The Destruction of Covid-19 is a path far larger than you would expect.
No, I don’t mean eliminating the Covid-19 virus, although that would be a great help. I am talking about the path of destruction we all must live with since the reaction to the virus started.
Is Covid Death To Suburbia?
In some ways, social distancing is the destruction of suburban life as we know it in this country. Since the invention of the automobile cities have become the hub of activity. World War II led to the creation of suburban life. The population was such that everyone couldn’t live in a city nor in the country. Suburbs were the new trade-off, a uniquely American solution. That solution has of course leached to Mexico and Canada.
In many ways, Europe and the rest of the old world found ways to avoid the unique problems of suburbs. Suburbs mean commuting. For whatever reason, Americans have adopted a lifestyle of spending hours in the car commuting to work. Some of the Upper East Coast of the US, has become a hybrid old world-new world commute, but roads are still jammed.
The destruction of Covid wasn’t as bad in Europe because they don’t commute like we do. Italy made the news but the US makes their numbers insignificant by comparison.
Cheap gas is partially to blame for the idea that we can live in a better home and just drive a little farther to work. In doing so we cram a lot of people in a very small space and force a lot of shared contact area. Before occupying the White House, President Trump lived just a few floors above his office. He said commuting was wasted time you never got back. It’s also one less opportunity to be exposed.
The New Meaning of Zooming to Work
When suburbs first began to appear after WWII, men were put to work building homes and roads. The roads were needed to connect the suburbs to the work centers. Even in to the 1970’s no one lived in Downtown LA. You only worked there. The Freeways allowed you to jump in your car in the suburbs of the San Fernando Valley and be in LA in 20 or 30 minutes. Today that can be two or three hours.
Americans were conditioned into this new lifestyle after the war and really had no reason to fight it. Looking across the borders with envy Canada and Mexico made similar changes.
Then there was the destruction of Covid causing people to work from home. Since the first video phone, business owners like me have been dreaming of the “virtual office”. Why pay for a big office, telephone systems and parking lots for all those cars? The problem was Americans didn’t know how to work from home. Covid forced us to learn.
Productivity v Time
One of the other aspects of the world that holds business centers together is the idea of paying people by the hour. When employees are home there are distractions. Cat’s, dog’s, kids, spouses and chores to name a few. As a business owner how do you know your employees are working?
During a recent interview a candidate bragged about “riding the clock”. He worked slower on purpose in order to make more money. From the employers perspective that makes him very expensive. It might be why he was looking for a new job.
Nearly 10 years ago my last employee walked out of the office and I locked the doors forever. My business is bigger now than it has ever been. A few years before that we picked up a contract with a cable company. They paid us by “piece work”. Each TV connected, each house connection, and every cable run was a different payment. The customer had to sign off that you actually did the work.
The cable companies only real employees were a few techs who only existed to fix or troubleshoot issues the contracted installers could not. Look around at how many cable, satellite, internet and delivery (read amazon) trucks say “authorized contractor” somewhere small on the door.
How can UPS with union drivers at a high hourly wage compete with Amazon logistics that pays by the piece? It really can’t and someday UPS will change. FedEx already has a significant contract labor force.
The Shift Starts Before Covid
Contract labor isn’t a new thing since Covid. High payroll taxes, union demands for featherbedding and employees riding the clock are what caused employers to look for a better way.
In the 1986 Comedy Gung Ho, a factory run by fat lazy american workers had to equal the output of it’s Japanese twin. The entire movie makes light of the fact that we have become quite accustomed to getting paid for not working. The thing that makes a factory different is you can measure output. Many jobs in the “information” and “service” sectors are more difficult to measure.
Some online hiring sites set up screen captures so you can “see” your employee “working”. The idea was you paid by the hour and they would be at the home dest working. If they left for more than 15 minutes every two hours, your clock stopped. During one interview, a candidate showed me how to beat that. Clearly the predecessor to kids ditching zoom classes with a screen shot.
The Covid Effect
With Covid, many businesses were forced to find ways for employees to work from home. While productivity fell, employees were introduced to a new way of working. No commutes, more free time. One woman recently told me she is saving hundreds on dry cleaning and make up.
The media has made Covid into a scary monster. Scary enough that schools, and employees want to stay away. Social distancing has become the new normal, and I don’t think it will come back to the way it was.
A couple of years ago I spent time touring the United Kingdom and France. In the U.K. I didn’t have a car at all. I could get to every village by train or a very nice bus. We took the train via the chunnel to France. In both countries the village lifestyle was very comfortable. Something we rarely see in the US because of Suburbia. But that might be changing.
Fear of Going Out
Sitting at home, inside quarantined, didn’t work for me. I would not be a victim of the destruction of covid. Every day, I walked my area and rode my bike to the beach every day. People were talking about meeting new neighbors every day. So clearly it didn’t work for them either.
Until recently I thought I knew all of my neighbors. I have probably doubled the number of people I know in a four block radius. It is funny that many have said they are afraid to go to work, and yet they talk to me knowing I fly all around the country. Those same people also leave our little enclave and go to the big box stores too. What makes shopping different than work?
Many years ago, I decided that commuting was in fact a stupid waste of time. I found a neighborhood, very close to my work as a pilot, that had a small center with a grocery store, pharmacy, dry cleaners, donut shop, bank and office space. I walk to just about everything I need, bike to the beach and only drive to fly airplanes or go to the big mouses house.
Suburbia doesn’t have that kind of small village style shopping because it has big box warehouse stores and giant pharmacies. I wonder if you could bull doze a few homes and build village centers in suburbia. Maybe take out some big roads and add a train? Suburbia as we know it will change, the question is how?
The Environmental Damage
The reason I started thinking of all of this was an email from 4Oceans. Being a right wing tree hugger, and no that is not an oxymoron, I am not a fan of plastic. The destruction of Covid-19 includes the explosive increase in the use of single use plastics and you can see it every where.
My stainless COOLTOYS® TV cup has replaced the #RWTH cup and is in my bag everywhere I go. The problem is I can’t use it anywhere. Re-filling my own cup at the soda machine is over. I can only get it in a single use paper or plastic cup. Normally I get a plastic straw too. Some places only offer paper straws which is good, and I try and carry my stainless straw everywhere.
The problem I found with soda is that stainless causes it to go flat faster. I don’t know why it just does. Since tea isn’t carbonated nor is cold brew coffee I have changed my drink of choice. I found a glass straw and glass travel mug but in my life those will break.
When this started, major rivers throughout the world became cleaner. Oceans became clearer. Air pollution almost vanished. It was as if the Tree Huggers fabricated Covid to stop global warming. Last year a Congress Woman from New York said she wanted to end all Air Travel in 10 years because of the pollution caused by jets. Did she do this?
The Unintended Consequence Of The Shutdown
But then Oil dropped below zero. Plastic became necessary for filters, disposable gloves, face shields, PPE medical suite and sneeze guards at the drive through. The ocean water is more clear and I see plastic trash every day I surf now. After years of being beaten down by the tree huggers, the plastic industry was back and the tree huggers were lining up to buy. Did they do this?
The swath of destructive change due to Covid is huge. The economy will take years to recover. The only thing propping up the stock market is the fed printing money. Inflation will be here to bite us all before you know it. Cheap oil means cheaper plastic and more waste. Switch to glass storage, glass bottles, and cloth reusable bags. You can wash many of the fabric bags.
I wish I could say all of this was unnecessary. Do I think the media over played this like a bond villain? Yes. Do I think people are selfish when it comes to the health and welfare of others? Yes. Just yesterday at Costco I watched a man lower his mask and sneeze several times without covering it. I said “use your elbow” and he waved me off as to say “screw you”. The woman next to him looked at me like I was the bad guy.
Maybe the reason that US has the highest death rate is just that. We are selfish and don’t want to get our mask or shirt or elbow dirty. Hopefully the one change from Covid is that if you are sick, stay home. If you cough or sneeze cover it.
We won’t know how bad the damage from Covid really is for years to come. Like every tragedy there is an opportunity for someone.