And that’s a good sign for the U.S. economy.
COVID19 changed some things forever; that’s certainly no secret.
For one thing, we will be picking masks, disposable latex gloves, and other PPE out of our rivers, oceans and roadsides from now until the end of time. Those things may soon replace discarded industrial fishing equipment and the ubiquitous cigarette butt as the most common items of trash on earth.
Not every change COVID19 left in its wake has been bad. As a wise man once said, “there are no solutions, only trade-offs,” and, “almost nothing is ever all good or all bad.”
Thanks to COVID19 necessity, Telemedicine is experiencing a bit of a revolution, which is a very good thing, as it may someday help address major gaps in healthcare nationwide and solve the most intractable barrier to universal health care.
Namely that health care may indeed be a human right, but you can’t force doctors, nurses and medical providers to perform that service and you can’t magically make more when you need them. A limited supply of anything as in-demand as healthcare means rationing.
Expanding the number of patients medical professionals are able to see in a given day would be one step closer to, if not free healthcare for everyone, perhaps affordable health care for everyone.
Some things that seemed likely go away forever after COVID19 have made a surprising comeback (self-serve buffets); some things we would have been glad to see go have persisted (supply chain issues).
Some industries were hit harder by COVID19 shut-downs, restrictions, and mandates than others. The live entertainment industry was dealt a savage blow, as were hospitality and travel-dependent outfits. Many restaurants barely survived. Others didn’t survive at all.
Worse, the cruelest cut is yet to come for all the hard-scrabble small business owners, growing concerns, and sole proprietors who, against all odds, somehow managed to stay afloat all these many months.
It isn’t blue skies and smooth sailing as far as the eye can see for survivors of the COVID19 storm; a new gauntlet has sprung up instead and the outlook has perhaps never been darker.
Spending on the hospitality industries, the restaurant business, live entertainment, and travel are the first things people cut in a financial pinch. It’s why the slightest pinch is more like a punch to working-class families living paycheck to paycheck.
Whatever the economy does, the rent still has to be paid, and that’s gone up. Food is nonnegotiable, and it’s more expensive. Utility bills are a necessity and they are going up, too. Transportation costs money; taxes are deducted automatically.
Everything else- from Saturday night movie rentals to vacations- is discretionary spending. Since none of the above can be budged, all these price increases have to come from the discretionary “fun” budget.
Just when Americans could use a good deal of fun, and fun-related industries could really use an infusion of cash after 2.5+ years of COVID19.
No one really expected American society to bounce back immediately, except that most of us kind of did believe that.
Now that unrealistic expectation has been dashed, it is worth wondering about the other side of all this economic tribulation.
Nothing lasts forever: Economies thrive, then languish, and wither, only to thrive again. To believe in American capitalism is to see the potential in the growth matrix of whatever is left when COVID19 is finally done with us.
American dreamers from every nation on earth come to the United States to build a business, start a company, open a store. As long as a demand exists for something, some enterprising entrepreneur is going to seize the opportunity to meet that need; for money.
It’s mostly how we got airplanes, pentium processors, electricity, automobiles, cell phones, Spotify.
You might not agree that all of the above have been a good thing. In any case, it must be admitted by all and sundry that those things are absolutely amazing.
They have transformed the world every bit as much as the printing press and the Renaissance. Were our ancient ancestors, and even our not-so-ancient ancestors, transported to modern day America, their eyes would pop out of their heads.
It hasn’t been all good; nothing ever is. American capitalism and the free market economy also widened the wealth gap, or at least contributed to it.
But not even the wealth gap has been all bad.
It may be popular lately to disparage the rich, even the super-rich, as examples of capitalism and the free market gone awry, but those critics are missing a big piece of the puzzle.
Not that the wealth gap between the 1% of the 1% and the rest of us isn’t embarrassingly, unfathomably, abysmally wide- it is.
But without the wealthiest participating in capitalism and the free market, there would be no electricity, no personal computers, and no flat screen televisions on sale for $499 for the rest of us.
Electricity was thought to be utter madness when the first, extremely wealthy houses and concerns invested in the first power lines. Who else would have the kind of money to invest in something as ludicrous as electricity, when mankind had been getting along without it since the dawn of time?
The same is true of telephones, which were prohibitively expensive in the beginning; ditto computers which were once the size of entire rooms and required specialized industrial cooling equipment to maintain.
The first plasma, flat-screen televisions widely available on the market were $20,000 and up. Without those first people willing to pay the start-up costs, there is no benefit when the product is scaled and replicated, which is much cheaper.
It’s the beauty of capitalism and a free market economy.
The makers of $20,000 televisions wanted people’s $20,000; but they wanted people’s $10,000 even more, so they immediately set out to make them cheaper. They had no choice; their competitors were certainly doing so.
Stress makes an organism stronger; the same is true of a business. Being forced to compete for market share is a powerful motivator. Not only does it incentivize companies to innovate, it encourages them to try, which is, in many ways, even more important.
They try to invent something people want or need that they don’t have yet, from jet packs to lifesaving medical equipment. They try so hard, they invent a thousand ways not to make a lightbulb before they invent a working model.
The smart companies which survive this downturn, like the last, will do so because of this spirit of innovation and grit. What we are left with will be stronger, leaner, smarter.
New entrepreneurs, restauranteurs, concert halls and shop owners will expand to fill the void, and they’ll be stronger, too, having to compete in a market against competitors who can survive anything.
Some companies will be expertly managed through this crisis, by smart executives willing to take a fresh look at cost-effectiveness and overhead.
For Airbnb, the recent move to make its COVID19-era “party ban” permanent is one such savvy move. This news is likely to come as a shock to most AirBNB customers long with everyone else: Most people probably thought “no parties” was a given.
Airbnb, to its credit, made a calculation- not worth it- changed policy and moved on without a backward look. Let some other, specialized, party-planning company assume the risks, insurance costs, and liability entailed in such an undertaking.
To survive, some businesses might need to narrow their focus in a similar way. By keeping true to its roots- that of a personal, networking home-sharing service built on the twin assumptions of the honor system and good manners- Airbnb may yet survive.
And the American economy will, too.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)