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No path to normalcy

A “reopened” America won’t be as we remember it

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Normalcy. What would you trade to get it back? How deep into your pockets would you dive to regain the life you had just three months ago?

Forget it! It’s not only that, as North Carolina writer Thomas Wolfe said years ago, “You can’t go home again.” It’s not just that the past is a superficially or nostalgically different place. The past, we are discovering during this incredible “reopening” process, will prove to have been profoundly different in the fundamentals. But we will not be returning to those fundamentals.

Both our economy and our healthcare system, our president has assured us repeatedly, are unlike anything in human history. “And they are coming back,” he repeats—“and quite quickly.”

I’m not so sure. For two reasons, the freedoms we inherit on the other side of this tragedy will be altogether different from what we experienced coming in.

The very path being proposed to “open” our nation for business smacks of socialism.

The first reason is that we have in such large measure moved into a managed economy.

We have, in very short order, accepted some form of control by government at just about every level. For better or for worse, we are accepting the orders of our president, our governors, our mayors, and all kinds of consultants and bureaucrats in between. No need to recite here a list of all those decisions we used to make for ourselves. All you need to turn away in quiet terror is to count how many times various government entities now use the word “essential” to define their jobs.

The very path being proposed to “open” our nation for business smacks of socialism. It supposes there are people smart enough to lead us out of the fix we’re in. But why do we imagine that the best way to untangle the mess is to do the same thing over again?

The second reason our freedoms will have a vastly different look is that even the free market will exert enormous pressure to reshape so much of what we do.

This is much more nuanced than the matter of government control. Now I’m talking about choices you and I will make, options you and I will select—all resulting in finished products quite different from what we were used to before the coronavirus moved in.

Try this example—of epic proportions:

Airlines around the world, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, were—prior to the virus—typically boarding about 6 million passengers every day. By early April, that figure had fallen by as much as 80 to 90 percent, with big planes flying with mostly empty seats. But those empty seats weren’t the immediate result of government controls; indeed, government folks wanted them full! The seats were typically empty because hundreds of thousands of would-be passengers were making the decision not to fly.

After all, tell me that I’m free to fly but that I have to stay 6 feet away from every other human being, and I don’t have to be too smart to say no thanks for the ticket—even if you gave it to me! The reverberations of that conversation will echo back not just to the headquarters of that particular airline, but to Boeing aircraft factories in northwest Washington, and then to the nation’s capital where projected tax revenues look skimpier every day.

And that’s just one example. The stakes are similarly high among the more than 2,000 assisted living centers throughout the nation. When you’re told on the one hand to get close to those oldsters but on the other hand to keep your distance so you don’t kill them, you have hard choices to make. And those hard choices are on every side. But that’s to discuss in this space another time.

Another example includes a quarter million local churches that can’t help wondering what their freedom will look like on the other side of the “reopening.” That too is to be discussed in future issues, again and again.

Whatever freedoms await us just the other side of our government’s “reopening” will look unfamiliar. The “normal” we want to go back to isn’t there any more.

Joel Belz

Joel is WORLD’s founder. He contributes regular commentary for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Radio. Joel has served as editor, publisher, and CEO over three decades at WORLD and is the author of Consider These Things. Joel resides with his wife, Carol, near Asheville, N.C.


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