Thursday, December 31, 2020

51. Year in Review 2020 — Personal and Macroeconomic

Below is a transcript for my Demographic Doom podcast episode #51 recorded on 28 December 2020 (released on 31 December 2020). It may differ slightly from the final broadcast. This episode is available on major podcast platforms, including PodbeanApple Podcasts and a video version on YouTube. See the description on the YouTube version for extensive annotations, links and corrections. You can also comment on this episode there. The main website for this project is

This transcript we derived from the automatically generated YouTube transcript, with only minor editing for clarity.

I'm Glenn Campbell. I call myself a demographic philosopher. I'm looking at life and trying to predict the future through the lens of demography or the study of human populations. I'm trying to view humanity from a distance like aliens would see us from space.

In this episode, I will review the year 2020 just as it is ending, and as years go this one was a biggie. The world experienced its first major pandemic of the electronic era. And it ain't over yet, so I'm not going to talk too much about the pandemic itself because you know more than I do especially if you're a listener from the future. In this episode, I'm going to talk more about my own personal year, which was momentous in itself, because I dodged another appointment with death, and I'm going to talk about the bigger macroeconomic picture that all of us are facing.

As of the end of 2020, the end seems to be in sight for the pandemic itself. Some vaccines have been developed and they're just beginning to distribute them, but the economic fallout is far from over. Rather than calling 2020 a very bad year, I would call it the first bad year of many. I suspect that 2020 will be the 1939 of bad years—bad in itself but even worse for what it foreshadows.

But i'll get into the worldwide story later. First, I want to give you a little review of my own personal year, which had some drama but ended pretty well. In the first half of the year, I had a relapse of my lymphoma cancer, which was previously treated in 2018. 

Starting in March 2020, I went through a series of chemotherapy cycles culminating in one of the most intensive treatments that oncology can offer, which is an autologous stem cell transplant. That's where I was isolated in a hospital room for 24 days and my whole immune system was essentially rebooted. It was wiped out with some industrial strength chemo, then they reconstructed my immune system from my own stem cells which had been harvested previously. So for three weeks I was a boy in the bubble, occupying a big room in Feldberg 7, which is the hematology oncology ward at Beth Israel hospital in Boston. Since I had no immune system, any little microbe could have done me in. I couldn't even step into the hall, but the staff could come into my room.

So how did I respond to this assault on my body? Well, I had a blast! I might be one of the few people you know who really, really enjoyed cancer treatment, especially the second time around. This time, I was very well prepared. I already knew the drill. I already knew all the folks at Feldberg 7, and I was thrilled to see all my friends again and—uh—give them a little entertainment when I could. It was just a wonderful experience. It was very meaningful to me, and once it's clear that I'm not going to die, I really enjoyed the whole cancer experience, both in 2020 and 2018. I don't want to minimize it. Cancer is a big thing it really concerns a lot of people. It kills a lot of people, but personally, my personal experience, because I take control of things, I really enjoyed the Feldberg 7 experience.

I was in the hospital for about 50 days from March to June and, sadly, I'm now out in the real world [now]. I'm back to my virtual life where I travel continuously for work, and I don't have a human contact anymore, and that's what I loved about Feldberg 7. I had actual friends there who I saw every day. Now in this time around 2020 everyone was wearing masks, so I didn't see their faces, but I knew everybody anyway, and it was nice to reconnect with them. I'm almost hoping for another bout with cancer so I can go back to my my home.

My cancer was hardly ever painful. At worst, it was very draining—meaning that I could hardly get out of bed—but intellectually, it was like a vacation, because I really had nothing to do all day but work on my computer, which is exactly what I love to be doing. So part of what made my cancer experience wonderful to me is that I totally took charge of it. I was the master of my domain, and I had plenty of time this time around to prepare for the autologous transplant. 

My greatest accomplishment—a very very important accomplishment—is that I built a swimming pool in my hospital room. I'm probably the only patient at Beth Israel who's ever done this, and it took me months to prepare. I knew I was going to go in for this month-long sequestering, this month-long isolation, and I prepared my swimming pool well in advance. 

What I did is I purchased a child's inflatable wading pool and smuggled it into the hospital. The security was intense, in that I'm not allowed to have any outside stuff in my room because I'm this boy in the bubble, so I had to do some conniving to manage to pull this all together, but I did. When the worst of my my situation had passed, when my blood levels, my platelet levels, were coming back and I was allowed out into the hall again, that's when I pulled my pool stunt.

I had this really big bathroom. It was a huge room, a room all to myself with a big bathroom, which was a room in itself. I blew up my pool, which is about, oh, a foot high and filled it with warm water and got into my pool. I was decently attired, and I just waited for my nurse to come in and discover me. This is a male nurse, when he when he discovered me, I was filming the whole thing, so if you want to see this, you can go to my Instagram account. The hashtag involved is “GPC”—Glenn Paul Campbell—GPC underscore cancer, and you'll see all my wonderful posts from my cancer experience both in 2018 and 2020. 

So I'm sitting in my pool my warm pool in my bathroom, and the nurse discovers me and says “Oh My God!” And I told him, you know, you better report this to the authorities, that the patient in this room has a has a swimming pool in his bathroom. You've got to report it [and] take it up the chain of command and find out what they want to do about this patient who has a swimming pool in his room. 

So eventually my real cancer doctor came in, Dr. Matt, and he was, “Oh my god!” It was time for his rounds anyway, where they come into your room and they listen to your heart and they check you out and they talk to you about your plan. And so he did his rounds while I was sitting in my pool. You know, he held the stethoscope against my chest, and we did all the usual stuff, and then he told me I couldn't have a swimming pool in my room—which is kind of what I expected. That's the outcome I expected, but my question is why. Why can't I have a pool in my room? Is there some sort of anti-pool policy at Beth Israel hospital? And the doctor simply said, “Infection risk,” which I think is bullshit. I don't think there was any infection risk. They just didn't want me to have fun in my pool.

So my pool lasted all of about two hours, but people came into my room and saw my pool, and I got the effect I wanted. I got the attention I wanted. I made the impression, and I then I took my pool down and that episode was over.

But that's the sort of thing I made out of the experience. Every day, I tried to… I couldn't leave the room, but I did have a window out into the hallway. So I had [these] two little tiny windows into the world. I had a big wall of windows looking out on the street, and I also had a smaller window looking out in the hallway, so at least in this this time when I couldn't leave my room, at least I could look out, and I could also post signs on the windows of my room, so before I ever went in for my transplant, I collected a bunch of signs, like “Beware of Dog” and things like that, and I posted them in creative ways in the window of my room, 

So I totally take control of the situation. That's my way. It was a bit of a shock in 2018 when I first learned I had cancer. I wasn't prepared. I wasn't prepared financially. [and] I didn't have a clue I was getting cancer. I thought I had something else, and [I was] disoriented for a couple of days, but I got oriented real quick, and I managed to, you know, channel myself into making the most of this and channeling myself into solving the various problems that I had—getting all my ducks in the row and totally exploiting this for all it's worth.

In 2018 I went through this very intensive program: 5 months of really knock-down chemotherapy. Many times I was released into the world when I could barely walk, but 2020 was way easier. 2020 was very intense but also very brief. I had a sort of “Lite” version of chemotherapy [in] March, April and May, and then I went in for the really heavy duty stuff in June, when they wiped out my immune system. But the disability, the part where I really couldn't function was only about a week. It was a week at my lowest point when they'd killed everything in my body and were giving me my stem cells back. It was about a week when I couldn't do much but sleep, but the whole rest of the time, I was very productive, typing away at my computer and doing stuff which is exactly what I would have wanted to do anyway.

So if you were to ask me how I spent the first few months of the coronavirus lockdown, it was there. I went into the hospital about March 23rd, which was just about the time when all the states in the U.S. were locking things down, so I did not experience very much of the outside world during that initial lockdown phase. I could look out in my out of my hospital window, and I could see that there was almost no traffic out there on the street, but other than that, it was very much like my previous stay in 2018. 

There were only a few little changes: All of the staff was wearing masks in 2020. I never saw their faces, and no visitors were allowed. Also, every patient got their own room. So during the light phase of my chemotherapy, I never had to share a room with another patient, which was an added bonus, and that's the only real difference. The same people. No one is particularly stressed in the cancer ward because they're not affected directly by Covid. It's not like everything's tense in a hospital during Covid. Only certain parts of the hospital are tense.

In all, I consider 2020 to be a pretty good year for me, but I know that's not the universal experience. It's a pretty horrible year for most people, and it's hard to get a handle on it because most of the misery is invisible. You only know about it from the statistics. 

Now, i've been there. I've known that growing sense of dread when you're trying to support a family and the money coming in, just isn't matching the money going out. You know you're on a ship that's sinking, and there's nothing you can do about it but worry. 

This happened to me back in 2003 to 2005. I was married to a woman with four children, and so I had an instant family. All of a sudden, I had children to care for who I had not raised and I had not trained and it was way more difficult than I ever imagined. When the marriage started collapsing in 2003, it was just the most dreadful experience one can imagine because not only was our marriage collapsing, but our finances were collapsing as well. I'm trying to keep this whole ship afloat, trying to protect people who seem to hate me. I couldn't live in the household anymore from 2003 until the divorce in 2005, and it was just a horrible ongoing stress. And maybe that experience is why I took cancer so well because cancer was a piece of cake compared to seeing my world collapse.

Another statistic that makes an impression on me is that back in 2018 and 2019, the Federal Reserve did a survey and found that 40% of Americans would have difficulty finding $400 for an emergency, and the pandemic has inflicted far more damage than that. And I know that vulnerable 40% are really suffering right now. You don't see any families living on the street yet, but maybe you will. People started losing their jobs back in March, and many have been running on fumes since then. They're protected from eviction or foreclosure by various moratoriums, but eventually those moratoriums have to run out, and that's when things really start breaking. That's going to happen in 2021: People who can't pay their rent or mortgage are going to be out in the street. So that's a delayed effect of the pandemic. There was this initial shock, and then there's the follow-on shocks that are going to happen one after another throughout the coming year. 

The U.S. economy is a sick puppy right now, and the pandemic is only part of it. There are huge dysfunctions in markets and monetary systems that predate the pandemic. In fact, I put out a podcast in December of last year called “The 2020s: The Horrible Decade”, which is Episode #22. Back then, before I knew anything about the pandemic, I predicted a vast economic collapse based on the macroeconomic dysfunction of massive worldwide debt and an aging population. I predicted that a “Black Swan” would come along to bring down the whole house of cards, and lo and behold, about a month later, that Black Swan materialized in China as this pandemic.

I put out another podcast very early on, around February 3rd, wondering if this was the Black Swan that would bring everything down—and it was, and yet it wasn't. The pandemic certainly crashed the economy, crashed the world-wide economy, but strangely it did NOT crash the U.S. stock market, which is flying higher than ever, which is one of the insanities of our moment in history. It's like what we need now is another Black Swan, another unexpected event, to make everybody take the first Black Swan seriously.

During one of the worst pandemics of history, stock markets have gone up, and that's not sustainable. That has to crash sometime, and that crash could easily happen in 2021. Or not. I've learned in macroeconomics, you don't make specific predictions. You can only make long-term predictions. You can always say this thing, this anti-gravity can't go on forever. It has to stop sooner or later. It's just unwise to predict exactly when, how and where it will stop and where when this process will begin. 

I put out my first podcast about the pandemic on February 3rd, which was only about two or three weeks after the pandemic was first reported in China, so on February 3rd, this was still a Chinese problem. There were no confirmed cases in the U.S. There were no deaths in the U.S., but I and many others said, “Okay, this is it. This is the Big One.” Even if it never gets out of China, this is the Big One that's going to trigger these events that that I and my Twitter friends all predicted. 

So that was the 3rd of February. The first death in the U.S. didn't happen until the 29th of February, and in the beginning of March, the United States markets really started noticing, and the stock markets did the rational thing: They crashed in March. They went down as one would expect when there's a going to be a huge hit to the economy. That was totally expected, and frankly, I didn't notice it much personally because the time of the stock market crash, about March 20th or 23rd, was also the time that I learned that my cancer was back. So I was preoccupied with that, and I saw in the news that the market was crashing, and I said, “Yeah, that's what I predicted. It's going to happen.” So over these next few months, I was inward looking. I wasn't looking out very much.

So maybe you want to know how I learned that I had cancer again. That's an interesting story. It was just about when this crash was beginning. March 19th and 20th was when I realized that I was feeling a little weak, and I could see on my fitbit that my heart rate had risen. Just doing the normal things like walking from the vehicle to into a store was very exhausting for me. I saw my heart rate go way up, and I had various theories about this. 

Of course, my first theory was that I had Covid, and so for about 24 hours I thought, “Okay, well this must be the Covid.” I'm feeling very weak, but I didn't have any of the other symptoms. I had no obstruction of my lungs, no congestion in my lungs, not even a drippy nose, so I discarded that theory. And my second theory was I was feeling winded because I was at a high elevation. I was in Albuquerque and vicinity at an elevation of five to six thousand feet. Maybe that was causing me to be winded, and that lasted for 24 hours. 

Eventually I realized what this is is some kind of anemia suggesting that my cancer is back. I had evidence, I had hard evidence. The evidence was my Fitbit. I had this certain baseline level, baseline heart rate, and I could see historically, my heart had gone way up since the 19th of March. And I knew, okay, one way or another my cancer is back. 

I got to get back to my hospital in Boston because that's the only place I could realistically be treated. It would be senseless to check into an emergency room in Arizona or wherever I was. I would have to get back to Boston, so it took me three days from the 20th to the 23rd to deliver my vehicle pick up another vehicle drive it to Boston and skid into the emergency room. As those three days are going by, my condition is getting worse and worse. Not only am I winded walking across the parking lot, but I'm actually physically fainting, physically collapsing, just walking from the car to a rest area restroom. 

On one occasion I fainted twice just walking 100 yards. It's not too dangerous. I could feel myself going down. It's not like a seizure where you have no warning. I knew I was fainting, and I could protect myself, and once I get back into the car and not exerting myself, I can still drive just fine. I'm still alert, but obviously bad things are happening. 

So I on the 23rd of March, I get into the emergency room in my hospital in Boston. I'm expecting a big crush of patients at the emergency room because of Covid, [but there were] no patients. There's no lines, no waiting at the emergency room. I went through a little screening process where they asked me some questions. I didn't have any of the symptoms of Covid, so they let me straight into the regular emergency room. 

Within about a half an hour, they had diagnosed my problem, and my problem was a build-up of fluid in the sac around my heart. So the heart sits in a little bag, a little sac, lubricated with a little bit of liquid, and there was a huge amount of liquid in this sac. They could see it in the echocardiogram. They knew what to do. 24 hours later, they stuck a catheter in my heart. I was awake for it, because I enjoy these things, and they drained out all the fluid, drained out about a liter of what looked to me like blood, a big pouch of blood, but they analyzed it and found out what that blood consisted of mainly was cancer cells, so the cancer had returned inside this sac around the heart, so I knew what I was in for. They transferred me over to Feldberg 7.

Once they drew the liquid out of my heart I was fine. I felt perfect. I was in perfect outward health because by relieving that pressure on my heart, my heart could beat freely again, and I was right back to normal, but of course we had to solve this problem of the cancer cells around my heart. 

And so for 14 days I was in the hospital with what I call “malingering”, because I had no serious symptoms whatsoever. I was a chipper. I was in top form. I could literally walk ten thousand steps every day while they decided what to do with me. So after those ten days, we decided on this this treatment plan, and I went on with it.

So only then did I begin to take a look at the markets again, and, yes, the markets did the rational thing. Between about March 20th and the beginning of April, markets crashed just as they're supposed to do, and then in the second half of [April] markets started rising again, and rising, and rising, until not only did they regain what they had lost, but stock markets in the U.S. reached all-time highs. And if that's not insanity, I don't know what is. 

As I'm speaking to you at the end of 2020, these all-time highs persist, and this makes no sense in terms of any fundamentals. It only makes sense in terms in terms of the artificial environment that the Federal Reserve has created, which is the subject of other podcasts, but that insanity is still with us in 2021. Even if the pandemic is solved, we have to do something, something has to happen to the astronomical asset prices, and that's just one aspect of the insanity. 

There are a bunch of things that just don't make sense right now. For example, to pay for Covid relief, the governments went even more deeply into debt than they were in 2019; yet, they're still able to sell bonds at a trivial interest rate. You can still loan money to the government and get virtually no interest for it, in spite of the fact that the government can't possibly make good on this debt. It can't pay it off. It can only keep borrowing, because it's so deeply into deficit. The only way it can fund itself is money printing. The Federal Reserve prints the money that the government is spending, and that can't go on forever. 

What's weird about this now is that there is no inflation. Normally when a government just prints money without restriction, there is inflation or hyperinflation. That's what happened in Zimbabwe or Weimar Germany, and that's just not happening in the U.S. right now, at least on the consumer level. You can get a dollar McChicken at Mcdonalds for a dollar still. Prices haven't really gone up very much, and that's one of the inexplicable things.

The another strange thing I'm encountering—because I see a lot of the country—is that there are Help Wanted signs everywhere. At every fast food restaurant everywhere in the country, there are Help Wanted signs. They are desperate. They're offering relatively high wages sometimes, and that's also crazy because we're in the middle of a an unemployment crisis where people have lost their jobs right and left, yet there's no one to man the Mcdonalds and other service jobs, so that's another bit of craziness.

One explanation for this is that people who have been laid off, they're still collecting unemployment and the unemployment payments would end if they went and got a job, so they don't want these jobs at Mcdonalds. Now, if unemployment ever runs out, then there's going to be rush for these jobs, and then we'll have fewer of these Help Wanted signs and more people unable to find work. Right now, anyone who wants work in the U.S. can have it. It's just very low-paying work, and if you're used to a high salary in some other industry, it might not even seem worth going to work, if you're only going to make ten dollars an hour. 

So all these insanities are not going to go away even if we cure the pandemic. It's entirely possible that even if everyone got the vaccine tomorrow, there's still going to be these delayed effects in 2021, and eventually there's going to be some kind of crash or collapse that that deals with all these economic insanities.

There's only one fundamental law in macroeconomics, at least in my view, and that's that you can't spend more money than you make. You can do it temporarily through credit, but you can't do it in the long term. The outflow has to match the inflow, and if it doesn't bad things are going to happen. You don't know when. You don't know how, but it's like a ship taking in more water than it's pumping out: Eventually, in a macroeconomic level, things have to crash if they're not sustainable.

One of the things that the pandemic has irrevocably done is wiped out tons of small businesses, leaving only the big guys standing. Big companies like Amazon and Walmart have profited immensely from the pandemic and can now be regarded as monopolies. The people who are let off from those small businesses are now reduced to serfdom. There are still jobs available, but these are what I call fulfillment drone jobs. The computer spits out an order, and you as the drone run around and fulfill it, and that's what millions of people have been reduced to. They are low level automatons, just doing things that the machine itself can't do, and these people aren't happy about it. I see their unhappiness in all the people who voted for Donald Trump, and I also see it in the Black Lives Matter protests. I don't think this is about racism or about Trump. I think this is about people being very unhappy and protesting in whatever way they have.

Now, the dronifying of work certainly didn't start with the pandemic, but the pandemic has accelerated this process by wiping out all those small businesses that offered less drone-like work. After this pandemic is over, it is entirely possible the U.S. will return to the kind of nominal full employment that it had in 2019, but these are unhappy jobs with unhappy workers, and when they go to the ballot box they could do rash and counterproductive things.

One of the few bright spots of 2020 is that America somehow managed to throw off the wretched yoke of Donald Trump, but it was by only the thinnest of margins, and all that unhappiness that got him elected in 2016 is still there and isn't going away anytime soon. Although I don't really want to place any money on it, I'm fairly sure that Trump himself is really gone, and even if he won't shut up, at least he'll fade into ineffectualness, but there will be other Trumps coming along to replace him, and when they emerge, they'll have a willing audience of all these unhappy fulfillment workers.

So 2020 was a pretty bad year worldwide, but I can't predict that 2021 will be any better. Or maybe 2021 will be great but then 2022 will go back to sucking. I just don't know. I just don't see much happiness on the horizon. We're in for a set of devastating collapses. I can't tell you when, where or how, but they're gonna happen.


Written, recorded and edited by Glenn Campbell. For annotations, links and corrections, see the description on the video version of this podcast. You can also leave comments there. See here for all my podcast scripts on this blog.