Whenever we in the U.S. and elsewhere are able safely to leave the restrictions of the COVID-19 Pandemic, we, in my opinion, will not return to what we regarded as “normal” before this pandemic. Nor do we know what the “new normal” will be. A previous post discussed noted commentator Fareed Zakaria’s opinion on this subject.
Now we look at another vision of the new normal from Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist, author and native Minnesotan.
He opens with this blockbuster, “When we emerge from this corona crisis, we’re going to be greeted with one of the most profound eras of Schumpeterian creative destruction ever — which this pandemic is both accelerating and disguising.” Indeed, “No job, no K-12 school, no university, no factory, no office will be spared. And it will touch both white-collar and blue-collar workers, which is why this election matters so much. How we provide more Americans with portable health care, portable pensions and opportunities for lifelong learning to get the most out of this moment and cushion the worst is what politics needs to be about after Nov. 3 — or we’re really headed for instability.”
“The reason the post-pandemic era will be so destructive and creative is that never have more people had access to so many cheap tools of innovation, never have more people had access to high-powered, inexpensive computing, never have more people had access to such cheap credit — virtually free money — to invent new products and services, all as so many big health, social, environmental and economic problems need solving.”
Friedman gains support for these startling predictions from Ravi Kumar, the president of Infosys, an Indian tech services company with his office in New York City and corporate headquarters in Bangalore.
According to Kumar, “the Industrial Revolution produced a world in which there were sharp distinctions between employers and employees, between educators and employers and between governments and employers and educators, ‘but now you’re going to see a blurring of all these lines.’”
“Because the pace of technological change, digitization and globalization just keeps accelerating, two things are happening at once: the world is being knit together more tightly than ever . . . and ‘the half-life of skills is steadily shrinking.’ As a result, whatever skill you possess today is being made obsolete faster and faster.”
Therefore, “the most critical role for K-12 educators . . . will be to equip young people with the curiosity and passion to be lifelong learners who feel ownership over their education. . . . self-motivation to be a lifelong learner will be paramount.”
Moreover, “explained Kumar, accelerations in digitization and globalization are steadily making more work ‘modular,’’ broken up into small packets that are farmed out by companies. Companies, he argues, will increasingly become platforms that synthesize and orchestrate these modular packets to make products and services.”
“Kumar added, ‘work will increasingly get disconnected from companies, and jobs and work will increasingly get disconnected from each other.’’ Some work will be done by machines; some will require your physical proximity in an office or a factory; some will be done remotely; and some will be just a piece of a task that can also be farmed out to anyone, anywhere.”
These changes will enable “many more diverse groups of people — those living in rural areas, minorities, stay-at-home moms and dads and those with disabilities — . . . to compete for it from their homes.”
All of these changes are “already having a big impact on education. ‘We have started hiring many people with no degrees,’’ explained Kumar. ‘If you know stuff and can demonstrate that you know stuff and have been upskilling yourself with online training to do the task that we need, you’re hired. We think this structural shift — from degrees to skills — could bridge the digital divide as the cost of undergraduate education has increased by 150 percent over the last 20 years.’’’
Today Kumar’s company, Infosys, “is not looking just for ‘problem solvers,’ he says, but ‘problem-finders,’ people with diverse interests — art, literature, science, anthropology — who can identify things that people want before people even know they want them.”
Kumar also claims, ‘We’re seeing the democratization of software — the consumers can now be the creators.’ It shows you how AI will take away jobs of the past, while it creates jobs of the future.”
Significant changes are in store for postsecondary education. According to Kumar, it “will be a hybrid ecosystem of company platforms, colleges and local schools, whose goal will be to create the opportunity for lifelong ‘radical reskilling.’” Already some companies like Infosys, IBM and AT&T are “creating cutting-edge in-house universities that partner with traditional universities and even high schools.
Wow! What a lot of thoughts to ponder and evaluate! Comments with informed reactions to this Friedman column are encouraged.
As a retired, older individual, I have mixed reactions. On the one hand, I am glad that I will not have to face these changes in my own life. On the other hand, I regret not being able to be around for many more years to help in some small ways society, my sons and grandchildren cope with these challenges.
 Pandemic Journal (#31): What Will Be the New Normal?, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 6, 2020).
 Friedman, After the Pandemic, a Revolution in Education and Work Awaits, N.Y. Times (Oct. 20, 2020)
 This Friedman passage refers to the famous concept of “creative destruction” by Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950), an Austrian political economist, who emigrated to the U.S. to become a professor at Harvard University. His 1942 book, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, argued that capitalistic economies proceeded by creative new processes, products and structures that destroyed the preceding ones. (See Joseph Schumpeter, Wikipedia; Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, Wikipedia; Creative destruction, Wikipedia.
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Other Notions of a New Normal
Two prominent columnists—David Brooks of the New York Times and David Ignatius of the Washington Post –have offered perspectives on what the new normal after the end of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Brooks’ big idea is political: “The Democrats won the big argument of the 20th century. It’s not that everybody has become a Democrat, but even many Republicans are now embracing basic Democratic assumptions. Americans across the board fear economic and physical insecurity more than an overweening state. The era of big government is here.” This is due to the pandemic making “Americans feel vulnerable and more likely to support government efforts to reduce that vulnerability.”
Brooks concludes that there has been “a vigorous debate[in the U.S.] over the role of government, “but the liberal welfare state won — a robust capitalist economy combined with generous social support.”
Ignatius offers his observations on aspects of what the new normal will be after the end of the COVID-19 Pandemic:
• Many corporate executives believe whenever the COVID-19 Pandemic is over, “we’ll have a ‘new normal’ that will look and feel different from the way we were living before.”
• The “consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found that companies had shifted to remote work more than 40 times faster than they expected possible. Interactions with customers for North American companies are now 65 percent digital, compared to 41 percent pre-crisis. Changes made to cope with the pandemic — like moving to cloud computing or online purchasing — are ‘likely to stick in the long term.’”
• Another report “from McKinsey found that Americans were spending more on groceries, household supplies and home entertainment and less on almost everything else. Seventy-five percent said they had changed their shopping behavior, and most said they planned to continue.”
• “Americans may demand a stronger social safety net, post-pandemic. A September report by the Pew Research Center found that 63 percent of Americans agreed it is the ‘government’s responsibility to make sure all Americans have health care coverage,’ compared with 59 percent a year ago.” (That is not a very big change.)
• “The covid-19 pandemic has inflicted post-traumatic stress on adults and children, which may persist.”
• “A cruel aspect of the pandemic is that it has harmed minority groups most and exacerbated America’s racial and economic inequalities.”
• The pandemic “seems to be deepening . . . [America’s] commitment to a diverse and sustainable “ country.
Brooks, How Democrats Won the War of Ideas, N.Y. Times (Oct. 23, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/22/opinion/democrats-republicans-big-government.html
Ignatius, There’s no question we’ll be living in a different world post-pandemic, Wash. Post (Oct. 8, 2020), https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/theres-no-question-well-be-living-in-a-different-world-post-pandemic/2020/10/08/7e66e234-09a4-11eb-a166-dc429b380d10_story.html.