It’s taken time, but increased amounts of commentary are emerging about what life will be like post-covid. Truth is, we just don’t know and while all the projections are interesting, there are too many unknowns for us to plan for anything beyond the near future.
And there are uncertainties out there that could, at any time, toss our best designs onto the trash heap. The path to a vaccine might prove shorter than planned, helping countries and their economies to begin the project of rebuilding. But what if it’s the opposite? What if no vaccine is discovered and developed? It’s happened before, numerous times, and societies have had to deal with the long-term consequences. HIV has been without a vaccine for decades and creative efforts have had to be developed to keep it from spinning out of control. We’re still without a solution to the common cold.
The thought of living with the coronavirus for longer than a year is something we’d rather not contemplate. One thing we know, however, is that it won’t be the last threatening virus – not by a longshot. It surprises many to learn that, in an increasingly connected world, some 30 – 50 novel viruses like Covid-19 have appeared in just the last three decades. Some of their names are familiar, others not so much – Ebola, SARS, Zika, Bird Flu, West Nile, Parovirus 4, Bocavirus 2, to name a few. Our future reality will involve a series, perhaps waves, of such viruses, some more serious than others.
We appear to have arrived at a point in modern civilization where our vulnerabilities could possibly affect our lives in ways we thought unthinkable a few years ago. Somehow, we’ll have to navigate a series of oncoming dangers that threaten to unravel a century of progress.
How the economy will be managed is on everyone’s lips. Should an increase in viruses continue, the ability of an economy to function in historic patterns will be transformed. While working from home might not be the norm, it will definitely become common practice. How to manage a business or corporation from a distance will require a major amount of ingenuity and accountability. Travel for business will be curtailed, expense accounts pared back, and the popular trend of open office spaces might disappear.
The lifestyles of work-related culture will transform from suits and ties to pyjamas or jeans. Many trendy business restaurants won’t survive the change. And talk of debt and deficits will flow effortlessly through every financial long-term deliberation. The amount of stimulus money flowing from government capitals is numbing but necessary. But somehow it must be paid back and how that is accomplished could upend capitalism, democracy, even politics.
Two parallel tracks of recovery will dominate current thought. While some will fall back on the tried and true calls for austerity, attacks on deficits and programming, a more empowered voice will proclaim the need for more government investment in climate change, work security, more affordable education, an increase in anti-poverty measures, and, fittingly enough, a more robust healthcare system capable of responding to pandemics. The future of modern civilization will depend on which track prevails, or if some effective accommodation can be worked out between the two.
Living in serious debt is both foolish and perhaps fatal to modern economies, but so is the idea of a recovery that only benefits the wealthy, leaving the rest to fend for themselves. The last thing we should be aspiring to is the recovery of a pre-covid economy that placed rocket fuel in Wall Street and encroaching poverty on Main Street. Any financial system that overly compensate financial barons while tolerating advanced pressure on food banks is as immoral as it is senseless. It’s no wonder that only one in ten British citizens wishes to return to the “old normal” once the pandemic winds down.
For politics, the easiest part of our present distress has been the allotment of the various stimulus packages in record measure. The most divisive and excruciating part will be paying it all back. But the cautionary tale is this: we weren’t really taking care of one another or our planet in the past economy and to return to it will bring on more of the same.
Something new must emerge, but its success will depend on all those citizens pining for the beach, for reopened stores, and the next cruise deal. Many will be the same ones returning to minimum wage jobs with no benefits, a planet on the ropes, and little, if any true pension prospects. A future with a desecrated planet and increasing poverty is no future at all. We will all have to not only think differently, but be different as well. We must migrate from consumer to citizen and from anger to agency to shape the future we want. It all comes down to the post-covid era.