Fears of the ‘worst case’ for coronavirus are growing in Silicon Valley

March 5, 2020, 2:17 PM UTC

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I met Wednesday in San Francisco with Ian Bremmer, the globe-trotting political scientist/consultant/budding media entrepreneur. We sat on a sunny bench overlooking the bay as he shared his view of the risks the world faces. He’d spoken at a jam-packed event in Oakland the night before and had been visiting his Silicon Valley clients, who are concerned about worst-case scenarios from the coronavirus crisis. 

I wanted to know his worst-case outlook, but I asked him to start with the best. An optimistic way forward would be a quick re-starting of the Chinese economy, with a v-shaped recovery; low U.S.-China tensions; and a seasonal dwindling of the virus in the U.S., making it a non-issue come election season. The worst case: A relapse in China, leading to political instability there; Trump blaming China for the world’s problems, escalating trade tensions; and a significant U.S. outbreak.  

“There’s a vast amount of space between those two scenarios,” said Bremmer, using an expression rather than ‘vast amount’ that he wouldn’t be able to say on PBS. 

Bremmer continues to travel. He says his firm follows the daily CDC travel guidelines, so they’re not seeing clients in Japan. He was unconcerned about shaking hands. (“I wash them a lot.”) He thinks most people in the U.S. aren’t anywhere near panicking.  

Bremmer also cops to having been surprised by Joe Biden’s amazing rebound in the presidential election. He thinks a combination of a weakening U.S. economy, Trump’s poor response to the coronavirus, and the greater likelihood of an uncontested Democratic convention now make the general election a “coin flip.” A couple weeks ago he rated Trump’s re-election prospects as high as 65%. 

I asked Bremmer his biggest area of concern that isn’t on most people’s radars. Without hesitating—I’ve never seen him hesitate—he answered: “the de-legitimization of the U.S. election.” He thinks if Trump loses narrowly, he’ll challenge the results, including using “extra-legal” means. Bremmer believes the U.S. can handle whatever Trump throws at it—and he also thinks Democrats will litigate a close election. But he thinks it will be ugly. As a certain poorly behaved politician might say: Sad! 


Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said at a Morgan Stanley conference in San Francisco on Wednesday that he’s become more comfortable, not less, with his target of Uber sort-of becoming profitable by the fourth quarter. He also said Uber remains committed to its costly self-driving car unit, suggesting Uber, unlike competitors, has the simpler task of providing rides on limited routes it knows will be the most profitable. “This is not a science experiment for us,” he said, without naming which competitors he thinks are tinkering less purposefully. “This is a commercialization strategy.” 


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Adam Lashinsky



This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.


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Aaron Pressman



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