The spectre of one’s mortality that a global health and economic crisis raises can be a needed and sobering opportunity to reconsider and reorder our lives, if we’re granted them longer.
The coronavirus pandemic is a social stress test exposing many Americans’ lack of responsibility for our lives, our willingness to hold other people’s lives hostage to our own, and our national unpreparedness to manage danger. What are some long-term positive steps this moment of unexpected reflection and improvement should inspire us to take to address that? Here are a few ideas.
1. Massive Shift in Education
As schools and universities attempt to maintain learning through screens, it’s an opportune moment to consider whether one’s schooling is really ideal if it can be credited in half the time, through worksheets and video clips, and without in-person contact. Many people who never questioned the U.S. education conveyor belt are now filling in for it, suffering through mediocre, haphazard assignments.
Parents are getting a taste of what exactly their kids do all day. Some will discover that if a layperson can do the job of a credentialed teacher in half the time, maybe that’s an indication of serious lack. Families may discover that learning outside the default is more refreshing, less stressful, and less propagandistic.
We’ve discovered that many Americans value it mostly as a babysitting service. Many governors immediately disbanded classes for a third to a half of the school year — possibly to be renewed this fall — then continued collecting children in the same buildings for daycare and government feeding, even though congregating people like that is supposed to be too dangerous to hold school itself. Then they take billions of “emergency” dollars from the generation they aren’t educating to pay for…millions of public employees getting vacation for two to three months while parents try to do their jobs using badly designed filler?
State governments will face unrest over this combined with increased strains on their budgets. The states and localities that provide 90 percent of K-12 education funds can’t print money and deficit fund like the federal government for unlimited “emergency” spending, even with a likely series of federal bailouts of their ledgers. They will finally discover that giving parents half the money taxpayers spend per child in an education savings account will produce better outcomes. Since education eats a third to half of state budgets, school choice will be an easy solution for deficits already at danger levels from pre-coronavirus public debt and the explosion of health welfare programs like Medicaid.
Higher education’s bubble will likely finally pop, as Ben Domenech notes here: “What parent – even one with very steady work throughout the next 3 months – would be willing to plunk down a vast sum of cash after such an uncertain time given the damage to their portfolio and their livelihood?”
All this could lead to more people detaching from calcified education systems that often sponsor open hostility to the parents and nation who fund and subject their children to it. Since much of existing U.S. “education” undermines our nation’s long-term survival, this would be good for families and the country.
2. Prepping for Emergencies, Government Incompetence
Lots of people just discovered they might go hungry without a weekly shopping run and open restaurants, and can’t manage common illnesses without using medical resources that might be needed for people with worse problems. Emergencies happen, and unprepared people make them worse for themselves and others. The more unprepared people we have, the greater a society’s dependency on government and propensity to panic.
Hopefully the shock of realizing these things will encourage at least some people to upskill. Keep a few weeks of food in your pantry at all times, and rotate supplies. Keep basic medicine on hand, and learn how to help people sick with common illnesses that won’t need a doctor if well-managed. And keep more than one roll of toilet paper in your bathroom.
Long-term, at least someone in your family should regularly practice with a gun for self defense, someone should know how to shut off your gas and water valves, you should have some way to get heat if the electricity goes off, et cetera. Think ahead. Take responsibility for your life and family.
3. More Flexible Work Environments
Speaking of government dependence, a free people does not let government control the half of their lives they spend earning their way in the world. Free people manage their own lives, and passive-aggressive people use government force to get stuff from others instead of negotiating directly for it.
The coronavirus offers workers an opportunity to do just that by forcing many into work-from-home arrangements. Many people, especially working mothers, would like to work from home more or completely, and have been either afraid or unable to leverage their employers into it. Showing their capability during this time gives them more leverage for this kind of negotiation in the future.
This is also a time for employers to stop forcing employees to sacrifice their families and health for employment. Because women are the child-bearers, the weight of being forced to work on an Industrial Era 9-5 hits us harder, but men also love families and need to have some ability to care for them outside of bringing home a paycheck.
It’s long past time to rethink crusty old union- and government-driven work parameters that are a better fit for the world of “Mad Men.” We’re in the 21st century now, and flexible and remote work should be on the bargaining table for as many employees as possible. Government and business need to make their crisis deregulation of work permanent. It shouldn’t take a national crisis to see that.
4. Better Social Norms About Sickness
We all have heard people at some social event talking, as their kids stick fingers in the snack bowl, about how their family has been sick all week and they just ditched the fever yesterday. We all know people keep working while they are sick, and keep their kids in school although the kids are sick, because they want to bank their sick leave for vacations.
Now this kind of petty selfishness is widely recognized as such, hopefully people will continue to take more care about spreading germs to others. We’re all having a crash course in endangering the elderly, the young, and immune-compromised by going out while still contagious, not washing hands frequently and thoroughly, and touching.
Hopefully this basic etiquette will continue. Wash your hands and stay home if you have symptoms, plus at least an extra day after the symptoms subside. It’s not rocket science, it’s common courtesy.
5. Basic Financial Responsibility
Congress just sent billions of dollars to Americans they stole from the next generation without their consent because neither Congress nor Americans prepare for emergencies. It is a crying shame that we live on borrowed money and have nothing stored away against inevitable disasters, so dip our hands into the next generation’s pockets every time “something comes up.” This will lead to an unstoppable national financial disaster sooner or later.
Half of Americans say they couldn’t pay for a $1,000 emergency out of cash or savings. Excluding their mortgages, the average American has $38,000 in debt. That’s just plain irresponsible. This irresponsibility just cost the next generation $2 trillion plus interest for precisely zero government services to them, and the bailouts aren’t even close to ending.
Pre-coronabailout, American kids were already on the hook for $132 trillion in federal unfunded liabilities. Is there any limit to the money we’re going to demand from future generations for zero services in return? How is this not selling them into indentured servitude?
Before you dare to take money from other people — which is the same as taking a part of their lives because money equals labor equals time, which is priceless — you should cut all expenses that don’t keep you alive as cheaply as possible, and work as hard as you can at as many jobs as are necessary. I don’t want to hear you whining about how high your expenses are and how low your income is. Do you pay $100 a month for your cell phone? How old is your car? How big is your house? Do you eat out? Did you take out loans for college that you now want me to pay for because I cut eating out, travel, groceries, clothing, and other expenses to pay my own loans off faster while you didn’t?
Congress may be alright enabling Americans to steal trillions from children for basically everything it authorizes, but lots of Americans are aware that a house of debt like that is going to crash someday, and no amount of money-printing will stop it. Smart people will have gotten themselves out of debt, not planned to rely on bankrupt government services, and saved up an emergency fund and supplies beforehand.
6. Learning How to Live through Deprivation
Let’s face it: Most of us have pretty good lives. Even Americans who are poor are better off, materially speaking, than just about every other poor person in the world. There are many obviously great things about America’s affluence. There are also some bad things about it that a crisis like coronavirus can strip away.
The uncertainty we all are facing about our jobs, health, and the nation’s economy can prompt some empathy and constructive help for people who live in these kinds of circumstances every day. It should prompt all of us to reconsider our life priorities and how we manage the bountiful resources God and our wonderful country have made possible for us to acquire. If you still have a job, give to someone who doesn’t.
Coincidence or not, the Wuhan flu crisis hit the United States during the Christian season of Lent. Lent is a time of stripping away pleasures and of adding disciplines such as charitable giving, prayer, and self-denial. Humans need this because if we don’t consciously discipline ourselves we get fat, lazy, selfish, and unprepared for hardship.
Just like athletic training is no pain, no gain, it’s often not fun to develop self control, to think of and serve others above ourselves, repent for our bad decisions, and reconsider our life priorities. But it is very healthy, both for body and soul. Our nation corporately, and all of us individually, could use that now and always.
7. Revitalization of Community Relationships
When our governments finally hit the debt crisis they’re storing up even more speedily now for us, it will end the pretense that it’s someone else’s job to solve our personal problems.
Of course, solving personal problems often requires a community. There are many problems so big that one person, family, or even community cannot handle it alone. This is called social capital, when relationships are as good as (or better than) money. Social capital is especially important to impoverished people and situations.
In my neighborhood, people are rallying around our local mom ‘n pop restaurants and buying more from them in hopes of keeping them afloat past the lockdowns. Of course, this is wonderful. But what are each of us doing right now to make sure this nascent neighborhood revitalization continues past the coronavirus crisis? Like restaurants that face closure when starved of customers, relationships and local organizations face closure when starved of time and attention.
Trading favors and volunteering is one essence of community, and lots of us haven’t given much of our resources to making sure these tiny social safety nets exist and preclude the need for massive, ham-handed government ones that will bankrupt us and our children. This moment is an opportunity to change that, and start investing our time and money in our communities for the long-term.