The West’s moment of truth?

I recently wondered whether how much Netflix I watched corresponded with the national lockdown.

After all, that’s pretty much what everyone says.

I wondered if I could plot my Netflix hours against the chart of new cases in the UK.

Netflix sadly doesn’t offer charted data for nerds like me, so I had to do a little bit of digging, and what you can find is a record of every episode you’ve watched, chronologically.

So with a rough and ready approach, here are the results.

Here is the chart of daily new cases of coronavirus in the UK, followed by the chart I made of my own Netflix data.

Source: Worldometer

VS

Source: author

I have tried to overlay these charts by hand, because I don’t know how to do it digitally. And no, I didn’t spend a lot of time on the below.

Source: author

Now the interesting conclusions are not quite as stark as I had hoped.

Obviously I wanted my viewing figures to correlate perfectly with new cases because that would show just how knowledgeable and virtuous I was.

Not only am I hot on the data, but my behaviour correlates perfectly, I wanted to say.

Well it’s not quite that simple, unsurprisingly.

Firstly, because I am not alone – what seems to be about a million people use my Netflix. Family and flatmates contributed plenty to the data above.

But still, that’s probably better and gives a slightly broader picture.

It’s also worth saying the data is pretty ropey as I just did number of episodes, and didn’t factor in length or anything. So large pinches of salt with all conclusions.

Having said that, the interesting thing I felt was that episodes watched didn’t spike as soon as lockdown came in, but a couple of months later – in June.

April and May were actually lovely, from memory. The weather was good, we were full of creative energy and went for lots of walks, spent a lot of time cooking and relaxing, and coming up with fun, analogue things to do like indoor mini-golf, remote controlled car races and ever-more innovative forms of catch. We’ve even got a darts board now (what a purchase!).

But it was in June when the weather dimmed that we got a bit lazier. Lockdown was dragging on a bit longer than expected, and we started doing 1,000-piece puzzles in front of episode after episode of The Last Kingdom or The Last Dance.

Both are excellent by the way, and far more different than their names suggest.

And then in July, when lockdown eased significantly, we all watched a lot less. Which makes sense.

And then in August we were far too busy eating out to have movie nights in!

Compared to average Monday-Wednesday figures, the Eat Out to Help Out scheme saw numbers of people in restaurants rise 61%.

A total of 64 million meals were claimed (so far), which is roughly one per person for the whole country.

For those people lucky enough to have stayed in our jobs, able to work from home, half price food is obviously just a lovely freebie.

But Franco Manca (publicly listed – as Fulham Shore) has actually taken on new staff as a result. That’s where your money is going.

Is it a perfect system? No!

Is it unanimously good – also no. People probably ate out less Thursday-Saturday, for a start. But it has convinced people to get moving again, and there haven’t been any dramatic increases in cases as a result, as far as I can tell.

It’s always pretty hard to judge government policy I feel. But I have found it pleasing to see some creativity and experimentation for a change.

Fans of Tim Harford will agree that experimenting with things on a small scale is a great way to go. A one-month trial of the EOTHO scheme will give the government some good feedback, much better than a new, deeply thought out permanent policy which is then embarassing when it doesn’t work.

The real kicker for the UK though will be the unwinding of the furlough scheme.

And judging that one will be very difficult indeed, because we won’t know the counterfactual.

How many of those people were being paid by the government for a job which won’t exist at the end of it all anyway?

If it’s a lot, is that a waste of money or is it just unemployment benefits by another name?

Either way, the UK’s remarkably low unemployment figures are going to start rising now that the scheme is unwinding.

Already we’re seeing huge job cut announcements, which will filter through into the numbers over the coming 3-6 months, and I don’t think the new jobs announced by supermarkets will be enough to fill the gap.

Major announcements thus far tally 100,000.

And then the knock-on effects kick in.

Rent payments missed, meals out not eaten, clothes not bought…

One man’s spending is another man’s income, and so job losses beget job losses in that way, as the business which relied on the spending of that 100,000 start to struggle – property being the main one.

And have no doubt that the 100k figure will rise too, by the way.

We already saw that there were over 200,000 people who were behind rent payments and faced eviction if the ban on evictions had ended last week, but the government chose to extend it until next spring.

But what happens in spring, when the number is far larger?

What if there’s a second wave and the jobless figures are far far larger?

How long can the government justify backstopping consumer spending like this?

Well, previously, the debate would have all been around debt and taxes.

But the furlough scheme and government spending more broadly has awoken something of an ideological dragon.

Folk up and down the land, whether they know they’re preaching Modern Monetary Theory or not, will ask, how come the government could do all that after all?

The Tories laughed at Jermey Corbyn, they’ll remember, for his outrageous spending plans, but they’ve gone far beyond what he proposed, and far faster.

Yes, there’s been a crisis, and so they can justify it that way, but they have opened Pandora’s box now.

Because turning off the taps is much harder than turning them on.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak was hugely popular at the start for stepping up to the challenge and bringing out the bazookas.

But what happens when a lot of people are still struggling and he puts the bazookas back?

It’s like the train fork problem, where if you stay on the current track, you’ll run over four people, but if you pull the lever, you’ll switch rails and kill only one innocent victim.

Once you are offered a decision, doing nothing becomes doing something – an active decision rather than a passive one makes a big difference.

So the government is in a bit of a hole.

The US has very different issues, and for the first time in a while I think I will follow that election with some interest.

I believe that Donald Trump only won because of Democrat complacency, and so it won’t happen again – but that’s obviously a hugely simplistic view, and there’s a lot more to it.

The scary thing is that the US isn’t down in the dumps right now because of Trump – they voted for him because they were struggling already.

He is not the cause of a declining US (in global terms, I’m insinuating that the US is relinquishing much of its global leadership and respect – though feel free to disagree). Trump is the sign that the decline is happening, not the cause.

The question now is, should we buy the American dip, so to speak? Will it rebound and take up the mantle of Western leadership once more? Or is it really declining while China rises to take up its position?

This election will help to understand this point.

Best wishes,

Kit Winder
Editor, UK Uncensored

PS If you’re also thinking that the worst is yet to come, then there are still ways to invest accordingly, and interesting ways to profit. Read more here.

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