By Wes Walker
There are hinge points in history – like 9/11 – that leave indelible marks on the society touched by them where everything changes. The Great Coronavirus Shutdown of 2020 will be such a hinge point.
What changes can we expect to come out of it? Based on what we’ve seen so far, here are some likely possibilities, ranging from the macro level of economics and trade, right down to the micro level of how we manage our work-life balance.
1. International Trade (Especially with China)
One of the big issues revealed by this shutdown is how dangerously dependent we have become to the production of critically important products whose supply lines tend to be concentrated in countries like China that are more rival than friend.
Something will have to change. Otherwise, if a conflict or international incident ever breaks out where their interests and ours are at odds, they will have us over a barrel, and can threaten to halt, for example, exports of heart medication or antibiotics. Will we repatriate the manufacturing of key products? Will we set up supply-chain redundancies? Those are question that will need answers.
2. World Health Organization
This arm of the United Nations failed us and the rest of the world (except China) bigly. Calls have begun mounting for WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to step down, following allegations that his group aided China’s efforts to obfuscate the number of coronavirus cases in that country.
Do we cut all ties (and funding) of an organization we obviously can’t trust? Or do we push for major reform?
Maybe while we’re at it, the U.S. ought to evaluate whether the UN as a whole has finally outlived its usefulness.
3. Our Blind Reliance on “Experts” Will Get a Rethink
We hear arguments from authority all the time. We have to do x, y, or z because this really smart guy in a lab coat said so.
But those of us who apply the advice of experts are often worse off than those who don’t. We don’t just mean WHO’s changing advice on masks, either.
How about Nobel Laureate Economist Paul Krugman telling everyone after Trump’s election, “[I]f the question is when the markets will recover, a first-pass answer is never.”
Sure, it’s a little optimistic to say that we’ll start truly thinking for ourselves again, but we might, at least, be more selective about which “experts'” pronouncements we accept on blind faith.
Let’s face it. Over the past month, we blew a massive hole in our budget. And we were already bleeding red ink as it was. If Nancy Pelosi had her way, this shortfall would have been even greater.
Anything that cannot go on forever will eventually stop. That includes living on the national credit card.
This has accelerated the inevitable fish-or-cut-bait decision. Will we as a nation finally learn to spend within our means, or will we continue to create a debt bomb that will detonate in our children or grandchildren’s day?
Our first instinct was to borrow our way out of this problem. The reason for that is because we had nothing set aside in a crisis fund if anything should go wrong. And even in boom times we’ve gone deep into debt rather than cut back on the kind of spending that cannot easily be justified, especially for bloated government departments, some of which oversee nothing more than the wholesale manufacture of red tape.
5. “Remote” Employment
The coronovirus shutdown forced many of us to find work-from-home workarounds to keep the workflow going. Many companies that strongly resisted that concept for productivity or other reasons have had a test drive of the new reality thrust upon them.
Many companies will weigh the cost-benefit analysis and discover there are a lot of advantages to the increased adoption of a work-from-home model.
6. Education Reform
Just as we adults had to stay home from work, so did our little ones and even not-so-little ones away at college. As it turns out, you don’t need a brick-and-mortar classroom any more than you need a high-rise office building.
If mom and dad are going to be working from home anyway, do they really need to ship little junior off to an actual school with metal detectors, classroom disruptions, and dubious education outcomes when many kids can learn just as well from the comfort of their own home — and have a much broader menu of educational choices delivered over an internet connection?
Why pay to maintain an expensive school with embarrassingly low literacy outcomes and unionized teachers who cannot be fired even for a legitimate cause when you can choose from a plethora of teaching methods online that best match the ability and aptitude of junior? One, moreover, that you can swap out for a better option if it doesn’t work out?
We might even see a move away from our massive calcified school system to a lighter, leaner option where instruction leverages Zoom meetings just like the workforce does.
7. Higher Education
Who could have guessed what impact this same trend would have on the pressures to trim the fat on overpriced, bloated university programs, where seats in a course are not limited by the size of a physical room. We might even shift to something more like an a la carte webinar-based classroom model.
8. Elder Care
Ask anyone in Seattle. Shipping our grandparents off to a retirement home to be looked after can have a serious downside. They aren’t necessarily safer or better off. Those who can start looking for a better model of looking after our older loved ones will.
If we make a sizable societal shift to work-from-home models, we might see more families in a position to set up an in-law suite for granny or grandpa to live in. As an added bonus, such an arrangement could lead to a resurgence of multi-generational family bonding.
9. Rural Renaissance
For those who can work from home and no longer have to commute into an office, many can give themselves a significant pay raise simply by changing their zip code.
Why would you live like a pauper in an expensive, overcrowded city, when your very same income can let you live like a king in a much smaller city or town?
What is functionally a working-class income in some zip codes would be considered living the good life in others.
10. Rethinking City Living
We already known that the shoulder-to-shoulder proximity of mass transit and high-rise living were part of why New York was hardest hit with this virus scare.
If a work-from-home revolution reconfigures the way we live and work, businesses may decide they need much less office space to operate. Office buildings would see an uptick in vacancies, with no expectation that they would be filled any time soon. Prices would come down.
This may become an opportunity to move toward more mixed-use buildings where office buildings (for the sorts of jobs that can’t work remotely) and condos share a space.
Urbanites could live and work (and even play) in the same neighborhood. That would take some pressure off of the transit system.
Cross posted at Clash Daily