Lindsey: A Post-COVID-19 America

This article originally appeared on the blog of Heretic, the magazine of We Are Libertarians.

The following is an advance publication of an article that will appear in the upcoming issue of Heretic.

Click here for more of our regular COVID-19 series.

The following article was written by Steven K. (The author has asked that his full last name not be used.)

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has impacted the entire world in a matter of months and has wreaked havoc on entire industries. Air travel, hotel and accommodations, ride sharing, dine-in restaurants, sports, clothing retail, luxury cruising, general entertainment industries, and so many more have been brought to their knees thanks to the pandemic.

It is impossible to predict when exactly American life will return to normal, if ever at all. The virus has exposed serious weaknesses in our government’s ability to respond to such a disaster and Americans have been forced to re-evaluate their values and priorities. Eventually travel and business restrictions will be lifted, however, it seems obvious that both the free market and legislators must seriously consider how to prevent and prepare for the next viral outbreak or general disaster. Where capital is invested in the future will be a hot topic of conversation once the smoke clears. How employers operate and consumers purchase will also change.


Working from Home

Perhaps the most obvious adjustment to American life will be an expansion of working from home for office workers. Telecommuting is not a new concept but plenty of major corporations have been hesitant to direct their employees to work from home full-time, at least until now.

In a not so bold prediction, those positions that can be done from home, will be, at least on a more regular basis. I would predict that in just five years from now Americans will look back and ask why it took so long to get to widespread telecommuting – the benefits if it include a decreased chance of: viral infection spread; workplace violence incidents; in-person sexual harassment; vehicle accidents; as well as fewer carbon emissions, lower building maintenance and supply costs, and more personal freedom for employees.

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House Arrest & Criminal Justice Reform

According to The Hill, in March of this year “the Philadelphia Police Department instructed its officers to temporarily stop making arrests for certain nonviolent crimes until next month amid the coronavirus outbreak.” Officers identified the offenders and completed necessary paperwork before releasing the offenders from detainment and only after ascertaining that the offender was not a threat to public safety. This virus has forced law enforcement to prioritize its efforts due to resource constraints and has left many asking, why were we ever imprisoning people not deemed to be a threat to the public?

Inmate processing centers and county jails are breeding grounds for bacteria and infectious diseases. Considering the resources required to maintain these facilities and the risk they can pose to the health of the inmates and correctional officers, house arrest may become a more popular means of serving time.

Additionally, the Philadelphia Police Department’s actions beg the questions, should prostitution and low level drug possession really be considered criminal offences? A case is easily made that a legalized and regulated prostitution would be safer for all parties involved then it being outlawed. Should those with small amounts of drugs be treated as hardened criminals in need of punishment or people in need of help? I’ll be looking for new criminal justice reform laws from states and municipalities to ensure resources are spent on serious matters in the future.

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Walk-Up & Drive-Through Services

Across the nation, restaurants are providing drive-through and carry-out services but are not allowing patrons to dine-in (the idea here is that there is a reduced chance of spreading COVID-19 if customers do not stay and eat at the restaurant). In an effort to reduce the need for customers to enter the establishment at all, expect to see a walk-up service, like you would find at a Rally’s, Checkers, or Cook-Out return to McDonalds and Wendy’s.

We will also see a renewed effort from businesses like Target and Walmart to encourage customers to take advantage of their drive-up/pick-up services. These services allow the customer to remain in their vehicle while store associates gather and deliver ordered products directly to the customer. This initiative can reduce theft, loitering, store maintenance costs, and maybe most importantly, the spread of viral infection. I expect to see major grocery chains across the nation as well as drug stores follow suit.

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Home Entertainment

The home entertainment industry will be heavily invested in. As movie theaters appear more obsolete and outdated by the minute, major film production studios will release films directly to their respective streaming services the same day as theaters. Its not difficult to imagine a time when Disney+ will offer two tier pricing, the lower tier featuring classic films with commercial breaks and the higher priced tier featuring no commercial breaks, all films, and yes, theatrical releases in the comfort of your own home.

In this hypothetical setting, movie theaters become an opulent luxury. Theaters of the future will have seating for perhaps just 20 individuals per showing but will offer state of the art comfort, high quality food and beverage, and will perhaps be rented for anything from film showings to video game tournaments (or even remote work conferences).

Also prepare for a wider range of options in your streaming services. Many major streaming services have already reduced their streaming quality in Europe due to increased data use strains as more employees are working from home. I expect to see options to cut my streaming quality down significantly, as someone – who frankly – has never bought into the high definition craze.

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Medical Legislation

The Coronavirus has revealed just how vulnerable our medical system is to supply shortages. Medical masks, ventilators, and staff shortages are a much talked about issues and I expect to see lawmakers place new requirements on medical facilities to keep larger amounts of supplies on-hand.

The virus has also forced lawmakers to address burdensome government regulation like state specific nursing licenses and certificates of need. Many states are slow to recognize out-of-state licenses. For example, it was just announced on March 17th that Massachusetts would recognize medical professionals and nurses licensed out-of-state to practice in their state in this emergency situation. Georgia governor Brian Kemp has made his support clear for reforms in health care regulation, specifically in doing away with or modifying certificate of need requirements.

On another note, one has to wonder what sort of government regulation will be passed that directly impacts the individual. The 2019 measles outbreak was used to make the case for mandatory vaccines. Even political commentator and self-professed libertarian Ben Shapiro has expressed support for mandatory vaccinations (though its difficult to rationalize how mandatory medical treatment is in-line with libertarianism). Regardless it is a mainstream view held by many on the left and right side of the aisle. Considering the economic toll Coronavirus has had on the American economy and the measures lawmakers are willing to take to reduce its impact, its very plausible mandatory vaccinations are headed our way.

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Immigration & Foreign Policy

The Coronavirus pandemic is not coming to an end any time soon. Globally, this may just be beginning. As of this writing there are still countries in south and central America that have not even had a single confirmed case. So who is to say an immigrant does not bring the virus to America in October of this year or next February and cause a whole new outbreak? As the son of an immigrant, I have nothing against them or their brave and bold decision to seek a new life in America. Legal immigration should be a much less expensive and complicated experience and immigrants are already screened for infectious diseases. However, I expect the screenings will be enhanced.

In regards to America’s foreign policy: it stands to reason that “Mr. Made In America”, Donald Trump will call for new incentives in American manufacturing and production. The President has remained consistent in his determination to see America lessen its reliance on foreign nations for goods and services, and considering China’s failure to even alert the world to the Coronavirus, I expect to see more “Made in America” stickers.

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Hotel & Accomodations

The hotel and accommodations industry has been sucker punched. CEO of Marriott Arne Sorenson stated on March 19th that the corporation would be pausing all corporate travel, hiring, new hotel openings, and any marketing and advertisement. Many hotels will close and those that remain open may see entire floors shut down, food and beverage areas closed, and staff reductions.

Where does the hotel and accommodations industry go from here? Perhaps a whole new format closer to the Airbnb way of doing things. New properties may look much more like multi-family townhomes, duplexes, or villas. A front desk check-in is no longer required if your phone can function as the key, and selling off this sort of property would perhaps be much easier then a giant multi-story 600 room hotel. What good is an asset if it can’t generate revenue and no one wants to buy it? Indeed cruise lines can sadly relate.

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Home Education

Americans place a great level of dependence on the traditional education system. Many schools closed in early March of this year and there is a real chance they won’t open back up this school year. The Coronavirus has required many students to simply stay home. Parents are having to get creative in how they continue to educate their children this year. There is a decent chance some may enjoy homeschooling their children and decide to try it again next year. In an effort to decentralize education, some municipalities and states may look to encourage alternatives through tax breaks or vouchers. However, as homeschooling becomes more popular, regulation of home schooling may become more prevalent.

On the university side, many campuses have entirely closed down. Virtual university is nothing new but I expect to see a new focus by higher learning educators to encourage online courses. After all, is university such a great place? According to 11.2% of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation (among all graduate and undergraduate students). Again per RAINN, male college-aged students (18-24) are 78% more likely than non-students of the same age to be a victim of rape or sexual assault. Countless campus scandals from Evergreen State College to UC Berkeley have left some wondering if in-person higher learning is really worth its price tag.

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It is impossible to know the true mortality rate of the Coronavirus in America because so many of those infected will never be tested. Imagine if the Coronavirus would have spread faster and had been a much more crippling or deadly disease to a wider range of people. If our farmers, truck drivers, and those in food processing were infected and simply too ill to work, our nation could have starved.

Automation’s impact in society is a genuine concern by many and is the fundamental rationale for former Democratic candidate for president Andrew Yang’s Universal Basic Income proposal. However, automation may be what keeps food on the shelves during the next viral outbreak. I expect to see grocery stores that may have never seriously considered self-checkout bring the technology in-store and self-driving trucks to be a not-so-distant reality.

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Online Voting

The 2020 election has thus far been a disaster. The Democratic Iowa caucus was an abomination, there have been reports of Russia meddling in the nomination process, and Michael Bloomberg’s attempt to buy the election (among other issues) has already brought the election’s integrity into question. Now with entire states shutting down, too many voters have been discouraged from making their voices heard.

An obvious response here is municipalities and states embracing online voting. Online voting has its concerns, including privacy and accuracy, but it seems clear we cannot rely on the traditional model any longer.

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Increased Tax Rates

Donald Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was a major victory for Republicans and the President. It, along with regulation cutting, appears to have helped the economy – it certainly didn’t hurt. That said, before the virus, the federal government was running a $1 trillion deficit. That deficit would have been unimaginable 20 years ago. Any honest Republican would tell you they were happy for the tax cuts, but spending must be reigned in or the nation will be in trouble. In the middle of this pandemic, the federal government and its many departments and agencies feel as though they have a blank check and spending will run amok. Eventually tax rates will rise with no meaningful spending cuts on the horizon.

A hopeful prediction would be that Donald Trump and Congress will finally see the need to balance the budget and start paying down the debt. Imagine an America that in a time of crisis can afford to incur some debt without concern. But that’s no prediction, that’s a libertarian fantasy under the current regime.

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Christian Anarchism, Star Wars, and Pizza Enthusiast |
Southwest Missourian, Book Lover, Writer

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