I do my best to typically write pieces that focus on a particular subject matter. I hope that the written material will be consumed by the intended audience and therefore make a difference in their life. Throughout my writing, I try not to make the subject matter about me, and often avoid using the pronoun ‘I’ in my writing, as the content is for the readers. I have been writing for two years now, and most pieces develop with ease. A topic comes into my life from a long list of possible ways, and I spread a message to those who stand to benefit from it. The material is often rigid and relevant to a few, but the goal is, and always has been to make a difference in the life of at least one individual. That is sufficient.
The past month has been mightily difficult to write. There has been so much information to consume, while the situation continually evolves at a rapid rate. There have been so many people affected in countless ways. The gravitas of what’s transpiring cannot be condensed into a piece, at least in the way my writing has evolved through the years. It has created a feeling of writer’s block. How do you write to help when there are so many people in need of help? How to focus on particular areas when so many things need repair? This has paralyzed my critical thinking. I will do what I can to explain where I stand today, and express some feelings that have come to mind in recent weeks. It may be sloppy, unorganized, and lose its relevance fast, but the attempt is the least I can do during these trying times.
How Did We Get Here?
First, the past. Does it matter? We will debate action and inaction of the past for the rest of our days. I believe there are two things that matter. First, the timeline in China with regard to knowledge of the virus. Second, what and when did American scientists know about its spread?
Let’s start with China. Unfortunately, because of the lack of credible information from China, most of this relies on speculation and studies formulated on shaky data. It does seem that, at best, China allowed a destructive virus to spread inside the Wuhan community and blindly hoped that it would end its torrential path with minimal loss of life before it eradicated itself. Now, a lot of this may be due to the Chinese government layout. Local leaders do not lean on one another for help. They are held to unbelievably high standards, and when mistakes are made, they are often covered up. This is, on its best day, what happened in the city of Wuhan, and the Hubei Province. Local party leaders had hoped the problem would go away, and they would be able to avoid involving Emperor Xi. The best analogy I can make is a group of children breaking something in their parent’s home. They try to cover up the problem, but fail. Days, and even weeks passed and the parents know something is wrong inside their home, but they can’t trace the root of the issue. They fight among themselves, while the problem continues to expand in magnitude. Many days are wasted discovering the problem, because they don’t even know what to address. By the time they figure out what exactly happened, the kids have lied for far too long, and what may have been a quick fix had they told the truth initially, turned into a full-on crisis. On China’s purest explanation, this is what happened. This is why and how the virus spread so far and wide before the heads of China, and the rest of the world had a chance to act.
The second area that should be studied is how much knowledge did scientists in America have as to where the virus was actually spreading on American soil, and when was the virus here. This goes back to testing. A lot of studies have begun to show that strains of the virus were on American soil for months before the pandemic and ensuing panic broke out in the early March. Asian strains of the virus were likely in major west coast cities in early January prior to the Chinese travel ban, and European strains of the virus were likely in major east coast cities in late January prior to the European travel ban. Was this a mistake by our government officials? Did they underestimate the threat? Or, did they understand the threat, but were behind the eight ball in testing? Like China, at best the US dropped the ball with testing knowledge, and at worst, wildly underestimated the threat.
The reason I say only these two things matter, and the rest is irrelevant is because these two components are the root of the problem. Had China been more transparent when they had the chance, maybe the rest of the world would have been able to appropriately act. Had the US had the ability to test more and get a better grip on who was already infected in January and February as opposed to March and April, we may have been able to combat this pandemic in different ways. The frustrating part of all of this is that we are likely never going to know, and will be debating this for years on end without resolve. So, while debating the past seems useless, understanding where there were historical errors can help us address how we move forward from here.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Now, there are economic, societal, and cultural shifts that likely arise from this as we move forward from here. The economic changes will be huge. First, does a global world reliant on total efficiency from international supply chains focused on the cheapest labor and mass production stay relevant as we move forward? US companies got in a pinch when producing necessary materials for Americans when their manufacturing was either not stateside and therefore incapable of responding to the demand, or global bidders drove up the cost and drained supplies for our own citizens. Will the US government and the American people forget about this, or will this be a turning point that Americans and their leaders demand US corporations bring back production to the US, even if it means higher prices? Do we want to be reliant on other nations when it comes down to a battle against time when life and death are the outcomes?
The microeconomic problems are enormous. They largely deal with the destruction small business faced during the mandatory shutdowns across most of the country. First, while some may see this moment as an opportunity to invest and capitalize on the failures of others, Americans should unite to help build up those who have been negatively impacted through no fault of their own. This is a time that we need to come together and realize who deserves our economic support, and who isn’t worthy of it. Economics is about capitalizing on opportunities due to someone else’s missteps. This can be referred to as arbitrage, or to quote an economic term, scarcity. Well, the scarcity of capital in terms of small business was government mandated and out of the owner’s control. This isn’t the time for carpetbaggers. This is not an opportunity of any kind to invest. This is, however, an opportunity to help.
How do we actually see small businesses recovering from this? As of today, it’s almost a utopian idea to imagine this working out. There’s three factions to bring this back. The first is the government bailouts funded through the SBA in hopes of restoring the business’s bottom line to normal. The second are lenders offering deferring of payments they owe in terms of liabilities. Both of these seem practical on the surface, and at the moment, it seems to be working. The third component is the one no one is talking about. Who’s to say consumers are going to return to normal? That takes us to societal and cultural shifts.
The societal shifts need to center around social gatherings, and how much risk do we as Americans intend to take on moving forward when going to large groups. There are three types of events. Small events, like those that take place in bars, restaurants, and fitness studios. Think about 50-100 people being in attendance. Then, mid sized events, like clubs, church gatherings, and transportation via air and rail. Here we have groups beyond 100 but often below one or two thousand people, but crammed into a constrained place. Finally, large events. These are your concerts, festivals, and sporting events. Here you have thousands of people at minimum, and often can tally upwards of over 100,000 people. All of these events are going to face incredibly tough choices. The local and federal governments will have to decide how they are to be treated, and the American people will need to decide how much of an appetite for risk of reinfection they have when this blows over.
What happens with all of these events and venues remains to be seen. I do have a few theories. I see Americans gravitating towards smaller events and less risk when it comes to social interaction moving forward. This leads me to believe that small sized venues will eventually return to the success they once had. Mid-sized venues likely will over time. This is largely because most of these are essential to us as Americans, in particular air travel, rail travel, and religious services. Larger venues reliant on a lot of people gathering together to share an entertainment experience often in a confined space are possibly never returning. Or, at least until mass vaccinations and/or testing is a reality in Spring of 2021 or beyond.
Finally, the cultural shifts. In particular, the demographic trends that develop with family, religion, and ourselves as we move out of this. Family has become imperative through these times. For those who have no family, they are likely struggling mightily. They may not have a family due to choice, such as estranged relations, or physical distance. Expect those bridges to be rebuilt, and the distance to be condensed in years to come. A resurgence of family will occur in America. For those who are single during this moment, expect this to be a tremendous reality check. They will seek out a partner and desperately try to make changes in their personal lives to begin a family of their own. You can expect to see marriage, and pregnancy rates rise after this. Religion will likely see a spike because of this. Nonbelievers, or those who have distanced themselves from their religions, likely had a revival of sorts. The struggle of the situation, combined with the uncanny occurrence of the pandemic peaking during Jewish and Christian feast days only enhanced the spotlight on the importance of religion. Finally, we and how we interact with one another will change. We have become more selfish in recent years through the advancement of technology. This selfishness was brought on by a lazy reliance on tech. Well, technology is being used for all the right reasons now. It’s taken away the laziness, and moved it into the realm of a necessity to actually remain connected with those we care most about, and conduct business in ways to keep us safe. A sense of community and appreciation will come from this. Good things, not bad. Selflessness, as opposed to selfishness. An enlightenment of sorts.
Finally, we need to think of the future. What are we giving up in terms of our rights to combat the virus and the fear it brings. Benjamin Franklin once said, “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” America gave up a lot of essential liberty post 9/11. The NSA expanded, the TSA was born, and a surveillance state arose from the ashes. Well, as we know, there is no such thing as a temporary government program. Once a right is given up, and returned to the government, it will not be given back. Health data is protected across multiple forms of legislation. This is one component of our lives that government has yet to exploit and discover. We must remain vigilant at this time. The moment we forgo our precious health data to government, and to our employers, we give up a tremendous part of our security. We put ourselves on a slippery slope.
In closing, we must try to stay positive mentally. We must adhere to the mantra, ‘evolve or die.’ The past, as we knew it, is not returning. We were at the top of the mountain economically speaking. We fell to rock bottom when the bomb went off about a month ago. The road back up only moves higher from here. We know what we are fighting, and we know how to fight it. We know how to beat it. But, what does the world look like when this ends?