Friday, April 24, 2020

What Will the New Normal Be?

A tweet by Chris Albon the other day got me thinking--what will normal look like:

That was a first guess.  I think it is going to take quite a while for things where 50 or more people will be allowed to congregate when it is not needed.  That is, factories/stores will be opened long before conferences, baseball games, and other events which are a bit less necessary for sustaining the economy.

While much will vary, especially between political units that are more or less serious about this stuff, I would expect that the new normal in the short-medium term includes:
  • The streets of the US looking more like those of Japan, South Korea, and other parts of East Asia--masks.  Not worn by everyone but far more than in the past.
  • No major conferences/conventions (kiss the Presidential conventions goodbye until 2024, and, yes, political scientists, no APSA)
  • Elbow/fist bumps eclipse shaking hands for many but not most.  
  • More delivery services
  • Restaurants struggle as they can't have the same occupancy, bars will have similar problems, with dive bars succeeding since, well, the risk acceptant tend to hang out at such places (that's for you, Pat J). 
  • Firms will have learned that many meetings are zoom-able and don't need travel--which means that while there will be fewer restrictions, the travel industry will be in trouble for quite a while. 
  • Speaking of which, when will flying packed planes become normal?   I am guessing the airlines may end up passing out masks to all passengers.  
The new normal will involve, alas, occasional shutdowns as COVID spikes.  Of course, this all will vary depending on leadership at the city, state/province, and federal levels.  But it is not just up to them.  A twitter conversation that happened a day or two after I started drafting this was illuminating.  Just as individuals and groups faced collective action problems about whether to cancel events, they will also face the same when re-opening.  Bar and restaurant owners may not re-open as they anticipate few customers, customers may not go to restaurants because they fear that the restaurants will be breeding grounds for another wave.

There is, of course, a role for governments--we form these things to help solve collective action problems.  One thing they could do to ease the opening is to provide waivers for liability.  I am pretty sure universities will be reluctant to open as they will fear many things, including getting sued if students get sick, that they will get sued if they open and then close, with folks demanding tuition, etc.  Uncertainty in February and March encouraged wishful thinking so folks kept going ahead with their plans (I almost went to Hawaii).  Uncertainty now will encourage skepticism (hopefully about the merits of bleach drinking), deterring people from starting up again.

As the economists always remind us, confidence matters a great deal for investment, for making long-term decisions, and so forth.  How confident do people feel now?  How much confidence will they feel in a month or two or three?  Perhaps those who have had fairly transparent, credible politicians will be more willing to change their behavior when the signal is given.  But more than a few countries are short credible politicians.

Just some random guesses by a non-specialist in this area.  One of the things that is common to the old normal and the new normal is my speculating outside my zone of expertise.  If you have some ideas of what the new normal might be, let me know.

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