We’re currently in a very dark period of the pandemic with surging infections and rising deaths. Not only are most of us social distancing, wearing masks, avoiding crowded places, and using virtual alternatives to IRL whenever possible, we also have to forego many family get-togethers and holiday rituals. And although New Year’s Eve will be a time to celebrate the passing of 2020 and the coming of hopefully a better year, the celebrations will be very subdued in size.
And for anyone working in or owning a C2B location-based business, whether a retail store, a restaurant, a location-based entertainment venue, or service business, these are very bleak and stressful financial times. People just aren’t visiting like they used to; sometimes not at all based on government restrictions.
No one can say how long this severe phase of the pandemic will last. Indications are that until hopefully sometime later in 2021, when there are widespread enough inoculations with the coronavirus vaccines to reach herd immunity, we will still be living in this very changed, alien world.
Then for a few years after that, we will be recovering from the pandemic’s disruptions, including a continuing recession. The current employment situation is far worse than what the official government unemployment statistics would have us believe. The true rate calculated by the Ludwig Institute combines both unemployment and underemployment – the percentage of the U.S. labor force that does not have a full-time job (35+ hours a week) but wants one, has no job, or does not earn a living wage, conservatively pegged at $20,000 a year before taxes (basically $10/hour), was 25.5% last month.
Hopefully, by around 2024, the economy and unemployment will have mostly recovered. We should return to a ‘normal,’ but in a world with many changes, including the new and accelerated changes to our behaviors brought on by the coronavirus.
If history is a guide, we should eventually make it to our own Roaring 20s when consumption and out-of-home socialization will come back with a vengeance. History shows us that periods of plague-driven austerity and isolation have often been followed by periods of liberal spending, public socialization, and merriment.
Agnolo di Tura del Grasso, a shoemaker and tax collector, produced a chronicle of the 1348 Black Death in Siena, Italy, solidly based on observation and the consultation of public records. “And then, when the pestilence abated, all who survived gave themselves over to pleasures: monks, priests, nuns, and laymen and women all enjoyed themselves, and none worried about spending and gambling. And everyone thought himself rich because he had escaped and regained the world, and no one knew how to allow himself to do nothing.”
In his recently released book Apollo’s Arrow about the impact of the coronavirus on the way we live, Nicholas Christakis draws on long-forgotten pandemics to remind us of a crucial thing: this too shall pass (I highly recommend his book). He says that societies usually go on a spending spree when the austerity of a pandemic panic lifts.
Nicholas writes in his book: “If the Roaring Twenties following the 1918 pandemic is a guide, the increased religiosity and abstemiousness of the immediate and intermediate periods could give way to increased expressions of risk-taking, intemperance and joie de vivre in the post-pandemic period. . . People will relentlessly seek opportunities for social mixing on a larger scale at sporting events, concerts, and political rallies.”
Somehow, despite a global flu pandemic that killed 675,000 Americans in 1918 and 1919, and a depression that gutted the economy in 1920 and 1921, the United States not only recovered but entered into a decade of unprecedented growth and prosperity. Americans began a spending spree – the Roaring Twenties was on. The 1918 virus that killed more people than the deadliest war humanity had hitherto experienced did not reduce humanity’s determination to socialize. After years of isolation, of being afraid to hug and kiss their loved ones, of being separated by war, people went absolutely apeshit. F. Scott Fitzgerald, the patron saint of the Roaring Twenties, said it best: “A whole race going hedonistic, deciding on pleasure.”
Anistatia Miller, a British-based drinks historian, gave this prediction: “One thing we have learned from the 1918 flu pandemic, its precursor the Black Death, and [are] beginning to see from today’s Covid-19 pandemic, is that when it’s over, people will see-saw from isolation into some form of mega-socialization once again.”
Until we make it to our 21st Century roaring 20s, there will be a lot of carnage to brick-and-mortar consumer businesses, especially those that offer an out-of-home socialization experience such as restaurants and location-based entertainment. For those that can survive through the next few years, there will be good times ahead. We’re human. We evolved and are biologically programmed to seek IRL socialization.
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