the “black swan” and the blind


© Edouard Richard
Paris during confinement, Friday.

The term “black swan” designates an event which has three characteristics: it was not anticipated, its consequences are major and one can explain a posteriori why it appeared. Like the pandemic we are experiencing right now.

Grandstand. Many commentators today speak of the “black swan” to describe the role played by the Covid-19 pandemic in triggering the economic and financial crisis that is currently shaking the planet.

But what is this poor palmiped doing in this story, you may wonder? This term has its origin in the work of Nassim Nicholas Thaleb to designate an event which has three characteristics: it was not anticipated, its consequences are major and we can explain a posteriori why it appeared.

The pandemic we are experiencing does indeed have these three characteristics.

1-It had not been anticipated and, even after the epidemic declared in China, the other countries, and in particular our own, did not perceive the threat.

2-Its consequences, both health but also economic and financial, are immense: the health balance sheet increases daily; all economists agree that the world economy will enter into recession, even if the extent of the latter remains undetermined; the stock markets violently “unscrewed” and strong tensions appeared on the rates of the so-called sovereign debts, those of the States, weakening the capacity to act of the latter to face the crisis.

3-Finally in retrospect, we can perfectly understand both the reasons for the appearance of this pandemic and its fatal consequences.

Let us pause for a moment on this last point.

First, since at least the 1990 IPCC report, scientists have explicitly warned us of the pandemic risk. Let’s listen to them: “Because global warming is changing precipitation and temperature, the distribution and abundance of many vector species is expected to change. Certain infectious diseases, including parasitic and viral diseases, such as malaria, schistosomiasis and dengue, can increase in many countries, especially in tropical and subtropical regions. ” The link between global warming and environmental damage, collapse of biodiversity and the appearance of pandemics has been reaffirmed by scientists many times. Reading successive IPCC reports appears retrospectively as a long litany of similar alerts.

In second place, when globalization results in the increasing circulation of men, goods and intangible flows (information, capital) between the different regions of the world, how can we not understand that an epidemic, when it strikes part of the globe, has a very high probability of spreading and becoming a “pandemic”? “The great plague of the Middle Ages had already followed the emergence of the Silk Road, reminds the doctor Alexandre Mignon. [On] note, [aujourd’hui], an unexpected rebound in infectious diseases, especially from the last quarter of the XXe century, under the effect of savage globalization which takes infectious agents out of their animal reservoirs and accelerates their transfer from man to man. More than 1,500 infectious pathogenic agents are known, of which 70 are of animal origin, and 10 emerge or re-emerge regularly (Ebola, HIV, etc.). So do the influenza and Covid-19 viruses. ”

In third place, Was it not inevitable that a public finance policy whose key words were “economy”, “reduction in the number of civil servants”, “RGPP”, “just-in-time management” and “T2A [la tarification à l’acte, ndlr]Has resulted in a public hospital that is difficult to cope with a health crisis? For months, had the caregivers not shouted their concern, their exhaustion and their anger, faced with the deterioration of their working conditions, without even imagining the crisis situation they would have to manage?

In fourth place, how could we have let research run out of funding at this point and still want to keep it under control to conduct it on short-term objectives, often guided solely by considerations of economic outlets? A logic that, for example, led one of our coronavirus specialists to see his credits cut.

In fifth place, Did we have to go blind to forget that the economy cannot function without men and women – despite new technologies and the changes they bring about in work and employment? And that a pandemic could not have major consequences in production? The ones we are discovering today, which are why economists have currently almost given up making any growth forecast. The High Council of Public Finance does not say anything else when it states in the opinion it gave on the amending finance bill (PLFR) presented Thursday by the government and expecting a recession of 1% in 2020: “The context of exceptionally high uncertainty resulting from the health crisis affects any very fragile macroeconomic forecast”, he writes.

In sixth place, how could some imagine that, on the one hand, the monetary policies carried out by the central banks for years consisting in flooding the liquidity markets, come to inflate the indebtedness certainly of the States but especially of the companies and to overvalue the titles and, on the other hand, that the too partial regulation of these markets and of the banking sector, did not pose a major risk?

All of this was actually manifest. Obvious. Like a black swan in the middle of white swans. Now is not the time to look for the culprits of such blindness. And those who saw also share some guilt: that of not having been able or able to make themselves heard. Now is the time for responsibility and solidarity. But, from now on, let us draw all the lessons from it in order to use it tomorrow in the reconstruction that we will have to undertake and in the actions that we must take today urgently to fight against the triple crisis that we hit.


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