Your Year in Brief

The Top 20 Lessons of 2020
Gregory BergmanDec 23,2020,19:30

Hindsight is 2020. And while we are all anxious to put this calamitous calendar year behind us, it is worth revisiting some of the most important lessons of these last 52 weeks, lest we forget.

1) Articles that enumerate in Buzzfeed-like fashion generate more views.

Read on to learn lesson #2. See, isn’t this easy and fun?

2) Global pandemics are still a thing.

The story of humanity is the story of plagues. Before the Black Plague, there was the plague of Justinian Plague, which left the Eastern Roman Empire bestrewn with bodies, killing some 5,000 people per day in Constantinople. And before that, Rome itself was besieged with the Antonine plague (smallpox probably) which killed 2,000 city residents per day. The Spanish flu, AIDS, polio, cholera, SARS, MERS, Ebola, measles, smallpox, chickenpox—humanity has been constantly beset by bacterial and viral invaders from the beginning, a bi-product of a Faustian deal we made with evolution.

3) Everyone looks ugly on Zoom.

Really, everyone—even Ewan McGregor. It’s reassuring to know that.

4) Covid-19 was a dress rehearsal.

The death tool, staggering as it is, could have been a lot worse. We must be more prepared for the next, more deadly virus—some future perfect viral storm as contagious as a coronavirus but as deadly as Ebola. We need to implement universal protocols covering lockdowns, border closures, social distancing, PPP, economic relief packages, and vaccine development funds. We should just be able to press “restart" if— or rather, when—the next global pandemic hits.

5) The Queen’s Gambit is what, exactly?

Despite 15 hours of binge watching, not one person who didn’t play chess before seeing the show could tell me that the Queen’s Gambit was a popular opening chess move. So, what did we learn after all that? Girls and/or mid-century orphans can play chess, I guess. (I loved it, of course—just saying.)

6) Democracy is fragile.

Europe, for the most part, understands this. For the horrors of World War II—and the collapse of the liberal democratic governments which preceded it—remain fresh in the Continental consciousness. Just as young Americans are privileged to have not lived in the time of polio (this is why you’ll be hard-pressed to find an anti-vaxxer Octogenarian), Americans of all ages are privileged to have never lived during a time of real governmental insecurity or instability. President Trump was a wrecking ball, but someone more interested in prestige than power can do so much wrecking (Nero was really naughty, but Caligula was worse). Beware the next president whose desire to disregard normative checks and balances is equaled only by a desire for unchecked power.

The lesson here is to turn norms into laws.

Just as the virus exposed the fragility of our public health system, the Trump administration has exposed the fragility of our Republic. From not releasing tax returns to interfering in Justice Department investigations to politicizing the military to ignoring subpoenas to advocating (sarcastically, of course) drinking bleach, Trump was the star of a different kind of dress rehearsal, albeit one equally grotesque. But it was still a dress rehearsal.

We need to take a hard look now at the extent of executive privilege and governing norms. Where norms can be replaced with laws, they should be—before a far more competent and motivated authoritarian takes center stage.

I beg your pardon?

I am far from an alarmist; just last week pardon Flynn, who was gifted a presidential pardon to avoid prison for lying to the FBI, openly urged Trumpto issue an executive order and/or declare martial, and seize voting machines in wing states soon-to-maybe-be-president, Joe Biden won.

7) Even John Krasinski will let you down.

Remember Some Good News, the feel-good show of the quarantine hosted by the seemingly earnest, humble-bragging (and terribly unfunny) John Krasinski? Remember how disappointed you were when he stopped his “show” only to inform us he was selling it to a network, a deal he must have been secretly negotiating for weeks? I am calling for an official boycott of said show in 2021 (mostly out of envy, admittedly).

8) Sell on short seller reports.

It doesn’t matter if the accusations are unfounded, the minute a short-seller report comes out on a Chinese stock in particular, sell and short asap. The stock will go down, at least temporarily no matter what.

9) Russia is still hacking away.

The Treasury. The Department of Homeland Security. Los Alamos. The scope of this hack into the United States’ most supposedly secure databases is astounding. The Russian geniuses outmaneuvered EINSTEIN, our ostensibly brilliant cyber defense system.

While we had our eye on the election, the Russians took advantage—and did it brilliantly. This hack should be a real wake-up call, for we are now teetering on a razor’s edge, the thinnest of lines between run-of-the-mill espionage and an act of 21st century war. This hack calls for the implementation of global rules on cyber warfare, the global way rules of engagement were defined for more conventual warfare in Geneva. Acts like taking down an electrical grid that could cause death need to be rejected universally before this all goes too far, and crosses a line that not only warrants, but necessitates, a military response.

10) We don’t actually have to take the subway to go into work.

Most of us are inessential—that’s what the pandemic has taught us. Nurses, doctors, first responders, teachers, gas station clerks—these are the essential people we need to keep the machine running—in person. If you can do your work from home, then companies would be wise to save the money and let you do so. To my mandarin-speaking employer, I will repeat this line in your native tongue: 如果您可以在家中完成工作,那么比公司更明智的做法就是省钱,让您这样做

It is stunning to think that 65% of companies in the S&P will have stronger earnings in 2020 than in 2019, according to Jonathan Golub at Credit Suisse in a Bloomberg TV interview. The tech stock enthusiasm was, to some degree, grounded in these corporate earnings. That said, consider this: the value of the S&P is now is 131% of U.S. GDP, far higher than it was in the internet bubble. Earnings overall rose 2% this year, while the market cap has risen 15%.

Stay-at-home stocks will continue to do well over time as more of us work from our living rooms. This year has enabled us all to zoom out and view the future of work. And that future is a future of Zooming.

But just because Google won the future of a world built on googling, that doesn’t mean that Zoom will win the future of a world built on zooming. True, Zoom will be worth more in five years than it is now, but how far it will fall next year and how fast it will climb back up is not a journey worth taking right now. In the stay-at-home space, long-term I like Shutterstock (NYSE: SSTK) Adobe (Nasdaq: ADBE), Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) and Logitech (Nasdaq: LOGI).

Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO) is cheap enough to take a chance on to see if it can modernize its portfolio. And again, for tech you can just keep buying Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) and, despite current worries, China’s Amazon Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) and Latin America’s Amazon Mercadolibre (Nasdaq: MELI).

11) Wash your hands.

All the time—not just after you use the bathroom and someone is watching, fellas. Keep your hands out of your mouth and wash them the minute you get home. Widespread adoption of this habit—one that I did not exercise pre-pandemic— might end up saving more lives than Covid-19 took over time.

12) People eat bats.

They do, they really do.

13) People also eat pangolins.

They do, they really do.

Note: Sorry, but any nation that does not crack down on unsanitary “wet” markets selling exotic foods must pay real penalties. Culinary habits are not just cultural prerogatives, they have consequences—ask a black rhino if you can find one.

14) People are willing to die to eat indoors at Applebee’s.

Or get a haircut. We knew many Americans had a pathetically childish view of “freedom,” but 2020 cemented it. It is maddening that a large portion of this country confuses individual freedom with an absolute right to stupidly put themselves and others at risk.

15) Black lives matter.

So do blue lives and all lives, but it is not the same and you know that.

16) Men are twice as likely to die as women from Covid-19.

Don’t know that? Forgot? Well, if you watched Bloomberg or any news channel you would hear less of this and more about how women are more likely to lose their jobs. As a proud product of single, supremely hardworking feminist mother, I am not discounting the sex’s struggle—in the workforce or otherwise. But, while losing your job is bad, dying is worse—and equal coverage of this fact is, I think, justified. Sorry ladies, someone had to say this.

17) NYSC is a piece of sh!tt

Charging my card without warning during a pandemic? Really?! While your business is closed, and I cannot even work out if I was stupid and careless enough to want to? Animals!

18) Stimulus stimulates.

It took a pandemic and a unconservative Republican President Trump to spend the money we needed to save the economy from collapse (kudos to Trump and the Dems on this). Stimulus not only works to stave off economic disaster, but it also works to stimulate the economy even in good times. The highways were a good investment, right? And so was Operation Warp Speed. The stimulus was “fun” while it lasted, but the Republicans will put their Tea Party Tricorn hats back on now that we have a Democratic president, despite blowing up the deficit (mostly on tax cuts for the wealthy) that didn’t produce the GDP growth they said it would long before the first case of the coronavirus appeared.

19) Wear a mask.

Even after the virus is over. Wear it in public when afflicted with even a common cold; this is a cultural habit we should appropriate from East Asia. It’s not about protecting yourself; it’s about protecting others.

20) Stocks are worth whatever people will pay for them.

We learned this lesson in the late 90s before we unlearned it a bit after the internet bubble burst. It was a good lesson to unlearn, but it may be time for a refresher course.

If people just like buying Tesla forever, than forever it will rise. In fairness, this is not the same party as it was in 1999. Even overvalued stocks like Zoom and Airbnb and DoorDash (and a host of others), are backed by real companies with real businesses, household names rather than obscure and now extinct 90s search engine companies.

The takeaway here is that a so-called rotation to value might not play out the way it has in the past. Not if millions of investors (especially young ones) are willing to scrap any scrutiny of financials and just bet on companies that exist in spaces they think represent the future. Food delivery may be the future, but DoorDash will never, ever be worth what investors have already paid for it using any sane valuation metrics. (Tesla CEO Elon Musk decried last week what he called the “MBA-ization of America” to The Wall Street Journal, claiming American companies were too focused on financials.)

Well, American companies might be too focused on financials, but if the last two big IPOs have shown us anything, it is that investors are not. At least, not in 2020.

Maybe next year?

Topics:stocks, 2020
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