The Covid-19 Bridge Connecting A Bifurcated America*

The Covid-19 Bridge Connecting A Bifurcated America

A year ago, in “The Hollowing Out of America,” TLR contrasted two different Americas: The economically-vibrant urban-exurban America found on its three coasts … and the sclerotically depopulating rural-America located in between, in the Great Middle. It pointed out how 21st Century technology and urban job-creation had been attracting Americans to congregate in cities and, at the same time, incentivizing those living in the Great Middle to seek jobs elsewhere, abandoning the Great Middle’s obsolete industries and the lifestyles that had nurtured America’s middle-class during a period when America’s agricultural excellence and manufacturing superiority led the world. A few weeks later, in “The Big Blue Cities,” TLR explored the polarization of America caused in significant part by the resulting Great Bifurcation, comparing the social, political, economic and aspirational goals of coastal city-dwellers with the very different social, political, religious and aspirational goals of those living in America’s Great Middle. Then, in November, 2019, in “The Widening Divide,” TLR focused on the impact of social media in exacerbating those divisions by encouraging Americans in both Americas to reject their common interest and instead bind with and believe in only like-minded extremists believers media denizens who identified and magnified differences in race, religion, politics, socio-economic status, religion and national origin. (A study by Carnegie-Mellon University has since shown that ~82{29ea29b64b10057f61377b2c087cd5b7537a0cd24da4295a308b0bf589469f35} of the top 50 Twitter “media denizens” are automated bots the goal of which apparently is to over-emphasize accentuate extremist tweets.) The effect has been to fracture societal cohesion and separate Americans into self-interested cadres. Covid-19 currently is exacerbating that Great Bifurcation …, at the same time, however, it’s perhaps providing a means to bridge it.

One of the many consequences of Covid-19 has been its framing of the differences between America’s “haves” and “have-nots” – between those primarily urban, primarily white white-collar workers who are protected in 21st Century America … and those primarily rural, primarily blue-collar and gig workers who are exposed …, between those whose heightened economic and social positions largely insulate them from the destruction the pandemic has wrought … and those whose lives, and whose families’ lives, are being devastated by it. The rich not only have more money and more opportunity, they have safety … and the poor not only are poorer, they are vulnerable … and Covid-19 has greatly increased their vulnerabilities and decreased their opportunities. For the more than 38 million newly-unemployed Americans – most of whom are the have-nots –, the lockdown of the past 2 months has been catastrophic. It has put them on the brink. For the haves, that lockdown has been a tolerable, albeit stressful, inconvenience. That’s more than merely a contrast. The unlocking process for the haves will be a relief. It will not be life-altering. For the have-nots, unlocking is merely a hope, one that for many will be illusory …, an illusion that may persist for a long time. Their reality will be government hand-outs … and, after that …, what? Their hopes are for a better future – actually for any future. Their ability to realize that hope will be dependent on ongoing government assistance, for how long no one can know. The reality is that the have-nots cannot easily or quickly be restored to their pre-Covid-19 economic status, troubled as it was. The post-Covid-19 “have-nots” will have even less – less money, less health, and less opportunity. The great unlocking will not mean that their jobs will be returning or that the industries they previously worked in will survive. The reality is otherwise. The haves, on the other hand, their fellow-Americans, the protected white white-collar workers, will return to their jobs, many doing so remotely. They and their families will not need to rely on government hand-outs. Their survival is not being threatened. Many actually will thrive. As a consequence, the Great Divide will grow … and the bridge that used to connect the haves and the have-nots – what was once referred to as The American Dream – henceforth will be longer and more difficult to cross. It will carry a toll that too many will be unable to pay, either in this generation or, possibly, even in the next. America will be a poorer nation as a result – poorer in wealth, poorer in health, and poorer in dreams.

That is not an outcome that America can tolerate … or that Americans should accept … and it need not be. America has the resources to overcome anything, including Covid-19. The only question is whether it has the will. To do so will require consensus … consensus that requires political bipartisanship.

There is an upside to the exodus of the “haves” from the Big Blue Cities. That Migration will provide an economic incentive that the Federal government can use to counter the economic devastation of Covid-19. In fleeing the Big Blues, the haves will create economic demand and infuse wealth into parts of the country that are in desperate need of both consumer demand and wealth. In so doing, they can become drivers for rebuilding and reconnecting the infrastructure necessary to benefit all Americans, both the haves and the have-nots, those remaining in the Big Blues and those living in the Great Middle. Their economic muscle could rebuild America’s actual and proverbial bridges, providing the foundation upon which a new architecture for 21st Century American technology, power generation, electrical grid, and transportation infrastructure can be built. Study after study has warned that America urgently needs new infrastructure. A Great Migration from the Big Blues is the ideal spark to ignite such an architectural and spending explosion.

Workplace remoting is a private initiative that necessarily will bring together the haves and have-nots. Already, many Big Blue haves are bolting to the countryside, away from many of the things that drew them to urban-exurban living in the first place. Where once there was the attraction of ever-increasing job opportunities and the allure of educational hubs, nearby medical facilities, live sports and theater, museums, restaurants and unlimited social contact, Covid-19 has permanently ended suspended both the employment opportunities and much of the allure of the Big Blues. Many of the haves who can work remotely therefore are choosing to do so. Many will choose to permanently live and work in the relative tranquility of the Great Middle. At the same time, the have-nots no longer will have the option of job-seeking in the Big Blue Cities … because the number of city jobs likely will continue to shrink. New jobs are more likely to spring from the Big Blue Migration … a trend that the Federal government should encourage. If that trend persists, the Big Blues will wither lose population … and the Great Middle will grow. Covid-19 has highlighted the weaknesses downsides of Big Blue life. It has revealed the previously-unseen risks of urban-exurban living. Easy access, vibrancy, culture and congestion have costs …, and it is those costs that have been laid bare by Covid-19. Covid-19 could become the great equalizer, resurrecting the value of remoteness … a value enhanced by 21st Century technology that allows the benefits of instantaneous communication, computer connectivity and delivery services to apply as far as workplaces choose to permit – for example, the imminent impact that drone-delivery, personal-service robots, self-driving vehicles, and virtual entertainment will significantly improve the quality of Great Middle life for those who choose to live and work remotely. A Federally-driven 5G network would mark a significant advance in bridging the gap …, and in ending the Great Bifurcation.

Advances in technology such as 5G were supposed to decentralize American cities, rendering the over-concentration of urbanized workers obsolete and returning hardworking Big Blue Americans to mix with their Great Middle brethren. That didn’t happen before Covid-19. It can now.

America’s Great Middle is in desperate need of the economic renaissance that the injection of people, jobs, consumption and ideas necessarily would create through the arrival of Big Blue refugees migrant. In Texas and North Dakota, for example, the combination of Covid-19 and the Great Oil Bust are devastating the two most successful of Great Middle States. Thanks to modern drilling technology, shale oil transformed America from the world’s largest oil consumer into the world’s Number 1 oil producer. Covid-19 and the Great Oil Bust are reducing America’s oil production from almost 13 million barrels/day to ~2 million/day, a reduction expected to last well into 2021. That crash in American oil production will have its greatest domestic impact on Texas and North Dakota. Without economic injections, they will shrivel … and drag a great many of the have-nots down with them.

The economic divide between the Big Blues and the Great Middle can shrink. It needs to shrink … from a far-too-wide margin … and with it America’s political, cultural and social schism. That schism was shrinking even before Covid-19 because of Salt – the 2017 repeal of State and Local Tax deductions. High-earning white-collar workers live primarily in the Big Blues. One of the rationales for the SALT repeal was to eliminate the Federal tax benefit conferred on those higher earners and thereby place residents of the Big Blues in the same position as those in the Great Middle by reducing their post-tax economic differences …, but the surprising effect thus far has been to encourage those high-earners to relocate to lower-tax States. Workplace remoting will further encourage that Migration.

The success of businesses in the Big Blues came from attracting the best and the brightest. The newfound benefits of remote working will increase the reservoir of talent available to businesses, a benefit for America and for all Americans. It has the added potential of lowering the costs of doing business – office space, overhead and salaries. One consequence of such a rising economic tide would be de-urbanization … and the flow of business, jobs and wealth to the Great Middle. State and local governments in the Big Blues so far are responding by increasing their spending, which will lead the haves who can relocate to move their homes and businesses to States in America’s Great Middle – and primarily to those States that impose lower taxes while maintaining a strong infrastructure.

America’s cities over the last several decades have drawn further and further away from their rural cousins economically, politically, culturally and socially. That Great Bifurcation has not served the economic, political, cultural or social needs of America or Americans. A successful “United” States needs to be united. A Federally-led Covid-19 Infrastructure and Rebuilding Plan could create precisely the bridge to unity that America desperately needs.

Finally (from a good friend)

Paraprosdokians are figures of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected and is frequently humorous.

1. Where there’s a will, I want to be in it.
2. The last thing I want to do is hurt you … but it’s still on my list.
3. Since light travels faster than sound, some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
4. If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong.
5. We never really grow up — we only learn how to act in public.
6. War does not determine who is right, only who is left.
7. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
8. To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.
9. I didn’t say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.
10 In filling out an application, where it says, “In case of emergency, notify… “ I answered “ a doctor.”
11. Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut and still think they are sexy.
12. You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.
13. I used to be indecisive, but now I’m not so sure.
14. To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.
15. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian, any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.
16. You’re never too old to learn something stupid.
17. I’m supposed to respect my elders, but it’s getting harder and harder for me to find one now.

*┬® Copyright 2020 by William Natbony. All rights reserved.

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