Scenario 4: A Smaller but Tastier Pie
Depressed Economy and Stock Markets, Yet Signs of Unity, New Social Norms and Healthier Communities
Vice President Elizabeth Warren is presumptive nominee of the new Democratic Progressive Party for 2024. She enters the primary season unopposed, largely because of the success of the Biden Administration’s passage and implementation of three programs:
- Healthcare for All passed in early 2021 replacing the Affordable Care Act with a single-payer system in each of the 50 states; central to the new system is the development of networked community health centers that are transforming how primary healthcare is delivered and ensuring that all have access to immunizations, testing, and preventative care.
- Revenue from new corporate and carbon taxes as well as luxury and estate taxes has helped extend the payout of unemployment benefits beyond the original 26 weeks that were the norm before the coronavirus.
- The Green New Deal drives new infrastructure investments in public transit, improvement/upgrades of the electrical grid, development of innovative technologies to reduce plastics waste and to create “Relocation Opportunity Zones” to reduce crowding in urban environments. New tax incentives spur increased philanthropy in partnership with government and impact investing in domestic industry.
The enactment of these fundamental shifts in social policy come after significant economic upheaval throughout 2020 and 2021.
Joe Biden and his running mate Elizabeth Warren win the 2020 election in a landslide. Nonetheless, the new administration gets off to a shaky start. Those without access to key social services take to the streets in violent protests in major urban areas, requiring intervention by the National Guard and state militias. Far-right conservative groups and white supremacists also stage increasingly violent demonstrations in the middle of the country as their economic and gun rights concerns mount.
A second major wave of coronavirus in March of 2021 temporarily defuses the uprest by sending everyone back into their homes for two months. Fear of further violence, and a better understanding of how many more deaths occur when responses are not coordinated, informs the government’s response. This time the federal and state governments coordinate on all facets of the response, including declaring emergency response acts. Testing is readily available, and governors take charge of allocating scarce resources. Yet another reappearance of the virus again in early 2022 leads to greater investment in social safety net programs, along with policies discouraging new construction in dense urban areas.
The Democratic Party reorganizes during the midterm elections in 2022, and the Democratic Progressive Party emerges on a platform of equality and traditional “American Values” of justice, compassion, and freedom for all. Only then does the Better Together Society legislation begin to pass with bipartisan support. It portends a new era of smaller, yet sustainable living for all, which recognizes the continued threat of pandemics and the need to re-envision American life.
Urban and suburban planning goes into hyper-drive to decrease population density and pollution, promote responsible and more local food consumption and add more green space and gardens. The High Line in New York and the Salesforce Park in San Francisco become models of how to repurpose and reinvent green spaces in urban environments. Large office buildings are converted to open spaces or repurposed as affordable housing.
The vaccine goes into full-scale production only in mid-2022, and continued shortages due to manufacturing glitches mean that only individuals over age 60 or in certain high-risk professions (teachers, caregivers for the elderly, restaurant workers) have access to the vaccine. Corona outbreaks continue to occur around the world. International travel is constrained, and global trade, particularly manufacturing, remains limited. With international trade and real wages down, there is an unseen benefit: Traditional manufacturing jobs return to the United States.
The slow rollout of a vaccine has meant that social distancing and limited gatherings remain in effect. This creates a new focus on local communities, neighborhoods and reliance on extended family and traditional community organizations – both secular and religious.
Maintaining small gatherings requires that schools, houses of worship, summer camps, and events all be smaller. These limits also necessitate new organizational models of collaboration and cooperation. The Tri-Faith Initiative in Omaha is the example of such models with shared worship and community space as well as just one back office for Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups. Similarly, arts and culture spaces repurpose themselves as venues for online as well as in-person content and talent. In many communities there is a marked increase in volunteerism – greater empathy and communal purpose.
To lower the unemployment rate, many states incentivize young adults to stay in college for an extra year or two, especially if they are willing to pursue degrees in areas where there remain significant shortages – computer and environmental sciences, teaching and mental health. Significant shortages of healthcare workers spur new taxpayer-subsidized incentives to attract people to the field, such as hardship pay, tuition assistance, loan forgiveness and housing. Telemedicine for non-emergency care is now the norm.
Due to the initial unrest following the first wave of the virus, as well as subsequent outbreaks and the absence of a vaccine, many people who are able to do so continue to work remotely. The digital divide that existed pre-Covid remain severe until philanthropists, industry and the government collaborate to make Internet connection accessible to low-income and other underserved communities.
Social distancing, remote work, educational disruptions and a new gig economy generate innovative digital solutions for knowledge gathering/sharing and actual experiences. Not surprisingly, ubiquitous digital and video technology and remote service delivery in turn generate complicated new legal discussions and decisions around privacy, fake news, and online speech. The Supreme Court is set to hear a landmark case about the publishing of Zoom transcripts where the record button was visibly on, but participants were not explicitly notified.
Many professionals who were furloughed during the initial quarantine are not rehired into their prior positions. Instead, they become contract workers, spurring the formation of a Gig Workers Union, which is now the country’s second largest union after the NEA.
The pace of life has slowed down – patterns of consumption and limits on travel keep people close to home and making their own food and clothing. With time to think, purpose and meaning have taken on new levels of importance. The hope now is that the economy will heal, at albeit a lower level of GDP than before the coronavirus hit, but can begin to add new jobs and stability to individual and family life.