These are the most difficult days for Cities in America, ever. Daily, we see the symptoms of their struggle with crime, the homeless, and the drug-addled on their squalid sidewalks. The internet is full of videos of the “trank” addicted in Philadelphia, the muggings and fights on New York Subways, and the “Shooting galleries” in San Francisco. It’s not a pretty picture. Most of us, myself included, are overwhelmed by the human degradation of these suffering people.
To think that all of this has happened in just three years! There can be little doubt that the country has been let down by its leadership. Poorly conceived and barely planned strategies were implemented to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
It didn’t have to be like this.
American political leaders, from the President on down, have the most sophisticated planning models in the world at their fingertips. They are manned by some of the best-trained, most well-educated researchers and technicians.
All are on staff at places like the US Treasury Department, the Congressional Budget Office, and even the Federal Reserve, where, if memory serves, there are nearly a thousand Ph.D. Researchers. And, if that weren’t enough, these leaders could have, and should have, reached out to any of the many world-class research universities and “think tanks.”
All of these people and organizations would have been more than willing to come to the aid of the Government. Our politicians’ radical new policies could have been “played out” in the computer labs nationwide long before they were employed.
But, by all accounts, that was never done. Instead, a very close group operating within the Administration “shot from the hip” and mandated policies and procedures that had never seen the light of day before.
Chief among these was the “Economic Lockdown.” For the first time in history (outside of Communist China, which was acting simultaneously), an entire population, not just those who showed the symptoms of illness, were quarantined.
Vast swaths of the population were told to remain at home. Fortunately, unlike the Chinese, we didn’t weld people in their homes. Additionally, many businesses were deemed “non-essential” and forced to close their doors. What were the criteria to determine essential versus non-essential? We don’t know. It was a random determination by some power-mad local politicians free of any basis in science or logic.
The results of all these draconian actions were predictable and could have been anticipated by any of the country’s myriad of economists and researchers.
However, the economic result was a free fall. What could you expect from such a massive lockdown? In that dreadful second quarter of 2020, the economy essentially stopped, falling at an annual rate of 32% — the most significant decline in our history. And make no mistake, these lockdown policies and quarantines were the origins of the troubles we see today in our cities.
The small businesses and tiny services that held our great cities together were compelled to shut their doors. That little coffee shop on the corner? Non-essential, close it down, said the authorities. And so a mom-and-pop business that for years had served coffee and snacks to those who worked in the massive office building ceased.
For the locals, it was an inconvenience, a small step that made going to work more of a chore. But for the city, it is an open doorway, an abandoned space, that the indigent and the homeless would now fill. A spot where junkies could get high, and prostitutes could ply their trade. It was the first small step toward the city’s deterioration.
And things were pretty much the same in that shiny new glass and steel skyscraper behind the coffee shop. Up there, workers were required to stay home to work “virtually.” Multistory buildings were virtually abandoned.
Many workers adapted quickly. They found that “working” in their “jammies,” without the need to commute or dress up, was preferable to the old system. Today, companies have struggled to bring employees back to the office. Such well-known brands as Apple Computer, Amazon, Blackrock, and JP Morgan now require workers to show up in person at least part of the week. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for even these mega companies to require 40 hours in the office.
Many consider this a simple matter of personal preference: “I should be allowed to work wherever I want,” goes their thinking. They miss the reality that much of what happens in a well-functioning society is due to social norms and conventions. At its peak, America was built on a series of these conventions. Over multiple years, thousands of businesses discovered that their workers could be more productive working together in an office.
It’s not a whim from the office manager. It’s a tried and true strategy that has allowed the country to build the world’s most robust, most efficient economy.
The American free-enterprise system measures each step in every company’s production or service process. It’s what we call profitability. Most businesses have found that office workers produce better results when they work together in an office. It results in higher corporate performance, i.e., profits. While there are exceptions to this rule, workers coming together in community work best in most companies. If it didn’t, companies wouldn’t bear the tremendous costs of providing a suitable office space for those employees.
WHAT LIES AHEAD
That’s a brief rendition of the past three years. We need to understand that much of the pain and suffering of today’s cities are directly due to extremely detrimental public policy. While we may argue the plus and minuses of the lockdown as a medical strategy, there can be no argument that, as an economic policy, it was a total disaster. Those policies of quarantine and lockdown have set many of our cities on a track toward complete deterioration.
Unfortunately, what we see today may be only the beginning of a story that is now playing out, the ramifications of which need to be addressed.
Part Two will follow.
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