COVID-19: Finding Fault (Epilogue)

(CONTINUED from Parts 1 through 4)

So.  It’s your fault.  Now what?

The world is about to change; in fact, some of the changes have already begun.  Weak retail chains are collapsing; many single-storefront shops have already done so.  When the less resilient of the traditional department stores vanish, so will most of the enclosed shopping malls around the country — which will lead to yet another real estate bubble popping, this one commercial.  Unlike 2008, this time millions of jobs will go with it — permanently.

Yet we will adapt; we always have before.  These businesses were on the verge of collapsing anyway, but the crisis has tipped the balance.  We should have been preparing for this — but we haven’t, so we’ll be stuck with a mess.

But there’s still some time, a little breathing room between now and then.  We have the unique opportunity to choose the world we want to live in.  Admittedly, we never have before; we always let it get chosen for us, or we pick the path of least resistance — but at this moment there are more people free to think about our long-term future than ever before in our history.

When we consider what… is the chief end of man, and what are the true necessaries and means of life, it appears as if men had deliberately chosen the common mode of living because they preferred it to any other. Yet they honestly think there is no choice left…
Thoreau, “Walden”

Some of these changes are already coming.  One example is outdoor classrooms:  Once a luxury option to encourage increased student engagement, the outdoor classroom is also now a safety feature, permitting group education while limiting the chance of contagion.  This isn’t just for grade schoolers; several universities have been adding outdoor classrooms over the past few years, and this fall is likely to see many more adopting the innovation.

We’ve been shopping online for years, and that’s being accelerated by social distancing.  Although many of us will deeply regret the final passing of the funky used book shop, it’s difficult to deny the increase in efficiency from home delivery.  The hardware store will survive; the traditional department store won’t.  Grocery delivery will again become the standard practice that it used to be decades ago.  And self-driving cars will soon replace the taxi and Uber driver.

Those of you who traveled for business will have noticed how easy it is — and how inexpensive — to hold meetings virtually.  Rest assured your CFOs will also have noted this.  Expect your frequent flier miles to start accumulating more slowly.  Airlines will fold, as will some hotels, convention centers, and the subordinate businesses that have always catered to this practice.

These are merely examples — not of inevitable, unavoidable change, but of the direction things are trending.  History builds up a certain inexorability, an inertia or momentum, but it can be diverted.  There may be enough people who love the used book shop to bring it back afterward; popular resistance to self-driving Uber is likely to be high — but will it be high enough?  These are the types of choices we’ll be able to make easily.

Additionally, those with plenty of ready money — the ultra-rich, foreign multinationals, and so on — will be able to snap up bargains both in real estate and intellectual properties.  In any chaotic financial event of this nature, wealth tends to concentrate in the hands of the few even as the many lose retirement income, security, liquidity, and jobs.  Again, this is merely a trend, and it can be opposed through regulation; now is the proper moment for selective property tax relief and targeted capital gains to be used as the economist’s tools.

And then there’s the political.

Even with a landslide victory, don’t expect a Democratic government in both Congress and the White House to accomplish much, despite their virtue signalling.  As with every other similar election season, a large number of divisive yet largely cosmetic laws will be passed to up the feel-good quotient, while social changes whose time has come will be forced to wait on the mid-terms, extorting you for your vote.  So marijuana will be legalized and same-sex marriage federally recognized — both long overdue, yet both coming already on the state level — but instead of single-payer healthcare, UBI, or a minimum wage hike, we may see a punitive yet ineffective gun law to provoke divisiveness for 2022.  Don’t be surprised if even the Equal Rights Amendment returns to the fore, as though the Fourteenth Amendment, the Pay Equity Act, and the Civil Rights Acts didn’t already exist — overwhelmingly redundant, yet guaranteed to draw voter allegiance in the upcoming legislative races.

While much of this planned incompetence is not the fault of the Democratic Party — we’ll likely still be mask-deep in COVID until summer of 2022, and so we’ll lack the economy to support Healthcare For All — an awful lot is.  And I’m only naming them in particular because they’ll likely be in power; both the Republican party core and the entire superstructure built on our ludicrously non-representative two-party system, from the multi-billion-dollar lobbying industry right on down the line, will actively resist any form of meaningful change.  Until campaign finance is reformed — and it won’t be under Biden — nothing else we truly need will get done either soon or well.

Unless we make it happen.

Historically, social change in our system has come through popular mandates.  The public is, as has already been observed, overwhelmingly in favor of certain specific policies, including healthcare and campaign finance reform.  All we need to do at this point is convey our wishes to our elected representatives through the following methods:

  1. Organized peaceful protest:  It’s enshrined in our Constitution, and it works.  Maintain social distancing and wear a mask; above all demonstrate locally.  In this time of COVID, to do otherwise is irresponsible.
  2. Letter-writing, phone calls, emails, and telegrams:  Politicians live and die by your approval.  Send communication to your own representatives for greatest impact; Mitch McConnell will never run for office outside of Kentucky, so he’s unlikely to care if Californians disapprove.
  3. Vote third party:  This is particularly vital in non-battleground states, though I encourage it everywhere.  If you disapprove of the system, writing in a candidate who isn’t on the ballot — even if it’s Bernie Sanders — will in most states be counted as “didn’t vote”.  Pick someone third party who’s closest to your goals — Green for the environment, Libertarian to end the War On Drugs, Socialist for healthcare and UBI.  When millions vote off-party, every politician takes note.
  4. If all else fails, run for office, or draft the smartest and most decent person you know. Most Congressmen are just failed lawyers; surely you know someone who’s at least successful.  Volunteer; organize; form a committee; hold meetings.  Make it happen.

We have a unique opportunity to make the change we want to see.  If we fail — and we almost always have before — we’ll have only ourselves to blame.  So let’s not fail.

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