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Resetting the UK Economy After Coronavirus

by John Brian Shannon

Things will never return to what has been thought of as ‘normal’ business in the United Kingdom following the biggest threat to Britons since WWII, yet there’s two paths forward where the country can either ‘survive’ or ‘thrive’ after Coronavirus. And that’s the focus of this blog post.

Here’s a short list of things that could be done in order to a) Prepare the UK for the next pandemic, b) Protect Britons from retransmission of a future SARS or MERS virus or other contagious pathogen, c) Build Resiliency into UK infrastructure, and d) Stimulate the UK economy to allow the country and its people to thrive, going forward.


Prepare, Protect, Build Resiliency, Stimulate

For me, ‘surviving’ isn’t enough. What the UK needs to do after any kind of negative event is to ‘thrive’.

When you’re 68-million people on a small island in the Atlantic Ocean that’s recently cut the cord with the EU, and still hasn’t reintegrated with the global economy, nor even the (eternally patient) Commonwealth of Nations, you’ve got to come out of a healthcare + economic crisis with a solid plan and impressive momentum behind that plan.

Let’s talk about what can and should be done as the UK comes out of the Coronavirus emergency.


Four Ways to Repair the UK Economy & Inoculate it from the Next Pandemic, While Supercharging the Economy Now

  1. Coat all publicly handled surfaces with copper. As you may know, copper kills germs, viruses, and bacteria upon contact in only a few seconds, therefore, such commonly handled surfaces like turnstiles, handrails, push-to-open door plates, door handles and door knobs, and the taps in public washrooms, and the buttons on the ATM or any vending machine should be coated with copper. Copper acts so powerfully against germs that even 25% copper content is enough to do the job. Plenty of coins in the world have a high copper content, yet their appearance is like that of pewter or brass, so if you don’t like the colour of copper, metal turnstiles etc., can appear to look like pewter, aluminium, or brass. Killing germs on frequently handled surfaces is a great way to stop retransmission of a pathogen to everyone who passes through that turnstile. How to get it done? The UK government should guarantee zero-interest loans to rail companies, airlines, ATM and vending machine operators, and to cities and towns to incentivize them to coat (electroplate, anodize, or otherwise layer) such surfaces with copper or copper amalgams with a copper content of 25% or more.
  2. Designate who works in ‘Essential Services’ and allow them to continue their duties unaffected by future ‘stay at home orders’. We can’t live without Doctors and Nurses, nor can we live without food and drink, nor without heat and light. And, it’s always nice to have police, fire and ambulance services available on speed dial. Similar is true of the military. Where would we be without them? So, thanks again to those people all the way back to the Great Fire of London in the year 1666. How to get it done? The UK government should require each department to create a list of jobs in their department deemed ‘essential services’. Also, the UK government should consult with UK industry for a list of job titles considered ‘essential services’ and determine the total number of people required to staff those essential service positions — for the purpose of creating a massive database of people deemed ‘essential’ during any crisis. Maybe those people should be issued a passcard and a matching sticker for their car windscreen allowing them to automatically pass through any police checkstop, park their car for free (Doctors and Nurses shouldn’t be getting their car impounded when they’re busy saving lives, for example) and essential workers should be paid (by the government) an extra £500 per each full or partial month of any crisis (even if it’s a local ‘State of Emergency’ situation where local officials have duly informed the UK government about the emergency) to cover exceptional costs such as the worker having to stay in a hotel after working a 16-hour emergency shift rather than them driving home overtired, and then doing it all over again the next day.
  3. Consolidate all UK Department of Work and Pensions unemployment insurance, welfare/Universal Credit, and government pensions systems into one payments system operated by HM Revenue and Customs. At present in the UK (and most Western countries) there are many government departments offering similar or the same services, which represents a HUGE overhead cost and leads to massive inefficiency in government. All payments should be paid via the ‘reverse income tax’ method to vastly improve and streamline UK services to persons. How to get it done? HM Revenue and Customs should ‘top-up’ the income of every adult Briton who is living under the national poverty line to £1200 per month. Which is cheaper than continuing to operate a multiplicity of government departments dedicated to solving the financial, housing, and legal ills of everyone in the country — especially when you factor-in poverty-based crime and related policing, court, and incarceration costs. It would result in a lowering of taxes by tapering the astonishingly high overhead costs for several government departments — and a tax increase WOULD NOT be required. For example: If a person earns more that £1200 per month, they get nothing from this HM Revenue and Customs programme. If they earn an average of £1000 per month (as reported on their previous year income tax form) they would automatically have £200 added to their bank account via direct deposit each month. Millions of entry level workers, senior citizens, some unemployed persons, and others who earn less than £1200 per month would be automatically topped-up to that amount, but only if they’ve filed their income tax return for the previous year, and only if they’re over the age of majority. It can’t be emphasized enough: The overhead savings alone for the government would more than pay for this improvement and small businesses would benefit from reduced property crime + high insurance rates, and the threat of personal theft (getting ‘mugged’) would practically disappear. Remember, homeless people are only homeless because they don’t have funds to pay rent, therefore, they turn to crime, drugs and other unpleasant means to stay alive. And the gross total cost to the UK annually is in the billions. Take away the reason for the problem and suddenly, there’s no problem. So easy. And prevention is always cheaper than solving a deeply-entrenched problem!
  4. A number of major national infrastructure programmes should be made ‘shovel ready’ as soon as this crisis ends, as nothing says ‘Crisis Over!’ like plenty of jobs ready for people at the end of any emergency. It’s the news that people need to hear during a crisis as it will keep hope alive and keep them working towards a solution instead of them sinking into the abyss of worry, doubt, and substance abuse, or even worse. ‘Here’s a shovel. Now go plant a billion trees!’ is one way to help the bottom-two economic quintiles get back to a normal life. Anyone, even workers who live (whether above or below) the national poverty line might want to spend a few hours doing that at the weekends to make-up the income they’ve lost during the COVID-19 crisis. ‘Let’s reclaim a hundred square miles from the sea and build luxurious golf resorts there!’ might be another way to create millions of badly needed jobs at the end of any emergency including the present coronavirus crisis. Adding fill to the shallower areas of the UK coastline can build sea level rise resiliency and help to prevent the normal process of erosion of land by the sea while creating spectacular tourism areas (jobs, jobs, jobs!) for those who love ocean views. Seen The Palm Dubai, anyone? Dubai was a sleepy fishing village not so long ago. ‘Here’s a hammer. Now go install 10-solar panels on every roof in the UK’ and the UK government should provide zero-interest loan guarantees for any home or business owner willing to have such an array installed on their roof that contributes surplus energy to the national grid. ‘Here’s a tractor. Now go make the UK 100% self-sufficient in food within 10-years!’ and again, the UK government shouldn’t grant such money, it should provide zero-interest loan guarantees to those able to move the UK closer to that goal. Obviously, farmers in the UK won’t be growing coconuts or bananas, but any non-tropical fruit and veg should be doable in southern England. If UK policy is right and the financing is kept at zero-interest, UK farmers and ranchers should be able to accomplish the task with ease and have enough capacity to export significant quantities of UK produce. And the last suggestion is to Get Britain Working Again!’ (but From Home) after the COVID-19 crisis ends by increasing internet and telephone bandwidth and by improving PC programmes that help people to work from home as efficiently as they do at their regular office, thereby allowing fully half of all Britons to work from their brand new home office. Which, of course, (you knew I was going to say it, didn’t you?) should be financed via zero-interest loan guarantees courtesy of the UK government.

You’ll Notice my Suggestions Don’t Cost Anything (net) and They’ll Save the UK Billions while Supercharging the UK Economy and Solving Many Social Ills

You’ve got to like that, whether you voted Conservative or Labour!

Virus Economics: When Markets Feel Poorly

by John Brian Shannon

Fearing that the Coronavirus pandemic might affect their investments, perception became reality for investors in the world’s stock exchanges as markets see their biggest drop in recent years.


‘Money flees uncertainty’ – You’ve heard it before or read it in print

It vaporizes during civil unrest, it dissipates into thin air when politics goes awry such as when a national leader faces a coup d’é·tat, and it leaves without saying goodbye during natural disasters. In short, the thing we call “money” isn’t our friend at all, in fact, “money” (by which, I mean ‘investment’) is the most fair-weather friend we could have.

And that’s a good thing!

(I hear what you’re thinking, “Is Gordon Gekko writing this post? You know, the whole, “Greed is good,” thing and all that?) Hehehe.

No, Gordon Gekko from the movie Wall Street isn’t writing this post, I’m merely remarking upon what’s patently obvious in the global marketplace — that the de facto rule is that individual and institutional investors prefer stable and profitable companies and countries to unstable and less profitable companies and countries. Of course.

What it means on the ground is that organizations that prepare in advance for the ‘bad times’ are seen as more stable, and therefore a better long-term investment, and that’s where the money flees to during challenging economic times.

Which is why some countries have a AAA+ credit rating and others don’t. It’s why some companies have triple A credit and others don’t. It’s why some countries need IMF loans and others don’t.


Stayin’ Alive, Yeah!

Being prepared, means staying alive, even while your competitors are dying all around you. (Not literally dying; But that’s the kind of talk you hear on trading floors during the so-called ‘bad times’)

I say ‘bad times’ because, for prepared countries (and companies) there really are no ‘bad times’.

Prepared organizations sail right through recessions, depressions, war, civil unrest, natural disasters and more — precisely because they’re well managed and well-equipped to weather any sort of storm, whether it be political, economic, or even natural disasters that can strike without warning.

Any CFO knows that recessions occur every 25-years. They know their factory (or whatever) is located in a floodplain, or in an active earthquake zone, etc., therefore, long in advance of any of those events occurring, they create a ‘rainy day fund’ to carry the company through a catastrophic period with surprisingly little upset.

The reward for this kind of long-term thinking is that when disaster finally strikes (and it surely will, it’s just a question of when) your organization will carry-on with ‘business as usual’ even as your competitors are dying in the market. It’s called ‘building resiliency’ into your company (or country) and it’s a fine thing.

And that’s the time that your company can go ’round and snap those companies up for ten cents on the dollar. ‘Picking their bones’ as we used to say in the halcyon days of Carl Icahn, investor, corporate raider… and strangely enough… philanthropist. Cool, huh?

Anyway, ‘Fortune favours the prepared’ said Louis Pasteur, and he was right.

So it follows then, that countries that aren’t prepared for Coronavirus version 2019 (called COVID-19 now that it’s been officially named) aren’t going to sail through it unaffected.

Rather, it’s easy to see even at this early stage which countries have engaged in long-term thinking, and have long ago upgraded their medical capacities to handle pandemics such as COVID-19, and although some cases showed up on their healthcare systems they had the ability and the capacity to deal with those cases with immediacy.

And if there’s one thing that pandemic-type viruses hate, it’s timely diagnosis, speedy quarantine and effective treatment.

Consequently, those prepared economies will see little economic impact from COVID-19 or any subsequent mutation of the COVID-19 virus which is likely to be called COVID-20 if it occurs in 2020. And there’s always, always, a mutation eventually, however it’s almost impossible to predict when that mutation will occur. At that time, the treatment for COVID-19 won’t work on COVID-20 (or whatever that mutation gets named) or if it does work, it’s likely to be less than 50% effective. Just sayin’.

Again, those governments that believe in long-term thinking and have prepared in advance of the latest Coronavirus pandemic have already inoculated their economies against the worst of the problem, although they could still (secondarily) be affected by other countries whose economies may now suffer on account of not being prepared.

Therefore, it was the perception of investors who have themselves created the entire ‘Black Monday’ market devaluation by pulling their investments from the stock market. But if there are more countries that are prepared for and respond well to the Coronavirus threat, then today’s market recalibration will turn out to be nothing more than a blip on the year-end 2020 annual report.

But if it turns out that a majority of countries aren’t properly prepared to handle this Coronavirus pandemic then this market slide could last a long time and worsen as thousands more become infected.

And then what happens around November or December 2020 if a new, mutated COVID virus appears?

Just as the markets get back to normal, suddenly a newer and more virulent version of this virus begins to run through the world’s healthcare systems… will they be ready then? Let’s hope so.


More Pandemics are On the Way. So, Let’s be Ready Next Time!

One thing’s for certain. In this increasingly interconnected world, there will be more pandemics and perhaps much more deadly and with a more rapid onset than the COVID-19 virus.

In such an instance, only the countries blessed with leaders who aren’t afraid to make the big decisions (like closing their airports and even their land borders and seaports for 2-weeks to prevent millions more infections from occurring) will survive the next viral onslaught.

In the case of the COVID-19 virus (so far) it looks like the major economies have dodged a bullet, because it turns out that it isn’t the strongest virus, as it’s only able to kill the elderly and the infirm. However, future pandemics may not be as mild as this particular Coronavirus.

We need to get ready. We have so far failed this drill, but Western healthcare systems are quickly ramping-up to meet the present threat. Until governments begin to provide permanent ongoing funding to healthcare providers to help them get more efficient at capturing such viral threats, isolating those who are contagious, and effectively treating those who’ve been exposed to such contagions, we’re living on borrowed time.

Let us thank the medical professionals on the front lines diagnosing, isolating, and treating those people who’ve had exposure to the virus, and thank them for doing much in a short time, with only tepid support (at first) from Western governments. Bravo!


Bonus Graphic

Markets see their biggest drop in recent years as fears of the COVID-19 virus spreads.

Markets see their biggest drop in recent years as fear of the COVID-19 virus spreads.


 

Solving Britain’s Coal Tip Problem by Building Coastal Resiliency

by John Brian Shannon

Mountains of coal tip waste could be put to good use via land reclamation from the sea, thereby protecting vulnerable UK coastlines

The UK has two problems that could be solved via a constructive land use approach: One, Great Britain is a small island with a growing population, and Two, since about 1690, the detritus created by coal mining and coal burning has accumulated into veritable mountains of colliery waste which now spills onto rail lines, housing developments, and farming communities during heavy rainstorms. Not to mention that coal ash and fly ash chemical components can leach into local groundwater.

Although the UK’s coal tips may have been built with the best available technology and the best intentions decades ago, some of them are becoming unstable and need to be dealt with soon. Coal tip land is presently unavailable for farming or other any use until the waste is removed and the site cleaned, but that land could easily be turned into forest or crop land once remediated.

The solution seems rather obvious, doesn’t it?


Reclaiming Land from the Sea using Colliery Waste in Sealed Metal Containers, Sunk into Concrete

We see how land has been reclaimed from the sea in the Netherlands for centuries now, and how in the UAE entire islands have been created from nothing more complicated than dumping enough sand into the Persian Gulf and compacting it until the new land has risen above sea level.


Here are some examples of land that has been reclaimed from the sea using basic materials and engineering.

This fascinating video has 15.5 million views on YouTube. Once you start watching, you can’t stop.


Netherlands Reclamation Map. Image courtesy of EARTH Magazine

Netherlands Reclamation Map. Image courtesy of EARTHmagazine.org

In the Netherlands, the entire coastline was changed using a different method where dikes were built some distance out to sea and the seawater was then pumped out, and soil and gravel was used to level the reclaimed land, thereby making it suitable for underground water pipes and sewer lines, and for roads and buildings.


Singpore land reclaimed from the sea

Singapore land reclaimed from the sea. Image courtesy of NTU blogs

And in Singapore, fully 25% of the country consists of land reclaimed from the sea, with plans to reclaim even more land by 2045.


So, Don’t Tell Me It ‘Can’t Be Done’

It’s being done, every day, all over the world. Creating new land is common in the 21st century. Even Tokyo’s gigantic Haneda Airport was built on land reclaimed from Tokyo Bay. The trick… is to do it in a cost-effective manner.

Filling 55-gallon oil barrels or shipping containers with coal ash and other colliery waste and setting them into wet concrete slurry that hardens before the tide comes back in, is a cheap way of safely storing colliery waste for centuries.

What better use for soggy coal ash than to seal it in metal containers, and securely set the filled containers in plenty of concrete in order to help reclaim hundreds of square miles of land from the UK’s coastal areas, thereby protecting homes and businesses from dangerous storms blowing in from the sea, and consequently increasing the country’s resiliency from sea level rise brought on by global warming?

Tumbling such metal containers off the back of a truck onto coastal areas is a terrible idea, but if the lid is welded shut and each barrel surrounded by 1-foot thick of concrete slurry — once the concrete is cured — those containers won’t be going anywhere for the next 1000-years.

Reclaiming land from the sea

Reclaiming a one-mile-wide strip of land from the sea. Image courtesy of Dougal.co.uk

From Great Yarmouth in southeast England to Berwick-upon-Tweed in the northeast, the project would create thousands of jobs and 2020 could be year-1 of a 50-year project. Start with only 1-square-mile this year, and ramp-it-up annually!

Yes, I get it would be a massive and costly undertaking — but the simple fact is that Great Britain isn’t getting any bigger as its population continues to increase — even as the sea rises and massive storms erode more of the country’s land every year.

A 1-mile-wide strip of reclaimed land could be used for many purposes, including wind farms, agricultural land, containerized shipping ports, warehousing, industrial use, and a high speed rail link and motorway to speed people and goods to and from the north.

Dutch wind turbines on land reclaimed from the sea.

Wind turbines and tulip farms on land reclaimed from the sea in the Netherlands. Image courtesy of VVVNoordoostpolder.nl

Each 1-square-mile section would need to rise 40-feet above sea level, be sturdily constructed to weather the fiercest storms, and be covered with plenty of trees and fields to help prevent soil erosion over the decades.

On the Great Britain side of the reclaimed land (not the side facing the North Sea) it could be left to become an inland sea (a fisherman’s paradise!) or in some places local governments may decide to infill those areas to add even more land to their territories.

With a topping of gravel and soil to bring the reclaimed land up to an altitude of 40-feet above sea level, many square miles of land could be added to the UK’s vulnerable coastal areas, and that reclaimed land could be made into truly spectacular golf courses, sports fields, or other recreational uses.

Golfing by the Sea, anyone?

Golfing by the sea! Pebble Beach Golf Links, Carmel Bay, California, USA.

Another example of land reclaimed from the sea at Pebble Beach Golf Links, Carmel Bay, California, USA. Image courtesy of MoneyInc.com

Just under 250-square miles of additional land would be added to the UK’s total land area and this 1-mile-wide strip of land would help to prevent erosion on existing land along England’s east coast, provide better storm defences, protect the country from eventual sea-level rise, and allow an expedited road and high speed rail route for people and goods travelling to the north of the country.

All that’s required to get this programme started is the political will to do it, so if you see merit in such a plan, please email your MP or local government and tell them you want a 1-mile-wide seawall between you and the open sea that would add beauty, recreation, an enhanced transportation corridor and industry to the region, and that colliery waste could be an important part of this great job creator.

Who knew that waste from coal mines and coal-fired power plants could play a part in solving the multiple problems of soil erosion, temporary coastal flooding/storm surges, and eventual (but permanent) sea level rise?