Bethany McLean’s Weekend Reading List: Coronavirus Special Issue

Corruption, lobbying, corporate malfeasance, and frauds: a weekly unconventional selection of must-read articles by investigative journalist Bethany McLean. 

 

 

 

This is by far my favorite headline of the week: Wall Street’s Pros Fess Up: ‘We Don’t Know What’s Going On.’ No, they don’t! Neither does anyone else. If only health officials and yes, even our president, would admit the same thing. So I’m not going to pretend.

 

If you hoped to read this and get a clear sense of what’s happening, let me shatter that illusion.

 

Uncertainty is the defining feature of our times, and in that sense, the coronavirus belongs to this moment.

 

 

 

 

Even the numbers don’t offer a refuge. This piece illuminates one of my favorite principles about modeling gone wrong: garbage in, garbage out. When it comes to the coronavirus, numbers that appear to be factual can be highly misleading, whether by accident or by design. (Hello, China!)  

 

 

 

 

The reflexive contrarian (not a good trait) in me says that the hysteria about the virus is outrunning the virus itself. That’s at least in part due to another feature (not a bug!) of our times: Litigation risk.

 

Cancellation of travel, conferences, and other gatherings are contributing to the growing sense of panic, but are the cancellations because of fear that people will get sick, or fear that people will sue? 

 

 

 

Here’s another way in which the coronavirus belongs to this moment. We’re all reconsidering the growth-at-all-costs mantra that has shaped modern capitalist societies, and the coronavirus, in forcing governments to evaluate the tradeoff between economic growth and containing the virus, is also part of that larger discussion.

 

This suggests that thus it has always been: Epidemics are of their times. (As an aside of sorts, I particularly loved this quote: “Many people cannot bear the idea that something invisible can change their plans.” )

 

 

 

 

Oh, and I’m buying this book: 

 

 

 

 

The ProMarket blog is dedicated to discussing how competition tends to be subverted by special interests. The posts represent the opinions of their writers, not necessarily those of the University of Chicago, the Booth School of Business, or its faculty. For more information, please visit ProMarket Blog Policy.