Social Mood Conference  |  Socionomics Foundation

Senior Researcher Alan Hall talks about the correlation between epidemics and social mood

Alan Hall, Senior Researcher at the Socionomics Institute, talks about the recent outbreak of the Zika virus. Alan explains that negative social mood created social conditions in which the Zika virus was able to spread.

Learn how stock market indexes are leading indicators of changes in public health >>


[Editor’s note: A text version of the interview is below.]

Dana Weeks: News just broke that fourteen people in Miami, Florida (Editor’s note — this interview was recorded on Monday, August 1) have contracted Zika via local mosquito bites. This marks the first local transmission of the virus in the U.S. Meanwhile, Zika is still raging in Brazil, Puerto Rico, and a host of other countries. What can socionomics tell us about the timing of this outbreak?

Alan Hall: We find that large declines in stock indexes tend to precede disease outbreaks. Brazil’s Zika outbreak followed a six-year, 35-percent decline in Brazil’s benchmark stock index. Let me be clear — we don’t think plunging stock markets cause epidemics. Instead, falling markets reflect trends toward negative social mood, which generate pessimism that first causes investors to devalue stocks, and then causes other negative social expressions. In Brazil’s case, which is socionomically classic, they include poor hygiene that allowed a boom in the mosquito population, economic crisis, high-level corruption scandals, presidential impeachment, etcetera. In a number of ways, negative social mood created social conditions in which Zika virus was able to spread. Bottom line, negative mood increased Brazil’s susceptibility to disease.

Dana: The Rio Summer Olympics kick off in just a few days. What’s the public health situation in Brazil right now?

Alan: It is a mess, and it is under increasing pressure. For example, we wrote in December that the Olympic water venues were infested with disease-causing viruses up to 1.7 million times what would be considered highly alarming in the U.S. or Europe. Last month, the governor of Rio decreed a “state of calamity,” and warned of a possible “total collapse in public security, health, education, mobility, and environmental management.” And last week, The New York Times said that Rio’s waterways are “much more contaminated” than previously reported. It sounds bad. And you’ve probably heard the expert advice to athletes, “keep your mouth closed” and “keep your head above water.” Raw sewage is still pouring into the bay, and just last month, policemen greeted tourists with “Welcome to Hell” signs at the airport. This is quite different than 2009, when Rio won its Olympic bid and was one of the most dynamic emerging economies.

Dana: And now the CDC has confirmed that mosquitoes in the U.S. are transmitting Zika locally. What’s the likelihood that the Miami Zika outbreak will turn into a full-blown epidemic in the U.S.? Or even a global pandemic?

Alan: We think the general risk of a serious outbreak is low, because the recent all-time highs in US stocks suggest US social mood is positive. The CDC doesn’t expect widespread transmission in the continental United States because most people have screens and air conditioning. But, people still go outside, mosquitoes go inside, it only takes one bite to transmit the disease and it is still early in the mosquito season. We should know more in the next few months.

But, as the arrival of Zika shows, we increasingly live in a global society, and many countries are undergoing trends toward negative mood. The inflation-adjusted MSCI World Stock Index is down 56% since March 2000 — that’s 16 years of trend toward negative mood, and as I just commented, that indicates rising susceptibility to infectious disease. Overall doctors are beginning to recognize the trend that we forecast in 2009. In February, The Lancet said, “The early part of the twenty first century has seen an unparalleled number of emerging infectious disease events — so many in fact that perhaps we should no longer consider them extraordinary.” The July 25 Wall Street Journal said “There is a new normal, seen in the intense, rapid-fire cycle of H1N1 in 2009, MERS in 2012, Ebola in 2014, the reemergence of yellow fever, and Zika. Global epidemics are shifting from rare, historical events to be more like recurring dangers such as hurricanes or tornados.”

Dana: Lastly, Alan — can you tell us where the next epidemic is likely to occur?

Alan: Puerto Rico, Greece and Russia, put them on your radar. Stock markets give early warning about where the risk is high. In the August 2016 issue, we specifically survey these countries and others where negative social mood has increased susceptibility and elevated risks to public health.

Dana: Thanks, Alan. We’ll certainly keep an eye on those stock markets going forward.

Learn how stock market indexes are leading indicators of changes in public health >>