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Happy endings and adapting to change

At some point during my college years, I happened across some tickets to a performance of “Other People’s Money“. The story left me unsettled and frustrated, then and still. The play, which addresses the takeover of an obsolete business, including a speech about how the best buggy whip manufacturer had no reason to stay in business, once the world no longer needed buggy whips.

It’s a theme we hear a lot of in recent years. We should shift to all renewable energy… but the people who own and work in oil, gas, and coal don’t want to be out of a job. We should overhaul the medical industry and go to single-payor healthcare – but those who work in the insurance industry very much don’t want to see that happen.

Now, we find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic – one which has stretched nearly half a year and which shows no signs of slowing down. In the US, efforts to “re-open” were met with soaring case rates. Countries who have better control, maintain that state only through pervasive changes in their normal way of life.

So I find myself asking – are some of the changes that the pandemic has forced on us, changes we should’ve been working to make anyway? And, who loses if these changes become permanent?

Will it truly “destroy the economy” if we move to a world where white collar work happens largely via telecommuting? Where restaurant business is primarily takeout or delivery, and where most goods and services are purchased for delivery or pickup rather than from large brick-and-mortar stores? Or would this just change the economy, shifting resources from some businesses to others, creating some winners and some losers?

I really don’t know. I have tremendous sympathy for those whose livelihoods are being destroyed in the massive sudden changes. At the same time, it seems a whole lot smarter to be trying to invent ways to move forward productively under the current conditions, rather than desperately trying to return to a past which might never be achievable.


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