It can be hard in the midst of a crisis to look beyond the next few days, the excessive news coverage, the empty shelves, the style implications of face masks, the horror of closed hiking trails, and the ongoing need to blame someone for a world that seems out of control. In the midst of this, I find myself anxious but also in some strange ways illuminated. The US and world are more clear to me know, mostly in bad ways, but in some positive ways as well. These coronavirus predictions (aka What will our world be like post-COVID-19?) are just meditations of these thoughts.
You will notice that few if any of these predictions are about the coronavirus itself. I do not have a crystal ball. Bad things will happen. Some will rise to the occasion, heroes will emerge, and most of us will get through it.
Coronavirus Predictions (The Bad)
Tens of thousands of Americans will die needlessly, and an active effort will be made to deny this in false statistical analysis or hand-waving at greater tragedies like car accidents or heart disease. The only real data that will make sense will require careful parsing of net-positive deaths compared to prior years (in the absence of universal coronavirus and antibody testing), but this will be assailed as liberal propaganda and ignored until years later, after which it will be argued that “there was no way we could have known.”
We will see how poorly and callously we house the elderly, largely imprisoned by poverty in empty domiciles or by loneliness in profit-focused nursing homes staffed with the overworked and indifferent. Many of those past retirement age will die alone, unheard and unnoticed–especially men, who are notoriously alone later in life–and we will only mourn them in statistical retrospect. We will not take serious note of this, or change anything. In truth, what we do by inaction already is not much different than what an unnamed Lt. Governor suggested explicitly. He was callous to suggest it as strategy, but structural neglect has much the same effect.
We will find that our embrace of massive corporations and the demise of small farms and small businesses generally has rapidly accelerated. Large corporations will survive the liquidity challenges of prolonged shutdowns, but local restaurants and bookshops will not. Indeed, the coronavirus will put the nail in the coffin of many independent bookstores and similar antiquated businesses now displaced by the large and the virtual. Post-coronavirus America will be like a forest of plantation-row trees, apparently vital but utterly diminished of economic diversity.
Large businesses will realize remote work and efficiency changes were actually a pretty good idea and increased productivity in specific white-collar areas, accelerating the transition away from people to automated systems, machine-learning and mechanical substitution. Machines cannot get sick and computers don’t demand compensation for not working.
Update Apr. 10: Apparently the automation has already started: “But labor and robotics experts say social-distancing directives, which are likely to continue in some form after the crisis subsides, could prompt more industries to accelerate their use of automation. And long-simmering worries about job losses or a broad unease about having machines control vital aspects of daily life could dissipate as society sees the benefits of restructuring workplaces in ways that minimize close human contact.“
We will realize that the right wing in America fundamentally does not care about the American people (I’m not claiming that the left does) in their passionate support for President Trump in the reelection campaign, and denial of any responsibility for the aforementioned deaths or economic damage. It will, as it already has, become patently obvious that the US is not a country so much as an economy incidentally inhabited by human beings who are best seen as labor and not heard at all.
We will see how badly damaged are both our federal and scientific institutions, with the left claiming that we need more, and the right claiming that they simply haven’t dismantled enough. The concept of common good, objective science and collaborative leadership will seem like naive dreams of some bygone era. Donald Trump will personally dismantle every system, group or team that was not loyal to him during he crisis. Much of this damage will go unnoticed for years. If he is reelected, all evidence will be erased and incalculable damage will grow unseen as the coal seam fire burning under Centralia.
Donald Trump will probably be reelected. It is a truism that Americans don’t like to change horses midstream or use modern metaphors. Republicans will flee to safety, known quantities and their hold on power. Democrats will shoot themselves in the foot, squandering the opportunity like so many others, and the bicker amongst themselves for the next generation about who’s to blame. Of course the Democrats still might win, especially with a stable woman in the VP slot, but then they’ll spend four years being blamed for the new debt, recession, and American loss of global power, and we’ll end up with an animatronic version of Hitler as president in 2024.
Which brings us to the obvious point; there will be a recession, but not as bad as people think. The only thing structurally wrong with our economy is that people aren’t working and, like all confidence shell games, it suffers when people lose confidence. They’ll get back to work, some “taking a hit for the team” in returning to jobs at lower wages with less security, and the stock market will rise. In the end, America will be even more economically divided, the poor will be poorer, but the stock market will rebound so no one with a voice will care.
For many of those unheard poor, and just like in the recession of 2008, this period of joblessness and wage instability will drive many once and finally over the financial precipice. Homelessness will skyrocket, median long-term wages will fall, and neither Republicans nor Democrats will find any effective policy for dealing with either because doing so requires genuine bipartisan collaboration and long-term thinking. Both sides will also (continue to) find that fiscal responsibility is pointless except when the other side doesn’t have it, and thus our national deficits and debt will be passed onto the next generation like a time capsule holding a nuclear bomb wrapped in false promises.
Update May 19. Let the poverty begin! The World Bank thinks COVID-19 will push 60 million into poverty.
Donald Trump will of course use the recession as an opportunity for ongoing deregulation, environmental destruction, and crony-capitalist insanity, but he’s already doing that, so this isn’t a prediction so much as an observation. A Democrat win in 2020 would slow this process, but Democrats are notoriously bad at undoing Republican damage, so it’s not clear that this would be anything more than a temporary impediment to conservative goals–especially if Democrats cannot balance out a federal judiciary packed so effectively by Sen. Mitch McConnell.
China will become the undeniable dominant global power, and America’s slow decline in global prestige and influence will go into freefall. In short order, China’s economy will be the largest the world has ever known, and it will become obvious to everyone that we are in a new Cold War–and this time China is the one that can spend us into financial ruin. We will be humbled, and like all arrogant things reduced by circumstances, we will be petty, angry and wallow in self denial. The UK will find it ironic, but continue their self-imposed decline nonetheless.
That’s probably enough of the bad for now. I need to go for a social distancing walk and breath in the clean air of our economic shutdown.
Coronavirus Predictions (The Good)
Businesses and people will realize that remote work is actually very effective in some cases, and will be more flexible in both allowing and preparing for virtual offices in the future. Zoom stock will zoom. Some people will realize they love working at home, the dream they had always had, while others will realize it’s a distracting hell beyond conception and will return to work eager to socialize and network like never before.
We will realize the fragility of international supply chains, manufacturing outsourcing and just-in-time inventory management. This may result in some industries (e.g., face masks, respirators) being given minor government protection or subsidies, but this will rapidly fade in memory and we’ll do little to make serious structural changes. This is good only in the sense that we’ll at least be aware of our economic structural fragility in a demonstrable way, not that we’ll do anything about it. So, 50/50?
Parents will realize that teachers and schools were actually the only thing saving them from insanity. They will appreciate teachers more. They will protest school spending less. They will be less likely to challenge schools about homework or grades. Thet will support school lunch programs. This will last a few weeks.
We will have realized the importance of human relationships, the terrible sadness of isolation, and have greater compassion for those in our circle of acquaintance. Some of this might even spillover into respect for mental illness, depression, and anxiety, but not much. Our pets will be even more worshiped, though many of them will be returned to shelters once their use as emotional cushions has waned. Some marriages will proven robust, some proven false, and all will be better off for knowing the truth.
People will be better at washing their hands and more aware of good hygiene, and toilet paper sales will be higher for years. We will all remember the time we had to wipe with something else, and it will torture us like the smell of cabbage during the great Depression. Or maybe that’s Russia. When I was young, we’ll tell our grandchildren, I had to use paper towels, wipes, or even spare socks. It was terrible.
We will all realize the we cannot survive without Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and subscriptions will remain artificially high for years. Peak TV will continue for longer than it should. I will watch all of it.
Coronavirus Predictions (The Ugly)
We will all be fatter, except for those guys and gals with expensive interactive stationary bikes. There will then be a glut of expensive interactive stationary bikes on Craigslist. And just like the gym just after New Years, nature will be crowed AF for a few months as people rejoin the natural world. Wild animals will be annoyed, but they don’t vote or pay taxes.
Tourists will flock to Italy to gorge themselves on comfort food and help the Italians recover from the devastation wrought over the preceding months. Spain will not be as loved, and immigrants throughout the EU will find life harder than ever, but gelato and tapas will sell like crazy.
And I will spend more time with friends and family, eat better, workout more, travel farther, and try to find peace in a world gone mad. I will not be alone, except when I am, and then I will eat more ice cream (and gelato).