Notes for Crisis/Agency-Coronavirus

Steven F. Freeman
Knowledge + Leadership
4 min readMay 5, 2020

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Thanks to Darshi Mody, Burton Freeman ,Tom Guggino, David Sternman, Laura Digilio, Jennifer Wilson, Orin Davis, Larry Starr, Clarissa Libertelli, Paul Lehto, John Ervin, Scott Yarosh, Joe Libertelli and Aurora Casta for helpful comments and feedback on this article.

Link to Article

[1] Write to me at sf@alum.mit.edu.

[2] Seib, Gerald F. Wall Street Journal. “In Crisis, Opportunity for Obama” Nov. 21, 2008. Rahm Emanuel was at the time President-elect Obama’s incoming White House Chief of Staff.

[3] In some ways, lockdowns simply propel forward practices that were already widespread years ago (5 million US remotely workers as of 3 years ago) and probably should have been even more widespread before the bug.

[4] Examples could fill volumes. For now I’ll mention three, one each from government, science and industry:

(4.1) In the aftermath of secret January security briefings about expected impact of the virus, some U.S. Senators sold off stock portfolios but then assured the public that everything was fine, e.g., Senator Kelly Loeffler: “Concerned about #coronavirus? Remember this: The consumer is strong, the economy is strong, & jobs are growing, …:”

Actions of intelligence committee chairman, Richard Burr seem particularly egregious and criminal (Dartmouth Analysis, NYTimes). And it’s not the first time: In 2018 alone, he sold-dutch-fertilizer-stock right-before-a-collapse, and his townhouse-to-donor-at-a-rich-price to a lobbyist working for a stream of clients with business before Burr’s committees. And yet not even a censure from his colleagues.

(4.2) The “scientific” model on which UK and US policy was originally based, was systematically flawed off by orders of magnitude because of untested assumptions, many of which were quite unsupportable, among other problems. Critics Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Yaneer Bar-Yam observe: “Social science is in a “replication crisis”, where less than half the results replicate (under exact same conditions), less than a tenth can be taken seriously, and less than a hundredth translate into the real world.” The Guardian, “The UK’s coronavirus policy may sound scientific. It isn’t.” 25 Mar 2020

(4.3) Amazon Staten Island fulfillment center management refused to inform workers that an co-worker contracted the virus, “not wanting to prompt a panic.” When Chris Smalls went ahead and informed them, he was summarily dismissed. The NY Times: “Not content merely to fire Mr. Smalls, executives planned to exploit him as part of a public-relations strategy meant to deflect attention away from safety issues.” Internal notes from a meeting of executive leaders at Amazon obtained by Vice News reveal the company’s general counsel David Zaplosky calling Mr. Smalls ‘not smart or articulate’ and thus a useful tool in its ongoing plan to besmirch unionization efforts.”

[5] Even prior to COVID-19, American confidence in institutions have sunk to abysmal levels: particularly so for those who claim to inform us, and worst of all for those who make the laws. From a September 2019, Gallup Poll:

American confidence in institutions

[6] When your body detects an invading virus, immunological systems kicks into gear. Just like government response, it’s tough to get just right. If the response is too slow, the disease can kill you. But so can an overly aggressive immunological response.

[7] There are entire fields devoted to the study of social systems, some of which include Social Systems Sciences, System Dynamics and cybernetics.

[8] Political neophytes often become disillusioned because they mistakenly believe that an aspiring politician’s promises of change means that, if elected, things will be different. 😊

[9] Michael L. Millenson, “Half a Century of the Health Care Crisis (and Still Going Strong)” Sept 12, 2018.

[10] Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 1:14 Hillel the Elder, first century BCE.

[11] Every political thinker worth their salt knows to use, or as necessary, create a crisis to achieve their ends. Rahm Emanuel (quoted at top) even before he took office as Barack Obama’s 1st White House Chief of Staff, was thinking about how to make use of the 2008–09 Financial Crisis. He had to be; everyone with whom he would be dealing likewise had their agenda.

Power players keep these close to the vest. From stimulus bills, we do however know some items on corporate coronavirus wish lists, including:

  • Adidas: let people deduct gym costs
  • Candymakers: $500 million loans
  • Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk: $5 billion in loans for their space corporations.

All these requests, however, are dwarfed in comparison to what Wall Street sought, and got ($6 trillion?). Since the start of the pandemic, as small businesses go under, as jobs and health care benefits terminate, as the economy is decimated and investment portfolios decline by more than a third, American billionaires have gotten $280 billion richer.

[12] I hope to devote an article to wish lists for good times and bad. Hopes and dreams are precious flames that need to be tended. In the unceasing demands and disappointments of life, they can easily flicker and die. In which case we also sort of die. Realistic aspirations keep us alive and going strong. Keep your wish list alive in thoughts, plans and interactions. Reflect and revise regularly. Then when opportunity does come along, you’re ready.

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Steven F. Freeman
Knowledge + Leadership

Expertise: crisis preparedness, resiliency, innovation, research methods & applications. Faculty Jefferson, UPenn+. PhD MIT. Advising industry, govnt, orgs, YOU