Happy New Year. Now What?

We’ve survived 2020.

Hooray for us. So now what? What’s the new normal going to be?

How is 2021 going to be different from 2020? — That’s one question. And the answer, at least to begin with, is that it’s not. We’re going to stay mostly shut down for a while, until vaccines get out there at least, and then gradually reopen. Retail will continue to suffer during this process, and restaurants will either deliver or be mostly empty.

Those that survive, that is. An awful lot of small retail operations will have vanished, and so will most of the mom-and-pop restaurants and diners. Life coming out of lockdown is going to be different from what it was — and that’s just the surface changes, not even considering what’s happened to the commercial real estate market, or new housing, or healthcare.

So perhaps a better question is this: How is 2022 going to be different from 2019?

Politics

One obvious change is that we’re not going to have Donald Trump to kick around anymore. Sure, there’s some talk of civil unrest during the transition and Congressional resistance to the vote count in early January — and there may indeed be some of that, but let’s not kid ourselves: Organized violence undertaken by political activists is nothing new. It’s been going on regularly for the better part of four years now, and 2020 was a banner year for it despite virus lockdowns. It happens during the run-up to elections, and it continues until just past; that’s the new normal and has been for a while now.

What will be different is that there will no longer be any single unifying target for people’s ire. Political factions will again splinter back into anti-authoritarian conservatives, pro-Wall-Street in both parties, populist liberals, Establishment liberals, and so on. The Squad will gain momentum during the final term of Bernie Sanders and Reform will become the watchword of a growing group of dissatisfied Republicans. During the ensuing stew, new alliances will form, quite a few of which will cross party lines — especially under two vastly weakened Majority Leaders.

The general public, meanwhile, has grown ever fonder of ideas like Universal Basic Income and Universal Healthcare — two concepts that, as late as the New Hampshire primaries, were considered so fringe that Andrew Yang had to explain them anew to every single audience — and his candidacy seemed like a joke. Even if no permanent solutions are achieved, it is not unlikely that we’ll see an incredible amount of legislative activity and public debate leading up to the midterm elections. We’re also probably going to see one, perhaps two, projects that the Biden administration sets as priorities come to a floor vote — the results of which will depend largely on those of the upcoming Georgia Senate runoff races. (If I had to guess it’ll be minimum wage and gun control; we’ll either see a compromise solution or an extreme partisan one. -Editor)

Eviction

Most municipal courts are still operating under lockdown procedures in most states, so evictions will go through very slowly; the majority of clerks are banned from coming to work, and in many jurisdictions there’s still insufficient provision to execute or file legal documents remotely. This is by no means universal, but it will still serve as a bottleneck for evictions due to nonpayment of rent, as will seasonal protection laws in many northern states where winter evictions are always considered a hardship.

Nevertheless, our courts are inexorable, if not necessarily fast, and over time we’re about to see evictions in the tens of thousands and lawsuits for back rent (plus legal costs). Homelessness will combine with permanent loss of income, and even those who re-enter the work force as restaurants and retail ramp up will still face the consequences of staggering amounts of personal debt.

This won’t merely impact the service sector. Corporations (and even a few government agencies) are by no means unaware of the vast number of people they’ve been employing that are nonessential. There are certain to be a few members of middle management who will attempt to improve efficiency by attempting to permanently eliminate these positions, and some of upper management will be doing the same… with surplus middle management their own target.

As a result, temporary homelessness will increase across several strata of society. This, combined with an enforced decrease in new residential construction in 2020, will keep prices up as demand increases beyond capacity, ensuring both a high number of vacancies in the middle cost tiers and a gradually increasing number of quasi-permanent homeless people. There exist alternative opportunities in the accompanying collapse of retail and the shopping mall, but whether these or others will be exploited is up to government — and is the proper concern of activists.

Employment

Healthcare and higher education are two sectors where administration employment has increased vastly compared to that of providers and teachers. These are not the only drivers of higher costs, but they’re certainly significant — and, if addressed through the coming essentialism movement in management, they will be decreased. However, it should be evident to any who know these industries that efficiency is the last thing they tend to pursue. Still, it’s a possibility, and it’s one that activists could effectively embrace.

2020 has also seen the rise of the self-driving car as a delivery vehicle, the proposed introduction of self-driving taxis, and an increased reliance on delivery over personal service — by necessity, of course. And yet, it seems likely that consumers will continue to see the value of delivery in terms of convenience when safety is no longer as much of a factor. The trend had been against malls, department stores, and local retail; COVID has merely accelerated something that has been happening for a long time.

Medicine

One positive impact of COVID-19 has been a vast acceleration of technology in targeted treatment vectors. The same advances that led to the creation of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines can be employed along any number of lines, ranging from curing cancer and advanced heart disease to, presumably, designer body modification. mRNA proteins can be customized virtually at will, and the techniques have gone from fringe science to mainstream in an incredibly short time.

The impact of new technology is always uncertain. The introduction of universal hepatitis vaccines eliminated 95% of liver cancer, preventing forty thousand American deaths per year; HPV vaccines have had lesser but still notable effect. With these new vectors, we remain at present unaware of their limitations as well as the full scope of their potential; how these will impact society remains to be seen.

Bottom Line

People talk about the “new normal”, and to an extent it’s true that there will be one. What we’re missing with that phrase, however, is that what we had before COVID wasn’t normal at all, but rather almost entirely artificial. That a large segment of the workforce is nonessential isn’t something that happened in March; it was a truth that had developed gradually over many years and only became apparent all at once. The same holds for our present need for an increase in the minimum wage, the potential for UBI and universal healthcare, and the artificially high cost of education. Medical treatment has a price that doesn’t correlate with its actual cost; this is not new, but it’s never been common knowledge before.

One other factor that will bear watching is that we now have a politically aware society of a type that hasn’t existed for decades. The plus side of incessant doomscrolling is that the populace now holds strong opinions on virtually everything. The minus side is that these opinions are often formed from incomplete or otherwise incorrect information.

Which leads us to one thing that hasn’t changed: We’ll still be here, patiently working to tell the difference. Hopefully, you will too.


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