A warming world

The climate issue

Climate change touches everything this newspaper reports on. It must be tackled urgently and clear-headedly

FROM ONE year to the next, you cannot feel the difference. As the decades stack up, though, the story becomes clear. The stripes on our cover represent the world’s average temperature in every year since the mid-19th century. Dark blue years are cooler and red ones warmer than the average in 1971-2000. The cumulative change jumps out. The world is about 1ºC hotter than when this newspaper was young.

To represent this span of human history as a set of simple stripes may seem reductive. These are years which saw world wars, technological innovation, trade on an unprecedented scale and a staggering creation of wealth. But those complex histories and the simplifying stripes share a common cause. The changing climate of the planet and the remarkable growth in human numbers and riches both stem from the combustion of billions of tonnes of fossil fuel to produce industrial power, electricity, transport, heating and, more recently, computation.

All around us

That the changing climate touches everything and everyone should be obvious—as it should be that the poor and marginalised have most to lose when the weather turns against them. What is less obvious, but just as important, is that, because the processes that force climate change are built into the foundations of the world economy and of geopolitics, measures to check climate change have to be similarly wide-ranging and all-encompassing. To decarbonise an economy is not a simple subtraction; it requires a near-complete overhaul.

To some—including many of the millions of young idealists who, as The Economist went to press, were preparing for a global climate strike, and many of those who will throng the streets of New York during next week’s UN General Assembly—this overhaul requires nothing less than the gelding or uprooting of capitalism. After all, the system grew up through the use of fossil fuels in ever-greater quantities.

And the market economy has so far done very little to help. Almost half the atmosphere’s extra, human-made carbon dioxide was put there after the turn of the 1990s, when scientists sounded the alarm and governments said they would act.

In fact, to conclude that climate change should mean shackling capitalism would be wrong-headed and damaging. There is an immense value in the vigour, innovation and adaptability that free markets bring to the economies that took shape over that striped century.

Market economies are the wells that produce the response climate change requires.

Competitive markets properly incentivised, and politicians serving a genuine popular thirst for action, can do more than any other system to limit the warming that can be forestalled and cope with that which cannot.

This special issue of The Economist is not all about the carbon-climate crisis. But articles on the crisis and what can be done about it are to be found across all this week’s sections. In this, our reporting mirrors the world.

Whether it is in ensuring a future for the Panama Canal or weaning petrol-head presidents off their refinery habit, climate is never the whole story. Other things matter to Manhattan stockholders and Malawian smallholders. But climate change is an increasingly dangerous context for all their worlds.

To understand that context, it is important to understand all the things that climate change is not. It is not the end of the world. Humankind is not poised teetering on the edge of extinction.

The planet itself is not in peril. Earth is a tough old thing and will survive. And though much may be lost, most of the wondrous life that makes Earth unique, as far as astronomers can yet tell, will persist.

Climate change is, though, a dire threat to countless people—one that is planetary in scope if not in its absolute stakes. It will displace tens of millions, at the very least; it will disrupt farms on which billions rely; it will dry up wells and water mains; it will flood low-lying places—and, as time goes by, higher-standing ones, too.

True, it will also provide some opportunities, at least in the near term. But the longer humanity takes to curb emissions, the greater the dangers and sparser the benefits—and the larger the risk of some truly catastrophic surprises.

The scale of the implications underlines another thing that climate change is not. It is not just an environmental problem alongside all the others—and absolutely not one that can be solved by hair-shirt self-abnegation. Change by the people who are most alarmed will not be enough.

What is also needed is change in the lives of those who do not yet much care. Climate is a matter for the whole of government. It cannot be shunted off to the minister for the environment whom nobody can name.

And that leads to a third thing that climate change is not. It is not a problem that can be put off for a few decades. It is here and now. It is already making extreme events like Hurricane Dorian more likely. Its losses are already there and often mourned—on drab landscapes where the glaciers have died and on reefs bleached of their coral colours. Delay means that mankind will suffer more harm and face a vastly more costly scramble to make up for lost time.

Hanging together

What to do is already well understood. And one vital task is capitalism’s speciality: making people better off. Adaptation, including sea defences, desalination plants, drought-resistant crops, will cost a lot of money. That is a particular problem for poor countries, which risk a vicious cycle where the impacts of climate change continuously rob them of the hope for development.

International agreements stress the need to support the poorest countries in their efforts to adapt to climate change and to grow wealthy enough to need less help. Here the rich world is shirking its duties.

Yet, even if it were to fulfil them, by no means all the effects of climate change can be adapted away. The further change goes, the less adaptation will be able to offset it. That leads to the other need for capital: the reduction of emissions.

With plausible technological improvements and lots of investment, it is possible to produce electricity grids that need no carbon-dioxide-emitting power stations. Road transport can be electrified, though long-haul shipping and air travel are harder. Industrial processes can be retooled; those that must emit greenhouse gases can capture them.

It is foolish to think all this can be done in ten years or so, as demanded by many activists and some American presidential hopefuls. But today’s efforts, which are too lax to keep the world from two or even three degrees of warming, can be vastly improved. Forcing firms to reveal their climate vulnerabilities will help increasingly worried investors allocate capital appropriately.

A robust price on carbon could stimulate new forms of emission-cutting innovations that planners cannot yet imagine. Powerful as that tool is, though, the decarbonisation it brings will need to be accelerated through well-targeted regulations. Electorates should vote for both.

The problem with such policies is that the climate responds to the overall level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, not to a single country’s contribution to it. If one government drastically reduces its own emissions but others do not, the gallant reducer will in general see no reduced harm.

This is not always entirely true: Germany’s over-generous renewable-energy subsidies spurred a worldwide boom in solar-panel production that made them cheaper for everyone, thus reducing emissions abroad; Britain’s thriving offshore wind farms may achieve something similar. But it is true enough in most cases to be a huge obstacle.

The obvious fix will be unpalatable to many. The UN’s climate talks treat 193 countries as equals, providing a forum in which all are heard. But three-quarters of emissions come from just 12 economies.

In some of those, including the United States, it is possible to imagine younger voters in liberal democracies demanding a political realignment on climate issues—and a new interest in getting others to join in. For a club composed of a dozen great and middling-but-mucky powers to thrash out a “minilateral” deal would leave billions excluded from questions that could shape their destiny; the participants would need new systems of trade preference and other threats and bribes to keep each other in line. But they might break the impasse, pushing enough of the world onto a steeper mitigation trajectory to benefit all—and be widely emulated.

The damage that climate change will end up doing depends on the human response over the next few decades. Many activists on the left cannot imagine today’s liberal democracies responding to the challenge on an adequate scale.

They call for new limits to the pursuit of individual prosperity and sweeping government control over investment—strictures some of them would welcome under any circumstances. Meanwhile, on the right, some look away from the incipient disaster in an I’m-alright-Jack way and so ignore their duties to the bulk of humanity.

If the spirit of enterprise that first tapped the power of fossil fuels in the Industrial Revolution is to survive, the states in which it has most prospered must prove those attitudes wrong. They must be willing to transform the machinery of the world economy without giving up on the values out of which that economy was born.

Some claim that capitalism’s love of growth inevitably pits it against a stable climate. This newspaper believes them wrong. But climate change could nonetheless be the death knell for economic freedom, along with much else. If capitalism is to hold its place, it must up its game.

What could tip the bond market equilibrium?

There are a lot of buyers standing in the way of a reversal

John Plender

It is a scenario that until recently would have struck most observers as downright implausible: a financial cycle in which global debt piles up inexorably while nominal interest rates collapse.

Yet here we are, in seeming equilibrium where $14tn of debt has negative yields, with investors paying for the privilege of lending to governments. The question is how stable and durable that equilibrium will prove to be, especially if we are in a bubble for bond prices.

There is no shortage of warning signs, not the least being the substantial buying by investors who are unconcerned about fundamentals. Chief among them are the central banks, for whom the price of the bonds they have bought since the financial crisis is not a primary consideration.

Also insensitive to price are fast-growing passive bond funds and those pension funds that adopt investment strategies that match their liabilities.

Then there are investors who buy negative-yielding bonds on the “greater fool” theory, with the central banks cast in the role of the fools who will deliver capital gains to these investors through further easing. They are more sensitive to price than to income, as are momentum investors.

Yet the most striking feature of recent bond market flows is how much foreign money has been chasing negative yielding IOUs. Official data aggregated by JPMorgan show that foreign investors bought nearly $210bn of eurozone bonds and $70bn of Japanese bonds in the first half of the year. This compares with a $550bn outflow from March 2015, when the European Central Bank began its “quantitative easing” purchases, to the end of 2018.

The figures for Germany, at the heart of the negative rate phenomenon, are particularly striking. After cumulative outflows of nearly $360bn over this three-year period, there were inflows of more than $65bn in the first half of this year. These are extraordinarily large shifts and seemingly perverse when the pool of eurozone bonds sporting negative rates was expanding rapidly.

Part of the explanation is a quirk in the workings of foreign exchange hedges. These are based on the relative levels of short-term interest rates which are much higher in the US, which has a 10-year government bond yield of 1.8 per cent, than Germany, where the same maturity of government debt trades at minus 0.5 per cent, and Japan at minus 0.2 per cent. Dollar-based investors are in effect paid to hedge their euro or yen exposure back into dollars.

This counter-intuitive carry trading arithmetic has been a very powerful driver of cross-border capital flows. All part of the fun, it seems, of a bond market bubble.

An equilibrium in which debt goes on rising while interest rates continue to fall cannot last for ever. What, then, could unhinge it and cause yields to rise again?

One eventuality is that central banks reach a negative interest rate floor, which must exist as long as there is physical cash in the system. That is the point at which depositors decline to pay fees for lending to banks and withdraw their funds.

An additional constraint on pushing rates further into negative territory is the damage inflicted on banks that are having to pay to keep loans and securities on their balance sheets. Penalising them for extending credit to sustain economic growth cannot be good, as reflected in the depressed price of European bank shares.

These also tell a tale of growing scepticism about the ability of monetary policy to keep the global economic show on the road. A consensus is thus emerging that fiscal policy will have to do more of the work — even, to a degree, in conservative Germany.

Ultra-low interest rates are substantially the result of excess savings in northern Europe and Asia. Expansionary budgets would imply reduced saving by governments, thereby eroding global imbalances.

Other factors that point to a return to higher inflation and thus higher rates include US president Donald Trump’s trade war, which is raising costs as global supply chains are reined back.

There is the possibility, too, that demographic pressure involving the shrinking of workforces in the developed world and in China will lead to renewed wage inflation. This, admittedly, has not happened in Japan where ageing is already advanced, but it is possible that the Japanese workforce is uniquely docile.

Investment, which has been weak in the advanced economies, could pick up significantly as old industries are disrupted by new ones and forced to renew physical capital — the motor industry being merely one among many potential examples. Business will also have to make the huge investment necessary for the transition a low-carbon economy.

That said, the deflationary forces in the world remain far from negligible. It would be a bold person who would happily predict whether rising yields will come before or after the next recession.

How the Federal Reserve could fix the repo market

Central bank urged to restart asset purchases to soothe short-term funding glitches

Colby Smith and Joe Rennison in New York and Brendan Greeley in Washington

A man passes by the corner stone on the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in the financial district in New York City, U.S., March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid - RC1301BD0200
© Reuters

The Federal Reserve is facing urgent calls to find a permanent fix to short-term funding strains that unsettled markets last month, and avoid another bout of volatility at the end of the year when the demand for cash is expected to rise again.

Traders were shocked in September when the typically staid market for repurchase agreements — where banks and investors borrow money in exchange for Treasuries and other high-quality collateral — went haywire. The “repo” rate jumped as high as 10 per cent, prompting accusations that the Fed had lost control of short-term interest rates.

A series of cash injections by the central bank brought the rate back down, but policymakers and investors are pushing for a longer-term answer to the market’s problems. “[The Fed] is doing the right things right now with the short-term repo facilities, but it is merely buying time,” said Bill Campbell, a portfolio manager at investment firm DoubleLine Capital.

Market participants have coalesced around one answer: asset purchases. When the Fed buys Treasuries from the market, it simultaneously credits banks’ reserve accounts to pay for them, increasing the amount of cash in the financial system. But opinions remain divided on how much debt the central bank should buy and at what maturities.

There is, at least, general agreement that something fundamental needs to be done. At the worst of the market stress, a series of daily $75bn cash injections morphed into $100bn overnight operations and three two-week loans, with banks’ appetite for funding initially outpacing what was on offer from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

A graphic with no description

The ad hoc intervention eased funding constraints, but the sheer scale of the New York Fed’s operations — with roughly $200bn of cash on loan for the final day of September — emphasised to the market the need for a more lasting solution.

Fed chairman Jay Powell nodded to this idea at a press conference last month, saying the central bank will “over time provide a sufficient supply of reserves so that frequent operations are not required”, in keeping with the “ample reserves” policy it adopted in January.

He did not offer further hints on what a sufficient supply would be, other than to say the Fed was considering resuming the “organic” expansion of its balance sheet by buying Treasury assets to keep up with the growth in physical currency, which counts as a liability. Currency growth has been about $90bn a year since the recovery. But some analysts think the Fed — which is also exploring the role played by regulation in the repo market’s problems — will have to make more substantial purchases.

Kelcie Gerson, a rates strategist at investment bank Morgan Stanley, said the Fed would need to buy $315bn of shorter-dated Treasury bills between November and May to increase reserves to a level high enough for funding markets to operate normally.

One advantage of this approach is that it distinguishes itself from post-financial crisis quantitative easing, which focused asset purchases on longer-dated Treasuries to help lower interest rates. Former Fed officials Joseph Gagnon and Brian Sack, now at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and hedge fund DE Shaw respectively, believe the Fed should snap up $250bn worth of Treasuries over the next six months.

Meanwhile, Priya Misra at TD Securities calls for $300bn worth of outright purchases of varying maturities over the course of 2020, and roughly $215bn to replace the run-off of maturing mortgage-backed securities previously held on the Fed’s balance sheet.

Some market-watchers think that the Fed should announce asset purchases in tandem with a tool that makes its recent temporary cash infusions permanent. Through a so-called standing repo facility, the Fed would pre-commit to doing repo operations on a daily basis with various counterparties so that Treasuries become “cash-like,” according to Praveen Korapaty, chief global rates strategist at Goldman Sachs.

The facility garnered much attention at the Fed’s meeting on monetary policy in June, with Fed officials discussing at length how the facility could serve as a “backstop against unusual spikes” in various money market rates as well as flagging potential design pitfalls.

On Tuesday, John Williams, president of the New York Fed, said his staff had been watching its interventions closely to see how to make them as effective as possible, but added that the Fed’s goal was still to make repurchase operations “not a frequent part of controlling interest rates, but obviously always there as needed”.

At issue is not only the rate at which the facility would swap Treasuries for cash, but also which
financial institutions would be involved.

These parameters could take months to figure out, said Mr Korapaty, adding “now is not a time for experimentation”. If the Fed buys enough Treasuries, a standing repo facility may not be necessary.

“If you increase your balance sheet to a certain size, you don’t need to worry about the minimum level of reserves and you don’t need the facility,” he said. “If they want to operate with abundant reserves, the cleanest way to do it is through asset purchases.”

Zoltan Pozsar, an analyst at Credit Suisse, believes there is a third option. If the Fed were to cut interest rates aggressively — pushing short-term yields below longer-term ones — it would buoy flagging demand for Treasuries from both foreign and domestic buyers and alleviate pressure on the big banks that are obliged to buy the securities.

“The mother of all solutions is more aggressive rate cuts,” he said.

Should Profane Contracts Be Sanctified?

Contracts are protected and sanctified by the courts, but they can be written in order to violate the law – and to shield the crime itself from the law. Such profanity does not deserve, and should not receive, the legal blessing its authors seek.

Ricardo Hausmann

hausmann77_erhui1979_getty images_contract

CAMBRIDGE – Is there such a thing as too much sanctity? After all, even the word sanctimonious indicates an excessive show of devotion. The fervor for sanctification may hide darker motives, and attaining it may be deeply counterproductive. The sanctity of contracts, especially those involving the public sector, is a case in point.

Sanctity of contract rests on the notion that “once parties duly enter into a contract, they must honor their obligations under that contract.” If you give your word, you should abide by it, because a person is only as good as his or her word. Violating this maxim is a sin before others, if not before God.

Economics provides a strong rationale for this argument. People enter into agreements that involve time: you do something for me now, and I do something for you later. The problem is that such agreements are not self-enforcing: once you have done something for me, I am better off not paying you for your service or not returning the money you lent me. That is why collateral was invented: if I do not repay the money you lent me, you can take possession of something worth more than the loan.

These agreements need third-party enforcement, typically by a court or an arbitration panel. And the more that contract enforcement can be guaranteed, the more agreements people will be willing to enter. Sanctifying contracts by elevating them to a higher moral plane may thus be socially beneficial.

Things get a bit more complicated when the parties to a contract are not individuals, but legal persons such as corporations or institutions. These entities must solve what economists call a principal-agent problem: the person who signs on behalf of a company may have their own interests, not those of the firm, in mind.

That person must therefore be authorized to do so on behalf of the organization, and may require prior authorization by the board of directors or shareholders. Courts often check whether the signer could “duly enter into a contract.”

Matters become even more complicated when the legal person is a government, which is supposed to act on behalf of “the people.” But the people are many, and each person may benefit from public spending that is financed mostly by everybody else’s taxes. This creates a so-called tragedy of the commons that results in overspending.

In addition, although governments are elected for a certain period, typically 4-5 years, they can enter into contracts that extend much further. For example, a government can spend hand over fist before an election by borrowing from a future in which it may not be in power to be held accountable.

That is why fiscal discipline is one of civilization’s hardest and most remarkable accomplishments. To achieve it, democracies tend to impose limits on public debt and require legislative consent in order to authorize government debt and other contracts. This raises the question of whether contracts that violate these rules should be treated as sacrosanct or repudiated for their profane origin. That issue is now being litigated in the context of Puerto Rico’s recent debt default, because the island’s government borrowed beyond its legal limits.

Legislative approval is often cumbersome, which is why many countries exempt state-owned enterprises from this requirement, trusting that these companies’ governance structures – their boards of directors and shareholders’ meetings – will act in the best interest of the organization and put effective brakes on irresponsible borrowing. But governments, corrupt politicians, and crony capitalists often use these entities as loopholes to circumvent public debt limits.

Suppose you are a corrupt individual who wants to make money by helping to sell goods or services to the public sector in exchange for a commission, as, for example, the Gupta brothers are alleged to have done in South Africa. If the goods and services are to be paid for out of current budget resources, they will have to compete with many other claims on the public purse.

So, it is best if you can sell the stuff on credit, so that you get your commission now and the country makes the payment later. But legislative limits on debt could make this difficult. Better, then, to sign a contract with a state-owned enterprise that is not subject to such restrictions, provided you can convince its bosses to act criminally (or vice versa).

How would you protect yourself? First, you could choose to make the contract secret, with publication of its details considered an act of default. Your co-conspirators in the state enterprise would like that, too. Second, you would secure your loan by having the corrupt officials pledge assets they were not empowered to pledge. Third, you would include a clause that also makes questioning the contract’s legality an act of default, so that if the state entity subsequently calls out your crime, you can just grab the collateral.

Instead of protecting such profane contracts, the courts should treat the contracts themselves as exhibit A of a crime. That would make such arrangements more expensive, because the parties would bear more contract risk. But as Duke University’s Mitu Gulati and Ugo Panizza of the Graduate Institute in Geneva have argued, this would be socially beneficial because it would spur the market to curtail a behavior that needs curtailing.

Note that the issue here is the legitimacy of the contract itself, not that of a ruling regime. That distinguishes it from the issue of odious debt, which concerns the legitimacy of the obligations incurred by an odious regime.

Contracts are regarded as “a law between the parties,” and are protected and sanctified by the courts. But they can be written in order to violate the law, and to shield the crime itself from the law. Such profanity does not deserve and should not receive the judicial blessing its authors seek.

Ricardo Hausmann, a former minister of planning of Venezuela and former Chief Economist at the Inter-American Development Bank, is a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and Director of the Harvard Growth Lab.

The Temporary Memory Lapse of Transient Global Amnesia

Those with T.G.A. do not experience any alteration in consciousness or abnormal movements. Only the ability to lay down memories is affected.

By Jane E. Brody

Credit Gracia Lam

Late one morning in June, L.J.’s husband got a distressed call from one of his wife’s colleagues.

“You’d better come here right away. Your wife is acting weird,” the colleague said. Ms. J., who had just returned from a doctor visit during which she underwent a minor painful procedure, kept asking her colleague for a password despite being told each time that there was none.

Ms. J., a 61-year-old arts administrator in New York who did not want her full name used, seemed physically O.K., her colleague recalled. She knew who she was, she walked and talked properly, but what she said made no sense. Plus, Ms. J. could remember nothing that happened after she left the doctor’s office and made her way to work.

When Ms. J. continued to behave oddly, the alarmed colleague called 911 and paramedics took her to Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital.

The next thing Ms. J. remembers is waking up hours later in a hospital bed and asking, “Where am I? Why am I here?” In the interim, Dr. Carolyn Brockington, a vascular neurologist and director of the hospital’s stroke unit, had examined her and ordered a CT scan and M.R.I. of her brain. All the results were normal. There was no physical weakness, no structural abnormality, no evidence of a stroke, seizure or transient ischemic attack. So, what had happened?
A diagnosis of exclusion: Transient global amnesia, often called T.G.A. It is a temporary lapse in memory that can never be retrieved. “It’s as if the brain is on overload and takes a break to recharge,” Dr. Brockington said in an interview. She likened it to rebooting a computer to eradicate an unexplainable glitch. Those with T.G.A. do not experience any alteration in consciousness or abnormal movements. Only the ability to lay down memories is affected. All other parts of the brain appear to be working normally.

Though T.G.A. is relatively rare — it affects about five people in 100,000 in the general population — given her specialty Dr. Brockington said she sees one or two patients a week with T.G.A. Nearly all are over 50, and among older adults the incidence is more like 23 cases per 100,000 persons per year, with men and women affected equally.

As one patient, Frank McAndrew, a professor of psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., reported in Environmental Psychology, his wife became alarmed when he appeared disoriented and confused, and kept asking the same questions over and over again.

Dr. McAndrew wrote, based on his wife’s recall, “Each time I asked a question, I used exactly the same words, voice inflection, and hand gestures. I knew who I was, I knew who my wife was, and I knew who my dog was. The problem was that I could not put anything new into my memory or keep track of anything that had transpired more than a minute or two ago. It was as if my memory erased everything and reset every 90 seconds.” At the emergency room, all tests came back negative, and 24 hours later, he was back to normal.

“When T.G.A. happens to people, it’s more terrifying to the people around them,” Dr. Brockington said. “Later, after the event is over and they can’t retrieve the lost memories, it’s more terrifying to the patients. They need to know they have to let it go — their brain wasn’t recording at the time.” No matter how hard they may try, there’s nothing in their memory bank to be recalled. 
T.G.A. is a benign condition that leaves no lasting effects except perhaps frustration over the missing memories. An episode typically lasts for one to eight hours, most often resolves within a day, and happens again in only 4 percent or 5 percent of patients.

Although T.G.A. was well-described medically more than 40 years ago, its cause or causes have yet to be established. One leading suspect is venous congestion, a slowdown of blood flow leaving the brain. There is also some evidence for a loss of neurons or a disruption in blood flow in a region of the brain’s hippocampus.

T.G.A. sometimes occurs following excessive alcohol consumption, large doses of barbiturates or use of illegal drugs. Neurologists have also identified a number of precipitating nondrug events: sudden immersion in cold or hot water; physical exertion; acute emotional or psychological stress; pain; medical procedures; sexual intercourse; and the Valsalva maneuver (a forceful attempt to exhale against a closed airway).

For men, T.G.A. is more likely to occur following a physical trigger; for women, it is more often associated with an emotional precipitant or a history of anxiety. Both men and women with a history of migraine are believed to be more susceptible than others to a T.G.A. episode. Those who experience T.G.A. are no more likely to suffer a stroke or heart attack than people who have never had the condition.

There is also no treatment. People simply have to wait out the episode and give any residual fogginess time to clear before returning to their usual activities.

I now wonder if what I thought was a mild concussion was really T.G.A. when on a beautiful September morning in 2017 I seem to have fallen off my bike for no apparent reason after swimming laps at the Y. I was not dizzy, there was no obstacle I might have hit, and I have no memory of almost falling.

I do recall feeling great as I started a slow uphill ride on my block, something I do daily, and then remember nothing else until about 30 minutes later, when I left my house to retrieve my bicycle while holding a wet paper towel under my bleeding chin. I had not hit my head and had no headache or bruises, but probably cut my chin on the bike basket.
During the intervening minutes, although I remember none of this, I had apparently walked the bike to my house, brought in my backpack and helmet and put a package of spinach into the refrigerator. Afterward, my son insisted that I get the cut stitched and walked me to the emergency room, where the intake doctor ruled out any medical explanation for my fall and told me to take it easy for the rest of the day.

Lacking any residual symptoms, I was — and still am — most disturbed by the fact that I have no idea why or how I fell and thus no way to avoid it in the future. But if T.G.A. was the cause, it most likely will never happen again.