12 Reasons the Glass is 1% Full

Let’s stipulate upfront that there’s nothing to celebrate about a pandemic.  The damage COVID-19 is wreaking—in terms of deaths, sickness, business closures, unemployment, and misery—is incalculable.  But this crisis is changing the world in subtle ways that may ultimately improve our lives.  So…in the spirit of Winston Churchill, who once implored not to let a good crisis go to waste, here are the positives I’m observing.

(1) Resilience – Never again will a sober economic developer argue that local resilience and self-reliance do not matter.  Crises like this one remind us that a community with a rich diversity of businesses will survive a disaster better than one completely dependent on the outside.

(2) Local Investment – Wall Street is toast (again).  Even after a few positive days, the market has lost nearly a third of its peak value earlier in the year.  Once families assess the damage to their life savings, I suspect millions will start thinking more seriously about how to reinvest in local businesses, projects, and people.  A shift of trillions of investment dollars from Wall Street to Main Street will not only foster community reconstruction but also spur long-term diversification and resilience—in short, real economic development.

(3) Carbon Footprints – Those millions of airline trip cancellations and the suspension of tens of millions of daily commutes have greatly brought down our carbon footprints, for some perhaps by 90% or more.  Many companies are finally permitting, and seeing the virtues, of telework.  And the sky has not fallen.  It reminds us that we can travel less and find a way to work, play, and live.  We may look at this time as the turning point in ending our once unsustainable lifestyles.

(4) Sunk Cruise Ships – Industries that fed off unlimited carbon are now those most in danger.  Luxury cruise ships, long-haul airlines, Florida vacation spots luring drunken teenagers at spring break—many may sink into bankruptcy.  Please, let’s not subsidize their return! 

(5) Voting by Mail – By necessity, a growing number of states like Ohio are implementing what has long worked well in Oregon—namely, voting by mail.  This will greatly reduce opportunities for voter suppression, and greatly increase voter participation rates.  It also will reduce the power of extreme candidates who depend on bringing a motivated minority to the polls to thwart the views of the more reasonable majority.

(6) Home Life – Despite the new challenges of being locked up at home (my teenage daughter is very unhappy), I’m spending more time with loved ones and appreciating our new-found time together.  Honestly, with more sleep and less commuting and flying, with better home-cooked meals, with richer relationships, I’m feeling stronger and my working hours have been more productive.

(7) Nature – Oddly, I’m also feeling healthier.  Just about the only thing I can do outside the house that’s permitted is run in my local park, which is in full bloom.  (I of course keep a large social distance away from those I jog past.)  When I wake up in the morning, I’ve never heard the birds singing so loudly.  It’s as if nature is reclaiming the space that we humans once so ruthlessly occupied. 

(8) Less Pollution – One reason for nature’s resurgence is that the air is undeniably cleaner, especially in metropolitan areas.  It may be years before this translates into reduced respiratory diseases and deaths (many pollutants are long lasting), but it’s a welcome step in the right direction.

(9) Federal Failure – Regular readers of my work know that I’m a committed decentralist.  One reason is that big anything, including big government, usually falls short.  Is there any serious person who would give federal preparedness for this crisis better than a D minus?  This is an important note to file for all my “democratic socialist” friends eager to enlarge the federal state with their pet projects.

(10) Presidential Failure – If you still were on the fence about President Trump before this crisis, you’ve hopefully gotten an ice-bucket awakening that reality maters.  He denies responsibility, cares little about facts, is intellectually incurious, and is an embarrassing narcissist.  His leadership “style” contributed enormously to our country’s response being late, disorganized, and ineffective.  (The bump in his approval rating we see now, I believe, happens to all leaders in a crisis.  George W. Bush hit 90% after 9/11.  As the casualties of his management mount, this bump will be history.)

(11) State and Local Success – In contrast to the incompetence at the top, state and local officials have performed heroically.  I listen to Government Andrew Cuomo of New York every day as an exemplar of crisis management.  And my governor, Larry Hogan of Maryland, a thoughtful Republican, has led the National Governors Association on this crisis admirably.  Any future pandemic planning needs to put these officials first.

(12) Demography – Unlike the Spanish Flu of 1918, which targeted the young and spared the elderly (who may have had some preexisting immunity), COVID-19 is doing the opposite.  Since I and many people I cherish are in the disease’s demographic crosshairs, I’m terrified about the danger.  But what happens when fewer elderly folks like myself are alive to go to the polls in November, and the relative size of younger voters grows?  It’s 2018 all over again, only bigger.

Let me know what you think, and please add to my list!

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9 Comments to “12 Reasons the Glass is 1% Full”
  • Tom Parrett
    March 30, 2020 - Reply

    “One reason is that big anything, including big government, usually falls short. Is there any serious person who would give federal preparedness for this crisis better than a D minus?”

    Don’t confuse the Trump Administration’s bungled, lethal, and probably ideological response to a pandemic with that of an intelligently run government staffed by devoted, conscientious civil servants. (Ideological because it’s loathe to exercise federal power for fear it will succeed.) If the US had acted on amble prior warnings, not fired or hobbled key scientific departments and officials, pooh-poohed the spread of the disease, and otherwise acted with what looks like malignant incompetence, you’d be saying a nation’s responses to a pandemic need to all hands on deck at every level, from the federal to the one-stop-sign hamlet. But coordination is federal job; distributing national resources quickly and fairly is federal job, and so on.

    Big government falls short due to the failures of its leaders and functionaries, not for any structural flaw in the premise of “big.” One could just as easily say “small” and “local” were of necessity parochial, out of touch, slow, narrowly focussed, and rather dim (none of which is by nature true).

    • Michael Shuman
      March 31, 2020 - Reply

      Tom, you make a very good point. I actually agree that on some issues–and a strategy to prevent and mitigate a pandemic virus is one of them–central action is essential. But it’s really central orchestration, with state and local command centers acting as well (as they are now). What frustrates me about the current bloat in the federal system is that too many issues that not belong under national control are there, which impedes action on the truly import ones. This deserves a separate blog soon!

  • Bill McHenry
    March 28, 2020 - Reply

    Sounded pretty damn good til you got to number ten. The FIRST case of COVID-19 in the USA was January 20.. ONE CASE. Trump shut down travel from China on Jan 31, eleven days later. The left took him to the good old reliable Ninth Circuit to kill the ban because it was RACIST. The court rescinded its ruling when they realized they were Political Puppet idiots and Trump was absolutely 100% right. Yes, he is a terminal narcissist but at the moment he is General George Paton and we need him at the helm instead of whining complainers from the left who have nothing to offer but criticism. A very sad bunch. As for Cuomo, yes, well spoken, but bullshit baffles brains if you have any. He is another whiner. The GOVERNOR of the State is responsible for preparedness not FEMA and the CDC. The are the ASSIST -second line of defense. But to hear the FAKE news media Trump is responsible for everything right down to providing N95 masks for Private Hospital.. the hypocrisy of it. CDC and FEMA are NOT the Central Supply Depot for medical supplies. Trump has responded A+ despite only opening his mouth to change feet. It is a very sad reflection on you and your ilk that you value rhetoric over action… rhetoric sounds good, warm, fuzzy, big brother taking care of you… well that is a load of bull crap. Talk is just that talk. Action to solve the problem, as Trump is doing is despised by the power seeking left who have been trying to overthrow him since he announced running for the Presidency… virtually treasonous to the America Political System yet the lumpkins follow this Criminal Cabal because they are smooth snake oil salesmen. I agree that the Federal Government has far top much to say about running the country. After all it is the U N I T E D States.. United individual States and the power mongering Federal System is trying to take the State Powers away. I am so sick and tired of the Left using a platform of divide and conquer and destroying America to gain personal and party power and so are most God fearing Americans. That my friend is why we support President Trump. The alternative is a Criminal Cabal plain and simple. Trump is invading the Washington swamp and exposing it for what it is. How about throwing support behind YOUR President instead of being part of the whining bitching sideline critics. Anybody can be an asshole critic.. it takes a man to get the job done. Trump is your man like him or not.

    • Michael Shuman
      March 29, 2020 - Reply

      But for dismantling our pandemic preparedness capacity, ignoring warnings from his national security team, misleading the American public about the dangers ahead, dithering on testing, failing to deploy emergency production and distribution capacities, the President’s behavior has certainly been A+. I’m throwing my support behind anyone who shows competence in handling this crisis, irrespective of party, which at this point has been state and local officials and the scientists advising the President.

      • William
        March 30, 2020 - Reply

        “in the spirit of Winston Churchill,” I have always equated Winston Churchill with the likes of mass murderers and those that commit genocide. Why would you use Winston Churchill for inspiration?

        • Michael Shuman
          March 30, 2020 - Reply

          Sometimes our words transcend our lives.

  • Rebecca Melancon
    March 27, 2020 - Reply

    While this pandemic is truly horrific, when this passes and we need to reset the economy button, we have the opportunity to redefine economic development to support local businesses and healthy local economies. We must engage a new way of thinking about local. Of course it’s not new for you. But it will be for many.

  • Jima Rice
    March 27, 2020 - Reply

    I like everything but #12. What on earth do you mean by that? Is that date a typo? Is the sentence miswritten. Are you saying that young people will ruin the world or that they will save it.

    • Michael Shuman
      March 29, 2020 - Reply

      1918 was indeed the date of the Spanish Flu. 2018 was an election driven by a huge increase in the youth vote.

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