Who Will Prosper After the Plague?

From The Tablet:  https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/kotkin-coronavirus-feudalism

The tech sector and the managerial class will get richer, while the rest of us become their serfs

by Joel Kotkin
April 13, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to widen even further the growing class divides now found in virtually every major country. By disrupting smaller grassroots businesses while expanding the power of technologies used in the enforcement of government edicts, the virus could further empower both the tech oligarchs and the “expert” class leading the national response to the crisis.

In our increasingly feudal society, the small property owning yeomanry who operate the local businesses essential to Los Angeles shopping streets, and New York neighborhoods are already under threat and will be squeezed further by both the pandemic and its aftermath. But even more hard-pressed will be the growing, propertyless serf class that includes laid-off workers and the roughly 50 to 60 million workers in essential jobs, notes a new report from Richard Florida, and of those, 35 to 40 million require close physical proximity as opposed to those who can retreat to safety behind their computers. Roughly 70% of these workers are in low-wage professions, such as food preparation, and often, despite their increased risk, often lack health insurance from their employers.

Plagues, such as in the 14th century, may have wiped out as much as one third of Europe’s population, and devastated great Renaissance trading cities. In the Middle Ages, the wealthy sought safety in their country estates, much like the affluent now fleeing major European and American cities. Diets and survival rates varied enormously between the upper and lower classes. As one 14th-century observer noted, the plague “attacked especially the meaner sort and common people—seldom the magnates.”

But the wreckage also created new opportunities for those left standing. Abandoned tracts of land could be consolidated by rich nobles, or, in some cases, enterprising peasants, who took advantage of sudden opportunities to buy property or use chronic labor shortages to demand higher wages. “In an age where social conditions were considered fixed,” historian Barbara Tuchman has suggested, the new adjustments seemed “revolutionary.”

What might such “revolutionary” changes look like in our post-plague society? In the immediate future the monied classes in America will take a big hit, as their stock portfolios shrink, both acquisitions and new IPOs get sidetracked and the value of their properties drop. But vast opportunities for tremendous profit available to those with the financial wherewithal to absorb the initial shocks and capitalize on the disruption they cause. As in 2016, politicians in both parties have worked hard in the new stimulus to get breaks for their wealthy constituents, whether they are big retail chains, rich California taxpayers, or, in some cases, themselves.

Over time, the crisis is likely to further bolster the global oligarchal class. The wealthiest 1% already own as much as 50% of the world’s assets, and according to a recent British parliamentary study, by 2030, will expand their share to two-thirds of the world’s wealth with the biggest gains overwhelmingly concentrated at the top 0.01%.

In an era defined by “social distancing,” with digital technology replacing the analog world, the tech companies and their financial backers will prove the obvious winners. In a sign of what’s to come, tech stocks have already soared.

The biggest long-term winner of the stay-at-home trend may well be Amazon, which is hiring 100,000 new workers. But other digital industries will profit as well, including food delivery services, streaming entertainment services, telemedicine, biomedicine, cloud computing, and online education. The shift to remote work has created an enormous market for applications, which facilitate video conferencing and digital collaboration like Slack—the fastest growing business application on record—as well as Google Hangouts, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams. Other tech firms, such as Facebook, game makers like Activision Blizzard and online retailers like Chewy, suggests Morgan Stanley, also can expect to see their stock prices soar as the pandemic fades and public acceptance of online commerce and at-home entertainment grows with enforced familiarity.

Continue reading at:  https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/kotkin-coronavirus-feudalism

5 Responses to “Who Will Prosper After the Plague?”

  1. Charlie Says:

    Then maybe we should change the focus our schools and colleges from fine arts and humanities to STEM fields and trades. I’m finishing the next two years of education in trade school, which more definitely get me nice middle class job, as opposed to obtaining a bachelors degree, which may or may not. Plus, at 1/10 the price ($4000 for the program vs AT LEAST $40,000 per year if not semester?!), will be well worth it. If this pandemic does interfere into the fall, I’ll just learn progrAmming in the meantime and get certified by Microsoft and Cisco for their platforms. No formal education needed there. That’s how my sister made it after she realized psychiatry just became too much for her to study.

    • Suzan Says:

      I’m in favor of some form of national service in exchange for college tuition. But I also think we need to rethink our global priorities after this plague. Work shouldn’t be the sum total of people’s lives, shouldn’t be the sole determinant of their value. We need more pay for less work. More support for the arts.

  2. asdasd Says:

    I’m in favor of some form of national service in exchange for college tuition. But I also think we need to rethink our global priorities after this plague. Work shouldn’t be the sum total of people’s lives, shouldn’t be the sole determinant of their value. We need more pay for less work. More support for the arts.

    • Suzan Says:

      Is a baker who makes artisan bread an artist, what about the sandal maker/leather worker. While we call them sports, professional sports are entertainment as much as sport. Care givers who are more often women have been traditionally paid less even though we supposedly highly value those they take care of. Grocery clerks and big box workers have shown their value through out this.

      It seems the group which has shown how worthless it is are the paper shufflers, stock and bond traders, hedge fund operators and Wall Street scum who can’t survive without huge government handouts. Maybe they should be the ones earning minimum wages.

  3. karen Says:

    STEM unless on means tech, typically does not mean ‘the big bucks’ unless one rises into upper management… and unlike other areas, without a PhD in the physical sciences, getting jobs as more than a glorified tech in R&D is very difficult… (And PhD is field like mine typical take

    And age discrimination is particularly rampant if one stays into the lab and is not in management.

    Also for good number of years now jobs in the sciences have been as plentiful as they once were and are as insecure as most others, if not more so.

    We have a lot of people over 60 where i work… And that is not because it is a great place to work… it’s not at all… It’s because of not being able to get other jobs.

    Those who say there is a STEM labor shortage use it as short hand meaning they can not get enough visas for foreign workers who are willing to take less money than US citizens for STEM jobs that require a lot hard years of education…

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