The world will never be the same

An event on the scale of the pandemic the world is now witnessing is certain to lead to major change. It is too soon to know, amid the crisis, what will be the cost in terms of human suffering and economic damage. They are linked. The distress will be profound.

Since the horrors of the second world war, national security has largely equated to having a massive military that would deter any other nations from thoughts of world domination. Even after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the focus stayed on military response and preparation, only rejiggered to confront a non-state enemy.

But the nation needs to reassess that in preparing to meet old threats it has failed to prepare for new ones. The potential for a natural or manmade viral attack was well known, yet the nation was woefully unprepared to meet it when it arrived. Aircraft carriers, bombers and tanks are of no use against a virus.

Our nation appears equally unprepared for a cyber-attack that could disrupt power grids, financial markets and communications, and boy are we vulnerable right now. The federal government hasn’t even yet come up with an effective plan to confront manipulation of social media to meddle in our elections.

Out of this experience should come a greater respect for experts, and the need to respond to the warnings they provide us. All should now agree that when the scientific community almost unanimously concurs that humanity is driving rapid climate change, the world needs to respond, not play political games.

When, in 1986, President Ronald Reagan said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help,’” it was funny.

But this situation is teaching us we need effective government and its help. The Reagan/Republican era of making the government the enemy — and characterizing any tax increase to support it as bad — needs to end. It is a false narrative and Americans should no longer buy into it.

We fear that the spread of COVID-19 could lead to a period of isolationism. This would be the wrong lesson to learn from the pandemic. Good communication between countries, smart public health policies and adequate preparation are the tools to prevent and control such global health threats, erecting barriers is not.

Expansion of global trade has had its serious drawbacks, among them undermining some sectors of the U.S. industrial economy and making our nation too dependent on vital commodities only, or largely, produced elsewhere. Smart public policies must address these problems. But on balance the age of international trade has been highly beneficial, globally lifting hundreds of millions out of abject poverty. And countries that are trading are far less likely to turn to war to settle disputes.

Our recent collective experiences of working and educating from home to hide from the virus could greatly expedite a trend already underway. Too many of us have clung to the old model of doing things, unwilling to recognize the advantages of the digital age.

Less commuting to offices post pandemic could have benefits for the environment, for balancing work and personal demands, for using time more efficiently. Also needed are new models for higher education to prepare for the technically demanding jobs of this century. Society has only scratched the surface of the ability of digital communication to provide that training far more frugally than the costly, traditional brick-and-mortar college education. A greater willingness to explore those opportunities could be another virtuous outcome of the current collective experience.

Change is the only constant. Major events tend to lead to rapid change. Our world will not be the same post-COVID-19.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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