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March 25, 2020  

How the Coronavirus Is Exposing the Fragility of Our Economy

March 25, 2020

If you’ve followed Strong Towns for a while, you’ve likely heard us talk about Nassim Nicholas Taleb. We frequently refer to him as the Patron Saint of Strong Towns thinking, because—as we wrote last year—“his insights about risk, uncertainty, and fragility have profound implications for how we build our places.”

One of Taleb’s key concepts is antifragility. The opposite of fragility is not resilience (or robustness). Something that is resilient, when it encounters a shock or disruption, merely returns back to its original state. In contrast, something that is anti-fragile actually gains from the disruption. One example is our bones, which get stronger as we subject them to the many small impacts of walking or running.

For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, the coronavirus outbreak has a lot to teach us about just how fragile many of our social systems have become. This includes, but is certainly not limited to, our economy. A recent article in The Atlantic gets at one aspect of this. In “The Modern Supply Chain Is Snapping,” Lizzie O’Leary describes how the coronavirus is exposing “the fragility of an economy built on outsourcing and just-in-time inventory.” As she shows, we are reliant on China for many of our manufactured goods, including components for prescription drugs and medical supplies. When something disrupts that system—like the coronavirus outbreak—the effects ripple throughout the global economy and our public health efforts.

On today’s episode of Upzoned, host Abby Kinney, a planner at Gould Evans in Kansas City, talks about The Atlantic article with Strong Towns founder and president Chuck Marohn. Abby and Chuck discuss some of the choices from the last 70 years that have made the economy more brittle, the work ahead to pick up the pieces, and also the choice we have to make: Will we double down on failed, fragile-making systems, or will we rebuild in a way that makes us more antifragile?

Then on the Downzoned, Chuck recommends Peak Prosperity, a daily YouTube show from Chris Martenson offering commentary and analysis on the news. (Peak Prosperity has been warning about coronavirus for more than two months.) Both Chuck and Abby also discuss the steps they’ve taken to make time for contemplation and rest in the midst of the massive changes wrought by the pandemic.

Show Notes