It has been happening for the last month, articles about what will be different after Covid-19/coronavirus is done. Most know we won’t go back to the old normal. But no one can accurately predict the future except by chance. Regardless of the articles I’ve been pondering the possibilities, too. I think about such things to begin adapting now, and to consider possible investments. Welcome to some of my notes, thoughts, and observations. Besides, writing them down here makes them easier to find if I ever want to check back. This will NOT be comprehensive, guaranteed, or authoritative; just one person’s perspective.
Have you developed the habit of getting more things delivered to your house? My local postal carrier says the Post Office’s workload feels like Christmas, not the celebration part, the frenzied delivery part. Delivery was popular before the pandemic, became a necessity during the lockdown, and will probably not retreat because it really is an affordable luxury. Sometimes it is even cheaper than shopping. The gas for driving to the store to replace a burnt-out light bulb can be more expensive than the bulb. Sure, waiting until the list is long enough to make the trip, but why wait? USPS, UPS, and FedEx drive by the house every day. No extra gas spent. No extra wear on the car (or truck.) No time spent driving, parking, and remembering the parking spot. Besides, someone is undoubtedly buying things they wouldn’t want to pick up in person.
Businesses are advertising touch-free service. Humans = ick. Shrink wrapped packages, industrially-processed things, including food, can alleviate some anxieties when there was no one who could sneeze on what you’re buying. The same is true of the deliveries mentioned above. Robots, whether on wheels on the sidewalk or as drones flying in from wherever reduce the number of people touching each package. Also, robots can do things humans can’t, like be immune to contagious diseases. It is also easier to sterilize a robot. Humans are human and can forget to wash their hands. Autonomous taxis may not be as efficient as a fully-loaded bus, but which are you more likely to feel comfortable in?
AI has much in common with robots, but AI also lives in algorithms. We humans have created so many dividing lines within our societies, that some will prefer a mindless artificial intelligence instead of a person who may care more for their agenda or ideology or prejudices. AI isn’t perfect, either. At its core is the work of human programmers, so biases may be built in; but the appearance of impartiality can be appealing. We may have balked at the idea of robotic cops, but how many communities trust their police forces even less? We may create and welcome our artificial authority figures.
The recent months tested and proved who is really essential and who is simply celebrated.
“Something I’m looking forward to, a political party built from postal workers, police, firefighters, EMTs, nurses, doctors, drivers, delivery workers, grocery clerks, farmers, ranchers, teachers, people making less than a living wage, people who need community – and others for easily overlooked. Imagine a party that represented that power, instead of the party or simply opposing the other party. (Disclosure: Independent)”
This pandemic may be the prime example of who is truly essential and who deserves more than they have been receiving. Actors, professional athletes, can be fine people and I’m not surprised they can command large paychecks. But, I’d rather hear that the majority of the flamboyant salaries were spent on everyday arts. Some movies now make a billion dollars in a weekend. How many art classes and schools could be sustained with one movie’s revenues? Billions are spent on stadiums for billionaire owners of teams filled with multi-millionaire athletes. If a city spent half of a stadium’s cost on parks and amateur sports, the public’s health would be improved, and better able to counter viruses. If the national leagues can’t afford the stadiums, maybe they should reconsider their priorities rather than make us set aside ours. Maybe unions will return, hopefully without going too far the other way. Power can corrupt. We’re spending more than enough, but the people who need it aren’t getting as much as they deserve.
It will be amazing and sad if this pandemic doesn’t change and improve global healthcare. We’re connected. Keeping people healthy in one country can keep other countries from being infected. Enough examples of good systems have been proven and tested that other countries have to actively decide to ignore better ways of doing things.
Trillions of dollars are involved, which may make it more difficult to reform; but the wealthiest people demonstrated how vastly different their lives are from everyone else’s. Billionaires’ wealth has increased during the pandemic at the same time that tens of millions are getting token assistance. The money may be on the side of the wealthy, but the votes should be on the side of the crowd. If more money flows through taxes or better wages to those who don’t have enough, the economy could see increased consumer spending, improved health, and less unrest. It is a battle that has begun, with the main event in the US being November’s election.
Cruise ships. They may still have fans, but fewer. They may difficulty finding crew, especially considering how many of them have been stranded at sea for months in terrible conditions.
Airplanes. There will be a demand because, unlike cruise ships, air travel remains a necessity; but tourism and family visits may be less. Though there may be a short term spike as restrictions are relaxed and some pent-up demand is alleviated. That will take a while, though.
Restaurants. Are you still looking forward to dining out? Sure. But many people are now better cooks than before, and more aware of how much comfortable it can be to dine at home. Even if they don’t cook, home delivery is convenient. If only there was someone who could come by and do the dishes.
Home entertainment. We know the pandemic can come back. Anyone who was bored during the lockdown may decide to stock up on books, games, and better electronics.
Home office. Being able to shut the door, have more than enough bandwidth, and have a professional looking office may encourage folks to buy houses with the right rooms, on a good internet trunk, and maybe spend a bit more on office furnishings.
Rural Distancing. Urbanization has been a trend, just like globalization. Being trapped in a city, densely packed, far from food, and with little personal space is already creating a systemic demand for having a least a bit more land, maybe some place where it is possible to grow your own food or buying from a real farmer’s market. Even a small garden on a small lot allows some relief and supplies when compared to an apartment on the sixteenth floor. The acoustic barrier alone could be valuable.
During disruptive crises, the best opportunities can be in ways people can’t imagine – except for the people who create, invent, and innovate new solutions for the new world rather than trying to accommodate lifestyles that are quickly becoming archaic. Bicycling is becoming popular, and cities are adapting. Hopefully bicycle manufacturers will emphasize practicality over mimicking competitive cycling. Online working, visiting, and learning are in the midst of a rush of traffic; but that’s largely been through existing solutions. Would this be a good entry for augmented or virtual reality, or both? And of course, fashion. Someone is going to design a mask that is stylish, can be worn as necessary, and dropped and carried while looking like a tie or scarf.
Just from these notes I’ve picked up some ideas for my investments. 1) Make enough money to pay my bills plus enough to invest. 2) I’ll skip the big deliver companies because they’re already too big for my investing style; but I will watch for innovators using drones to deliver to places like islands. (A personal bias) 3) Increased robotics, improved consumer electronics, reinforce my interest in companies like MicroVision (I can hear the groans, at least internally) because they can enable such innovations. 4) As for health care, wealth and income inequality, and the dismantling of obsolete organizations, I hope for governmental change. 5) I’ll skip the travel industry, though see an opportunity for foreign travel to shift to local travel, just not part of my investment style. 6) As for rural distancing, I’m witnessing that as a real estate broker on Whidbey Island. Urban to rural is appealing to more, now. Islands come with a bonus: a moat. That’s also why I am having 1Gig internet service installed in my home office, and with the next commission check I’ll probably make the place nicer – or at least find better ways to hide the clutter.
There’s more. The discussions of what comes next (see Practice Pandemic) will continue until the results are so obvious that they aren’t worth mentioning. In the meantime, I’ll continue to wonder about the world, and wear my mask. The number of Covid-19 cases on my island is down. Washington State is making impressive progress. Beyond that, however, the number cases globally is increasing, not decreasing. Over 400,000 have died and estimates suggest months before the curve is contained, partly because so many places with ineffective controls are already rising again. We’re all part of the same species on the same planet. We’re witnessing changes that will reach across borders and boundaries. I wonder what’s on the other side.