Will there be permanent changes after COVID-19 is gone?
The total shut-down of American activity will soon be drawing to an end, one area at a time. When we look around us at the world of shutters and silence, it may be worth thinking about this sheltered lifestyle and trying to project forward toward “a new normal”, that is, what effects might this time have on the future? We will look at several areas of American life: home and family, business, recreation and entertainment, and social trends – as a small sample of a very complex topic.
Home and Family Life
Perhaps the most significant experience of this period is “Shelter in place”, namely “don’t leave home”. This home-centered existence runs completely counter to a social trend of the entire society since World War II, the ever-increasing pressure of commercial and social activity drawing Americans AWAY from home, and therefore also away from family. The agricultural economy of previous eras kept people at home as their place of business and in fact involved all but the very young in the business of the farm. Urbanization pulled away first the father, then – as one effect of WWII – the mothers began to enter the work force. Finally, compulsory schooling pulled the children away from home.
The enforced “stay at home” mandate, therefore, went directly against a gigantic social trend. It forced parents to assume responsibility for their children’s education, fathers to spend time with their children, mothers to attend to household chores themselves, and children to recognize the personalities as well as the authority of their parents. It reminded parents, as one commentator put it, “that they really are parents”.
What effect will all of this have on the future? Of course, it is hard to say with any confidence. But I would hazard a guess that there will be at least three outcomes; more babies, more divorces, and more home-based business activity, including flex-time, work-from-home days, and home-based businesses. Possibly, there may be more home-schooling, which would probably effect a decline in mothers’ availability for the labor pool.
The effects of the shut-down on business may turn out to be 0ne of the most significant results of all. The trends of on-line shopping and delivery services got a massive boost by this adventure. As did other technological modes of communication – digital, video, and audio. In this regard, I would expect an enormous burst of new technologies especially aimed at communication and supply-chain innovations.
The impact on real estate may also be enormous. First of all, a decrease of the market for housing can be expected because so many people are suffering from cash flow problems due to the 20% unemployment rate we are now suffering in addition to the permanent closing down of so many small businesses. Another effect on the housing market may come from an increase in home-based businesses stemming from those people who discover that working from home suited them just fine. This decision might then lead to families seeking larger homes in less expensive areas, e.g., far-out suburbs and rural communities.
Secondly, the effect on the office rental market may be felt as more employers have been forced to discover the advantages and disadvantages of employees working from home. One of those advantages is certainly lessening the overhead costs of office space.
Another trend, as mentioned above, is the reduction of brick-and-mortar retail space, which was already a well-established trend, but which has certainly been augmented by recent events. This trend has now extended much more robustly to the food industry, both groceries and restaurants. What was once the local pizza or Chinese food storefront which had no seating but rather a fleet of little cars and young drivers delivering to local homes has now extended to even large restaurants and fast food franchises. Sit-down restaurants will have to come up with new ideas in order to survive – and many will not.
Recreation and Entertainment
The boom in home gyms and TV exercise programs, combined with the prohibition of large crowds, suggests that there may be an impact on organized sports at least in the short term. It seems likely that even professional sports may be slow to re-enter the era of sold-out stadiums and arenas.
The same is true of large scale entertainment – for the same reasons. Until vaccines are available and widespread, it seems unlikely that Americans will feel comfortable in large crowds of strangers for concerts, movies, stage dramas, operas, or games. The organizations which can survive by television or other means would seem to be those which are presently well-funded with a secure investment base. That description excludes many teams and shows.
The overwhelming realization coming from this whole experience is the communal realization of how extensive the power of governments over our lives really is. People who have ordinarily taken government for granted and thought little about it have received a sudden shock when they realized how totally ubiquitous and omnipotent governments really are. At the same time, Americans have rallied in ways unprecedented since WWII to meet this challenge with kindness, ingenuity, self-sacrifice, and patience.
In some places, however, the patience is wearing thin. The governors of Michigan and Virginia, for example, are facing protest demonstrations as well as lawsuits against some measures deemed to be violations of Constitutional rights. The effect of these draconian measures may be a re-examination of the big government proposals of the Leftists who advocate government take-over of health care, education, and energy,
Whether or not this lesson is learned, however, it is clear to anyone with open eyes that the quality and leadership abilities required of our elected officials are critically important to our own welfare and the preservation of our personal freedom. Our chance to assure our future comes with each election. Perhaps more people will be inspired to vote and to vote intelligently.