The New Normal

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First of all, I hate the phrase “New Normal”. But why use it in your title then, you may be wondering. It’s the only thing that fits. I hate it because it is so cliche. Change happens all the time. Every day is its own “new normal”. For those of us of a certain age, we can look back and just see how different life is today than it was “back in the day”.

What I really hate about the phrase as applied to the current situation is that a lot of times people use it to infer that we can never gather in large groups again. I refuse to believe that our future is a no contact one where squads of uber Karen’s go around shaming anyone who is not wearing a mask or practicing proper social distancing.

I can’t believe spitting was ever permitted in a theater. Imagine those days!

I mean we went through this 100 years ago. That pandemic was much worse than the current one. And yet life returned. Maybe to a different set of what we’d consider “normal” but you don’t see a lot of photos of people in the 1920’s wearing masks.

One thing that was different was who died. That flu pandemic attacked the young much more than this virus which primarily preys on the old and compromised. I had at least one relative die of the flu and she was only 23 years old. Yes, I know young people have died of this one but if you look at the actual data, the percentages are very low.

And I’ve read that the combination of the flu and the war, which lead to the deaths of a great number of young people may have helped trigger the whole “Roaring 20’s”. Maybe the first example of the YOLO generation. Toss in the fact that alcohol was illegal for part of the decade and maybe there were reasons why life was mostly a party.

Is this where we’ll be in a couple of years?

It would be interesting to travel back in time and see what the fear and panic level was in the general population. Obviously, you didn’t have a 24 news cycle blasting you with bad news and doom and gloom numbers. It was mostly just your newspapers so you’d only get an update maybe once a day. Maybe that was scarier. I don’t know. It might have been better for the mental health since you didn’t have to worry about turning off the TV and the internet because they didn’t exist.

(Ironically, right after typing this, WordPress crashed. Good thing I thought to save moments before)

Hard to get out if you are supposed to be quarantined!

So what lessons have we learned and how will things change? I don’t know but I can toss out guesses with the best of them. The one lesson we should learn but won’t is that models are not data. They are projections based on assumptions and are subject to a lot of error. The CDC currently has several different projections on their website. All are from reputable sources and backed by science but they are widely divergent in their predicted paths forward.

Maybe the real lesson is to not rely on a single model to set policy. Have you ever seen hurricane projections with a bunch of tracks based on various models? Maybe the middle model is not more accurate than the rest but I’d be a lot more comfortable setting policy based on the average of several models.

Work is going to have to change although the controlling managers will fight it. That ship has already sailed. Working at home isn’t for everyone but it certainly is for some. And those that have tried it and liked it aren’t really going to want to go back to the office. Companies will have to make adjustments because if the work is getting done now, what argument do they really have that you need to be visible and in the office.

It is funny because my wife has discovered that the people who struggle the most are the ranks of managers who can’t “see” their people. I mean if you don’t trust people to get things done, then you’ve either hired the wrong people or you are the problem. Maybe that’s another thing – we might have learned we don’t need as much management.

So you take appropriate risks – if you have the right data.

We are already seeing restaurants go under and that will continue to happen. Some of the stores that closed will never come back. Are we going to transition to all on line? Perhaps but I don’t think so. Again, there will be those who will continue to exclusively use these methods because they’ve found them more convenient than venturing out. I kind of like looking and holding what I’m about to buy so I don’t see myself changing that much. I mean it is hard to have the silly impulse buy when shopping online.

And I think there are the class of people who really want to be out there among the crowds. They will happily put aside the on line stuff in favor of getting back out there. Restaurants are going to be hurt and I don’t know if they fully come back. I mean we would probably go out to the local establishments we want to see survive. But, for some of the chains, if you can order food and get it delivered, that’s a heck of lot better to deal with than a noisy restaurant. My guess is that any place with poor service is going to fail because why would you put up with that.

I worked out today – that was positive. Other than that, its cloudy and cool and not very pleasant to be outside.

I don’t know if businesses are going to learn the lesson that it doesn’t pay to have your supply chain single sourced to a given country. And maybe chasing cheap labor isn’t the best solution. Also, the smart thinking is that you shouldn’t keep inventory around but if you suddenly can’t get stuff, then it means you can’t make stuff. But the pressure to make stuff as cheaply as possible likely means we’ll be back to the old normal sooner than we should be.

I wonder if there will be a rethinking of the value of a college degree. How many people had degrees and ended up in “non-essential” positions or businesses? And you have the debt built up to pay for your degree that you can’t use because you were deemed non-essential. In the meantime, the truck driver is busier than normal because getting stuff to people suddenly becomes far more important.

Maybe we have to rethink things about our supply chain – especially when it comes to food. There might not be anything that can be done if you need economies of scale to produce the quantities that are needed. The warning signs are certainly there – we lose production at plants and suddenly there is potential for food shortages and rationing. Maybe we need more farmer markets or other ways to connect people with local farmers.

I’d like to think that we also figure out that if we don’t make something here, then we are vulnerable to shortages. Again, if the only goal is to make stuff as cheap as possible, then we’ll remain vulnerable. Should we be directing public policy to figure out ways to make certain key stuff here.

Maybe that’s enough of the speculation. There are lots of lessons to be learned here. Actually, the best lesson might be that maybe we shouldn’t be messing around with strange viruses.

Oh, and “no contact” dance lessons can’t become the “new normal”. I’ll accept it for a bit but not forever!!!!

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