April 29, 2020 Featured

The Sun Will Come Up Tomorrow

By Jeffrey M. Allen

At our recent editorial meeting, the Board decided we should run a post-apocalyptic piece taking an optimistic perspective on the aftermath of the Covid-19 Pandemic and its impact on society.  That I write this piece has a surrealistic tension in that while, occasionally optimistic about certain things, I have never considered myself much of an optimist. However, I approach the piece from my normal perspective of realism, tinged with some optimism because I really do believe the human race and our society has enough resilience to survive this latest challenge and may well find itself improved.

I have heard some suggest that the world-wide struggle to contain, defeat and survive the virus will generate a more international perspective and we will all follow Rodney King’s advice and   just get along, working together for a better and more united world. Nice conjecture, but I don’t see it happening. It is a variant of the theory that says there’s nothing like a common enemy to get waring factions to work together. While that philosophy holds some truth, it has rarely resulted in long term alliances. For example, in World War II we joined forces with the Russians who became our allies in the fight against Hitler and the German-Italian-Japanese Axis. That alliance did not even survive the war as we squabbled with the Russians about who would control Germany and divided the country and the City of Berlin into two pieces so we could control the west and the Russians could control the east. After the war the Germans and the Italians and the Japanese became our friends, our trading partners and ultimately our allies while we entered the Cold War with the Russians. The bottom line: greed, distrust and the lust for power overcame the alliance forged by the common enemy. No, I do not see Covid-19 as the force that unites the world. That said, we have seen international instances of generosity, such as the Chinese sending 1,000 ventilators to the U.S. and medical advisors to Italy to help fight the virus, notwithstanding President Trump’s tariff policies towards China and his insistence on calling the Corona Virus the “Chinese virus,” a label that has induced much vitriol aimed at the Chinese among Americans.

I have heard some say that “the sky is falling.” The economy will crater, and the world will find itself amid a depression as bad as or worse than the Great Depression of the 1920’s and 1930’s. While the stock market has dropped severely in the face of the growing pandemic, it has also shown some signs of recovery.  Unemployment in the U.S. has skyrocketed in the last month to numbers many times larger than in the Great Depression. Even professional sports have ground to a halt (something that did not occur during the Great Depression).  I believe these are temporary setbacks and we will ultimately overcome them in relatively short order after the shelter at home restrictions lift and we can return to business as usual.

I say as usual as I think that this pandemic will have lasting effects that will alter the way we live and the way we do business going forward. In Bob Dylan’s immortal words, “The times they are a-changin.” What changes do I see beyond the expected 2021 baby boom?

  1. Social distancing will not disappear. The path of the virus suggests that it invades a geographical area, spreads, peaks, and then recedes. We have heard arguments about “herd resistance” developing once enough people get sick from the virus. That may have some validity. The fact remains, however, that we have no vaccine for it and likely won’t for at least a year or two. We have no guarantee that the virus will not circle back and return in waves to places it has visited. In fact, we have no assurance it will ever leave.  Likely the number of new cases will diminish following a progression similar to what we saw in China and other places, to where we can resume more normal activities, but that some people will continue to get sick from it and those most susceptible to consequential illnesses from it will fall victim to such ailments, some of which will remain terminal. As a result, it may prove wise to keep a few feet away from others, giving new meaning to the term “personal space.” Handshakes, hugs, and kisses as friendly greetings may fall by the wayside in favor of less intimate fist or elbow bumps.  We may also see more people wearing masks in public. Hopefully we will see more people continuing to wash their hands frequently.
  2. Retail business will change. While much retail business has shut down because of the shelter at home orders, the sale of goods has not disappeared.  Instead of visiting brick and mortar stores we have continued to buy and consume goods, acquiring many of them through online purchases. Many people who previously eschewed online shopping now use it easily. Having learned the convenience of online shopping, I think that we will see more use of it after the shelter in place orders lift than we saw before that time. We had started a migration to online shopping, but the pandemic dramatically and radically changed the trajectory of the growth of that vehicle of commerce. Retail businesses that have shuttered during the shelter in place orders may not reopen or may not last if they do. Online commerce will dramatically and permanently increase.
  3. Professional services will change their delivery method. Before the shelter in place orders we saw the beginning of professional services by video conferencing. Some medical visits, therapist visits, even visits to attorneys occurred using electronic technology. Telephone calls long ago replaced the need for many office visits. Now video conferencing has shown that it can replace many more. Video conferencing offers the convenience of avoiding travel and parking hassles and the lost time of travel and waiting in the lobby until the professional you went to see could get to you.  Video conferencing, while not perfect, also offers most of the same interaction that would occur in a face to face meeting. We even have the advances in technology that enable a doctor to obtain vitals from a patient online by having the patient plug testing equipment into their computer. The shelter in place orders forced us to learn to use such technology and, by employing it, taught us to accept it.  Likely we will not go back to what we did before. Video conferencing will replace many office visits for doctors, lawyers, therapists, and other professionals.
  4. More people will work from home. Prior to the shelter in place orders some people worked from home. As a result of the orders many more people have worked out of their homes. In doing so, they and their employers have discovered that the system can work that way and work well. As a result, more people will likely work from home going forward than before the shutdown orders. That will effect many changes in the economy as some employers will require less office space since fewer employees will actually work in the office. Additionally, people will feel even more willing to rent apartments and purchase homes substantial distances from their work as they will not have to commute.
  5. We will see increased use of video conferencing in personal communications.  Prior to the shelter in place orders we saw more and more people making use of video conferencing to communicate with friends and family. Once again, the enforced isolation of the shelter in place orders changed the trajectory of the acceptance and use of such means of communications. I have no question that once the shelter in place orders are lifted, we will continue to see a heightened use of video conferencing for personal reasons among friends and family.

We may see other changes, but these stand out in my mind as the most likely. To me the bottom line remains that the human race has the resilience to survive this pandemic, although we will undoubtedly lose a substantial number of the elderly and ill to the virus and its consequential ailments. We will also lose some younger people with greater susceptibility to the virus. This should not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with Darwinian evolutionary theories. It constitutes survival of the fittest in its essence. The good news remains that while the number of deaths has reached horrendous proportions and will undoubtedly continue to increase, the vast majority of the population either will not come down with Corona or will survive it. Those who survive will live in a different and perhaps a better world. At any rate, for the human race and our society I have complete confidence that "the sun will come up tomorrow."

Author

Jeffrey M. Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California, where he has practiced since 1973. He is active in the ABA, the California State Bar Association, and the Alameda County Bar Association. He is a co-author of the ABA books Technology Tips for Seniors and Technology Tips for Seniors Volume 2.0