The dawning of America's 'Post-Pandemic Age'

 

America will never be the same. The coronavirus pandemic has had an economic and social impact on America that ranks with the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, either World War, or the Great Depression. America never has been hit so hard and lost so much, so quickly. It has put millions out of work, has cut several trillion dollars out of the market, and endangered the survival of hundreds of thousands of American companies. In a very short period of time, it has been devastating and transformational.

The economic and social impact of COVID-19 has been the fastest and largest single shift in our lifetimes. Many will lose jobs, incomes, homes, savings and retirement incomes, overnight. America may go from the lowest unemployment rate in our lifetime to the highest, within weeks.

Which leads to the most important question: What will America itself be like in a few months as it recovers from the virus? Americans should prepare for a “Post-Pandemic Age.” 

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First and foremost, many businesses will die and tens of thousands of manufacturing, retail and service jobs will not return. Many companies were on shaky financial foundations and will be shuttered forever. Many of those businesses are being replaced during the shutdown. Amazon alone is adding at least 100,000 to its workforce; the pandemic has made the shift to online retail permanent and decisive. Medical and legal professionals, bankers and nearly every other service sector have learned to work from home, suggesting a permanent, low-overhead model for many. Distance learning will grow and there will be more focus on telemeetings, as the structure of work changes. 

America unexpectedly has been sucked into a space/time wormhole and will emerge in a new economic and political galaxy. But where? The American market is too fast, too efficient, too ruthless for anyone to predict, but some general trends may be emerging.

A new domestic economy will emerge. The market lost trillions of dollars of value in a few weeks. Over that short time, the market exposed enormous industry vulnerabilities and inefficiencies. The decline also provided cover for opportunistic layoffs in many companies. But, at the same time, it uncovered some huge opportunities. As the stock market recovers, investors won’t replace their previous investments in the same stocks and funds, some of which were undercapitalized and went under or were permanently damaged; they will be gone forever. Bottom line: Post-pandemic, the American economy will be fundamentally different. Wealth has massively shifted across the country and a huge proportion of American capital (and labor) will be reallocated.

Some sectors may have changed forever. In health care, a tremendously far-reaching pandemic response policy now allows doctors to practice across state borders. Doctors had been licensed state-by-state, but that impeded the smooth flow and reallocation of medical resources across the country. The new policy instantly creates a national, rather than regional, medical system and ushers in nationwide telemedicine and nationwide health delivery systems, making available the best medical advice to everyone in the country, instantly. It brings potential for vastly better allocation of capital and improved diagnostic and treatment services, nationwide. That’s a huge step toward better health care delivery and lower prices. 

Telemedicine, distance learning, emergency response, telecommuting, even tele-socializing will all expand after this crisis. 

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A new global economic and geopolitical balance also will emerge. The pandemic has exacerbated political and economic tensions between the United States and China. Chinese confusion and some secrecy at the outbreak, China’s decision to expel U.S. journalists, and the unfortunate threat from the Chinese foreign ministry to withhold lifesaving antibiotics from the U.S. has created a predictable, bipartisan, nationalistic reaction in Washington that may lead to policies aimed at creating more secure, probably domestic, supply sources for critical pharmaceuticals, rare earth metals, 5G technology, or any other sensitive technology. 

The result is that America may be shifting toward what Trump might call “nationalistic globalism.” All of this, in the end, is a huge blow to U.S.-China trade relations that, for the most part, have benefitted both countries.

Further, America’s view of foreign policy and security will change dramatically and, again, capital will flow in new directions. Biosecurity will be on everyone’s mind. Other types of security will move to the fore, including cybersecurity, grid security (EMP hardening), emergency response and communication systems, and dominating space. 

From a survival perspective, it’s worth observing that COVID-19 laid bare the devastating impact that a planned bioterror attack might have, and the relative ease with which such an attack could be launched. The objective of successful modern military attacks is not simply body count nor destruction of military capability — it is decisive economic, political and social disruption. If this had been an attack, it would have been the quickest and one of the most devastating military attacks in history. In some military doctrines, the most successful attacks can be those where the target never realizes they’ve been attacked at all. Hopefully, America’s intelligence and defense systems will learn much from the pandemic.  

And so, out of nowhere, like it or not, an entirely new, Post-Pandemic Age is about to dawn in America. Wash your hands, and get prepared.

Grady Means is a writer (GradyMeans.com) and former corporate strategy consultant. He served in the White House as a policy assistant to Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Follow him on Twitter @gradymeans1.