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Several years ago, while directing the economic coverage of an American news magazine, I had the pleasure of working with a very wise office manager from Washington, DC, who knew where all the bodies of the swamp were buried. We covered two American elections together, and I remember in history meetings, when one journalist or another would make incredibly strong and convincing arguments as to why a particular politician would get his party’s nomination or win the presidency, the head of the office listened politely, then just say “it’s early”. While his instinct for the candidate to cover just in time for their 15 minutes of fame was foolproof, he was also very humble about his own inability to predict the end of the game for any electoral cycle – which was particularly impressive since that he was better placed than anyone on the staff to do so.
I thought of these wise words – “it is early” – regarding the upcoming elections and the stock market crash of the past week. On the electoral front, while Bernie Sanders looks very likely to wipe out Super Tuesday, there could also be a chance for a surprise from Joe Biden, given his slam dunk in South Carolina last weekend. In fact, I recently spoke to several traders and investment advisers who opt for Biden and Sanders in their personal strategies. The argument is that a market rout and a coronavirus will increase voters’ desire for a safe (although old) pair of hands. But you can also apply this argument to Michael Bloomberg, who projects exactly the kind of cool-do-ness we want in the middle of a pandemic (if this guy was still mayor of New York, you can bet his team data would have optimized the best places for the distribution of masks, and that it would have teachers from public schools who include health boards in the scientific program).
That said, as an informed reader of the Swamp Notes pointed out after Ed’s last note, regardless of Bloomberg’s skill, his disdainful body language in New York does not play well in the country he flies over. Which begs the question that another reader has raised – if Bloomberg can’t win (or buy) the Democratic presidential nomination, would he run as an independent? Well-placed FT sources have heard of this, but all I can say is “please don’t”. It never ends well.
Ed, am I wrong? Is there a chance that if we had a Trump / Bloomberg / Bernie race, BBG would win? Could there still be a resurgence of Elizabeth Warren? What is not too early to predict?
As for the stock market, I don’t think it’s too early to say that we shouldn’t follow the President’s advice to buy the plunge. As I explain in my last column, this is not going to be a recovery in the price of V-shaped stocks – I think it will be a choice between a W (probably with several peaks and valleys) and an L. Whatever who’s in the White House in November and how quickly the coronavirus manifests, all of the factors that have boosted multinational profit margins over the past 40 years – globalization, corporate concentration, tax arbitrage and increased capital rewards from work – are now threatened, in some cases across the aisle. This will lead, among other things, to a pension crisis for the next presidents to be resolved.
I was deeply moved by Zuzana Justman’s personal story in The New Yorker about his childhood years in the Terezin concentration camp in Prague during the Second World War. It’s kind of a strange mirror image of Anne Frank’s story, exploring what we choose to write and why.
I was blown away by this front page of the New York Times on how children in the Bible Belt, where opioid addiction is rampant, learn to administer overdose reversals as part of a desperate public health initiative.
I can’t wait to read my friend Steven Levy’s new inner vision on the rise and fall of Facebook. Steven’s book on Google, In the plex, was a feat of David Halberstam style that combines detail and overview, so I have great hopes for this book too.
David Brooks’ interrogation on the nuclear family in the Atlantic is something to think about, especially since the costs of housing, education, health and childcare prevent many young people from starting families. nuclear today.
And as the coronavirus spreads, be sure to wash your hands and read our lunch with the FT starring Peter Piot’s “Mick Jagger of Microbes”.
Edward Luce responds
I interviewed Jerry Brown, the former California Democratic governor in Berkeley last week, and he got the same answer. Alas, “it’s too early to say” or “it’s hypothetical right now” is rarely the answer you are looking for, even if it is technically correct. It is of course too early to be sure of the outcome of the Democratic race, much less of the spread of the coronavirus. I would greatly appreciate a higher degree of certainty on the latter, as I am in Seattle at the moment, which is hosting what looks like the first local group of the disease in the United States. I really want to address my red eyes tonight.
Although we cannot know the end of this year’s Democratic primaries, we do know the parameters. In addition, each race so far has largely confirmed what had been widely predicted (Mayor Pete and Bernie are doing well in Iowa, Bernie wins New Hampshire and Nevada and Joe Biden takes South Carolina). If this predictive race continues, Bernie will lead the way Tuesday with Biden behind and Bloomberg and Warren still somewhere in the frame. As I wrote on Saturday evening, it would be very surprising if Amy Klobuchar and Buttigieg were still racing on Wednesday.
What we don’t know is how the party will resolve a situation where no candidate gets more than half of the promised delegates, but Bernie has plurality, which is what I expect. This is where things get extremely unpredictable. You cannot exclude Bloomberg as a third party candidate. But it’s getting late for that (there are deadlines for putting your name on state ballots). And there would be an instant pariah among many people whose support he is now seeking. So I would be surprised. The one I’m looking at is Tulsi Gabbard. She likes to appear on Fox News and has a taste for the spotlight. Could she be Ralph Nader this year?
And now a word from our Swampians. . .
In response to Bloomberg’s coming to Waterloo:
“As the coronavirus spreads, the question of whether we can pay Medicare for all becomes more and more outdated. Can we afford not to have Medicare for everyone will seem logical. Current news benefits Sanders. ” – Martin Kenner, Assistant Economic Historian and Former Commodity Trading Advisor, Hudson, New York
“Bloomberg would be silly to give Sanders any funding. It is the coming disaster for the Democratic Party. A repeat of the recent British elections. ” – Lee Bertman, Assistant Professor of Economics, Indian River State College, Vero Beach, Florida