365 Days With My Mother-in-Law: Boots on the Ground View of Barcelona’s Economy

It remains in a state of suspended animation.

By Nick Corbishley for WOLF STREET:

On March 5, 2020, a venerable Mexican lady flew from Mexico City to Madrid, and then on to Barcelona where her only daughter — my wife — lives. At that time, nobody knew it was the height of the first wave of the covid-19 pandemic in Europe. Sylvia, my mother-in-law, had just sold her apartment in Mexico City with a view to renting a flat near ours in Barcelona. The plan was simple: she would spend the first month or so with us in our 85 square meter apartment (915 square feet), adjusting to her new surroundings before beginning to look for her own place. Three hundred and sixty five days later, she’s still here.

This completely unplanned-for eventuality happened for a variety of reasons. The first was that the Mexican peso, with immaculate timing, shortly after she had sold her apartment and deposited the pesos in the bank, plunged by 25% against the euro in the five-week period from February 20 through March 24, thereby wiping out a quarter of her purchasing power in Spain. The peso has recovered only a small portion of that plunge since then.

The second reason was the two-and-a-half month lockdown that kicked in across Spanish territory ten days after my mother-in-law’s arrival. It was one of the strictest lockdowns on the planet. People could not go out for a walk without a justifiable reason, and being outside with someone else was out of the question.

The three of us were stuck indoors together for 70 days. Once Spain began to reopen, in mid-May, we realized that the still-raging pandemic had effectively torpedoed my mother-in-law’s plan to rent a three-bedroom flat and sublet one of the rooms to short-term visitors from Mexico.

Nonetheless, my mother-in-law’s arrival was in many ways a godsend. My wife had been furloughed at the start of the lockdown and remains so to this day. I lost almost half of my clients in the space of three days and have only just begun to replace them with new ones. By pooling our resources we’ve been able to weather the storm financially. Our savings remain more or less intact, primed for another rainy day. Plus, if my mother-in-law hadn’t come, my wife and I — two expats/immigrants living thousands of miles from home — would have had to spend the worst crisis of our lives completely cut off from our family.

Aside from the occasional family dispute and despite the dystopian backdropwe’ve managed to coexist in relative peace and harmony, unimaginable as that may seem. But my mother-in-law is a fiercely independent, modern-thinking woman who has spent most of the last 40 years living alone. She knows how to entertain herself. She’s happiest debating questions of philosophy, politics, and culture and is one of the most artful devil’s advocates I’ve ever encountered. And she hates cooking (but loves eating).

Outside the apartment, things moves more slowly and more erratically than before.

The Spanish economy remains in a state of suspended animation. Almost a million people are still furloughed. Everyone is waiting for the tourists to return while many of us dread the full impact of the 11% contraction in GDP last year — the biggest since the Spanish Civil War.

The tourists are not coming. In January just 434,000 people visited the country, down 89% year on year, while domestic tourism has been effectively outlawed: inter-regional travel has been banned in Spain since Christmas and is likely to stay that way until at least Easter.

The Spanish government just approved an €11 billion stimulus plan for the tourism and retail industries. It’s a fraction of the €72 billion in revenues that the tourism industry alone lost last year. The visible signs of economic stress are growing.

The number of people officially unemployed reached a four-year high of 4.08 million in February — the equivalent of 16.2% of the working population. That’s a million less than  at the peak during the last year of the last recession (2013), when the unemployment rate hit an eye watering 26%. But remember: almost a million people are currently furloughed and don’t count as “unemployed.”

It’s particularly bleak for Spain’s youth, who already bore the brunt of the last crisis. The official jobless rate for those under 25 is 40%. As The Economist notes, “the financial crisis of 2007-08 took an especially heavy toll on Spaniards. Macroeconomic indicators suggest that the covid-19 pandemic is hitting Spain, which is reliant on tourism, even harder.”

The most visible manifestation of the current crisis is the growing number of boarded-up shops, bars, restaurants and other street-level businesses. They can even be seen on some of the toniest streets such as Passeig de Gracia.

By October, 14,000 of Barcelona’s 80,000 street-level properties were vacant, according to the Census of Commercial Establishments of Catalonia. In June last year, I reported that Spain’s biggest property website, Idealista, was advertising 244 retail properties in the prime tourist areas of El Born, Sant Pere and Santa Caterina. The number has now risen to 286 retail properties. The properties range from tiny little shops on tucked-away alleyways to sprawling bars, restaurants and stores on some of the barrio’s busiest thoroughfares.

The problem is not just the surging number of vacant properties; it’s that few people would want to fill them in the current climate of almost total economic uncertainty, even as retail rents plunge. Every now and then a valiant business owner opens a new store in one of the vacant premises, a rare but welcome sight.

One possible solution being considered is to refit some of the street-level properties into ground-floor apartments. In a few neighborhoods such as Horta-Guinardó this had already begun to happen before the virus crisis, albeit on a small scale.

Residential rents are also falling, both in Barcelona and Madrid, but they are still too expensive for my mother-in-law, who has Mexican pesos, that have plunged against the euro, in her bank account.

Her rental property, an apartment in the Mexican city of Puebla, became vacant in January after the tenants moved out, and a vital source of income has now vanished. So she may fly back to Mexico, still keeping her options open, but she will probably move into her now vacant Puebla apartment in the next month or so. If so, we will miss her. But nothing is written in stone when it comes to my mother-in-law. And if we’ve learned anything from the last year, it is that anything can happen in 365 days. By Nick Corbishley, for WOLF STREET.

A SoftBank-funded fintech unicorn sinks into a massive murky mess of supply-chain finance, amid criminal allegations against the management of its German bank subsidiary, with wide repercussions. Read… SoftBank Fintech Unicorn Greensill on Verge of Collapse

Enjoy reading WOLF STREET and want to support it? You can donate. I appreciate it immensely. Click on the beer and iced-tea mug to find out how:

Would you like to be notified via email when WOLF STREET publishes a new article? Sign up here.

  76 comments for “365 Days With My Mother-in-Law: Boots on the Ground View of Barcelona’s Economy

  1. MonkeyBusiness says:

    This too shall eventually pass.

  2. TimTim says:

    Thank you for the article, it is very interesting. Harsh times.

    To lighten the mood…. Did your mother in law skip, teleport, pogo.. or ….. fly from Mexico City…? :)

  3. Auld Kodjer says:

    Kudos to you Nick for this feat of survival that has left many a married man (and woman) in awe.

    But even Benjamin Franklin might have made an exception, for your mother-in-law, to his 3 day rule for fish and visitors.

    If he knew that Sylvia didn’t cook – not even a mole poblano – Franklin might have invoked the 1 day rule.

  4. Ron says:

    Wow kudos to Spain’s people. No civil disobedience riots looks like depression era how do people survive in Spain Mexico and other countries that depend so much on tourism god bless

    • rich says:

      From “The Local es”

      “Spain’s property prices to see Europe’s biggest drop in 2021 and then rise in just one year”

      “If you’re wondering when the right time to buy a property in Spain is as a result of the coronavirus crisis, Standard and Poor’s has reported that the window of opportunity won’t last as long as many are hoping for.”

      Time to buy low and sell high?

      • Sergio says:

        Not sure you’ll be able to pull this off, taking into account ~10% tax you’ll have to pay to purchased propery

  5. 2banana says:

    Three generations under one was roof was pretty common up until the 1960s.

    • Cobalt Programmer says:

      Even today in Asian countries, for example take India. Joint family with MIL/FIL living together with grandkids is seen as a sigh of success over generations. There is no social safety net in India. So, its the duty of the son to take care of their parents. Usually its the duty of wife to adjust to the husband side family. Also, buying a new home or property is not so easy as in US. Times are changing though…

      • robert says:

        From what I’ve read about ‘adjusting’ to mothers-in-law in India, it’s adjusting to tyranny.

  6. Rcohn says:

    Your articles are consistently informative and insightful.
    This article is testimony on how stupid and arbitrary government policies can negatively affect people in a myriad number of ways.
    It forced your mother- law to unknowingly become a currency speculator. Its policies on lockdown of the economy was based on neither science or logic.
    It screwed many small business owners while huge corporations prospered .
    To live with your mother-in-law for almost a year ; I do not know what to say except Good Luck for the next year!

    • Javert Chip says:


      Sylvia sounds like a pretty smart & independent cookie. I seriously doubt “[Arbitrary governmental policies] forced your mother- law to unknowingly become a currency speculator”.

      She undoubtedly understood that relocating 6,000 miles (9,500km) from one currency to another involved currency risk. Through prior experience, Sylvia certainly knew first-hand that the Mexican peso is not a resilient currency within Mexico, let alone in the world.

      She, like many others (myself included), were frankly stunned how fast things happen in reaction to the Covid epidemic.

      • QQQBall says:

        25% in one month is quite a haircut. Was it 1994 or 1995 when they devalued by 50% from like 5 to 10 pesos to the USD. Still, that is a brutal haircut in a month.

  7. gorbachev says:

    Wonderful post. Now wait a month or so and write a post
    from her point of view. It would be fun

    • MiTurn says:

      Gorbachev, I agree. A follow-up story is required.

      Wolf, see to it, please!

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Nick, can you talk your mother-in-law into it?

      You might have to help her with the English version though, which might, well, let’s say, constrain her rhetorical flourishes when she talks about you ?

      • Javert Chip says:

        I don’t know how much you pay Nick, but he’s about to earn every penny…and then some.

        Actually, it will be very interesting to learn about Sylvia’s dream of moving to Barcelona, being near her daughter (and husband), and essentially starting a new life. We’ll also appreciate her story of the severe restrictions imposed on her dream, and the eventual weathering of the storm due to the (apparent) love of a family, All in all, that’s a story I look forward to reading.

      • Nick Corbishley says:

        Looks like Sylvia’s up for telling her side of the story, albeit with a little editorial guidance from yours truly :-]

  8. Alberta says:

    Hola Nick,

    Many thanks for update from Mendocino, and glad you are weathering these regimes.

    As retired old farts, we were fortunate to travel overseas, now however, flying anywhere where a c-passport is mandatory is off the table.
    Don’t know how others think, but I don’t subscribe to supporting dictators (including yew of a).

  9. Keepcalmeverythingisfine says:

    I think in many countries, and many cities, there will be a tremendous commercial real estate opportunity. It is not my cup of tea, but REITS stand do do very well a few years from now, and that’s something anyone can invest in.

    • Javert Chip says:


      a) Very few people understand investing (reading financials, etc)
      b) Very few people understand commercial real estate
      c) Very few people understand REITs

      If you’re still determined to gamble (and that’s what it is), you might consider a mutual fund (I’m also guessing you won’t read the REIT prospectus and understand the potential for lock-ups).

  10. Sir Eduard R. Dingleberry III says:

    It would be nice if the U.S. didn’t have forbearances. Then people in a tough situation — like your mother-in-law — would be forced to find one friend. People would have to depend on other people. The person giving someone a place to live would get a good feeling from helping that other person. And the one getting a place to live would feel an obligation to do their best for the person they owed.

    • Chris Herbert says:

      That’s what poor people everywhere do all the time. And that’s why poor people are the most generous people around.

      • Argus says:

        They are, because they can empathize. I recall standing with a charity collection box on a sidewalk in Johannesburg many years ago. Some passersby donated, others didn’t. Then a street child in rags, shoeless, came and put a small coin in the box. The widow’s mite…

  11. Khowdung Flunghi says:

    This is why I LOVE Wolfstreet! Thanks, Nick!

  12. Old school says:

    Very good article Nick. Thanks for sharing.

    I live kind of a country life and don’t get out into the downtown scene much. Yesterday I drove down to Southern Pines which has a quaint downtown to meet my daughter and son-in-law. The weather was nice. It was the busiest I had ever seen the town. It looked like the dining and drinking establishments were going gangbusters, but brick and mortar shops not so much. You kind of got the sense that people are ready to enjoy life again. Seems like about half the people out on the street were masked.

    • doug says:

      We have lots of watering holes in Southern Pines. Close proximity to Ft. Bragg provides plenty of patrons. Please come back and spend money any time!

  13. Robert says:

    Good insights Nick.

    Back in the 70’s-80’s in NYC it got quite rough. Gangs of kids and robberies were common. You didn’t walk down certain streets and there was a tangible fear at night.

    But I never hear about this kind of thing in Spain, France, Austria, etc. (Maybe I’m relying on the wrong news sources).

    Is there a large underclass of unemployed ready to go rogue or are the socialist entitlements of Spain so generous that any dissent is pacified? I’ve read about the yellow vests in France, but is there a similar movement in Spain?

    • roddy6667 says:

      Sharing a common culture and language goes a log way toward being civilized. America is a polyglot collection of warring tribes.

    • robert says:

      Yes, you’re reading the wrong news sources.
      In most countries in Europe there are no-go zones, i.e. even the police don’t go there unless they invade with major force and equipment. In the media it’s described as a ‘myth’, and the zones have some euphemism attached to them that sounds quite temperate, but I forget what the term is. Maybe something like opportunity areas.
      I read a hilarious article recently when a policeman was interviewed.
      The interviewer asked about the 100 cars that were torched in one night. His reply: they were probably just angry because of the major drug bust. Another cop said that they seized a bunch of AK-47s and other such items, including hand grenades, quite popular these days. His only concern was that they not get into the hands of terrorists. Another interviewee expressed concern that when the interviewer took out his camera, it could be stolen, but other than that everything was just fine, but it’s best if girls don’t walk around the neighborhood, etc etc.

  14. Jim Bob says:

    Not sure why anyone would hold that kind of money in Mexican Pesos?

    • MarMar says:

      Because they’re Mexican?

      Because they had just sold a Mexican property?

    • SwissBrit says:

      Because they’re Mexican and have just sold a Mexican property for Mexican pesos perhaps?

    • Brant Lee says:

      I had a friend who took a teaching job in Mexico years ago. He received a decent salary in Mex Pesos. OOOOPS, wrong move. The value of that salary plunged over half in a year.

      • Juanfo says:

        Everything down here is priced in USD to avoid the pitfalls of the local currency.

  15. Paulo says:

    You made it, actually. It is almost over. Just a few more months to go. Things will improve.

    I cannot imagine how hard it has been? Sometimes I feel down and depressed as we are trying our best to follow all directives and sometimes it’s just lonely, just plain old lonesome. But your situation makes our look like a cakewalk. Well done.

    • c1ue says:

      No, it isn’t just a few more months to go.
      Vaccinations are not going to hit the 80%+ level to eradicate nCOV for at least all of 2021. It could be never given the high level of anti-vax sentiment in many Western countries.
      There will be a 3rd wave, and a 4th for sure. I’d not bet against more.

      • Turtle says:

        I don’t know what will happen but none of our friends or relatives (30’s – 50s) in Texas or California are planning to get vaccinated. Parents of these (70+) on the other hand are a different story; most are getting vaccinated.

        The vaccine is only available to the parents at this point so maybe sentiment will change among younger people when it’s universally available. As things stand now, it is hard to imagine much more 2/3 of US adults getting vaccinated.

        I’m concerned about the possible long-term health impact of these new mRNA vaccines and also not sure I want to be the guinea pig for Johnson and Johnson or Oxford/Astra, with the vaccines having been developed so much faster than normal.

        • Wolf Richter says:


          My wife and I, we have appointments this week to get vaccinated. I qualified because I’m finally old enough for something. My wife, who isn’t old enough for anything, qualified because she is working for an “essential business” (food supply chain) and has been going to the office every day (everyone wears a mask all day, plexiglass partitions between desks, social distancing when meeting, etc.). No working from home for her.

          I might keep everyone here posted about the side effects and any unexpected developments, sudden deaths, etc. This will be our sample of the vaccine, with a sample size n = 2

        • Turtle says:

          Godspeed, Wolf.

        • Frederick says:

          Your concern is well warranted IMO. I’m certainly not getting the “jab” anytime soon if ever and I’m almost 67

        • Lisa_Hooker says:

          I have considerably more faith in the conventionally developed J&J and Astra vaccines than in the ongoing experiments with the mRNA vaccines.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          The thing is we don’t get to shop vaccines at the moment :-]

          Here, the decision is: “take it or leave it.” Not “which one.”

        • Maximus Minimus says:

          Only Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech are mRNA. The rest are Adenovirus vector based.
          How You Make an Adenovirus Vaccine:

        • Rcohn says:

          There is a distinct probability that proof of vaccination is going to be required to travel by the end of the year.
          I received my second Moderna shot a week ago.
          I felt fine for 6 hours after the shot. I then developed considerable soreness at the injection site , a slight cough and the worse chills of my life . I spent the next day in bed. After another day I was back to normal. My wife who received her injection at the same time did not not develop any reaction to he shot, except for slight soreness at the injection site.

        • Xabier says:

          Very wise.

          Opting for vaccination now, without even being able to choose the type, is utter folly unless one has been coerced by an employer and will not eat otherwise. Such coercion is of course a criminal infringement of basic human rights.

          Or perhaps if you are very elderly with little time to live anyway, and would like a little bit of normal life again before the end and are willing to take the inherent risk.

          Why do I say this? A friend who is a leading , even distinguished, surgeon and researcher ( his work requires a very good understanding of the immune system) advises waiting at least 5 years in order to see just how things pan out.

          Given his professional standing, this is to be taken very seriously, I would suggest!

          As he observed, the accelerated approval process (so fast we hardly saw it) and emergency licences, etc, has been very political and incautious, to say the least.

        • WSKJ says:

          Hope your vaccinations go well, Wolf and wife.

          Thx, Nick: the anecdotal is where all accurate reports begin.

        • c1ue says:

          The long term impact is a lot less clear to me as a problem.
          The real problem is the tradeoff or risk/reward ratio.
          How many people have gotten COVID?
          In the US – it is a bit less than 1 in 10 offiicially. In reality, it could be as many as 1 in 4.
          Of those 1 in 4 or 1 in 10 – how many have had serious problems?
          1 year ago – the ratio was 1 in 4 (of confirmed infections, pre testing) would get pneumonia. Of the 1 in 4, 1 in 5 would become a serious case, and of the serious cases, 1 in 2.5 would die. So if you got it and were symptomatic in March-May 2020, you had a 1 in 50 chance of dying.
          Of course, the “confirmed” in March-May 2020 is not the same as “tested positive” in late 2020 to now.
          So what is the actual benefit of the vaccine?
          a) It does not prevent you from getting COVID.
          b) It does not permanently prevent you from even being protected against COVID’s worst effects a la traditional flu vaccine
          c) It does greatly reduce the chances that if you get COVID
          i) 10% chance to date cumulative –
          ii) and you get pneumonia – 1 in 4 or likely less
          iii) and your pneumonia becomes a serious case – 1 in 5 or certainly less
          iv) then you could die: 1 in 2.5 or 1 in 50 overall, but likely much lower chance now.
          v) Even if you don’t die, there are examples of long term debilities that some people get: chronic COVID etc

          So what the vaccine really does is greatly reduce the chance, in the 2% or more likely 1% or less, that you get COVID and become pneumoniac and become serious, that you don’t die or get the really bad chronic stuff.

          It is worth doing in a medical sense – but is it worth doing for the average American who doesn’t understand jack about statistics? Who don’t do all sorts of things which are marginally better for themselves like lose weight and eat healthy and all that jazz?

          I think limousine liberals, the cautious, the legally required to, the techno-utopians and “In Med We Trust” etc will get the vaccine.

          I think everyone else won’t unless they have to.

          I personally won’t for a long time.
          I am not in the over 60 demo which is the most vulnerable.
          I’ve already traveled all over the place and certainly have been exposed.

          I also know literally dozens of people who have gotten COVID – most in my age or less but not all. At least 20 people. Nobody has died, nobody has even been hospitalized.

          I am not one of those who dismiss the disease as harmless (it is absolutely dangerous), but I am one of those who thinks many/most of us in the West are such amazing pansies in the face of a dangerous, but far from world ending disease.

          The government handling of this disease, however, is dangerous.

          Time will tell how this all plays out but I fully expect multiple more resurgences and lockdowns and ongoing economic fumbling.

      • Paulo says:

        I’m not writing from the US.

        90+% of Canada is planning on vaccinations ASAP. I just read this morning our rural valley on Vancouver Island will have a community approach vaccination as opposed to the current age cohort roll out in major centres. It should happen by April 12th, or thereabouts….but whenever is fine with us.

        Regardless, we all wear masks here and restrictions have been in place for a long time. People are just used to it. Economy doing very well except for tourism and hospitality. Restaurants seem to be surviving on take out and limited dining in at 25%.

        We do NOT miss the cruise ship industry, although I am sure many do in Victoria. Mostly, they just steam by the house belching smoke.

        Not planning on any traveling (Westfalia) until summer, and even then will be wearing masks in public, etc.

        Looks like a new variant wave is starting in Texas as Houston has determined through sewage testing. Spring break travel is insane imho. I cannot believe people are traveling now.

        My father in law was in Manchester during the Blitz years. Bombed nightly, he was evacuated to the country away from his parents. Years worth of restrictions and near starvation at times. His last year of schooling was grade 8. And people in NA complain about masks and restaurants. Call it freedom. Poor babies.

  16. Gerrard White says:

    @Nick Corbishley

    Interesting article – is there any appreciation that Barcelona, and Spain, need to take steps to lessen dependence on tourism ? Any ‘groundswell of opinion’ any gvmt initiatives, any local gvmt political steps

    To be dependent on the whims of foreigners to such an extent can not be healthy nor good for business, or – like financial tourism – is it accepted as inevitable and beyond repair ?

    What such steps could you imagine or recommend

  17. Nathan Dumbrowski says:

    Nice write up Nick. Liked the summary finding that “… anything from the last year, it is that anything can happen in 365 days.” Wishing you a prosperous 2021. Seems unlikely you will ever get another like C19 with MIL. The good old times are only great because we forget the bad parts. Gov’t around the world are plowing B’s and T’s into the economy to shock them back to life. Soon the world will emerge to face the next challenge

  18. Mark Brooke says:

    We have just booked flights to Valencia 8 of us from the UK on the 16th October, so light at the end of the tunnel

  19. Anthony says:

    Don’t worry too much…the Brits are sticking needles into nearly everybody. With 33% plus of the population already having had the vaccine, by summer they will arrive by the tens of millions……and they will be thirsty….

    • Cashboy says:

      A lot of Brits have become anti EU after the way the EU buro-craps treated the Brits over Brexit negotiations and avoiding spending money in the EU zone on German cars and French and Italian wine etc.
      They are now buying Japanese Toyota, Honda and Mazda and drinking Australian and New Zealand wine that they are actually finding to be better and more reliable products.

  20. Uncle Bob says:

    In early March 2020, my wife and I travelled Sydney to Lima to attend our daughter’s wedding. We were booked to depart Lima on 17 March with a 2am departure. We expected to have the airport to ourselves but arrived to find the place jam-packed. We got on board the plane with only a few minutes to spare. Unbeknownst to us, that was the last day before Peru implemented TOTAL travel shutdown. Our Spanish-speaking daughter (and son-in-law) were unaware of it. Had we missed that flight, we would still be in Peru. Our daughter has barely been allowed to leave her apartment since. Imagine if Mum and Dad were also shacked up in her place. Crikey!

  21. Brant Lee says:

    I had a girlfriend who lived in Puebla, Mx. It does get cold there and very few can afford heat. The residents tough it out every winter. I don’t know if the Texas freeze moved that far south but it must have been extremely terrible for Mexico.

  22. c1ue says:

    Great writeup.
    I personally have been traveling – as has my wife – without any issues.
    However, what I can say from my travels is that the regions which are choosing to open up/be stupid (depending on your POV) are a completely different story than the regions which are still nCOV-afraid.
    People in SF – many literally don’t even understand that there are places where you can eat inside, have drinks with friends, hell go to a water park.
    I was in Florida for work – my wife flew in for the weekend. The contrast vs. SF (and no doubt New York, Western Europe etc) could not be more stark.
    She went to Sea World on Saturday – masses of families, mostly from red states. Sea World had a “Seven Seas” event where for an extra $60 you could sample all kinds of fancy cuisines (this on top of the $100+ entry ticket and $30 AYCE food addon). She rode all the coasters and even got stuck for a few minutes when one of the big name ones froze…
    We both went to Aquatica the next day – she because it was a $30 add-on to her Sea World ticket and me because my work concluded early.
    The place was packed. Not shoulder to shoulder but very, very full as in lines for food and rides. Staff were all masked and asked people dining/ordering food to wear masks (and provided them if they didn’t have), but no masks on rides (prohibited) and very few people wearing masks walking around/lying on the fake beaches.

    Net net: travel to a place where nCOV-afraid policies are still in place is not going to return for a long time. The political climate of fear will ensure that.
    Places where nCOV is recognized as an issue but life is still going on – they’ll get the people who want to travel, and those people will be served by (and pay) those who share the view that life goes on.

    The main interesting part is just how badly state and local governments are going to wind up in the nCOV-afraid vs. nCOV-life regions. They’re hurting in both types of responses but clearly the latter is hurting a lot less…

    CA in particular is going to be epic. Between a reliance on income and sales taxes due to Prop. 13 and the ongoing termination of vast areas of discretionary spending (conventions all dead, tourism down 80%+, restaurant revenue down at least 50% if not 75%, bars closed, nightclubs closed, museums closed, etc etc) – CA deficit for 2020 is quite impressive.

    • MonkeyBusiness says:

      Actually CA ended up with a surplus for 2020 I think. In June, Mr French Laundry cut the budget thinking that the state would be badly hurt from the virus, but high income families continued to do well, so ….

      • Turtle says:

        Probably only because Elon Musk and Larry Ellison didn’t escape soon enough. ;)

      • c1ue says:

        California was facing a $54B deficit in June of 2020 which was to be made up by higher taxes on businesses.
        The 2021-2022 budget is positive due to a “windfall” which appears to be mostly sleight of hand, but even so the actual cash flows are negative.

        State Also Faces an Operating Deficit Beginning in 2021‑22. Under our main forecast, General Fund revenues from the state’s three largest sources would grow at an average annual rate of less than 1 percent. Meanwhile, General Fund expenditures under current law and policy grow at an average 4.4 percent per year. The net result is that the state faces an operating deficit, which is relatively small in 2021‑22, but grows to around $17 billion by 2024‑25 (see figure).

    • Wolf Richter says:


      “People in SF – many literally don’t even understand that there are places where you can eat inside, have drinks with friends, hell go to a water park.”

      Correction: Restaurants in San Francisco are open for indoor dining, movie theaters are open too, etc., with reduced capacity. Lots of people on the beautiful waterfront, jogging, sunbathing, hanging out with friends, strolling, playing with their kids in the sand, swimming, etc. Lots of great things to do in SF.

      No need to go to a “waterpark.” I don’t think that there is even one. Who would need a waterpark if you have the beautiful Bay on two sides of the City, and the Pacific on one side?

      San Francisco, the second most densely populated city in the US, has the lowest infection rate (new cases per 100,000) of any major city in the US. Lots of lives were saved in SF. But I understand that lives saved in SF don’t matter to San Francisco haters.

      • c1ue says:

        I live in SF – and I am describing the differences in reality which are still very apparent.
        Yes, there are some high end restaurants open. Little Italy is booming, relative to the worst of the lockdown.
        Yet there are also huge swathes of restaurants and parts of the city which are devastated and are just getting worse.
        The restaurant numbers which you post regularly show clearly that this entire sector is in huge trouble in SF as well as other big cities – the empty retail spaces I see every day are a secondary validation.
        Economies are built on flow – major parts of the economic inflows for SF have been either terminated or severely curtailed – Moscone is now a vaccination center where before it was hosting literally 8 and 9 digit conventions every day.
        All the spin in the world is not going to change this reality.

        • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

          c1ue-as i gather (from friends/acquaintances/news) across the world, our great divide lies in one’s core beliefs upon reflection of Wolf’s final sentence.

          Again, a Steve Goodman’s lyric: “…and it ain’t too hard to get along with somebody else’s troubles, and they don’t make you lose any sleep at night…”.

          A different take-Kit Reed’s short story “The Cold Equations”.

          (Nick-stout heart! My 98-year old Latina MIL has lived with us for six years, now-but we’re rurally blessed with a bit more elbow room-best to you all, looking forward to your MIL’s version…).

          may we all find a better day.

        • AlexW says:

          Waterpark? I prefer a Waterbar. My sis and I are hitting Waterbar, indoor reservations, next Sunday! A good sign for the opening of, “The City,” by the Bay…On this sub-topic, of reopening, and its consequences, I agree with about everyone, to a degree, or percentage.
          Fear and access, if not excess (in both directions, both with fear & access?), are creating very differing economic trajectories for their different practicioners, but everyone’s Gov budgets are busted, States and Fed, at this point.
          Whoever picks up the pieces fastest will likely experience, “new waves,” first and fastest as well. And, as we all know, (thanks, Wolf!) below the surface of current covid concerns lays a long damaged economy sitting on a deep well of debt which this current medical emergency could rapidly turn into an even more deadly economic emergency. If (when) something important, “breaks,” or the central banks lose control of long interest.
          The trajectory of each, of the open areas, the closed areas, potential future waves of covid, and the ability to maintain a, “controlled,” interest rate and therefore, a controlled economy each have a probability of occuring over time. I figure each event will occure in its time…
          So, Hang on, Wolf Streeters, I think we all see that consequences of this wild ride we are all on has a long ways to go to work itself back into some form of stability, whichever side of how these issues work out that you find yourself on.
          All of these decisions, to open, to close, to suppress interest will have costs and consequences that will be paid for.
          PS: And, we’ve all got to appreciate Wolf’s focus on selling the finer sides of the reopening San Francisco Experience, as a true lover, supporter, and practicioner of the core unique (Sourdough?) spirit that made this place so fine…It’s still there, even if buried/surrounded with megacity madness. It’s still a hell of a place, in one hell of a country! (I mean that as an acclimation, not a condemnation…)

      • EUGENE says:

        Very true.Everything is normal in NYC for me also.I wear masks only when shop,10mins a day.Oark,boardwalk no mask for me.Police do not care.A big plus,no more tourists,so no crowds.I really enjoy it,NYC for the rich only finally.

  23. Andrew says:

    Well written and poignant.
    It’s the little stories of loss that affect me.

  24. enderby says:

    Dear Nick Corbishley, thanks for another excellent post. I get fed up with reading too many opinions based on statistics so your personal story is refreshing.

    I visited Barcelona this February (last month) for a few days, as much as anything just to prove that it was possible, and to kick back against the oppressive restrictions of the French government. We left our home in north-west France, travelled by car and roughly observed the French 6pm curfew. In Niort, a large French town, we found only one hotel open. In Agen, further south, there were more hotels open and plenty of motorists appeared to be ignoring the curfew. However, the receptionist said the hotels were closed at the weekend as there was no tourist demand at all. All hotels we stayed in served microwaved meals, to be eaten only in the rooms.

    We expected some controls at the border and had filled in the Spanish government visitor’s form, but drove without stopping on the Mediterranean coastal motorway straight into Spain. There was no sign of any customs post or customs officials whatsoever. We came back via the Andorra road, which is not really a motorway, and re-entered France without any inspection either, or any signs of officialdom whatsoever. The French government had said all visitors re-entering the country would have to show proof of a negative Covid test.

    In retrospect, I am not altogether surprised by the ease of leaving and returning, as these are busy major routes and have been customs-free for years. I imagine both Spanish and French governments consider they have created enough fear among their populations without having to resort to border controls, which would cause a great deal of inconvenience to mostly commercial traffic. Traffic was quiet on both routes apart from lorries delivering goods.

    Getting last-minute accommodation in Barcelona was easy using the internet and we were cheered to see plenty of groups of people chatting on the pavement the evening we arrived. The weekend was sunny and warm and the beachfront was packed with Spaniards (Barcelonians??) of all ages walking, jogging, chatting and generally enjoying themselves. The beach itself was packed with young people playing volleyball. It was really uplifting to see so many people enjoying themselves. Most people on the sea-front were wearing masks, but on the beach nobody wore them.

    We were able to enjoy lunch in a restaurant outdoors (which was packed full). Bars and restaurants were open in the day, but not in the evening due to the 10pm curfew (much more sensible than the draconian French 6pm curfew). However, small supermarkets were open late into the evening and we were able to buy take-away dinners twice from a nearby take-away restaurant. During the day most shops in our area appeared closed apart from small supermarkets and small souvenir shops.

    Neither of us had any signs or symptoms of Covid either before or after the trip, nor have we had any at all during the entire year-long Covid saga.

    In May last year, I drove back to England to visit my mother who was gravely ill at the time. There were no special checks leaving France or arriving in England via the tunnel, though on returning to France six weeks later I was told at the usual passport control that I needed ‘paperwork’. I said I had none, but offered to sign a piece or paper saying I did not have Covid. This offer was declined and I was allowed in without difficulty. At no point on the journey either way was I stopped.

    • Xabier says:

      Exactly: it is mostly a psy op to instill fear and condition populations to a new economic and social reality.

      The next question in our minds must, therefore, be:

      Cui bono?

  25. Nick Corbishley says:

    Thanks, Enderby, for your neat, detailed description.

    It broadly chimes with my own experience and what I’ve been told by people who’ve tried to cross EU borders since March 2020: there’s very little in the way of controls. And Barcelona is not nearly as bad a place to be as it was 12 months ago, especially when the Mediterranean sun is shining. Here’s hoping it stays that way.

  26. Brian says:

    If she put her money in bitcoin, you’d be looking for a citadel right now.

  27. c_heale says:

    I used to live in Madrid. After the 2007/8 crash and during the time of the Indignados I remember reading unemployment for 25 yr olds and under, was 50%, and it didn’t surprise me. If it’s worse now, I can’t believe it’s only 40%.

  28. Artem says:

    Tourism is the ultimate cyclical.

  29. candyman says:

    My view from Boston. Sounds similar to SF. Beautiful, lovely parks, folks walking dogs, a few places to eat, what could be better? Well, I own a small shop in the business district, I’m having the ride of my life, struggling to survive! Even with 2 rounds of PPP, that was good for 16 weeks, now we are into this thing 52 weeks, business is 20% of previous years. At least 30% of eateries in the area have closed permanently. Urban blight, and I think it will take years to restore. Boston is a closed city. It’s not about loving/hating the city, rather a question how to continue life facing new realities of health matters and integrating that into our economic system successfully. I realize that may mean the loss of my business.

    With that said, construction is going wild. Around the corner is a tower being built, the 3rd tallest in Boston, so we hope.

    As for vaccine, I have had my first shot, Moderna, no reaction. I’ll post next week after I have my second. Also, take it or leave it , no choice in vaccine type. For those interested, and tracking vaccine, my age is 68.

    • EUGENE says:

      Very true.Everything is normal in NYC for me also.I wear masks only when shop,10mins a day.Parks,boardwalk no mask for me.Police do not care.A big plus,no more tourists,so no crowds.I really enjoy it,NYC for the rich only finally.

  30. LouisDeLaSmart says:

    Thank you for such a refreshing article full of facts and humor…You made me smile. By the way, some time ago you wrote about Mexico’s policy regarding suggary soft drinks. Was there a follow up I missed, or was it a “on time show”.

Comments are closed.