Time to Face – and Plan for – Our Very Different Future

Most animals on the planet have no ability to conceive of the future. While some, such as squirrels, ants and pikas put away seeds, and grizzly bears lay on the fat for winter hibernation, most animals resemble grasshoppers, living in the present with no concept of the coming frost.

Humans, however, have the ability to imagine the future, plan for it and take the steps necessary to get there. Now, more than ever, we need a clear-eyed plan for the future which is likely to be significantly different than the status quo of yesterday.

One of the great foibles of the human psyche is our expectation that things will largely remain the way they have “always” been. This unfortunate myopia is particularly evident as politicians and pundits continue to talk about “getting back to normal.” And surely, most of us living under the drastically reduced social, business and domestic regimens thrust upon us by a global pandemic would gladly return to the pre-pandemic world.

But realistically, that world is no more. Our intellectually challenged president appears incapable of conceiving what a “global pandemic” means as he spews fairy tales about how it will “disappear like a miracle.” But the hard truth is that coronavirus has circled the globe and will continue to do so into what is now a truly unforeseeable future — and life won’t be “back to normal” anytime soon.

This harsh reality is becoming more inescapable by the minute. With more than 30 million Americans out of work and the Gross Domestic Product reduced by a historic 33%, our society is facing daunting challenges unheard of in recent times. In this case the fiscal shockwaves will emanate from the bottom up, not from policies set by lawmakers and officeholders.

It’s become gruesomely evident that the nation is struggling to fiscally support its hundreds of millions of citizens in their hour of greatest need. As Congress squabbles over the next “relief” bill, millions face foreclosure, eviction, loss of utilities, and bankruptcy — to say nothing about how they’ll pay the taxes on the federal unemployment funds they have already received.

Simply put, governments run on tax money and when businesses are shut, citizens are jobless, and debts continue to inexorably mount, the revenues upon which federal, state and local governments rely can no longer be taken for granted. “Death and taxes” may be certain, but the citizenry’s ability to pay those taxes is not.

While the federal government can print money, state and local governments cannot. Most states require a balanced budget where revenues meet expenditures. Yet it’s safe to say the future revenue outlook will be far gloomier than any in recent memory and the necessity to deal realistically with that situation will entail painful measures and an inescapable re-assessment of our priorities.

Can we still spend more than $2 billion a day on the military while citizens go homeless and hungry? Subsidize incredibly wealthy corporations like Boeing with billions in grants? Allow politicians to load up appropriations bills with pork projects? Probably not. And that’s just the start, not the end, of the changes we will have to make.

If there is a silver lining to our current dark cloud of a pandemic, it may be that it will force us to take a hard look in the mirror, acknowledge that yesterday is gone, and realistically plan for a future much different than our past. The upside is that humans have the ability to plan for the future — and we need it now more than ever.

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Missoulian, where this essay originally appeared.