May 11, 2020
What is Covid-19 Likely to Change?
It is human nature to speculate about the future. New Year's Eve resolutions are a good example. So are projections from economist about when the Dow will hit 30,000...or 3,000. I guess it comes from our innate need to feel in control, in charge. We look ahead and say what we think will happen in the belief that in voicing our predictions they become more than wishes, but actual prophecies.
So, in that spirit, and well before anyone has any real idea, or even how many months or years in the future this might be, I am going out on the proverbial limb with some predictions of what may happen after Covid-19 is under control, still a serious disease but no longer the overwhelming factor in our lives it is today. The economy has recovered enough to feel less fear, to find plenty of toilet paper and disinfectant wipes, to even visit a favorite restaurant now and then. Quarantine fatigue has been breached.
* Our country's view of health care will undergo a change. We will accept that our system of a mish-mash of private and public care, for profit, not for profit, subsidized care for some, no care for others, leaves too many dying for no discernible reason. Medicare for all is probably a bridge too far at this time, but offering better coverage instead of looking for ways to cut it for the most vulnerable will become too big a problem to ignore.
The scientists and medical professionals who alert us in time to prepare ourselves, develop safety guidelines, and eventually develop treatments and vaccines will not be dismissed as wrong because they are smart, but supported because they save lives. There will be a dedication to preparing for future threats as much as possible, and reacting to new threats in a coherent way.
* Those who support us will become better paid and protected. Their importance will be recognized and rewarded for what it is: essential to the functioning of our society. There are the obvious front line people who risk their lives at work everyday: doctors, nurses, EMT crews, ambulance drivers, hospital employees from sanitation to food service.
Previously, non-top-of-mind people will be recognized for their part: garbage collection workers, those who maintain our roads, sewers, water service, electric grid will get their due. Delivery drivers, fast food employees who stayed on the job to prepare and work the take-out window, grocery store stockers and workers, those in warehouses who package and ship what we order online.
I wouldn't be surprised to see an increase in unionization, some strikes to press for change, a demand for higher wages and better benefits.
* Living choices may change. The move to urban areas in most countries has been underway for well over a century. In America 80% of the population lives in areas defined as urban. Why? That is where the bulk of the jobs and opportunities are. Importantly, only a third of us are happy in an urban situation.
In this regard coronavirus has shown us two things: urban areas exacerbate the spread of something like Covid-19. Living so closely to so many people can allow the disease to spread more rapidly and more quickly. Secondly, working at home, telecommuting, even being part of the gig economy does not always require living in or near a big city. As the economy restarts, I predict many segments of the economy will realize the advantages of fewer employees on site.
That will allow those who prefer a less crowded living arrangement to choose something that is closer to what pleases them: a more rural or smaller city. The loss of productivity from commuting, the positives of working from home, or simply the increased awareness that big cities come with as many risks as benefits.
* Inequality. The difference between the haves and have-nots have been put in very stark contrast over the past few months. The ability to get a virus test seems to depend on where you live, or the color of your skin. Those on the bottom steps of the economic ladder are suffering more acutely from the economic shutdown. Those who live paycheck-to-paycheck have found themselves in increasingly dire straights. They are the ones least likely to maintain health benefits after being some of the first to be laid off. They are the ones waiting week after week for promised unemployment help.
The stratification of our society will be very difficult to sweep under the rug again after this shared experience.
* Supply chain strengthening. The problems with keeping grocery stores stocked and medical supplies moving where they are needed all the while depending in part on foreign suppliers, most notably China, will likely enhance the push to bring more manufacturing and production capabilities back to the U.S. Because of substantially higher labor costs that will result in increased prices for much of what we buy. But, the public may decide that such a cost is worth it to do a better job of protecting the systems that supply us.
* Climate Change Awareness. After just 4 weeks, the pictures of cleaner skies from places around the world were visible proof of man's impact on the climate and the air we breathe. There is some evidence that climate change enhance the development and growth of new viruses. if that is proven, the push to protect the environment will take on new strength.
The collapse of oil prices and the likely bankruptcy of dozens, maybe hundreds, of oil drilling and equipment companies will not quickly be reversed. Major companies will take a long, hard look at investing billions to find and extract new oil fields.
* Role of Federal and State governments. This will be one of the more interesting and important developments to watch unfold. At times, the federal government has suggested it has more power than the states; a few hours or days later that argument is "walked back." Yet, it is obvious in a situation this massive, only the Federal government has the resources to provide the aid that is needed. Without the bottomless stack of money, the death toll and economic damage would be greater.
Will power expanded to deal with the pandemic be rescinded afterwards? That would be unusual. Once a new control has been exercised, that genie rarely goes back in the bottle. But, how will the states react if decisions that historically have been theirs are now usurped by Washington?
My prediction is a permanent expansion and strengthening of the federal role in government. States will fight back, and rightly so considering the Constitution. But, the stick wielded by Washington is too big. Consider the position taken by the Majority Leader of the Senate a few weeks ago: states can file for bankruptcy if effects of the virus are too high, but don't expect any bailout funds. That plays into something Paul Loeb wrote several years ago:" Society has systematically taught us to ignore the ills we see, and leave them to others to handle."
So, there is my spaghetti thrown against the wall. Only time will tell which parts stick. I like journalism Gary Moore's approach. Fill in the blank in this sentence: “It isn’t my choice to __________ but it is my choice how I face it.”
Our decision on how we react to whatever is put in that blank is ours. Maybe we can't solve the problem or even make it much better. But, we do have the power to choose how we allow it to affect us.
By the way, I turned 71 yesterday, Sunday (yes, I know, Mother's Day, too). In a million years I could not have predicted it would be spent in stay-at-home lockdown. So, my predictive skills aren't the best, are they!