Repair the broken bits

Déjà Voodoo

A mere 12 years after the 2008 financial crisis, we’re back once again with another crisis that will kneecap an entire generation of young workers.

These young people did nothing wrong themselves, but were unfortunate enough to have been a certain age at a particular time when the old people in power were too busy covering up their misdeeds with chaos, stacking the courts in their favor, & profiting from distractions.

This time around, the crisis will be worse. Much worse.

Even as we attempt to respond to our worsening crisis, we must prepare for the next viral outbreak, or else it won’t be long before we have another pandemic on our hands.

Despite wishful thinking to the contrary, this current epidemic will be felt for a long time. This is particularly true when you consider the impact that pandemics have on mental health & substance abuse; the staggering levels of risky corporate debt (the ocean of corporate debt is currently valued at 74 trillion US dollars); and the fact that millennials are facing their second once-in-a-lifetime downturn precisely as they had started to recover from the last crisis.

Millennials, along with “Gen Z”, are loaded up on debt from a young age, with much of their 1.6 trillion in student loans denominated in the most toxic form of debt permitted by law. Meanwhile, a labor crisis looms, with automation replacing jobs that five years ago seemed completely out of reach of the machines.

In response to the the coming economic crisis, the Federal Reserve is injecting a million dollars every second into the economy, breaking records from the 1970s. Mountains of debt are being manufactured on top of the mountains of it we already had in the first place. It is likely the the poor will get squeezed for cash by lenders who suddenly require more of it to service their own loan payments.

Very simply put, we are no more ready for this crisis than we were the last one. And we’re no more ready for the next crisis than we were for Covid-19.

What happened?

What went wrong? How did we get here? Again? This soon after 2008?

Where do you even start?

Do you begin with something like the Panama Papers, and the ways that legal loopholes enable risky behavior like trafficking people and exotic animals? Or perhaps you could start with globalization, and systemic risks that fester year over year as they are ignored by those who benefit most from the global economy?

Do you maybe start with the fact that the United States has the world’s most expensive healthcare and mediocre results to show for it? Could you start by talking about inequality, and how our healthcare system contributes to it?

Measurement & empathy, under pressure

More than any one failure or series of failures by a few people, our current crisis is the result of decades of problems stacking slowly on top of one another and piling up into a crisis with tons of pressure behind it.

It doesn’t really matter where it started. “Blame” is going to require costly and time-consuming accounting.

You get what you measure, and incentives in the market for short-term thinking have often pushed leaders towards risky behavior in exchange for short-term valuation bumps. Now, with global supply and demand completely turned on its head, unicorns like Uber, Lyft, and AirBnB are crumbling, leaving their partners stranded on the doorsteps of taxpayers and governments.

The human costs of our short-term thinking are not new, but the outbreak paints in stark terms how inhumane our progress has been at times, and how unsustainable.

Our prisons have become profit centers. Medical debt drives millions into poverty every year. Pharmaceutical companies push opiate addictions onto medical patients to maximize their profits. We’re working harder than ever, sleeping less, and worrying more. And unpredictable events like extreme weather have become more common for all of us, regardless of where we live.

The broken bits

Our problems are many, and there are no magic wands that are going to solve them. This isn’t going to go away just because we’ve elected a new leader, or because this current crisis subsides for a little while. We must rebuild, and we must reimagine a great deal of what we have built so far.

As we go, let’s do away with the illusion that things will ever “go back to normal” again. They can’t, won’t, and shouldn’t. We have no choice but to rebuild, and to repair the broken bits that are putting all of us at risk of never ending crises.

Photo by Justus Menke on Unsplash