interests are 100% opposite of what I’ve just argued for. I have been, am and will be a buyer of Indian stocks, albeit selectively. I get my best bargains amidst panic. I hold long enough to be indifferent to exactly when normalcy returns. So, longer and greater the fear, better for my pecuniary interest. While I profit from distress, I don’t wish for it. I’d rather see us CTFD.

I have no idea what’s going to happen. I don’t forecast even in normal times. I’ve made my disdain of forecasters amply clear. I don’t know what kind of recovery we’ll have, how close we’ll get to prior trajectory, how long it’ll take or which sectors are better placed. Unlike those confident folks on TV, I don’t know what PM, CM, FM or central bank should do to help our recovery along. However, I do know what the rest of us should do. Stop hyper-ventilating about every case, anecdote, datapoint, headline or forecast. We should calm the f#*k down.

Rant out of the way, I’ll do so myself.

Originally published last May at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/calm-fk-down-anand-sridharan/

Sources for above graphs:

https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus-source-data

https://api.covid19india.org/