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Why A Flu Outbreak In China Can Spook Global Markets

When people talk about empires of the past, they generally mean Rome and Britain. But the biggest and in some ways most interesting empire was built and run by the Mongols in the 13th and 14th centuries. At its peak it stretched from China to Eastern Europe, which is more territory than Rome ever controlled.

Across that expanse there was free trade and unrestricted movement of people via the original “Silk Road” network. For a while there was a single currency which was accepted everywhere.

Genghis Khan — think of him as the Mongols’ (gleefully bloodthirsty) George Washington — organized his army along what we today would call colorblind lines. Instead of units based on clans and tribes, he mixed and matched soldiers of varied backgrounds and trained them to be loyal to one another regardless of origin. He also ordered his men to marry women from conquered cities, and to integrate into local cultures.

And he loved technology, collecting engineers and other people with useful skills from conquered lands and putting them to work developing new weapons and better agricultural practices.

“Pax Mongolica,” in short, had all the makings of a nascent modern system, hundreds of years before the Industrial Revolution.

Then came the Black Death.

Free movement of people allowed the disease to move quickly and uncontrollably. Local populations panicked and closed themselves off, frequently slaughtering their Mongol governors in the process. Trade collapsed, the Silk Road went dark and the Mongol empire expired.

Now fast forward to today’s world, where virtually anyone can fly or drive to virtually any other country — and millions each year do so. Trade is a huge part of most major national economies. A handful of currencies are accepted pretty much everywhere, while locals mix with visitors in melting pot mega-cities of 20 million-plus inhabitants, all breathing the same air.

Meanwhile, factory farms pump antibiotics into even healthy animals, turbocharging the natural tendency of microbes to evolve immunity to drugs. “Super-bugs” that can’t be killed with existing tech are now proliferating.

We’re primed, in other words, for a pandemic of some sort and everyone who’s paying attention knows it.

So the fact that a new virus has killed six people (fewer than the daily death toll from scooter accidents in most Asian cities) in China has a lot more impact than it otherwise might.

Financial markets understand that should a contagious, fatal virus start to spread not just within a given country but between countries, the immediate response will be to shut down air travel from stricken places and to limit other kinds of interaction, including trade.

The result: a global economy designed around multi-country supply chains and free movement of materials, parts, and finished products grinds to a halt. Add in the fact that the current system is leveraged to the hilt with no hope of redemption even in relatively stable times, and it’s easy see how six deaths on the other side of the world can be this ominous.


Emigrate While You Still Can – To Finca Bayano

20 thoughts on "Why A Flu Outbreak In China Can Spook Global Markets"

  1. Thanks for the insight John, Also beware the co-incidental of the Black Death was a Grand Solar Minimum that is also in force today and for the future decades. Lots of food production risk (already happening) which contributes to starvation and other human maladies resulting from the cold and diminished diets. Chinese have be tracking the Grand Solar Minimums since the B.C.’s Good websites to view data and the evolution of the climate


  2. Saturday, 25 January = Chinese New Year 2020 and lasts for around 40 days. As of 2016, the number of passenger-journeys during the Chunyun period was almost three billion. It has been called the largest annual human migration in the world.

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  3. “We’re primed, in other words, for a pandemic of some sort and everyone who’s paying attention knows it.”

    A very profound statement.

    Taking the last part first because it’s easiest, there aren’t a lot of people paying attention.

    That leaves the first part, ‘poised for a pandemic of some sort.’

    As most(?) Americans (at least) know, “radicals liberals” are all about population control (e.g., birth control, abortions, endless wars, family planning laws, etc.) More globally (pardon the pun) “globalists” think the same way. I don’t claim to know anything but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are forces that want a pandemic to occur. The fear and chaos that would create is the same as a financial crisis would yield. The are more than one ways to …

    But, as I said, most people are not paying attention, so we shall see how things unfold. Most people don’t care about most things. My gut says this will be another red herring and the controlled insanity will continue, but we shall see. I’m rarely right in my predictions.

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  4. Excellent article, John and all so true, thank you.

    If the truth be known, our world is so fragile – it is said that our supermarkets have only 9 meals in stock because of JIT logistics – it all works on a fine balance. I remember in UK in 2000 when we had the fuel embargo and supermarkets were running out of stock; an old gent in front of me had 2 loaves in his basket. When he turned around to stretch to a shelf, his 2 loaves were gone in a flash.

    Even the ‘thought’ of hunger makes people do odd things and the law of the jungle is not far away!

        1. look, I’m not going to be able to tolerate your constant nagging for food 30 minutes after you ingest that carbage bread… if you gonna ride on my caravan, you better be keto!


          1. OK, I give in, what’s Keto? Sounds like some sort of eastern martial art. Or may be it’a one of those hidden and obscure parts of a modern vehicle, as in: “you had better get your keto in gear before driving off”

          2. Keto as in ketosis, means the body has consumed all the glycogen in your system and switches fuel from sugar to burning fats… Which eliminates cravings and most people have weeks worth of fuel all ready to burn

          3. OH, Thanks, I learn new things all the time here on comments. I guess this is nature’s way of providing a store of fuel for those fasting days when the game is scarce. Good show. :-)))

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