I discussed previously regarding the stress and anxiety of self-isolation, state-wide lockdowns and quarantine, but what about the effect on business owners? Chris Thompson noted that his wife’s job has always been to keep people relaxed. The stress of keeping that dream alive is agonizing. Chris Thompson noted that the widespread crumbling of American small businesses in the year 2020 will ultimately be a second- or third-order concern, at best, as millions of people are infected by the novel coronavirus and some horrifying percentage succumb to Covid-19. It’s worth observing, though, that just as the ultimate tally of lives lost will be bloated by a slapdash governmental response that left many folks to balance for themselves the danger of multiple existential threats, so too will the eventual failure of hundreds of thousands of small businesses reflect the confusion, incompetence, and indifference of the people whose job it is to manage this crisis.
My wife has owned and operated a boutique day spa in the Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C. for going on 15 years now. A dozen practitioners tend to rosters of dedicated clients; a small handful of support and administrative staffers keep things organized. Because it’s a very small operation, my wife is both the main administrator and also a practitioner who sees clients. It’s a demanding job, and it eats up much more of her time than a full-time job in someone else’s spa would, but she’s very good at it and is fulfilled by the opportunity to execute her own vision of how a spa should operate.
Turns out when a novel virus leaps oceans and uses close human contact to navigate its way to the most vulnerable, businesses that make their money via direct physical contact between workers and customers are put in a uniquely difficult situation. The spa industry is loaded down with standards designed to limit the transmission of diseases between parties, but zero transmission is not possible, and this isn’t the common cold. Somewhere around 200 people come into the spa each week, and all 200 are in direct physical contact with a staff person; half or more are there to have another person’s hands and fingers directly applied to their face for an hour or longer, in services where steam is applied and hangs in the air. There is no such thing as social distancing inside a spa. Even with every safety measure applied as fastidiously as possible, two perfectly healthy seeming clients sharing a waiting room can trade illnesses in the time it takes to fill out a single-page intake form.
The spa industry is loaded down with standards designed to limit the transmission of diseases between parties, but zero transmission is not possible, and this isn’t the common cold.
The right thing to do, then, is to suspend operations at least until widespread testing has begun, if not until the spread of the virus is fully understood and the brunt of the pandemic has been absorbed. While no one knows who the hell has the virus and while hospitals are having their asses kicked by the surge of infections, operating a serene little coronavirus distribution center in a densely populated area would be a very shitty thing to do for the public good.
But closing the business, even for just a few weeks, presents some immediate challenges. Practitioners depend upon commissions from services in order to pay their bills. A cut of service income is set aside to pay administrative staff. Shuttering the business for a couple of months means coming up with tens of thousands of dollars to help keep these people afloat, or setting them adrift to fend for themselves. And there are other expenses applying considerable pressure to that primary concern: Lease payments are due on expensive machinery; professional insurance cannot be allowed to lapse; the landlord is expecting another rent payment, and another, and then another.
The Trump administration directed the Small Business Administration on March 12 to offer a special reduced interest rate on get-me-over “recovery” loans to businesses affected by the pandemic, money that at least in theory could provide a source of cash with which to pay staffers to stay home. But there’s a rub—or several. For absolutely no good reason, the disaster rate is contingent on a given state’s emergency posture. So, for example, if your business is in, say, Kansas, where prominent politicians have said coronavirus is not a threat because there is not a large Chinese population, you would not qualify for the disaster rate without a statewide disaster declaration. If you want to do the right thing for your staff and community and temporarily suspend the operations of your small business ahead of this declaration, any loans you seek to increase your cash on hand will not be protected from predatory rates.
As it happens, Virginia declared a state of emergency on March 12, which meant the “recovery loans” should’ve been available within hours of the executive directive to the SBA. But here we encounter the second and third rubs. First, it turns out no one at the SBA had been given much direction about what exact governmental declaration qualified businesses in a given state for the special rate, and so no one at the SBA and none of the SBA-linked banks could say for sure whether a Virginia small business qualified. Second, and most horrifying of all, the recovery loans were not available for businesses “with credit available elsewhere.” If the SBA determined that a business had opportunities to borrow money without its protections, it was happy to dropkick that business out into the wilderness.
It’s worth noting how backward and screwy it is that a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic would force otherwise perfectly successful small businesses to take on crippling debt and pay interest to lenders, in order to provide disaster pay to workers who, like their employers, did absolutely nothing wrong. If there’s going to be a thing called a Small Business Administration — hell, if there’s going to be a thing called a federal government — it ought to have better tools at its disposal than a Rolodex of carrion-circling lenders and a negotiated interest rate. In fact, it does! It’s just that the real help is being shifted to billion-dollar companies with tycoon CEOs, while small businesses are being fed to the sharks.
The next-best option for my wife’s efforts at keeping her staff on their feet involved emptying savings accounts used for reserving money for taxes and liabilities (think gift certificates, which accrue impressively but which are not payment for services rendered, cannot expire, and are refundable). A day spa, even a reasonably successful one, is a low-margin business: A savings account reserved for liabilities holds roughly $10,000; another savings account reserving estimated tax money holds another $4,500; one single payroll for half a month’s regular work runs $23,000 to $32,000. Emptying those accounts would mean dealing a grievous self-wound for very fleeting, dubious benefits. It would cover somewhere around half of a paycheck per staff person but would make it far more likely that the business would fold before the end of the current crisis, depriving these people of a job to which they would otherwise happily return.
So, this is all pointing at layoffs — a strategic termination so that her people could collect unemployment and the company could still be around to gather them back up again in a few months. But first, my wife had to see if she could lower her non-payroll expenses to as close to zero as possible if she was to have any chance of avoiding the devastating defeat of cutting loose a good and loyal and dedicated staff of excellent people, many of whom have families to support. This meant seeking forbearance from lenders, banks, and the landlord.
The only thing that seems to matter to anyone with any power is whether money continues to flow upward. It only ever flows upward; the only thing that trickles down is pressure.
The first two calls were to lenders, and they were not encouraging. The first lender said my wife could go through the usual payment deferral process, but that her interest rate would increase and penalties would accrue, and there would be an eventual balloon payment at the end of her loan period. The second lender had disconnected their telephone and was unreachable for four days. Both lenders ultimately settled on limited forbearance through April — payments could be missed, but hundreds of dollars in penalties would accrue per payment missed, and the sum of missed payments, plus penalties, would be added to payments beginning in May. Her interest rate would jump, per the original agreement, to reflect missed payments.
The word from the landlord was even more troubling. My wife pays $4,500 in monthly rent to a developer that manages an impressive spread of commercial real estate. Their representative announced in a bemused tone that they had not even considered whether they would need to offer any sort of relief or forbearance to their tenants. After having the situation explained to them, their best offer was one month of forbearance in exchange for extending the lease period by a full year, and they indicated they’d be offering this deal to their tenants on a case-by-case basis. Two days later, they sent a form email to their tenants announcing that the deal would, in fact, be two months of forbearance in exchange for two years added to existing leases.
What has been lacking in all this is firm direction from the federal government. It has been in their power all along to suspend collection of rent, mortgage, and debt payments, and to mandate two or three months of social distancing and a halt on all nonessential business. Hilariously, they’ve managed to suspend rent payments for airlines at airport terminals, once again directing relief at massively profitable, publicly-traded, billion-dollar businesses and ignoring everyone else. They’ve left it up to governors and mayors to determine how much traffic and business to permit; they’ve left it up to banks and landlords to determine how much relief is appropriate; they’ve left it up to business owners to figure out how to balance the threat to the public of staying open versus the threat to the business of shutting down; they’ve left it up to individuals to hammer out arrangements for keeping a roof overhead and food on the table. There are no right answers. The only thing that seems to matter to anyone with any power is whether money continues to flow upward. It only ever flows upward; the only thing that trickles down is pressure.
What is likely to finally kill my wife’s business, in a blast of dark cosmic humor, will be the administration’s favoring of the market over public health. While society was settled on indefinite self-isolation and a hiatus for all nonessential work — something the federal government never quite got around to championing but which was nonetheless taken for granted by all nonsociopaths — it was possible to make limited headway negotiating forbearance from banks and lenders and landlords, using phrases like “act of God” and “force majeure.” If and when the president arbitrarily declares the battle won after a few short weeks of half-assed social distancing — long before a framework for widespread testing has been established, to say nothing of any formal measures to quickly increase the stockpile of masks and ventilators — small businesses will be forced to ignore the urgent pleas of the scientific and medical communities and reopen for business or face down creditors and landlords without the backing of an official mandate. Small businesses will have to choose between operating as coronavirus distribution centers or sinking immediately under the weight of debt.
Here is where things stand for my wife and her business: Her rent has been deferred for one month, at the cost of another full year on her lease; her two loans have been deferred for two months each, but not without penalty. Insurance for her company and its practitioners has not been deferred. Bills will begin piling up in earnest, thousands and tens of thousands of dollars at a time, beginning [checks watch] uhh yesterday. An end to social distancing is months and possibly a year away; Virginia’s current stay-at-home order runs into June. There is no telling how soon it will be anything other than catastrophically reckless to reopen her doors and accept business, but the people upstream have drawn their line. The clock is ticking.
Most painfully, the staffers who could not survive without immediate income have agreed to have their employment terminated, so that they can collect unemployment and seek Medicaid. My wife, who is a good practitioner and a good business owner and has not done anything wrong to put her business at risk, is in an impossible, untenable position. Because she will have to start paying rent again in one month, and because she will have to start making loan payments by summertime, and because she has several very talented and qualified and hardworking staff people in the wind, there will be enormous pressure on her to turn the lights back on before the end of April. If she does, she and all the other small businesses forced into the same position will be active vectors for coronavirus, despite every possible effort. If she doesn’t, it is very likely she never will again.
America Is About to Witness the Biggest Labor Movement It’s Seen in Decades
It took 40 years and a pandemic to stir up a worker revolution that’s about to hit corporate America!
Steve LeVine remembered that in September 1945, a little-remembered frenzy erupted in the United States. Japan had surrendered, ending World War II, but American meat packers, steelworkers, telephone installers, telegraph operators, and auto assemblers had something different from partying in mind. In rolling actions, they went on strike. After years of patriotic silence on the home front, these workers, along with unhappy roughnecks, lumberjacks, railroad engineers, and elevator operators — some 6 million workers in all — shut down their industries and some entire cities. Mainly they were seeking higher pay — and they got it, averaging 18% increases.
The era of raucous labor is long past, and worker chutzpah along with it. That is, it was — until now. Desperately needed to staff the basic economy while the rest of us remain secluded from Covid-19, ordinarily little-noticed workers are wielding unusual leverage. Across the country, cashiers, truckers, nurses, burger flippers, stock replenishers, meat plant workers, and warehouse hands are suddenly seen as heroic, and they are successfully protesting. For the previous generation of labor, the goal post was the 40-hour week. New labor’s immediate aims are much more prosaic: a sensible face mask, a bottle of sanitizer, and some sick days.
The question is what happens next. Are we watching a startling but fleeting moment for newly muscular labor? Or, once the coronavirus is beaten, do companies face a future of vocal workers aiming to rebuild lost decades of wage increases and regained influence in boardrooms and the halls of power?
For now at least, some of the country’s most powerful CEOs are clearly nervous. Late last month, Apple, faced with reporters asking about a company decision to furlough hundreds of contract workers without pay, did a quick about-face. Those employees, Apple now said, would receive their hourly wages. A few weeks earlier, after Amazon warehouse workers demanded better benefits during the virus pandemic, that company also reversed course, offering paid sick days and unlimited unpaid time off.
The backdrop is a country at a standstill and uncertain over which businesses will survive the current economic shakeout, and in what form. With some notable exceptions, very few companies seem prepared to risk riling their employees, especially given broad popular support for workers at their grocery stores, nurses at their hospitals, and drivers who are keeping supply arteries open.
The past four decades have been perhaps labor’s weakest since the Industrial Age.
But if companies are responding to those who are protesting, they might also think ahead and preempt festering trouble down the road. “I like to believe people will say, ‘We treat these people as disposable, but they are pretty indispensable. Maybe we should do what we can to recognize their contribution,’” says David Autor, a labor economist at MIT and co-director of the school’s Work of the Future Task Force.
Until the 1980s, layoffs were barely a thing, writes Louis Uchitelle in The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences. Companies tended to avoid large-scale dismissals, because they violated a red line of publicly accepted practice and also could finger the company for blame. The United States was still in the age of company as community and societal patron, and even when workers went on strike, they were generally not replaced, because the optics would be bad.
But in 1981, President Ronald Reagan changed all that. Some 12,000 air traffic controllers went on strike, demanding higher pay and a shorter workweek. In a breathtaking decision, Reagan fired all but a few hundred of them. The Federal Labor Relations Authority decertified the controllers’ union entirely. The era of strong labor was over.
In the subsequent age of the no-excuses layoff, the number of major strikes has plunged. Starting in 1947, when the government began keeping such data, there were almost always anywhere from 200 to more than 400 big strikes every year. But in 1982, the year after the air traffic controllers debacle, the number for the first time fell below 100. In 2017, there were just seven. “There was damage to self-esteem every time there was a layoff. It took the militancy out of organized labor, and I don’t think it ever recovered,” Uchitelle says.
The past four decades have been perhaps labor’s weakest since the Industrial Age. For a half century, those working for hourly wages have won almost no real gains. The real average hourly wage in 2018 dollars adjusted for inflation was $22.65 in 2018, compared with $20.27 in 1964 — just an 11.7% gain, according to Pew Research. Real median hourly wages rose by only another 0.6% last year despite the sharp tightening of the job market and an increase in the minimum wage across the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The current revival of worker activism precedes Covid-19 in the unlikeliest of places. In 2018, West Virginia teachers, among the lowest paid in the nation and four years without a raise, went on strike for nine days in a demand for higher pay. That they won a 5% increase was one astonishing thing. But the walkout itself was stunning, specifically because of the state where it occurred — a former bedrock of ultramilitant coal miners who had repeatedly gone to actual war for better pay and safety but more recently were a bastion of worker passivity.
If teachers are an indicator of what is coming, Amazon, fast food restaurants, hospitals, and gig companies have a long, hot few years ahead.
Last year, the West Virginia teachers were on the picket lines again. This time, they stopped the state legislature from funding private schools in what they saw as an attempt to weaken their newly revived strength. Officials buckled after just a day. The strikes meanwhile spread to a dozen red and blue cities and states. Often wearing red shirts as the symbol of the strikes, the teachers were demanding more money — from 2000 to 2017, teachers’ real salaries actually shrunk by 1.6% nationally, according to the National Center for Health Statistics — as well as more supplies and help in the classroom. In Arizona, teachers won a 20% raise, and Los Angeles teachers won a 6% raise. That triggered more strikes through much of 2019, with Chicago teachers, for one, winning a 16% pay raise. Strikes seemed likely this year, too, in Detroit and Philadelphia, for starters.
If teachers are an indicator of what is coming, Amazon, fast food restaurants, hospitals, and gig companies have a long, hot few years ahead. On April 6 alone, the employees of a Los Angeles McDonald’s walked out when a co-worker was diagnosed positive for the coronavirus. For the second time in a month, workers at a Staten Island Amazon warehouse went on strike after 26 co-workers came down with the virus. And outside Chicago, employees of two plants walked out because management failed to immediately announce that co-workers had been diagnosed with Covid-19.
Across the country, workers are on the march over safety, pay, and sick days. The picture is jarring at a time when 16 million people are newly out of work. Companies and CEOs need to prepare for a new post-Covid-19 reality where workers will recognize their power — and use it.
“Business models based on ridiculous labor rates plus arbitrage where you foist all your costs onto the employee are coming to an end.”
When the virus struck Hilton Hotels starting in January, its global occupancy plummeted to somewhere between 10% and 15%, and most of its 6,100 managed and franchised properties closed. Executives were convinced that the travel industry would eventually rebound, but from there they faced a conundrum: They did not want to lose a trained workforce, but they also knew they and their franchisees could not afford to keep their approximately 260,000 employees on the payroll. So, on March 24, the decision was announced to, in effect, loan them out.
Staff in Hilton’s human relations unit contacted counterparts at Amazon, Albertson’s, CVS, and Walgreens, says Nigel Glennie, vice president of corporate communications at Hilton. These retailers were experiencing Covid-19 boomlets and, combined, were in the market for hundreds of thousands of workers. Were they interested in some already trained workers, Hilton asked, who are expert specifically in catering to exceedingly particular customers? So an expedited hiring portal was set up, ultimately connecting Hilton’s workforce with 28 retailers that were suddenly responsible for almost the entire working economy.
The outcome was ideal for Hilton: It would not lay off but instead furlough its workers, thus allowing them to collect unemployment checks or work elsewhere. Once the crisis ended, they could return to Hilton. “We have a commercial interest in this decision. We know we have well-trained people who we want back,” Glennie says. “We wanted to make sure they were looked after. We want to do the right thing by our people.”
Jeff Lackey, vice president of talent acquisition for CVS Health, says his company was seeking 50,000 new employees at the time. Albertson’s says it was hiring 30,000. Neither know exactly how many of Hilton’s workforce are now working for their respective companies, but Lackey says the hiring process was being completed in as little as a single day. “I understand what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck,” he says.
Less flattering attention has gone to companies that have violated an unwritten set of rules that have emerged for corporate behavior. Hospital management has been upbraided for suspending nurses who try to protect themselves by buying their own equipment and disciplining those who speak out. Former employees of Bird, the scooter company, described drawn-out hours of uninformed dread prior to an announced Zoom meeting, followed by a short announcement by someone they did not know. And Dig Inn, the fast-casual chain, sprung the news by text.
Sephora, too, has been faulted publicly by recently laid-off employees. At first, the retail beauty chain closed but promised to keep paying everyone for as long as the stores remained shuttered. Then, on March 31, it laid off part-time staff anyway. The decision caught a lot of Sephora employees by surprise. In tweets and online videos, some workers said they had been on calls with their managers that very day discussing the opposite — how they would go ahead in the new environment. Suddenly, though, employees received texts saying that in 15 minutes, they were to participate in a mandatory audio call.
When Lydia Cymone, a Sephora makeup artist in Alpharetta, Georgia, heard the call, she was right in the middle of videotaping a makeup tutorial and posted the tearful video. Brittney Coorpender, who did facial treatments at a Sephora store in San Jose, California, told me in an email exchange that she felt misled. “Women/men who forgot to mute themselves could be heard sobbing right before I ended the call,” Coorpender wrote. “They promised and promised us we were fine and gave zero indication we weren’t, until that call.”
In response to a request for comment, Sephora sent the March 31 statement it posted to its website. Dan Davenport, president of recruiter Randstad RiseSmart, says, “If you’re making a statement that you’re not going to be laying anyone off, you better be right about that.”
If corporate America does face a post-Covid-19 reckoning from workers, the gig economy seems like one of the top probable targets. Jim Chanos, president of Kynikos Associates, a hedge fund that shorts stocks, was made famous in the early 1990s for blowing the whistle on Enron. Today, Chanos is shorting Uber and Grubhub, among other gig companies. In an interview, he said he had already been shorting the two companies but has added to these bets since the virus struck.
What makes them weak, in Chanos’ view, is the optics of their business model, which is based on paying an arguably miserly cut of revenue to their workers and a refusal to make them actual employees. While allowing these companies to avoid a lot of the conventional costs of doing business, the strategy has also always left the gig companies at risk of their workers and the public turning against them. Chanos predicts that’s exactly what’s going to happen in the post-coronavirus era. The public is “going to look askance” at companies that have relied on taxpayers to fully cover their workers’ jobless benefits, since they do not pay into unemployment insurance funds. “Business models based on ridiculous labor rates plus arbitrage where you foist all your costs onto the employee are coming to an end,” he says.
Until the virus, the notion of unionized tech workers was just that — a notion that seemed to violate the very spirit of Silicon Valley. It’s still hard to imagine unionized software engineers. But it’s equally difficult to say where the boundaries of the possible lie.
White-collar tech activism goes back two years, when Google workers around the world walked off the job in a protest against sexual harassment. More workers are griping now. Last month, some Instacart workers walked off the job in a bid for a higher share of the revenue and better safety; in some cities, they are starting to join unions like the United Food and Commercial Workers local in Chicago. In San Francisco, Uber and Lyft drivers protested last month in front of Uber headquarters.
The tremors, though, will be felt not just in the gig economy but also tech at large: In February, employees at Kickstarter, the crowdfunding platform, voted to unionize, becoming the first white-collar tech company staff to do so, according to a database at Cal Berkeley. The Teamsters are making an open run at organizing other Silicon Valley workers. If you put Covid-19 out of your mind, the move is mind-blowing. Until the virus, the notion of unionized tech workers was just that — a notion that seemed to violate the very spirit of Silicon Valley. It’s still hard to imagine unionized software engineers. But it’s equally difficult to say where the boundaries of the possible lie.
The biggest fish of all in terms of tech unionization is Amazon. The e-commerce giant is beset with worker complaints just as it has begun to transcend its barbarian image, repositioning itself as a public good at the very center of the U.S. economy. An issue that has drawn particular heat is its decision on March 30 to fire Chris Smalls, a worker at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island who loudly complained about health safety. On April 8, a group of Democratic U.S. senators wrote a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos raising skeptical questions about Smalls’ dismissal and Covid-19 safety generally at company warehouses. Amazon has seemed generally conflicted: On one hand, it has responded with added pay and off-days for sick employees. But Amazon has also repeatedly fired workers it has deemed disloyal — three employees just over the past week who had criticized health conditions. Whole Foods, too, owned by Amazon and run by John Mackey, the devotee of “conscious capitalism,” faced a sick-out in March and look, now a number of Amazon facilities are seeing sick outs. In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson said the points raised in the senators’ letter were unfounded and that Smalls was dismissed for violations of social distancing guidelines. “Nothing is more important than the safety of our teams,” the spokesperson said.
Robert Shiller, the Nobel Prize–winning economist at Yale, compares labor’s newfound position to its stature in the Great Depression, when workers also suddenly were conferred with vast public sympathy.
While complaints and denunciation of Amazon abound, no one has gone so far as to try an old-style shutdown of any of the company’s operations — the kind of display of strength that typified unions in their heyday. For that matter, no rabble-rousing worker is known to have recently banged on the desk of a major company executive — or a leading politician — and demanded the production of a plant be kept open and workers on the job. Even if one did, would the public go along? Would large numbers of people stop shopping at Amazon? If they did, Amazon would have to concede quickly, just as railroad workers shut down transportation across the country in labor’s peak. “If you could really shut down a warehouse, that would really shock Amazon and get them to address the worker concerns,” says Steven Greenhouse, author of Beaten Down, Worked Up, a history of American labor.
Robert Shiller, the Nobel Prize–winning economist at Yale, compares labor’s newfound position to its stature in the Great Depression, when workers also suddenly were conferred with vast public sympathy. “The narrative was that it wasn’t their fault. There was something in the system,” Shiller told me. “This is another case where obviously it’s not their fault. And there is heroism in how they are delivering to us through this.”
In a way, labor’s resurgence is not all that surprising. The age of Trump and Brexit is, at its crux, an uprising against globalization, the movement that, after Reagan and his contemporaneous British counterpart, Margaret Thatcher, diminished labor and championed worldly capitalism at whatever the local cost. If we are spurning globalization, it stands to reason that the local comes back into focus. And what is more local than the grocery bagger, the postman, the nurse?
Where workers have advantage today has been in keeping their demands modest, drawing the public to their side, and making it very difficult for management to refuse. Worker efforts could be blunted by high unemployment, at least until jobs return. But their pluck, beaten out of them by the years of layoffs, has returned with Covid-19.
A class war? A global power shift? A world isolated? How experts see the future after coronavirus.
Joel Shannon noted that what will “normal” be like after coronavirus? Experts imagine a different world.
The coming weeks hold plenty of uncertainty as the world reels from the coronavirus pandemic, but some experts are already thinking about how the current crisis will impact society for years to come.
A report from Deloitte and Salesforce released this month presents four scenarios for the next three to five years — and they all tell a story of a world radically changed by the virus with the intent of helping leaders prepare for a variety of possible futures. “Even their best-case scenario looks pretty bad,” trends expert and keynote speaker Daniel Levine told USA TODAY.
Rather than making specific predictions, the scenarios in “The world remade by COVID-19” report focus on what we don’t know at this time, Andrew Blau — managing director of Deloitte Consulting and a leader on the project — told USA TODAY.
When will life return to normal? Expert says US testing is too far behind to know, expects second wave of cases. The end result: An intentionally fuzzy picture of several possible futures, varying based on how several unknowns — such as the duration of the pandemic — unfold. Those possible futures highlight trends that may soon define our times.
On one end of the spectrum: A short-lived pandemic that will batter small and medium-sized businesses. It leaves consumers — grateful to once again gather with friends, loved ones and coworkers in person — reevaluating some of their pre-pandemic habits. On the other end: A prolonged, nearly impossible to contain virus that leaves the world isolated, distrustful and suffering.
Levine, who was not involved with the project, said the report approached the difficult task of looking years into the future the right way. While none of the scenarios described in the report are likely to pan out as authors imagine them today, Levine said the future will likely hold a mix of them.
Here’s the authors’ four scenarios:
The passing storm
In this possible future, our fight against the virus goes better than expected — but still at great economic cost, especially to the middle class and small businesses.
The pandemic “leaves its mark on society, but doesn’t change everything,” Blau said.
Governments’ plans to contain the virus generally work and citizens comply with the measures. The success leads to a greater trust in our institutions, but class tensions simmer as the lower and middle classes bear the brunt of the economic damage.
What might life be like in this future? In many ways, daily life would remain relatively stable, Blau said. Life under lockdown will remind many people about the value of community and companionship. Weeks of increased teleworking and online retail will lead many people to alter some of their behaviors.
Sunrise in the east
Authors note the possibility that China and other East Asian counties will be able to manage the virus more effectively, through what western nations may see as heavy-handed tactics. Aggressively enforced lockdowns and surveillance technology have shown promise in multiple East Asian countries’ fight against the virus. If western countries’ uneven response proves less effective, global power could shift to China and its neighbors, authors speculated.
What might life be like in this future? The political impacts of this are hard to pin down for Blau, although he suspects eastern Asian countries would be looked to as a positive example in how western governments are run. Clearer to him: Our relationship with technology could change. For years, many people have held deep privacy concerns and a suspicion of artificial intelligence. If technology proves invaluable in our fight against the virus, those perceptions could evolve.
This scenario imagines a world where many factors — such as the severity of the disease and the economic impacts — are not as bad as they could be, but only because corporations stepped up when governments were ineffective.
It’s an expansion of a trend seen to some extent in the today — public-private partnerships where big corporations step in when governments can’t handle the crisis alone. There are threads of this in the daily news of today: Tech companies fixing broken ventilators for the government; Apple and Google developing apps to help fight the pandemic.
What might life be like in this future? Corporations would play an even bigger role in our lives than they currently do — and Blau suspects we would come to embrace that, since those companies helped us through the crisis. The report says this future could lead to an era of greater corporate responsibility and trust.
This is the future “no one wants to happen,” Blau said. This scenario could happen if the virus proves impossible to contain and spreads in long-lasting waves around the globe. “Mounting deaths, social unrest, and economic freefall become prominent,” the report says.
As a result, nations turn inward and limit contact with the outside world in the interest of national security. It’s a future where even allies feel like they cannot trust each other.
What might life be like in this future? Different nations will feel the impacts in different ways, but Blau imagines we’d live in a less connected, less trusting, less prosperous world, focused on survival. It’s a “dark scenario” where technology is used for surveillance and control, nations limit trade with each other and paranoia is common among citizens.
Will any of these scenarios actually happen?
The good news: The future isn’t written yet, and we have a say in how it plays out.
Report authors listed how citizens of nations responded to the crisis as one of their top unknowns. Nations that work together and “think big and act fast” will fare better, they predicted.
The scenarios in the report are meant to confront you with a possible reality that might surprise or unsettle you — and that’s part of the point, Blau said. The goal is to get readers thinking and mentally preparing for a wide variety of possible futures, even ones that don’t seem intuitive.
Instead of believing specific predictions for the future, he suggested embracing the uncertainty we are all living at this moment.
“We’re all imagining the future,” Blau said. “None of us actually know.”
Coronavirus Forces Organizers to Cancel San Diego Comic-Con
Brakkton Booker reported that the continued spread of the coronavirus claimed yet another big event on the 2020 entertainment calendar this Friday, when the San Diego Comic-Con announced the annual entertainment and comic book convention would be postponed until 2021.
In a statement on its website, organizers said it is “with deep regret that there will be no Comic-Con in 2020,” marking the first time in the event’s 50-year history it would not be held.
“Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures and while we are saddened to take this action, we know it is the right decision,” said Comic-Con spokesperson David Glanzer. “We eagerly look forward to the time when we can all meet again and share in the community we all love and enjoy.”
The event, which was expected to draw more than 100,000 people, was scheduled to be held July 23-26. It will now take place almost a year to the day later, kicking off July 22-25, 2021.
Comic-Con — which launched as a small comic-book themed event — is now a powerhouse summer festival that attracts major figures from movies and television. It’s one of the biggest fan events of the year; last year more than 135,000 people attended, and not just for comics, but for interactive experiences, signings and big announcements about the latest Marvel movies.
SDCC officials said fans who bought passes for Comic-Con 2020 can either request a refund or transfer their badges to next year. The same offer is being made to the event’s exhibitors.
Organizers also announced that a previously postponed event, Anaheim WonderCon — originally set for April 10-12 — will also be pushed to 2021. It will be held at California’s Anaheim Convention Center from March 26-28.
The spread of the coronavirus has decimated the festival and sporting calendar, with many states implementing broad social distancing guidelines and stay at home orders that have shuttered all but essential businesses from operating.
In March, California governor Gavin Newsom issued a stay at home order, and banned gatherings of more than 250 people.
What will happen next as more and more states consider “getting back to “normal” and as more and more groups push back with non-social gathering demonstrations. Don’t be idiots and follow science and our public healthcare teams!
The questions are when will this end, which prediction model do we believe and what will the new normal be?