Last week, for the first time since March, a client came into our office—but only after a staff member took her temperature. Both of them were wearing masks.
Behavior like this, unimaginable four months ago, is part of the "new normal" as businesses slowly begin to reopen. While temperature checks and mask-wearing may only last until we have a vaccine or effective drugs to treat COVID-19, in many other ways the pandemic will significantly impact our economy and our economic structures.
No one can know exactly how the COVID-19 pandemic will change America. A June 11, 2020, article by Talib Visram in Fast Company, "6 experts on how capitalism will emerge after COVID-19", offered several opinions.
Sarah Miller, executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project, which advocates for antitrust regulation and corporate accountability, believes that "Whether we like it or not, the economy is getting restructured. . ." She sees the pandemic as highlighting concerns over the concentration of economic and political clout in big companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google (which she erroneously calls "monopolies"). She predicts that voters will favor political action to pause mergers and evaluate trade agreements' benefits for the largest corporations.
Demond Drummer is executive director of New Consensus, an organization that supports a "robust public sector that actively shapes the economy and markets." He says, "Everything that I would call the Green New Deal package is very much on the table right now." He believes we might see more clean energy infrastructure projects, more domestic manufacturing, and increasing demand for universal health care, as well as government investment in jobs programs.
David Autor, Ford Professor of Economics at MIT whose focus is labor economics, sees long-term job losses in service industries. Remote work and meetings, reduced business travel, decreased use of office buildings and restaurants, and increased automation will all cost service jobs. He suggests the time is right for a domestic "Marshall Plan" to restart the economy, with the federal government spending perhaps 10% of GDP on education, job training, expanded unemployment insurance programs, and infrastructure. There are rumors of another stimulus bill passing Congress in late July.
Rebecca Henderson, author of Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire and an economics professor at Harvard Business School, sees "government in partnership with business" as a post-pandemic solution. She sees "appropriate regulation," labor policies, and government investment in health and education as the approach to challenges like climate change and inequality.
Former Presidential candidate Tom Steyer, co-chair of California’s economic recovery task force, envisions job training and more equal access to high-speed internet as part of a "big building program."
Economist Stephanie Kelton at Stony Brook University, a proponent of Modern Monetary Theory and author of The Deficit Myth, sees healthcare finally being disconnected from employment as a result of 40 million lost jobs. She also sees a need to "let the deficit get as big as it needs to get to heal and repair and allow us to rebuild . . ." a stronger and better economy. While this may sound like financial suicide, her well-reasoned views of why it’s so necessary are detailed in her book.
Each of these experts sees the pandemic as an opportunity as well as a crisis. The economic, medical, and social upheaval of COVID-19 is a painful, disastrous experience. It also can lead to something better as we rebuild our economy.
Defining what is "better" is too important a task to be left only to economists or politicians. All of us who are coping with the current crisis have a stake in shaping what kind of society we want to create as our "new normal."