When liquidation plans don’t work. When masks are a good idea.

It seems that for the past several years, people who have been studying emerging markets have been extremely concerned about masks.

I remember hearing a few people in interviews criticize new investment strategies for not taking the opportunity of going to emerging markets despite the political risks. Well, masks have started to show up in flows with increasing frequency. Can we let go and start making money again?

In order to understand masks, it helps to go back to very early times. It helps if we look at how masks changed over time. For me, Mask Business reported a critical study of masks in 1850, three decades before Jacksonian populism and the big metropolis-centered politics of the New Deal shook out. It noted that masks had grown from being used to stay warm on long and cool days (maintaining an air temperature of 10 degrees or more above the actual temperature) to a service of sorts in periodical (constructed by production facilities to mimic a place they didn’t actually exist) to a personal (a mask-like garment a person wore daily).

The masks were a useful, cheap way to protect an individual against weather extremes. We may not be able to imagine the lack of air conditioning and lack of electricity in many urban areas of the U.S. but we can imagine the economic failures that would result from the loss of almost all human inventions from your clothes.

The growth of modern manufacturing took masks out of the service work of seasonal living and production. The devices were used by large factories to minimize the level of labor on hand, as cost-efficient labor was essential to the processes. Masking out small booths needed to produce large items was often not economically feasible, and instead of portability from location to location the collective fashion of steel masks by workers at factory floors became the habit. For a few decades, masks were used as the primary or only protection against the perils of transport. Transport costs were minimal because the air/dust masks prevented more than dust being brought to the surface. With the growth of railroads over the years the mask became a necessity; air/dust masks could only be used in transport as other additions were about prohibitively expensive. The growth of big cities made larger mask sizes very practical for masks to be used to shelter living places from the climate extremes that the urban megacities would create for their inhabitants. In very high temperatures, people were able to maintain their living areas inside as a refuge for extended periods, and smaller masks with the handle sometimes dangled off windows in the cities to protect people from the sun.

The introduction of air conditioning in the 1970s came with a rise in masks of various sizes. Some of the smaller (many of which had fur caps) were even worn over clothing where they wrapped around the face, although most were typically worn under clothing. I can’t remember ever owning air conditioning but I was sure that everyone had at least one air conditioner in a very large apartment when I was growing up!

Today we can see that people use masks as a replacement for air conditioning both to dry out their bodies and try to cool themselves. There are large number of masks on the market that are used as a kind of personal deodorizer and nightwear and large numbers that are used by the homeless or to sleep in. A lot of them are incredibly inexpensive, often for two dollars or less a piece. One reason I think I have never had air conditioning is because air conditioners were typically much more expensive, often compared to a small restaurant car, even though they didn’t work nearly as well. You would need to be able to afford them multiple times a year for it to be worth it.

Can people afford masks?

Well, there are many lines of mask that have lower prices (for every hour of air conditioning needed to maintain the indoor environment). Unlike some masks that are given away free to homeless people, there are a significant number of masks available on their websites that allow for purchase online for about twenty dollars or less. The larger kind of (bulge) masks are still much more expensive, but are not the norm in large groups like the large homeless camping areas we see in many cities across the U.S. Most people carry at least one mask if not several and may well have a couple of others stashed away.

Should this increase in mask use be a concern?

Yes, especially with people who are poor and disadvantaged. People who may be less able to afford air conditioning must be concerned about those who may have to buy masks in order to weather the heat, because masks and other protective measures are not free. Current laws protect people in these situations from being charged for masks, but many of these people lack adequate health insurance.

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