Since we shut down our economy over a month ago, I’ve been watching each day go by with a sense of bewilderment and dismay. My earlier hope for a better world is now held hostage by a sense of being useless, unable to determine what comes next. Is this what residing in a nursing home would be like when my time comes? The loss of those simple pleasures that were always taken for granted: dining out in a restaurant, going to a party or having one at home, attending a show or giving one, writing a book and launching it, reading to groups of enthusiastic fans, having a sing-song, going to the office and meeting customers and colleagues. All swiped away in a flash, as if we all had a collective stroke and are now rendered geriatric.
Similar to prisoners allowed limited physical exercise, we are still being let out in Canada for small activities: a daily walk, as long as it is far apart from fellow citizens; a trip to the grocery store or the liquor shop; a drive to nowhere in particular as long as we keep our vehicle’s doors and windows shut while parked, and socially distance ourselves all the time. And what were formally occasional indoor activities have now ramped up to steroid quality and are performed on a daily basis with manic rigour: Netflix binges, Facebook marathons, Zoom meetings, cooking, eating, drinking (thank God the booze shops are still open), getting on our spouse’s nerves, being driven crazy if there are small children in the house, trying to write the next pandemic bestseller, trying to become Mr. Fix It – all the while trying to fill our heads with activity to keep panic at bay. And for those teleworking and who have never done it before, ending up more stressed than ever with eyestrain, calendar chaos, and work overload. And all the while, cleaning, sanitizing, cleaning and sanitizing. The remarkable thing is that we are all living the same boring lifestyle now, irrespective of social class.
Regular conversational topics: “What’s the latest C-19 statistics?” “Have we flattened the curve yet?” “What has Trump said today?” “What products is he endorsing now?” “What new government assistance program is being announced, and are we eligible?” “What are those people doing walking together in a group?” “That asshole came right up to me – doesn’t he know what social distancing is about?” “Check out this Covid joke on Facebook,” “What happens if one of us tests positive?” “When is this damned thing going to end?”
What this pandemic has done for me is expose what a fragile and sometimes unnecessary economy we have created. When the cut was made to keep only essential services operational in order to flatten the curve, over 25 percent of workers were deemed non-essential. Who are these people and why had we created them? Consultants, writers, travel agents, massage therapists, hairdressers, bartenders, restaurant servers, retail store clerks (except grocery store employees), fashion designers, project managers, marketing specialists, corporate executives, artists, musicians, actors, taxi drivers, the list goes on. Jobs that reflect an evolved society? I can count myself in more than one of those jobs; in fact, all the jobs I have held in my life fit only into these non-essential categories. Had I lived a useless life? Contributed nothing to essential society but only to its snobby and “evolved” cousin? It’s a bit late to go back and become a doctor, and I am too old, slow and cranky to become a grocery store clerk. In a fit of frenzy, I took one of my old novels which had pandemic connotations (and remedies), converted it into an e-book, and posted it for free on Amazon for whoever wanted a panacea – my way of contributing!
When we get back on our feet again, there will be choices to make as to what products and services we will consume, and I suspect the “nice-to-haves” will die on the vine. Let me take a punt as to what the future will look like. The earth will get a breather, and the mantra of “growth for growth’s sake” will go out of fashion for awhile. Strong-guy politicians will be turfed out in favour of those with empathy (except perhaps in the USA, where they don’t seem to know what they want). Career choices, for those still able to make them, will shift. Compensation scales will change as demand and supply for labour shifts. Entitlement will die a horrible death, for no one is entitled to live happily ever after anymore, despite all the money in the world – a little bug can strike you down even if the sun shines out of your ass (UV rays, notwithstanding!). Globalization will morph into regionalization, as like-minded economies will trade with each other, and “might is right” will not be so important anymore – for guns and bombs cannot kill a small germ. And we will not make the stupid mistake of outsourcing our core survival requirements of food and medical supplies to other countries, no matter how strongly economic theories of comparative advantage, specialization and economies of scale advise us to do otherwise.
And governments will continue to print their way out of this monetary sinkhole, and – if they can all agree – all of the pandemic debt would be mutually forgiven so that they can pick up where they left off. Alternatively, if they cannot agree, they might appeal to robber-baron corporations for help, get into tighter strangleholds, and be expected to make greater concessions to these stakeholders who are only driven by profit. A Brave New World indeed. Or one soon to be forgotten the moment a vaccine is found, and we are free to slump back into our lazy ways and cast off 2020 as a bad dream on our otherwise busy dance card.