Cumberland Advisors Market Commentary – Crown Fires

Author: David R. Kotok, Post Date: September 3, 2020

A COVID-19 resurgence seems about to begin. Schools reopening will be one of the vectors. 

Cumberland Advisors Market Commentary - Crown Fires

Please take time to listen to this August 27 podcast by Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of CIDRAP, the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. He entitles this episode “Crazy Days,” after the title of a song, sent to him by a student, about life in the time of COVID-19.

Here’s the program summary, followed by the link:

“In this episode, Dr. Osterholm and host Chris Dall discuss the impact that Sturgis and students returning to higher education might have on case numbers in the US, the critical need for quality and transparent regulatory science, and the first confirmed cases of reinfection with COVID-19.”

Please note Dr. Osterholm’s references to students and behaviors and disease. Osterholm also discusses how the Sturgis gathering is now beginning to reveal COVID-19 transmission results. Today we saw the first “Sturgis death reported.”  This world renowned infectious disease expert addresses likely outcomes, and he affirms that the US has a long way to go to get to herd immunity. He offers statistics. (We would be remiss not to offer here a related August 31 read about the herd immunity strategy and our government, from the Washington Post: “New Trump pandemic adviser pushes controversial ‘herd immunity’ strategy, worrying public health officials,”

Throughout, Osterholm mentions repeatedly his metaphor of a fire. We have cited his use of that metaphor before and adopted it ourselves in our July 2 commentary, “COVID-19, Opening Up Business and Facing Facts,” (

In response to that commentary, Stephanie Mackay, a GIC board member, emailed me a comment about a “crown fire.” Here’s what she said:

“I liked your fire analogy. In my younger days I was a firefighter with the Forest Service in Salmon, Idaho. After over a century of fire suppression (not just climate change), which has been reinforced by the sympathetic character of Smokey the Bear, fire suppression has contributed to massive, devastating fires. You just can’t get people to let go of the Smokey message. Natural fires burn over time and clean out the undergrowth and allow new growth (e.g., some pine cones need a fire to allow them to burst open and spread their seeds). The analogy can be natural immunity from having a mild form of a disease or a vaccination. A crown fire is the most devastating (read ‘Young Men and Fire’ by Norman Mclean for a great nonfiction tale of the consequences of human error and the natural power of forest fires). Most people don’t understand that crown fires result from unpredictable wind events that whip the fire up across the crowns of the trees and then burns down quickly and with intense heat that no plant, animal, or person can survive. Crown fires are a natural event every century or so. Even the most seasoned experts cannot predict when a fire will crown. The COVID trend lines illustrate an analogy to crown fires–the trend lines are crowning and that is the point of no return. We are there. What puzzles me is that this pandemic didn’t have to crown. We have embraced the symbol of Smokey the Bear rather than accept the wise advice of experts who could have led us away from this crown fire.”

In 2020 we face a COVID-19 crown fire worldwide, including the entire US.  We also see a climate crown fire, in California and elsewhere. And a hurricane crown fire.

Our financial system faces a stimulus crown fire in monetary policy and in fiscal action.

Our public education system is grappling with a crown fire. Here in Sarasota, we learned that when the school system reopened on Monday, 6000 students (out of an anticipated 43,000) failed to appear (“Sarasota schools: 6,000 students don’t show up on first day,” Herald-Tribune, And over in Duval County, Florida, the State Dept. of Health, betraying both public health and public trust, has ordered Duval County Public Schools to stop publishing its COVID-19 case numbers (“Department of Health orders Duval Schools to pause publishing COVID-19 numbers, Florida Times-Union, We’ll delve into this particular education crown fire in future commentaries. We cannot fully get jobs back and economic recovery without safe behavior and thoughtful school opening with full disclosure of facts and truthful government.

And we are watching fires crowning in our cities and, most importantly, in our coming election of a president, one-third of the Senate, and the entire House of Representatives. 

In crown fires, the final casualty count is uncertain; it cannot be known in advance. Thus, all we have is history and educated guesses for guidance. 

Please stay safe and careful.


David R. Kotok Chairman of the Board & Chief Investment Officer Email | Bio

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