COVID-19: How My Mind Has Changed or Stayed the Same II

In my earlier blogs on the COVID-19 virus I expressed concern that the virus could mutate into something much worse. I stated at the time that it wasn’t likely, so I hedged my bets. And, in fact, so far there is no evidence of such a mutation. Instead, there seems to be a gradual weakening of the virus, as noted above. My greater concern in March, however, was the economic fallout of the lockdowns. I feared that the widespread shutdown of business activity could result in another Great Depression. I was right about the economic fallout of the lockdowns, but the economic depression I feared has not arrived. Instead of 25% unemployment, the US topped out at less than 15% and is now closer to 10%, a depression to those who lost their job, but not an imminent end to the whole economic order. So the economy has fared better than I expected.

I was also concerned in March that a combination of the virus, the lockdowns and the economic disruption could lead to looting and rioting. A major reason for this concern was the breakdown of the social order in a post-Christian culture. I didn’t think American society had the resilience it used to have when Protestant faith was a common cultural heritage. This projection has turned out to be quite prescient, in fact, it has been much more widespread than even I could have expected. But I certainly missed that the rioting and looting would be over issues of race. Certainly, no one could have predicted the specific George Floyd incident or how it would impact the whole country. But the three things (fear of COVID, economic disruption and racial tensions) have combined with a fractious election season to keep everyone just a little on edge.

I made a number of other projections back in March. I suggested that the COVID crisis might be the end of higher education as we knew it. Until now, it has been a general perception that face to face education with expert teachers is the gold standard. But the coronavirus forced even the Harvards and Yales of this world to move to online education, blurring the difference between top-quality education and for-profit schooling. Why would students pay top dollar to study at home when they could cover many of the same subjects for much less online? The jury is still out on this one, but so far most students have stuck with the tradition powerhouse schools even though the teaching is in “Zoom” format. Why settle for second best when you can “dance with the stars”?

I made two other projections in March. First, I suggested that there would be a long-term decline in tourism and international travel. So far this has been on target. I recently visited the grandkids in Hawaii and my guess is that domestic air travel is operating at about 20% right now. International travel is even less and most travel seems to be for business or family events. Tourism for tourism’s sake (as in cruise ships and adventure travel) has not come back. It will probably be a long time before tourism reaches levels we took for granted before. Second, I predicted a major decline in the restaurant industry and in-person retail. Both of these have occurred. Some restaurants and retail chains are not coming back. But the discovery that you don’t generally pass the virus with food has enabled many “take-out” establishments to survive and some even to thrive. And many of us miss strolling through the aisles of our favorite mall or department store. So all may not be lost in this area.

All in all I think I got more right than wrong. But then a stopped clock gets it right at least twice a day also, perhaps I was just lucky. Having said that, “Day ain’t over yet!” We’ll see where this adventure leads us. In the final blog of this trilogy I will talk about the heavy impact this crisis has had on us and offer a bit of biblical advice.

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