I wanted to write about sedition and the rise of the new Confederacy. But first: predictions for 2021. Many of them will be wrong, and that's the fun. As usual, it is political and cultural in nature, national in scope with a little Vermont thrown in.
The overriding theme is that changes and trends that were happening before COVID have accelerated, or as writer/professor Scott Galloway says "dispersing." Things we thought would happen in 20 years - Zoom, electric cars, work from home, online living - are here now. As usual, there is good and bad with this COVID acceleration.
The good: You wanted to move to Vermont for the good life but you just couldn't leave Brooklyn or Texas because of your job?
Well, now you can.
The bad: Amazon, Facebook, and Google grow in power, unchecked by government regulation, and threaten our privacy and democratic society.
The overall silver lining is that there will always be innovation. In Vermont, there is space for us to disconnect from the insanity of the modern economy, to live in the woods, on a farm, or just how you want in a COVID-safe place. New York City will recycle itself. If the rich leave, cheaper space for artists will emerge, and young people will return. That's good.
The Rich get Richer
The disparity between haves and have nots will grow. Amazon gets bigger. Holders of stock portfolios get richer as the economic system continues to reward those who created it and run it. There is no better example of this than the 2020 stock market rise as hundreds of thousands lost their jobs and died of COVID. It's illogical, of course. And it's the system we built. Owners of stock pay 20 percent tax on their profit while people for paychecks pay more than 30 percent tax. That's right; we tax paychecks higher than we tax stock gains. That private equity billionaire? He pays 20 percent tax.
With its centralized government and obedient citizenry, China becomes the first post-COVID society. Their lockdown and testing program were strict and successful. That allows China to emerge stronger from COVID to eat lunch at the USA's table while we bicker about masks and elections.
Movie theatres are dead. And I say this as the son of a film reviewer who still thrills to sitting in row 3 staring up at the first scroll of the Star Wars movies. But when Warner Bros. put all its 2021 movies on the HBOMax streaming service last month and bypassed theatres, the death knell sounded. It will change Hollywood forever (good), remove middle people (good), and force creators to develop relationships directly with their fans through a subscription. (Also good)
Business trips for board meetings? Gone.
Suit and tie? Stillettos and pencil skirts? Gone.
Commuting on the train, bus, or car for 90 minutes? Gone.
Business travel is forever changed. Heading to the office, the water cooler hangout? All gone. All of us are about to experiment with how to live in a dispersed society. It's the final gong for the Mad Men generation.
IBM really doesn't need those giant office buildings around the world? Twitter has sent its employees home for good. Will that stick? I think it will. Imagine the savings in commuting time, increased productivity, the decrease in traffic, and the impact on commercial real estate.
Contractors will be working full-time building home offices, education spaces for their kids, and reorienting homes for a touchless society. Home exercise will explode. That old Nordic Trak in the basement that you sold at the yard sale has been replaced by the Peleton bike.
Big tech has unleashed a massive thought experiment and threat to democracy. Will Google, Amazon, Twitter, and Facebook own up to what they have wrought? The suicides and mental health of young people. The hate speech. The election hacking. These companies have the smarts and talent to fix these problems. To date, they have turned a blind eye. They are daring government (we the people) to stop them. Until we do that via the Justice Department, they will continue wrecking the country. It will take the anti-trust people at the Biden DOJ longer than I want. But they will get there.
Charging $75,000-a-year for a credential at Yale is increasingly difficult to justify. Professor Galloway offers a three-week MBA "Sprint" for $875. Higher education is bloated and ready for disruption.
I'm part of a reading group with a beloved college professor from years ago. It is the highlight of my year. But it's not the same on Zoom. My niece is a public school teacher in Oakland. After speaking with her, I realized I had no idea how hard this pandemic is for teachers and students.
Good people in education will figure out how to integrate tech into education in positive ways. That does NOT mean more Zoom time. The best educators will figure out how to get kids outdoors. The idea of lots of people getting in buses and carpools to go to a big old building with mold and asbestos to sit with a teacher is as old-fashioned as the office. Maybe go to "school" to meet your teacher/coach one day per week. But for the rest? Online, study groups, and in the woods/parks.
As tech journalist Kara Swisher said last week, once Biden figures out how to explain green energy as a job creator, fossil fuels are over, and the economy will move faster in that direction. And it's a lot safer than oil drilling and coal mining. We will look back and ask what took so long. Just look at the stock price of TESLA.
Amazon - I can't let you go without one more word about Amazon. It is gonna get bigger and more powerful, more integrated into our lives. As citizens, we are faced with a choice about whether to take part. We have given away our privacy and our lives to Facebook for free. Amazon is the next thief. If small towns and cities like my homeplace of Montpelier don't take aggressive action right now, they will die. Amazon is radically changing what it means to live, work, and buy something to the detriment of human relationships.
For the first time, my wife and I went to Whole Foods (owned by Amazon) to pick up groceries we ordered online. A nice gentleman arrived with the bags and loaded them into the back of the car. No touch. No COVID danger. We did this all through Amazon Prime, the same place where we get our movies and TV. Very soon, Amazon will deliver your medication. Alexa will remind you to take those meds. Knowing how we shop, what we buy, and how we exercise, Alexa will soon offer us a 20 percent discount on our health insurance via Prime. Get ready because that is here.
And this leads us to the other major part of the economy that is bloated, wasteful, ineffective, and just plain bad: health care.
Can you think of anything less fun than going to the doctor? Or more inconvenient, expensive, and time-consuming? I guess buying a car is worse. But that is changing too.
The move away from the doctor visit to telehealth will continue. And Amazon will play a major role in this. There is no reason why we shouldn't be able to email our doctor a picture of our swollen ankle or spot on our skin. There is no reason why that doctor can't be paid for that advice and counsel. Hospitals and doctors will fight it. But patients will demand it. Or Amazon will just make it so cheap that doctors will come along.
Covid will come under control. But new strains will emerge. We will discover that COVID came from wet markets in China. And will discover that the high-tech, on-demand, chemical-laden, petroleum/chemical food system we have created is what led to these diseases. We will have to choose whether we want cheap prices and immediate satisfaction (Amazon, Doritos, and potato chips) over health and community.
He will remain. His sycophants will work over-time to keep him on our screens and in our lives. But he will age and become irrelevant. Fox News will find a new spear-carrier to make its money. It's Trump's progeny that now threatens the Republic.
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