TSA Line during wuhan virus
There are many problems encountered when looking into the future to see what a post-Wuhan virus world will look like. Experts disagree on how long the current crisis will last- will it be a month? Three months? Six months? No one knows. How we emerge on the other side depends on the unknown length of the current crisis. Second, one can imagine that there will be both continuities and disruptions despite the proffered length of the crisis. There are likely to be both constructive and destructive dynamics in play. Any crisis is a two-way street.
Perhaps the only thing we can say is that there will be a reinforcement of the idea that there is no alternative to state intervention, and that is the scariest thing to consider and to be wary of. The world will not emerge a clean slate and all that happened in the past cannot be ignored, or will disappear. The threat or even the appearance of a pandemic will not necessarily be the new normal.
The actions taken by governments and central banks- unprecedented in peacetime- is expected to reach a magnitude in the area of at least $6 trillion globally. The reorganization of the economy and society around lockdowns is a temporary measure. But the actions will have one lasting effect: the increased role of the government (state) in the economy and society at large.
We are told that we are in a war against the virus. Our leaders are deciding what is “essential” and what is not. Manufacturers are being ordered to make ventilators. President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act and, to his credit, has used it sparingly, although the tool is there for future use. Democrat governors and legislators are crying, “Not enough” or “not quick enough” which gives away their intentions should they be in control. But, in a real war, capital is usually destroyed and forced to restructure. This creates the fertile ground for regrowth as the post-World War II boom proved. In the war on Wuhan virus, all the action is propping up the existing order.
Claims that businesses will more fully embrace the digital age are much overstated. The idea that working from home represents the future is another, I believe, false forecast. This is the dream of the doomsday environmentalist since less commuting means less congestion and less carbon dioxide. The bigger question is what is being accomplished from home- something productive, or something decorative?
In fact, the coronavirus has revealed the importance of unskilled or semi-skilled workers. We depend more on these people than the white-collar worker banging out useless memos from home at the kitchen table. The absence of transport, agricultural, construction, and even some in the healthcare industry has shined a light on our sometimes looking down upon these people. These are the rubes and “deplorables” of America. If every trucker stopped tomorrow, would we feel an effect? If every white collar worker stopped tomorrow, would we feel an effect? The current state of affairs is unfamiliar and the future uncertain, but yesterday’s jobs and ideas have not disappeared.
We do know that wokeness, identity politics, generational conflict and a culture of low expectations will return with a vengeance. The risk-aversive culture the response to Covid-19 has engendered will spill over into other areas, particularly climate change. People will ask and put forth the notion after watching the behavior of the state, especially throwing the rule book on fiscal responsibility on the pyre, “If all this was necessary, what about the impending climate change emergency?” That Tweet sent out by Barack Obama echoed this thought. After all, the response accomplished what people like Greta Thunberg had been advocating all along- shut down the economy, stop air flight, stop driving, reduce the carbon footprint, stop fossil fuel exploitation, etc. Have you seen the price of gasoline lately?
The economic effects of Wuhan virus are going to be felt for generations to come. But, what about the political effects? Without argument except for a few lonely wolves crying the forest, and largely without debate, the fight between the capitalist free-marketeer and the socialist is being won by the state. If anyone thought technocracy tendencies were strong in the past, they will be even stronger on the other side of this crisis.
We have already witnessed the harbinger of things to come. It is evident in the “listen to the experts” rhetoric and in the authoritarian tendencies of those on the Left. The governor of Rhode Island who sent the national guard to train stations and the state police tracking down New Yorkers was no conservative Republican. It was not a conservative Republican shutting down gun stores in Virginia and California. It was not a conservative Republican threatening houses of worship in New York City.
However, there is a bright side as was mentioned above. A crisis is never a one-way street. The many examples of solidarity amply demonstrate that there are other dynamics at play that may influence the future.
Albert Einstein once famously said he never thought about the future because it came soon enough. Albert Einstein never lived through a Wuhan virus lockdown either. He could not imagine a society obsessed with worries about the future. The potential positive effects are unknown- the scary part.
The scarier part: The renewal of the role of the state is not unknown. There is no need for speculation because it has already arrived. The government, or state, is now the base of the pyramid and the individual an afterthought.