We now have a system that forces would-be parents to think of their children as a cost and not an asset. Yet these children are quite literally the most valuable asset that any country could possibly possess, writes Gladden Pappin.
Consider a moment in the not too distant future. The global COVID-19 outbreak is a distant memory, but the generation affected by it is only now coming of age. The regimen of online learning and social distancing wasn’t quick to fade, even though the virus petered out soon enough. While most adults had returned to normal life, children had no other conception of what “normal” was. When schools returned, students who were ten could no longer remember life before masks and social distancing. In the pivotal years for learning human interaction, they had plunged headfirst into the online world; they set a new standard for the meaning of “digital native.” And now that ten years had passed by, the cohort whose adolescence had been locked down were at their debut. To everyone who watched them, the truth was painfully evident. They did not know who they were; they did not know where they were from; they did not know what to say; they did not know what to do.
Already today, in 2021, there is talk of a post-coronavirus “baby bust”—not simply because of economic collapse but also because of the collapse of human interaction, the suspension in many places of socializing, festivals, and countless other elements of the natural human background. For a certain sector of economic actors, these changes have been beneficial, indeed positively good. Kept in their houses, people have no option other than to consume media and communicate through social media platforms, while ordering food and consumer products online for delivery. None of the changes to our way of life in the last year fosters the family formation that modern society depends upon for future economic success.
At the same time, the home itself has become more economically important. Once a place to rest one’s head, the home has become a workplace as well as school. While many industries expect to bring their workers back to the office, the trends toward remote work and distance learning were rapidly accelerated. As Michael Lind observed last fall, this shift offers a rare opportunity for reorienting American economic growth, at least partially, around family-centered and home-centered activities. Whether we like it or not, the trend toward working from home accelerated over the last year, and even a significant recovery in normal, office-based working conditions will still leave us with a substantial shift in the work-from-home direction.