The pandemic could shape the world, much as World War II and the Great Depression did
It’s 2022, and the coronavirus has at long last been defeated. After a miserable year-and-a-half, alternating between lockdowns and new outbreaks, life can finally begin returning to normal.
But it will not be the old normal. It will be a new world, with a reshaped economy, much as war and depression reordered life for previous generations.
Thousands of stores and companies that were vulnerable before the virus arrived have disappeared. Dozens of colleges are shutting down, in the first wave of closures in the history of American higher education. People have also changed long-held patterns of behavior: Outdoor socializing is in, business trips are out.
And American politics — while still divided in many of the same ways it was before the virus — has entered a new era.
All of this, obviously, is conjecture. The future is unknowable. But the pandemic increasingly looks like one of the defining events of our time. The best-case scenarios are now out of reach, and the United States is suffering through a new virus surge that’s worse than in any other country.
With help from economists, politicians and business executives, I have tried to imagine what a post-Covid economy may look like. One message I heard is that the course of the virus itself will play the biggest role in the medium term. If scientific breakthroughs come quickly and the virus is largely defeated this year, there may not be many permanent changes to everyday life.