Adam Davidson is an American actor and television director from Los Angeles. Davidson has appeared in the following films, The Day Trippers, A Match Made in Heaven, Návrat ztraceného ráje, Way Past Cool, Nature Boy and Pop Life. In addition to acting, Davidson has also directed for several television programs which include: Community, Lost, Deadwood, Grey's Anatomy, Six Feet Under and Fringe. He is the son of acclaimed American theatre producer and director Gordon Davidson. His debut film as a director, The Lunch Date, won the Academy Award for Best Short Subject and the Short Film Palme d'Or at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival. Davidson is a 1991 graduate of the Columbia University School of the Arts.
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We were asked by Morgan Spurlock to write a film about the economic impact of Ebola and other epidemics, so the result is "The Ebola Economy," part of the WE THE ECONOMY series.
It took us a couple of weeks of research, that was then ongoing, to accommodate the shifts in the Ebola landscape.
You can watch the short now on Yahoo! here - or the film is available when you download the Docurama app, which will have the entire “We the Economy” series available today!
Ask us your questions, reddit! Victoria's helping us get started.
EDIT: Thank you all so much for your amazing questions and insight! We were thrilled to have a chance to spread awareness about Ebola and its affect on the global economy. We also want to thank Victoria from Reddit for all of her help today!
You can watch "The Ebola Economy" and the rest of the "We the Economy" short film series on the free Docurama app today!
Does a pandemic have to get into "worst case scenario" territory before it wreaks any kind of noticeable havoc on the Western world? Just how widespread would an Ebola outbreak have to be before it started disrupting the global economy?
As a very rough estimate, it seems that fear of disease causes about 10 times as much economic damage as the actual disease.
I'd imagine a handful more US cases--10 or 100--or a similar number in China, I think we would, likely, have seen a massive worldwide impact. Airports shut down, ports slowed, global trade slowed, etc.
In fact, i would say it's extremely likely this will happen at some point with some disease. That's why I think it's economically rational to spend a fair bit now--maybe $1 billion or so a year--to develop a strong, coordinated global response team.
What is the Ebola economy?
We think of it as the economic impact that Ebola has had, locally, on West Africa. But, also, the risk of economic crisis throughout the world.
What do you really want to happen that probably never will?
I would love the world to set up a quick-response system that will monitor outbreaks and send quick-strike teams quickly. These should consist of doctors, of course, and other medical professionals. But, also, experts in organization, politics, communication and other much-needed ideas.
Can you show the math you used to get to $5 a gallon gas from ebola impacting Nigerian oil output? Similar output shocks, largely due to armed conflict, have not had such drastic price impacts as a roughly 100-150% spike in oil prices. Why would ebola be different?
This was very much a worst-case scenario. We took data from the World Bank, which reported on the potential worst-case scenario if Ebola hadn't been contained. Back in early September, it seemed very possible that it would have had a huge impact not only on Nigeria but on global supply chains. There could have been a dramatic slow down in oil exports everywhere, as ports were closed, etc. So, the potential, back in september, was for something far worse and far more global than anything we've ever seen.
Of course, thank goodness, that didnt' happen.
How long did it take from Morgan asking you for the short and it being finished?
We worked very quickly. We had a pretty solid rough cut up within a couple weeks. But the story kept moving quickly and we kept revising to stay on top of it. It was a new experience for me. I spent years reporting daily stories for NPR, where we would react in minutes or hours.
If you had said "here's the worst case scenario" and maybe used some data visaulization (probability cone?) to show a range of possibilities, I'd be fine with it. But you took what you describe as a 20% possibility and portrayed it as the likely, if not inevitable, outcome of ebola spreading. I just can't see that being justified.
Fair enough. It would have been better to do it the way you describe. I like that idea.
It is very, very hard to report on things like this. Most economic issues are just not very dramatic. The most likely outcome, the median outcome, is dull.
But I do think you propose an elegant solution.
How much of the Ebola epidemic took place in already impoverished areas?
Pretty much all of it. This was far more an economic crisis than a health crisis. Ebola doesn't spread nearly as quickly as other diseases. It is a relatively easy disease to contain. But the horrible infrastructure of the impacted countries, because of economic desperation, made this an epidemic.
How strong was the West African economy before the pandemic started?
The impacted countries were among the poorest in the world. There are poorer countries, like Congo, Central African Republic, etc. But if this had happened in wealthier countries, the epidemic would, likely, have been a non-story.
Why you? I mean, what is your background and how did they approach you?
I have covered global economic issues for NPR and the NY Times for a long, long time. I was one of 10 economic consultants on the overall We The Economy series of 21 short films. I wrote two of those films. In my case, I had no special experience with Ebola or West Africa. My experience is, more, in covering complex economic issues and trying to make them understandable to a broad, lay audience.
First of all the response would have been much bigger, much faster. The fact that they are both major trade partners with the US would have meant a real mobilization of resources right away. Because West Africa is such a minor part of our (and the global) economy, it took a long time for the world to see the potential global impact of the outbreak.
One of our great fears was an outbreak in one of the poorer, internal cities in China or India. If it had been uncontained, it could have had worldwide repercussions. One of the most surprising facts we learned is that fear typically causes more damage than the disease itself.
Can you link to that World Bank data?
And do you think that reporting it in this way is responsible? To be honest, having listened to a lot of Planet Money, I've always been impressed that you take a calm and not overhyped view of things.
This video felt really overhyped. It's taking the worst case scenario of ebola spreading and the worst case economic impact scenarios and treating both as if they're the middle of the probability distribution.
You have definitely identified a very real concern that we had. I was quite worried about overhyping things. I will say that, unchecked, the estimates responsible people were giving were quite terrifying. We were talking, off the record, with senior folks at the UN who were more scared by this than anything they had ever seen. Jen and I covered the war in Iraq. We know from overhyped coverage.
I will say, I do wish the film had come out back in September/October, when these issues were more current.
Here's a link to that first World Bank report:
They have, of course, revised it since.
Our mandate was to was to really try to get across the potential butterfly effect of the pandemic. When we started, many Americans seemed to be focusing on the wrong issue: i.e. that they might actually get Ebola. We were asked to get across the worst-case economic scenario and use that as a reason for the world to step up a bit more in its response.
At Planet Money we tend to avoid stories about potential things that might happen. It's really hard to report on potential future events.
Wow! That's amazing.
Also, I loved Planet Money. One of your stories you did with This American Life was the basis for my Creative Writing MA novel.
Wow. Which one? I'm eager to hear. You should send us the novel.
Which begs the question: How in the world do we get our leaders to do that?
Yeah. That's the hard part. We know, from economics, that it is extremely hard to get lots of people to solve problems that are big, global, and where each player can defer to others and free ride on their work.
Global warming is an obvious example. (Yes, I believe it exists.) But economists point to lots of public goods that are hard to address in a coordinated way.
Sadly, we are, probably, forced to wait until another epidemic and then respond poorly.
In this case, though, I do think the cost/benefit is so positive that it is a bit confusing. The US, alone, could easily cover the cost. $1 billion is just not a lot of money in the US federal budget.
But you saw how idiotic our elected representitives could be last time.
Oh, so you're a badass? That's pretty awesome. What is it about fucked up situations like Iraq that made you say "I should go there"?
Wow are we not badasses. But we did live in Baghdad for a year. And have covered a lot of disasters.
Without getting in to the idea of the war itself (Jen and I agree it was a terrible war), as a reporter it was a magical time. Everybody had such amazing stories to tell. In those early days, in 2003, when Saddam just fell and the US occupation just began, we were able to go to nearly any person on the street and ask them any question and get the most amazing stories.
My first five days in Baghdad, I just walked out on the street and went up to the first person I saw and, each day, that first person gave me the best stories I ever reported.
For me and Jen, and a lot of our friends, these extreme conditions are great for finding powerful stories.
As it happens, Jen and I fell in love in Baghdad. Got married. And we now have a three year old kid. As a result, we are no longer badasses at all. Though we do know a lot about Paw Patrol on Nick Jr.
Is that a responsible thing to do? Butterfly effects are, by definition, highly unlikely. Presenting large scale decimation of tourism and massive job losses as the probable outcome of ebola spreading to Nigeria is simply not true. $5 a gallon gas is a very low probability outcome from that, and then mass job losses coming from that are yet another low probability outcome, since companies don't fire workers based on short term price spikes.
And a huge number of mitigation efforts would take place if oil got that high, including even more aggressive drilling in the US and Canada, as well as measures to get oil tankers out of Nigeria sans-ebola (quarantining ships for say 21 days, with some/all of the quarantine taking place while under steam would work nicely).
Reporting sensationalist outcomes to get people to dump resources into a particular cause doesn't seem responsible to me. As a journalist, you shouldn't be trying to gin up responses to particular crises, and especially not by being wildly sensationalist. That's advocacy, not journalism.
I agree with everything you wrote here.
We did see the worst-case as a real higher-probability outcome than you did. I'm not sure about any one specific path. It might not have been the oil price channel. But I do think that, when the World Bank wrote its report and we used it for the script, there was a very real (~20%) chance of dramatic and painful global impact.
It was anybody's guess how that would play out. we chose to follow the potential paths that the World Bank spelled out.
So, I'm torn. I agree with you, in general. But we weren't making this stuff up. Very conservative, sober forecasts included some very scary scenarios.
That being said, I agree that overhyping any one crisis over others is not a zero cost activity.
There was so much media hysteria after the Ebola crisis. People in the U.S. were scared (and their "trusted" media sources were more than happy to stoke those fires). Was that fear a good thing in any ways? Would you like to see people get scared in a DIFFERENT way, maybe? I guess my question is, what do you think was positive about the way the American media and public reacted, and what would you like to see happen differently if a similar scenario arises in the future?
It's weird. I feel like the US media was both over- and under-hyping the story back in September/October and in the months before.
It was way overhyping the danger to the average American, here at home. We really were never in any real danger. We had a strong medical system (even if it showed obvious flaws) that could stop the disease. And we went into all that craziness about shutting down our borders and preventing people from flying into or out of West Africa.
But we were doing a terrible job, I thought, of calmly and smartly spelling out the tragedy happening in West Africa and its potential.
We really struggled with where to be on this under- to over-hyped continuum. Today, it does feel like we maybe were a bit too far in the over- direction.
I'd say this is a very common feeling I have: the media covers stories hysterically but rarely sheds real light. I have a joke about Iraq: that America went from fascination to boredom with Iraq and the Middle East without ever passing through actual knowledge.
I do recognize that I am part of the media, part of the problem, I guess. I like to think that, on balance, I've done the right hting.
I know this may seem like an obvious question, but does who we vote into office in the US make a diference in dealing with these international epidemics?
I wish it did. I care a lot about international issues and about epidemics. But I can't imagine they are very high on anybody's list of key issues on which they choose their representatives. As a result, politicians feel little need to be strong on them.
It was about the econimic crash, it inspired me to write a novel that kind of dealt with the economic in a fictional way for kids. It's very very very slight in the book (the bad guys are an organization that owns "all the world's money"), but it was very much inspired by understanding how the stuff in 2008 happened.
That's great. Thanks for letting me know.
I found the full PDF that accompanied that. Regarding potential spread to Nigeria, and impact on oil production it says:
>Nigeria's high oil
dependency for exports and budgetary resources may ironically be an advantage in the face of Ebola, as
the oil sector has a very high regional concentration, with much of it offshore, and should not face
Ebola-related disruptions in the absence of a mass epidemic. Official trade flows with West Africa are
relatively small. Informal trade flows are much larger, although it is not clear how these flows would be
affected by any Ebola-related trade disruptions. GDP growth in Nigeria is expected to be close to 6
percent in 2014, and the general government budget to be close to balanced.
This is the only mention of crude oil in the report.
Where, from this report, or anywhere else, did you get $5 a gallon gas? You hinged a lot of your video on high oil prices, and I just don't see the case here that this was in any way a likely outcome.
There's a lot of hedging in that graph.
It's an awkward position to be in, today, but, yes, I stand by the idea that, back in September/October 2014 there was a real (~20%) chance of a major, unprecedented disruption of oil supply that could lead to $5/gallon gas.
It obviously didn't happen, so it's hard to argue taht it could have. And I don't know if the probability was, really, 20% or 5%. But it was sizable and real.
What is your specific argument? That we shouldn't ahve said $5/gallon? That we shouldn't have reported that there was a real chance of a massive global economic crisis?
So if you had to sum it up, what are you hoping to accomplish with your doc? Is it just about informing, or would you like people who see it to behave differently? And if so, in what ways?
I'd say that, back in September/October 2014, there was a desperate need to help people understand that this was a potentially disastrous global crisis.
Today, the Ebola outbreak is not so risky. But there is a real chance. I'd even say a high likelihood, of some other epidemic in the next few years that would, similarly, cause enormous global economic damage.
I'd love for some fraction of folks who watch the film to ask their elected officials to support efforts to create a global response strategy that monitors and responds to epidemics everywhere.
Is there anything any state or local elected officials can do, or is this a federal government issue entirely?
I'd say there are two simultaneous channels. State and local officials are the on-the-ground frontline folks who either do or do not create the systems that can respond when their own community members get sick.
The federal government is needed to deal with the big, global coordination.
The ideal situation would include a vigorous response from boht.
>It is very, very hard to report on things like this. Most economic issues are just not very dramatic. The most likely outcome, the median outcome, is dull.
This is undoubtedly true. But it's also why I appreciate Planet Money so much. The series you guys did on automation did a good job of not just being sensationalist and saying "the robots are going to take your jobs!" But rather taking a lot of different perspectives and showing both what we know and don't know.
But this video doesn't live up to that standard, and I think it takes the easy way out by ignoring the dull likely outcome and making the viewer scared of something they shouldn't be scared of.
There we definitely disagree. I think that the crappy global response to Ebola from December 2013 to October 2014 is a major problem. And the fact that we have no confidence that the next time will be different should be among the world's greatest concerns.
We were overscared, I guess, of Ebola. But we're underscared of pandemics in general. We could have made that point more explicit.
The overall point was simple and, I think, sound: that it costs more to ignore epidemics than to respond to them quickly and aggressively.
The problem with that math is that it is, always, a wild guess what specific path the economic impact of a crisis will take. And any guess is vulnerable to critique.
But I'd definitely stand by the overall idea: epidemics are terrifying and on purely economic terms, their costs unchecked far outweigh the cost of prevention.