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  • The Shape of the Future?

    Posted by David Foster on April 8th, 2020 (All posts by )

    Historian Niall Ferguson cites “the most succinct statement I’ve yet seen of the “massive enduring social and economic change post-pandemic” hypothesis.”

    Offices>>Remote Work
    NFL, NBA>>Esports
    Movie Theaters>>Streaming
    TV News>>YouTube stars
    College>>ISAs, MOOCs
    K-12>>Internet homeschooling
    Corporate journalism>>Citizen journalism
    EU/EEC>>27 sovereign states

    I’m surprised he didn’t also include Stores>>Home delivery.

    Of course, the degree to which these changes happen and are sustained will be largely a matter of how long the coronavirus pandemic lasts and how definitively it is suppressed.  But even if coronavirus continues as a recurrent plague, none of these trends are likely to be absolute.  For example: Offices>>Remote work…my own experience with new-business initiatives, both in existing corporations and in startups, suggests that there really is a lot of advantage in the in-person human interaction. Some of these never would have gotten started in the first place unless such interaction had taken place.  And, of course, there are a lot of things that can’t be done at home, including most manufacturing and all construction work. Ditto transportation.  And I’m not sure what TV News>>YouTube stars has to do with coronavirus or other epidemics, given that neither modality need involve person-to-person contact.

    Assuming that coronavirus is largely or completely suppressed, what are the long-term effects likely to be?  Are there now so many people who will have been exposed to the convenience of on-line grocery shopping that they will feel little need to visit physical grocery stores?  Will spending half a day at the mall ever again be a thing?  Will people want to be densely packed into a movie theater or will they just decide that streaming movies at home (especially with large screens that I bet a lot of people are buying under the current circumstances) is just as good and a lot cheaper?  How about airline travel (or sea travel) for vacations?

    Colleges..traditionally, the on-campus college experience was (at least supposed to be valued) for free discussion and interaction with professors.  Yet much of this has already been suppressed, both via giant lecture classes and by fear of creating offense.  College was also valued for its social opportunities, especially those involving dating and mating and the finding of spouses.  Yet reports indicate that this has become pretty awkward due to the administrative sex police and their frequent condemnation of people (especially men) with no form of due process.  Plus, people are now getting married a lot later, so the pressure to find someone during one’s college years is less-strong than it used to be.

    In his tweet, Niall Ferguson also makes the excellent point that “I’d be more persuaded if there were evidence of comparable changes after the (much more lethal) 1918-19 influenza pandemic.”  Although media influence in those days was much less comprehensive and continuous; also, many alternatives that exist today (such as work-from-home as opposed to work-at-the-office) really weren’t feasible in those days.

    Thoughts?

     

    33 Responses to “The Shape of the Future?”

    1. David Foster Says:

      Also, see this piece on adapting manufacturing work for an era of coronavirus or other epidemics.

      https://www.economist.com/briefing/2020/04/08/how-to-reopen-factories-after-covid-19?cid1=cust/ednew/n/bl/n/2020/04/8n/owned/n/n/nwl/n/n/NA/446101/n

    2. Dan from Madison Says:

      Anecdotally, my wife is a 100% convert to the drive up and drive away model. Caveat – only if you know exactly what you want, and if a green pepper you desire only needs to be “good enough”. She won’t go back to walking around the store for things she buys frequently.

      Clothes shopping, or if you want perfect produce or a steak will still be done the old fashioned way, according to her. She just likes trying on clothes to see how they fit.

      But she is realizing serious time savings in the order and pickup part.

      NFL will in no way be replaced by esports. At least in my lifetime.

    3. pouncer Says:

      Niall Ferguson also makes the excellent point that “I’d be more persuaded if there were evidence of comparable changes after the (much more lethal) 1918-19 influenza pandemic.”

      Well, it’s hard to distinguish attribution between The Flu and The War. But a major social change was the sharp decline in the number of people “in service” below stairs in great houses as romanticized in TV shows like Downton Abbey. Fewer people to be employed, for sure. But a new awareness, perhaps, that crowds of people literally below stairs, or jammed into dark damp chilly poorly ventilated (except when drafty) rooms was not the healthiest of environments.

      Just an example. I sometimes think in lots of situations like Mr Ferguson’s, there is a LOT of evidence lying around. But not very many Sherlocks available to pick any of it up.

    4. Grurray Says:

      The US started immigration quotas in 1921 which culminated in the Immigration Act of 1924. A big driver was fear of immigrants spreading disease. Spanish flu was one, but also polio, cholera, tuberculosis, and others.

    5. Brian Says:

      His list could only be written by someone who lives online. And who doesn’t like sports.

      It’s too early to say what the aftereffects will be. If we find a vaccine and/or effective treatment soon, then the main impact will probably just be a lot of people at least temporarily actively avoiding buying things that say Made In China.

      There will be a *lot* of parties, especially in small towns. But it’s not like the forces that have hollowed out main streets are going to be reversed, unless there is active pressure to do so, that I just don’t see. There is going to be pressure to “save” New York City (NYC and NYS are going to need absolutely massive amounts of federal money), but not to do the same for Utica and smaller cities and towns, because those places have zero political power anymore.

    6. David Foster Says:

      Brian…”His list could only be written by someone who lives online. And who doesn’t like sports.”

      To clarify, it wasn’t Ferguson’s list…he was citing it at a clear statement of one point of view.

    7. Andrew X Says:

      As one who has been screaming “Academia Delenda Est” (“Academia must be destroyed”) for the past year in multiple forums, I suddenly feel just mortified that it is actually on the verge of happening. I think that what a campus should be, and once was, will be sorely missed, and many a student, or “student” will have no idea on the wonderful experience that they will never have.

      I simply have been unable to contain my raging fury at what collegiate administrators have allowed to happen on their watch, as they have categorically abrogated any idea that, being older and more educated themselves, maybe just maybe it would be for THEM to run the joint, and for not-yet educated students to do a lot more listening and studying and a lot less pissing and moaning about whatever made them feel good to piss and moan about, and a lot less assuming with breathtaking arrogance that they were brought to campuses at age 19 and 20, with virtually no work experience whatsoever, so that everyone else in civilization could sit starry-eyed at their feet while they deign to tell us how the campus and world ought to be run.

      Such collegiate authority had a full-stop obligation to ALL of us to keep such arrogance in check, and, when laws and civil rights were violated, as the campus left does on a daily basis, to use and learn the very simple sentences “Go to you dorm, pack your s—, and get the f— out. You have 24 hours.” And then replace them with kids who get what a university is supposed to stand for and achieve.

      I guarantee you if ten students across the country had been talked to in this fashion in a very public manner, the word would have gotten out, and the university environment across the country would have been twice as productive. But of course that did not happen, because leftist indoctrination became more important than logic, wisdom, and inquiry. And now when universities suddenly and desperately need the general public to step up for them….. ex-freeking-scuse me??? Yeah, that’ll happen, you malignant pus-filled douchebags. You can believe in God or Karma, same either way. Enjoy the fruits of your gob-smacking stupidity.

      Worth noting to what Brian up there said, the cities of New York et al are likely to find out the exact same thing. Spend a generation pouring contempt on the American people, horizontally via geography and vertically through time, and then be real shocked when they respond with re: ex-freeking-scuse me quote above.

    8. Mike K Says:

      But a major social change was the sharp decline in the number of people “in service” below stairs in great houses as romanticized in TV shows like Downton Abbey.

      That was the rich. WWI and the flu of 1918 both affected that but my money is on WWII which ended the British Empire and made England poor. WWII was just WW I.5.

      There were servants in middle class homes until the 1950s. We had a black man named “Bill” who washed our windows every 6 months or so in Chicago in the 50s. The family two doors down had a black woman to do the ironing. The social changes in the black world ended that, I think.

      I think blacks stopped doing such work as The Great Society affected their culture and it became demeaning to work for white families. Our nurse maid, who had been with us since 1941, was “Louise Kennedy” at the corner drug store and converted to Catholicism because we were. After my father sold the home in 1967, Louise had an apartment in Hyde Park and complained about the rowdy boys who would hang out near by. She lived to age 95 and spent her last years in a Catholic nursing home in the south suburbs. She lived long enough to hold my youngest daughter who will be 30 in May.

      I agree that MOOC will replace a lot of brick and mortar colleges, partly due to student loan abuse. Charter schools will replace more public schools, especially in red states.

      The virus may turn into a seasonal flu but a vaccine should be available by winter.

      Maybe we could go back to drive-in movies but real estate is a problem there. If malls die out, as they were doing with online shopping, maybe that will provide the real estate.

    9. Mike K Says:

      I meant WWI ended the empire and prosperity for England. Typo.

    10. David Foster Says:

      Mike K…”There were servants in middle class homes until the 1950s.”

      One factor is that home appliances made servants less-essential.

      Also, lots of middle-class people, or at least upper-middle-class people, *still* have servants, in the form of people doing lawn work…they tend to be Hispanic, in most places, though I’ve seen exceptions.

    11. pouncer Says:

      I take on the counter arguments about servants, and agree. I request the chair’s permission to revise and extend.

      May I suggest the share of the total work force employed as “live-in” servants declined rapidly after the 19-teens?

      Changing my own topic, and taking on Andrew’s remarks about universities. My college age girls were kicked off campus as part of the Corona Flu shut down. Have been home a few weeks, and were home April 1st. That day in April is the “snapshot” date for this decade’s US Census.

      Turns out the universities seem to be “hard-wired” into the federal system, and the tenants in institutional housing, dorms, etc, are already reported. The instructions my family was given was to NOT count my girls at home on the date. (Despite campus housing, they vote at home, have vehicles registered at home, get mail — even college mail — at home, etc. The military concept of “home of record” applies. They, and I, expect that several different rooms and roommates and situations have and will come up over time in college and grad school. But “home” is long term.) ANYHOW, so as far as their universities go, and the communities around the universities, and the congress critters supposedly representing citizens — these are very dense clusters of voters to be represented. Even though, at least for many, those voters DON’T vote there, or vote at all, or won’t be there through the next decade’s census, or aren’t land-and-property owning citizens as envisioned in the 18th century, at all at all at all.

      I’m wondering if maybe student-“owning” institutions should count the bodies on their grounds as three-fifths of a normal citizen, as least as far as congressional representation goes.

    12. Christopher B Says:

      Pouncer – I didn’t know that about college students, and didn’t read that vlose when I did my form since it’s just me and my wife here.

      It does match, however, with what I’ve started thinking about the supposed importance of suburban women to elections. Since we apportion people, not voters, districts with large numbers of children, like the typical suburb, give the voters there extra clout.

    13. Roy Kerns Says:

      Andrew X: two observations.

      ACLU (ain’t no way your desired eviction would survive)

      “The Soul of the American University: from Protestant establishment to established unbelief”, George Marsden.

    14. Gavin Longmuir Says:

      “Are there now so many people who will have been exposed to the convenience of on-line grocery shopping that they will feel little need to visit physical grocery stores?”

      If it were Politically Correct to worry about social class anymore, that kind of view would probably be seen as “classist”. On-line grocery shopping may be very convenient for the government employee “working” from home and receiving a steady paycheck. However, it requires other people to work in the store fulfilling the order and yet more people to work in delivery.

      On the positive side, the privileged stay-at-home government workers will be creating jobs for the guys whose former businesses and trades have been shut down (for no good reason). Do I sound a little bit bitter? Wonder why?

      The problem has been created by our Betters in the distant Political Class — but they don’t live in our neighborhoods. The lady who works in the DMV does. That is where the resentment between the unemployed Makers and the well-cosseted Overhead is likely to boil over, unless our Betters suddenly get smart. There are much more dangerous things in this world than a Chinese virus.

    15. Andrew X Says:

      Roy – re: ACLU. I get it, but I wonder.

      Keep in mind that what I am talking about are pretty much full-scale violations of law. As is, “occupying” the Dean’s office and the like. Also, the shouting down of speakers at public meetings could certainly be construed as “disorderly conduct”and the like. Do you believe for a 10th of a second if a liberal politician or racial activist came to speak at a campus and was essentially hounded off the stage by an evangelical student group, that the campus administration would simply shrug it’s shoulders? Golly, campers, nothing we can do about that, yup yup yup. Tough old world, eh?

      (BTW – In that latter scenario, I think something else would happen. I think the activist evangelicals would beyond a doubt be brutally, physically attacked in a manner that would genuinely threaten their lives. Shall we note that the Left has no fear of such a thing, oddly enough? Hence that cute and pithy dynamic – COLLEGE: You need to put up $15,000 to ensure security at your meeting. CONSERVATIVE GROUP: Why, who is going to attack us? COLLEGE: We are.)

      I simply do not believe for a moment that outright violations of law and civil rights across the board leave campuses helpless in the face of the ACLU et al. It is ALL about the will, not the law per se, and there is no way they would ever accept it if the politics were reversed.

      Had they the will, how about a simple signed statement by every incoming freshman: We (this university) value your free speech and offer many various forums to exercise it. But you will NOT violate the law (such as trespassing) and you will NOT violate the civil rights of your fellow students and campus employees (i.e. interfere with their legitimate free speech rights, rights of passage, etc) and you will NOT physically threaten harm to others. Violations of same can result in sanctions up to and including expulsion. Sign here, please.

      I simply do not buy that campuses are at the mercy of these people. A while back, I would have called that cowardice. I now know better. It is not cowardice, it is cold and deliberate political activism on the part of the highest administrators and the fellow travelers that they have knowingly hired.

    16. WhoDat Says:

      Who will be the first large employer to move operatiins, all of part, from NYC?

    17. Winston Smith Says:

      How about that fundamental transformation great leap forward hybrid? And just like that the brick wall and black boots were revealed as the sheep cried out save me mommygov!

    18. Grurray Says:

      Who will be the first large employer to move operatiins, all of part, from NYC?

      Probably not anytime soon. The Fed just announced it’s buying municipal junk bonds in a huge bailout of Democrat-controlled big cities.

      Dan’s old question, how do Democrats survive their disastrous fiscal policies was finally answered this morning.

    19. Mike K Says:

      it is cold and deliberate political activism on the part of the highest administrators and the fellow travelers that they have knowingly hired.

      I live in Tucson and every spring (but this one) there is a home tour. They often tour the area near the U of Arizona campus which is old and which has quite a few beautiful homes. The last time we did the tour, I noticed the number of “Black Lives Matter” signs on the lawns of the large expensive homes. All owned by professors or administrators. Not adjunct professors, of course.

    20. Jay Guevara Says:

      Offices>>Remote Work
      NFL, NBA>>Esports
      Movie Theaters>>Streaming
      TV News>>YouTube stars
      College>>ISAs, MOOCs
      K-12>>Internet homeschooling
      Corporate journalism>>Citizen journalism
      EU/EEC>>27 sovereign states

      Sorry, am I being thick, or should these “greater than” symbols be used in the opposite sense?

      In any case, here’s my list, in my sense, in no particular order:

      Globalism << autarky
      High density housing << suburbs
      Public transit << individual transport
      Reusable bags << single-use bags
      China <<<<< USA
      Open borders << strong borders, limited LEGAL immigration
      Worthless "celebrities" <<<<< farmers, truckers, grocery store employees, doctors, nurses
      Perpetually aggrieved SJWs <<< serious Americans
      "Climate change" rubbish <<< fracking/energy independence
      Journalists <<< discount whores

    21. David Foster Says:

      Jay…I just meant the symbols as arrows, showing transition. The symbols used by the author were weird and wouldn’t copy properly.

    22. Jay Guevara Says:

      Ah. Sorry. I misunderstood.

    23. OBloodyHell Says:

      }}} I’m surprised he didn’t also include Stores>>Home delivery.

      No, on this one, at least not “grocery” stores. The majority of stores were not set up or prepared for home delivery, so the experiences with such have been… underwhelming. They’ve been overwhelmed by the sudden demand and unprepared for the seismic shift in volume… so many have said “never again”.

      PLUS there is the already extant reasons why home delivery hadn’t already taken off in the past, despite multiple tries in the last 30y to initiate “grocery delivery as a service” — which is that shopping is a sensual thing, as well as a social thing.

      You see people you know, or people you know from shopping, and you get a lot of “touchy-feely” experience that is missing in life.

      Plus it’s kind of like going through an encyclopedia. There is a definition of a
      dullardsomeone who goes to an encyclopedia, goes directly to the thing they were looking for, reads it, and closes the volume.

      Similarly, who the heck has a shopping list (or no list, just ‘x’ number of items to get), goes there, gets EXACTLY those things, and then checks out and leaves?

      Who doesn’t buy multiple items they had no plan to buy, but either
      a – saw something they had not thought of
      b – saw something on sale which they wanted to take advantage of the sale price for, but hadn’t planned otherwise on getting

    24. David Foster Says:

      OBH…my experience is that Instacart works pretty well.

      OTOH…the Instacart shoppers are somewhat irritating to the regular shoppers, as they tend to clutter up the store.

    25. Gavin Longmuir Says:

      Setting aside the social class angle about grocery home delivery, we have to consider the cost angle.

      The guy with a guaranteed pay check who uses home delivery is paying someone else to do things which he is perfectly capable of doing himself. It is like old-fashioned “Full Service” gasoline at the filling station — it had to cost more than “Self Serve” because the Full Service guy needs to get paid.

      Home delivery of groceries could well become a burr under the social saddle — widening the wealth gap between those with (mainly) government jobs who can afford it and those (mainly gig economy) peons who do the actual shopping & delivery. Those who use home delivery may find themselves being considered as part of an expanded “1%”. Oops! Back to the social class angle.

    26. Mike K Says:

      my experience is that Instacart works pretty well.

      Not my experience but it was only once and about two weeks ago. Not inclined to try again. It was interesting because it was at the store we usually use and which tends to have lower prices (significantly lower). It also seems to have a lower class of shoppers but good quality. Early on in the epidemic, the store was cleaned out. I talked to a checker who said you had to get there at 6 AM and there would be a crowd.

      We buy meat and fish at Costco and Fry’s, the other store, is not essential so we just quit going there. I commented on my experience that higher priced stores tended to have more grocery items like produce and milk.

      The Instacart experience was a try to use Fry’s again and it was a flop. The store web site worked fine until we came to the end. It would not give us a delivery date. We were OK with a couple of days delay but it would not work at all. I called the store customer service line and was told I had to call Instacart. I called and got a recording that there was a 2 hour hold time. No option of a call back, so I gave up.

    27. Jay Guevara Says:

      Delivery to your home might be a step too far.

      The lovely Mrs Guevara has taken to ordering groceries online at Wal-Mart, and then picking them up herself. She just drives up, pops open the trunk, they load the stuff, slam the trunk, and she drives off without ever getting out of the car.

      She is delighted with the service. Also, apparently, if they don’t have exactly what you ordered, they’ll substitute for it with something comparable of greater value and eat the difference. Good marketing!

      I suspect that this is closer to the future than home delivery, which necessitates one being at home at the time, or risking porch pirates or, in the summer, food spoilage.

    28. Mike K Says:

      The home delivery was an option and once it was frozen, I tried to back out for pickup. No dice. I had to start over.

      I don’t mind going to the store. I went into Safeway last night for a six pack of beer (we were having brats and sauerkraut) and dog treats.

      Safeway is close to home but we have avoided it as the prices are about 20% higher for many items. Now, it matters less.

      Maybe I would be less casual of I didn’t have the hydroxychloroquine at home.

    29. MCS Says:

      With groceries, I’m in the I don’t know what I want until I see it category. This is pretty much the opposite of how I buy everything else, professionally and personally. Some is opportunity; what’s on sale or what produce looks good and a lot of what I’m in the mood for.

      The rather spotty quality of the produce on display makes me hesitate to delegate when the people that are supposed to be in charge in the store obviously have no idea what they are doing. There’s a reason why only about a third of the produce that a good store brings in the back makes it out the front door. If the produce manager is blind and has no sense of smell, you can beat that.

      I also find it annoying when I have to navigate around the huge carts that the various order fillers use and then put up with the poor service that diverting the already scarce personnel from helping the people that actually come to the store or even just taking my money causes. If I come to the store for something specific and they are out, why don’t I get a substitution? Instead, I get asked if I found everything I wanted, so that I can either lie or hold up the line while they go through the futile motions of trying to find something they don’t have.

      What a lot of stores will find is that their model doesn’t work online. Locally, I’m thinking of Kroger and Tom Thumb, that use “loyalty” cards and other gimmicks to obscure the fact that they are significantly more expensive than their competition. Online it is simple to see the difference if you look and amenities won’t matter.

      Obviously, using a supper market as a base for online distribution is hugely inefficient. It will be interesting to see if distribution from a central facility can be made to work this time after it has failed several times already.

    30. MCS Says:

      Ha, Mike. At first I thought that things must be getting bad in Tucson if you were eating dog treats.

    31. PenGun Says:

      I have a local store, a farm store really, and they let one person in at a time. I like that store and use it for milk, butter and eggs, that kind of thing. Sunday morning at 8 AM I will go to a real supermarket for a bunch of things. Its been almost deserted at that time of day, so far.

    32. JT Says:

      Retired RN here in Wyoming, still working hospice part time. The CNA classes I teach have been cancelled due to nursing homes not allowing students to enter the facilities – hence, no opportunity for the required clinical experience hours.

      I have a pretty nice range at the house, am building a classroom so I can start advertising marksmanship and firearm safety classes. Been a NRA instructor for 20+ years, hoping to earn a few bucks training new gun owners and those wanting to meet training requirements for a concealed firearm permit.

      Last week the wife and a gal pal (neighbor/friend) drove to the farthest reaches of South Dakota to pick up an articulated vet table for her goat herd. Said they saw one other vehicle on the road during the 600 mile trip there.

      Y’all take care,
      JT

    33. Mike K Says:

      Kroger owns Fry’s which is usually low price and good quality. It resembles Stater Brothers in California, which was my preferred market when I lived in OC.

      The dog not only gets dog treats but my trips to Costco are usually to buy rotisserie chicken and ground beef for her. Also most of our meat and eggs come from Costco.