American Consequences - May 2020

By Kim Iskyan

James Steinberg is chin-deep in what’s now the world’s hottest business.


A looming global economic depression, nosebleed levels of unemployment, and the world under lockdown don’t matter. James isn’t a divorce lawyer (for all those quarantined people tired of their spouses)... or a hair-trimmer vendor (corona buzzcut, anyone?)... or a Zoom Peloton guru. James is a face mask broker. Just two months ago, this 29-year-old Chicagoan knew as much about face masks as you or me. Today, he knows his N95 masks from his Uzbek-made two-plys and GVS Elipse P100s... And he tells me he’s selling hundreds of millions of face masks to governments and other customers around the world... Right now, he has “around 40” cargo planes lined up to send face masks from China to customers around the world, James told me from Hong Kong a few days ago. He tried to book the world’s biggest cargo planes... but had to settle for Soviet-made Antonov An-124 Ruslans. They’re more than two basketball courts long. And they can hold as much as nine 18-wheeler tractor trailers. As you well know, face mask demand is soaring...

Early on in the spread of COVID-19, the World Health Organization and many governments discouraged the widespread use of face masks – probably at least in part because there weren’t enough of them to go around. But now, in much of the world, you’re not supposed to leave where you’re sheltering-in- place without wearing one. Many face masks are single-use, since the collected bacteria on the surface could make you sick. France’s health minister recently said that the country – with 67 million people – was using 40 million face masks per week. That’s more than 2 billion face masks in a year... just for France, with 0.9% of the world’s 7.8 billion people. The problem is that there aren’t enough face masks... and no one was ready for them to become hotter than Rubik’s Cube (1980), Beanie Babies (1995), and Rainbow Loom (2012) put together. Manufacturing facilities all around the world have been retooled – either voluntarily or by government edict – to make personal protective equipment (“PPE”). Even iPhone-maker Foxconn Technology redirected some of its capacity to make face masks.

American Consequences


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