Take a Look Outside

I drove downtown today for the first time since our office closed over two months ago. I had a short errand to run, and the whole thing was a bizarre mix of mild nerves and banality. I wore a mask, avoided other humans, and bathed in hand sanitizer afterward. I think we’re all still figuring out the new social norms and appropriate levels of caution that our post-lockdown world will require.

Afterward, I detoured through the central business district. It was disconcerting to say the least: I could count on both hands the number of ground-floor tenants that were open for business. Perhaps more unsettling was the lack of foot traffic. Sidewalks were almost entirely empty, and the majority of those we did see were either homeless or visibly economically disadvantaged. The pandemic has made our long-term crises in affordable housing and inequality more starkly apparent, assuming that we leave our homes to see it.

The whole experience gave me cognitive dissonance as I reflected on forecasts by economists and Wall Street analysts. It’s difficult to square the observed reality on the ground with a “V-shaped recovery.” I’m the first to acknowledge that anecdotes are not data, but it’s also the case that our biases can have surprising impact on supposedly objective models. I have to wonder how many forecasters have, like me, been holed-up in their homes for the past few months. This isolation lends itself to reflections on the things I am not doing, but this is quite distinct from the collective impact of the things we are not doing. By so thoroughly severing our personal connections to these tangible impacts, will we make our models more or less objective? Time will tell.

Written on May 20, 2020