Dalton Delan | The Unspin Room: Setting the stage for a brighter future

The Unspin Room

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WESTPORT, Conn.— With 2020 hindsight, a decade from now, we will want to look back not in anger and anxiety, but in relief and recognition that we struggled past the present precipice and worked for a better world our children inherit. In these dystopian days of social distancing and incautious re-openings in impatient states, it is hard to think of a silver lining, but let's at least search for some antiviral copper.

The so-called "gig economy" was always more promise than proof of purchase. The price of flexibility and the lure of being one's own boss has been financial insecurity, unaffordable health care, and a gossamer-thin social safety net. The already permeable barrier between a Puritan work ethic and recharging time off the clock is a losing proposition when bills are due. Talk to an out-of-work restaurant cook or server, retail clerk or driver for Uber or Lyft.

Andrew Yang was ahead of his time. The CARES Act stimulus checks and Paycheck Protection Program, for those who could get or use them, were but a down-payment. We have Depression-era unemployment with no end in sight. Many will not be rehired. We need FDR's WPA to put people to work on infrastructure. A next Congress will face a younger electorate for whom universal basic income, health care that everyone can afford and access, and workplace child-care may seem less socialist. They may see the virus as a harbinger of climate calamity. And we will need to address student-loan debt so a next generation can gain the education necessary for the country to compete.

The war of commerce is over and Amazon has won: it is more cost, time and energy-efficient to deliver goods to our homes than to pave the parking lots and pay the rents of malls and storefronts. There will always be things we may prefer to shop for in person, from clothing to cabbage, but even then many will opt for big boxes at the door versus big-box stores. The mauling of retail by the virus will trump the malls of America.

Mass gathering-places such as movie theaters and concert halls will yield ground to virtual platforms for experiencing entertainment. Streaming services are already big winners, from behemoths such as Netflix and Amazon Prime to brand expansions such as Disney+ and HBO Max, which launches this month. Jeff Katzenberg's mobile-only Quibi, with its ill-timed April ad blitz, challenges our appetite for short-form content. Cloud-based videogaming services such as Xbox Game Pass, which just hit ten million subscribers, will complete the cable and hardware cord-cutting by Millennial and Gen Z consumers.

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Environmental concerns and forced indoctrination into the ease of video-conferencing technology will alter forever our over-indulgence in flitting about the country and the world, or even the city, for physical face-to-face meetings. Planes, trains, cars and hotels will take a lasting hit and recalibrate for an even more electronically linked society. Now that we have Zoom, FaceTime, Google and Teams for meetings and virtual cocktail parties, why go anywhere? It's a lot easier to exit a virtual event than an in-person one. Fewer of us will need to live where we work. We will save money, energy and time — our most precious resource.

Another critical learning from the plague year will be that the planet is irrevocably intertwined; no amount of populist prevarication can alter that fact by fiat or assault on the news. If a bat flaps its wings in Wuhan, we feel the breeze from Seattle to the Big Apple and everywhere else in between. If we have a lick of sense, we will invest in international collaborations that jump the borders of politics and patents, rather than going it alone.

Tax on the ultra-rich will not escape scrutiny. During World War II the top rate was 94 percent, and in the early 1950s it was still 92 percent, while the economy was going gangbusters. Billionaires pay a fraction of that now. The differential between workers and CEOs has gone from 20-fold in 1965 to nearly 300-fold today. Put that in your Ayn Rand.

The 21st century didn't really begin in 2000. It starts now, when the tendencies in slow-motion for 20 years have accelerated instantaneously. Looking back from a 2030 that restores hope, we will be thankful that we did not lose ourselves in the desperate moment, but recognized the signs and directions of a more utopian future. In 2020 hindsight, we must find the blessings disguised by a deadly virus and a lack of preparation. More than survive, we have to adapt and evolve so as to thrive.

"I may not get there with you," said Martin Luther King, Jr., but as a species, we must rise to the occasion and deliver our children to the land we promised, a vastly different but still-shining city on a hill.

Dalton Delan can be followed on twitter @UnspinRoom He has won Emmy, Peabody and duPont-Columbia awards for his work as a television producer.


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