When is a recovery not a recovery?

Every hand at work, no one locked out and no one left out is what a real recovery will look like…

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

In the late fall of 2008 I was on my home from work and listening to one of the NPR affiliate stations. I had gotten into the habit of following one of their BBC news programs. In his droll, BBC manner, the news anchor opened his report with the phrase “With the collapse of global capitalism….”

What became known as “The Great Recession” began here in the USA in September of 2008. It was, at first, a wave of home mortgage foreclosures and loan defaults. The wave turned into an onslaught, and the onslaught turned into a tsunami.

Millions of homeowners across America, even those with a large equity in their homes lost them. Houses and apartments sat empty. Some, even in expensive neighborhoods, for years.

It was a recession that seemed to hit everyone.

The good news was that it was just a recession; the economy dropped dramatically, hit bottom, and steadily, if frustratingly slowly, made its way back up.

We had the longest economic recovery in US history – over 120 months –https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidmarotta/2020/01/21/longest-economic-expansion-in-united-states-history/?sh=3ed6a6d662a2.

And then, as we all know too well, in March of 2020, everything changed. Not only did our economic conventions change, our conventional understanding and principles changed.

Anyone remember that old financial proverb “A rising tide raises all boats”? In 2020 that reliable saying expired past its shelf-life. The “rising tide” raised some boats and swamped and sank others.

As the 2020 economy progressed, some businesses expanded dramatically, other business or entire industries, even vast categories of industries, like entertainment, travel and hospitality, floundered if not imploded. Some even wondering if they will ever return.

There was nothing conventional about this recession – or its recovery.

Economic talking heads struggled to define and find models and metaphors for the 2020 financial landscape – was it a “V” -shaped recovery – as was the 2008-09 recession – or was it a “W” (as in double-dip recovery)?

Or was it something else.

It turns out that it was something else.

Financial mavens came up with the term “K” to define the recovery; up for some, and down for some. I would argue, that, as accurate as it might be as a metaphor, a “K” shaped recovery is not a recovery. In fact I would submit that our entire landscape has changed, and will continue to change.

Here’s what I mean. Do you picture your life looking anything like it did in 2019? In 2019, my wife and I routinely went out to dinner two or three times a week. Will we do that again? Almost certainly not.

In 2019 I went to probably one large concert or staged event each month. Will we do that ever again? Not likely. We used to go to a movie theater at least once a month. Will we do that again? Probably not.

I’m not sure why we won’t, but I just can’t picture us wanting to. The way we look at our time, as well as budgets, has changed completely.

This economy, and its repercussions, has not just changed the economy, it has changed who we are.

Who of us, for example, looks forward to any event with crowds or long lines?

Will large concerts “pencil out” ever again? It’s difficult for many of us to imagine life without them, but large concert venues are a relatively recent phenomenon. Unlike sports, concerts and cultural events were, before the mid 1970s, held in mid-sized theaters, clubs, halls and performing art centers – not massive stadiums.

I, for one, would love to see and experience concerts at a far smaller scale – a few hundred seats instead of several thousand.

The Beatles concert in Shea Stadium in 1965, was not only their last live concert, but essentially the birth, or at least conception of, what became known as stadium or arena rock. These mass music events literally defined an era. I am convinced that their absence will define the era to come.

Spending far too much to hear a band you can barely see is an experience few of us will miss.

Maybe the future will hold more concerts either live-streamed or some combination of intimate club setting and streaming.

It seems likely that fewer and fewer of us will find driving across town, or even to another city to catch a concert worth doing – or paying for.

Those massive concert venues themselves are immensely expensive to build and maintain – and fill.

And they, like shopping malls, have, almost overnight, become near-obsolete.

Will any of us flock, as we might have year or two ago, to malls and stadiums as we did almost routinely?

Will those massive venues, and their sprawling parking lots, and traffic jams, still hold their appeal?

My educated guess is that they won’t.

Shopping online has become our new routine. Streaming at home has become the medium of choice for watching movies and videos.

Even major film festivals from Cannes to Sundance (among many others) have turned to streaming. Will we ever go back?

Even those dreaded Zoom meetings – when it comes to international travel, or convenience or even meeting the demands of a restricted budget, which is a more practical and better use of resources – travel and accommodations, not to mention the near-traumatic upheaval of jet-lag recovery; a face-to-face meeting or video-conferencing?

We will emerge in a very different landscape, with very different challenges and opportunities, and even different language and metaphors as we make sense of it all.

The rules, guidelines and principles of previous eras will almost certainly not match the demands, challenges and opportunities of what waits for us.

Monthly meetings will probably turn into monthly video meetings, with perhaps a quarterly or even annual face-to-face meeting.

The digital divide will certainly become more defined.

After 2020 the divide will be between those who can master or perhaps even tolerate Zoom or any of its correlates or descendants and those who cannot.

Technology will dictate who is on the upward arm of the “K” and who is on the downward leg.

There will be even less and less of us in the middle.

If you think of the middle as being the average or the mean, in a healthy society, a solid, stable middle-class would be the center of gravity, but with no solid and self-sustaining core, our economic and political disparity will only increase, if not accelerate.

Equality of opportunity in every aspect is to the benefit of every one of us.

Every hand at work, no one locked out and no one left out is what a real recovery will look like.

Instead of a “K,” maybe a better letter would be “X” – with two feet firmly planted, and two arms reaching up – or even better; a chain of letters, each one reaching to the next and the next and the next like this- XXXXX – with no breaks in the chain.

A chain, after all, is only as strong as its weakest link. If we want an economy that works, and stays working, we need every link in place and solid.

This isn’t a dream, it’s a necessity.