This article was first published at The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) and republished here with the author’s consent.
Trying to forecast Post-Corona Society
In times of major uncertainty it is important for the strategist to define key issues which could be relevant in shaping the future. By following their developments and gradually adding additional subjects, one can get a clearer picture of where society is headed.
The longer the pandemic lasts, the more likely it is that there will be major issues where the post-Corona reality will differ in an important way from the pre-Corona one. The shrinking of national economies was rapid. The forecast of a V-type recovery, i.e., that the expansion of the economy will be fast, has limitations.
The two legs of the V will not be identical. Some branches of the economy declined fast but will take longer to recover than others. Some may shrink or may not recover at all. Post-Corona unemployment in many countries will be substantially bigger than before its beginning. It will not be evenly spread among business sectors. Some areas, which require much human contact have been harder hit than others. That may mean relatively high unemployment in for instance travel-related professions as well as in parts of the tourist industry. This also affects suppliers of these sectors. Bill Gates recalled that during the Spanish flu: “In the blink of an eye, a health crisis became an economic crisis, a food crisis, a housing crisis, a political crisis. Everything collided with everything else.”1
Not all age groups will be hurt similarly. People above age 50 who are let go by their employers will have greater difficulty than younger people to be rehired in a market where there is a surplus of labor.
Young people entering the labor market with no professional experience are another group that may experience above average difficulty in finding employment. During the pandemic a large percentage of traineeships in several countries were cancelled. It is highly doubtful that traineeships in similar numbers as before the pandemic will become available in the post-Corona period. There is data from the US that more women have lost their positions than men.2
Already before the pandemic’s outbreak there were many forecasts that people with little education and skills would find it increasingly difficult to find employment. That trend may well have been accelerated by the pandemic. Overall, greater unemployment will lead to a strengthening of the negotiating position of employers toward trade unions and the employed.
As far as the migrant issue is concerned, there may well be two contradictory types of pressures. One is that larger numbers of people from low income countries will try to reach Europe. At the same time, the willingness in Europe to let them immigrate or provide them asylum — which has already declined in recent years —is likely to decrease further. Unskilled migrants are seen as competitors by many people in low income professions.
There are other aspects as well. Many expats have considered Singapore an attractive place to work. Yet due to the pandemic-fueled recession authorities there are now promoting the hiring of locals over foreigners.3
Governments had to make far-going decisions during the pandemic based on very partial information. This has led to some acts of poor judgment which differ from country to country. It has further affected government credibility and its image.
Government interference cannot return rapidly to pre-Corona positions. The authorities who have already interfered in major ways in societal functioning will have to continue to intervene to steer the economy. They were not elected for this. As financial resources are limited ferocious battles are likely to be led about their distribution. What is a necessity and what is not? Providing the unemployed with a minimum base of income is more important than financing culture. Yet how much quality culture can survive without subsidy?
All these can be termed first stage issues. Yet they will have additional impacts on societies. An important question is whom will the unemployed vote for? Will they strengthen extremism on both the left and right? Inter-generational tensions are likely to increase. Many unemployed youth will look for ways to exert more pressure on the authorities.
In pre-Corona societies there was much promotion of the idea of the trickle-down effect. Some wealthy individuals may benefit first and then increased wealth will slowly benefit the entire population. This may or may not happen in reality, but at least those on the lower rungs of society kept what they had. This is not the case now. There will be substantial economic loss for some people.
There are also those who wonder whether there will be a better world after the Corona crisis is over? A world, which is more relaxed, more peace loving, more environmentally conscious? The answer is that as long as economies expanded, tensions were partly suppressed. Now as countries struggle to get back to their former economic levels, tensions are likely to increase.
It is a utopian thought that once the pandemic is over, people will have forgotten after a year or two what has happened during the outbreak. On the contrary, the increasing unrest in countries during the pandemic may well be a starting point for more manifestations of public disobedience concerning other issues.
Extremists continue making their somber forecasts. The Slovenian radical philosopher, Slavoj Zizek, considers the government measures during the Coronavirus outbreak a preliminary step to the reinvention of communism. He said that states intervened more actively by “arranging the production of urgent necessary things, like masks, test kits and respirators, by guaranteeing the minimum conditions for survival of all those who are not working and by ignoring market mechanisms in all of these.” Zizek considers all these to be communist measures. He thinks that the ultimate choice will be between a new form of communism and barbarism.4
There are environmental pressures, many of which will collide with economic priorities. How this conflict will develop can only be guessed.
For a variety of reasons, a special area to look at are universities. One of the reasons they have been able to increase the number of students is that employers often want people they hire to have at least one degree while they are frequently less concerned about what that degree is in. It may also be that with many young unemployed, some will go to university for lack of a better use of time.
On the other hand, universities face a number of structural problems. Competition has risen over the last few years. There are many free courses or courses that carry a fee from first class universities available on the internet. Studying online by taking such top-quality courses has one major drawback. There is no degree given, even if one can get certificates for having followed these courses. There are now better international sources of knowledge easily available than those provided by universities, which are not considered first class.
The pandemic has created further incentives to develop new formulas. During the beginning of universities in the Middle-Ages, curious students sought out the best teachers. Gates is of the opinion that: “For the curious learner, these are the best of times because your ability to constantly refresh your knowledge with either podcasts or lectures that are online is better than ever.”5
There is a further incentive for this. Due to the pandemic, many universities have moved their courses to online learning or Zoom. Why would one pay the same for online learning as for live attendance? This phenomenon will continue to increase in the coming weeks as the new academic year begins.
A not insignificant issue is indoctrination. While universities are supposedly places for increasing knowledge, that is not necessarily what happens in the humanities or social sciences in some academic institutions. Teaching positions are sometimes in the hands of people who promote knowledge mixed with ideology, usually left wing.
Nor should the issue be ignored that there are some professions for which there is little demand or where university supply exceeds market demand. With the declined likelihood of hiring young people who are just out of university, this is an additional problem which should be mentioned. The reorganization of universities was long overdue. The pandemic may well have accelerated this trend.
In the long run, an additional huge problem has been created. Future generations will have to pay the debt that is now being created.
That however is not an issue in the immediate future since these generations do not vote in the elections.