We've been exposed

COVID19 is wreaking economic havoc right now. Lots of good people are losing their jobs, and it sucks.

Last week, I wrote:

"We're learning how frail the economic system is. Millions of people are out of work. It turns out, all those small businesses provide jobs for a lot of people."

This pandemic has left everyone exposed: governments, businesses, individuals. Now, we can see how unprepared we were. The virus, no larger than 0.2 microns, punched our lights out. We're on the ropes, dazed, and beaten up.

And it's hard (even as I'm writing this) to know how to respond.

On the one hand, I'm cowering in fear, waiting for the next tsunami to hit. I keep seeing this chart of unemployment insurance claims in the USA:

With 6.6 million people out of work, we know more economic repercussions are coming. Consumer and business spending will go down. Plus, there's all that debt we've been amassing.

On the other hand, I want to start acting proactively. (Is it weird to be thinking of the future now?)

I think about the future a lot. How can we make sure that when we come out of this, our society is better?

My friend Paul Jarvis replied to my last article, saying:

"The worst thing that could happen after all of this is if we go back to 'business as usual.'"

We've seen what gets exposed when the tide goes out. What will we do when the tide comes back in; when things go back to "normal?" We can't just forget everything we saw.

The world needs to beat coronavirus; it's a terrible disease, and I hope scientists find a treatment soon.

But we're not just battling a viral infection right now. We're fighting a societal ill that's been incubating for a long time:

  • It's not OK that in an economic downturn, regular workers get hit the hardest and take the longest to recover. (Source)

  • It's not OK that the only restaurants that might survive this pandemic are the large chains. (Source)

  • It's not OK that CEOs are laying off millions of workers, but pay themselves $14.5 million, plus bonuses. (Source)

It's likely that the wealthiest people, and the largest companies, will gain the most in a post-COVID world. When you don't have to worry about survival, you can afford to buy stocks at rock-bottom prices (and wait for the market to rebound). And it's easier for big corporations to ride out a big storm when they're sitting on $4 trillion in cash.

Tragedy doesn't level the playing field; it exacerbates inequality.

And don't you feel like we're all waking up? We were living in a "world pulled over our eyes," and it was just comfortable enough for us to keep our nose to the grindstone. 

"Since the 1980s," Professor Mazzucato says in the Guardian, "governments have been told to take a back seat and let business steer." But now we've been jolted out of our slumber, and we can see clearly. "The result," she continues, "has been a lack of a safety net for working people in societies with rising inequality."

(In my mind, all I can hear is Zack de la Rocha screaming "WAKE UP!" eight times)

Lauren, at Strong Towns, just sent me an email that said:

"When the dust settles, we need to stop tilting the playing field against local businesses and start tearing down the barriers between them and success."

Our society ain't right.

And I don't just want to complain about it. I want us to do something about it.

  • How can you and I tear down barriers so that more people can succeed in the future?

  • What can we do to help tilt the playing field, so it's fair for small businesses?

(If you have ideas, I'm @mijustin on Twitter)

Justin Jackson

Published on April 3rd, 2020
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