In past years, people who were more likely to have a respiratory syncytial virus, an enterovirus, or a coronavirus rather than influenza still said they had the flu; many of us need to live in important times and my-flu-would-just-be-a-cold-if-you-had-it rationalization was common. Employees were expected to tough it out even as company policies officially said to stay home. Though 60,000 Americans died from the flu in 2018, no one panicked. People even casually dismissed getting a flu vaccine. In San Francisco and New York City, wealthy people even had "measles" parties because they didn't believe vaccines were important.
Those days of exaggerating are gone. This year's coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, has the country in a panic with just 155 deaths. You claim you have COVID-19 for attention and if you don't go into isolation the government put police around you with assault rifles.
It's the third coronavirus pandemic since 2003 but this response has been much different than in other years, or even during other pandemics. What was previously dismissed as a bad cold, because coronavirus is in the same family as the common cold, has California Governor Gavin Newsom hinting he will declare martial law over just a few hundred cases of the disease and 16 deaths in a state that has 40,000,000 people.
Yet even assuming the latest social authoritarian craze of California coastal elites passes without too many arrests for non "essential" trips, this could have lasting effects on society.
What might remote work being the 'new normal' mean for culture in the future?
1. Wages based on location may go down. Travel may go up.
There are jobs you are most likely to get because you already live where the job is. Investment bankers are going to be centralized in New York City, for example, while lobbyists are centralized in Washington, D.C., and they are two of the most expensive places to live. Journalists are also centralized in those cities.
But while having a local beat was once seen as vital, the decline in local journalism has been because the public, and therefore advertisers, don't value it as they once did. Fully 10 percent of journalism employment in the U.S. now is just at the New York Times but if more people work from home, more great writers won't have to live in New York or DC. Wages may decline for jobs when companies find that workers don't need to come into that expensive corporate office space.
Decentralization of journalism would also mean a return to local journalists who require less income than living in expensive cities.
A whole lot of people who two months ago insisted everyone else needed to travel less will suddenly be in a position of having to argue that interpersonal relationships, in the office or in meeting people elsewhere, are vital to their part of commerce - and can't be done by remote workers.
2. Wages based on in-person service may go up.
Right now, government has restaurants and bar workers in a panic because their wages are relatively low, and they can't work from home. Elite restaurant owners who were cheering on politicians that preached more income equality, like celebrity chef (and anti-science crank) Tom Colicchio, and magnates like Danny Meyer of Union Square Hospitality Group, had no problem at all firing thousands of workers the moment their revenue dropped.
But just the opposite may happen in the future. If in-person contact becomes regarded as more prestigious, wages would go up, the same way a Michelin-starred restaurant will pay for better servers and chefs than a Shake Shack.
It sounds a little crazy but the Black Plague did more to create wealth for laborers than any event in history prior to that. The only thing that surpassed it was the advent of true free markets in the 1800s. This has shades of both.
3. Video game players and developers may be the new rock stars.
Right now, if a musician or an actor is out on the street, many know who it is. They want an autograph.
The co-founder of Rockstar Games made $90 million on just one game in the Grand Theft Auto series, yet how many people would recognize him? How many even know his name?
Video games are already 10X the revenue of the music industry and 3X the revenue of movies - "Red Dead Redemption II" had more sales the first week than the last "Avengers" movie had in its whole domestic run in theaters - but video games do not require you to be in a crowd, the way theaters and concerts do.
Grand Theft Auto V alone sold 110,000,000 copies. A film has not had that kind of success since 1939.
This pandemic may make lasting changes in pop culture. Video game developers or fan favorite players like Ninja may become what Robert Downey, Jr. is now.
There may be other upsides
On the Freaknomics podcast, they see a lot more upside and fewer downsides. They believe remote work may mean increased worker productivity, but that will mean lower wages, not higher. While the cotton gin increased productivity and led to more employment, that was because cotton became cheap enough workers could afford it, but most American employment now is intangible. Having more productivity in middle management will not require more need for middle management.
Who is more productive than a McDonald's employee? Who is less productive than a CEO with four direct reports? Yet the difference in income is orders of magnitude. If remote working means more productivity, location does not matter. Hiring someone whose cost of living is based on Montana will be smarter than hiring someone who lives in Manhattan.
They argue that remote teaching may bring a tipping point for online learning but anyone who has managed both a digital and a print publication knows that digital is most often the road to poverty. How many teachers will be good at digital teaching in the short term? Teacher unions are not going away and they are not taking less money so how will online learning be boosted when the teachers doing it are trained to deal with real young people?
They also strangely argue this lockdown may mean a smaller environmental footprint, but that seems more like those emails saying you should protest the taxes on gasoline by boycotting Exxon on Tuesday. How is that making a difference? If everyone uses the Internet and the energy to run all those servers is fossil fuels, it is not more efficient to have everyone in their homes any more than it would be better for the environment if everyone cooked using individual fires. Since people will work from home and wages will drop, people will stop buying cars. What incentive is there for energy innovation when there is no giant target like cars and planes?
These are intriguing times. What do you think about any effects this may have in the long term?
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