COVID-19 Should Inspire Us to Engineer a Better Future for Everyone

COVID-19 is an incredible tragedy, one that even if not avoidable, could have been handled exponentially better.  However, the story of COVID-19 and its impact on society is not just in the preparations we now take to prevent a future pandemic, but in whether we take this opportunity to shape our culture  and future in ways that are more equitable, more productive, and more successful for the wide array of stakeholders in our country. From those most vulnerable, to small and medium businesses, to large corporations and non-profits, all boats can rise in the tragic tide of our times.

Periods of massive crisis have bred periods of incredible unity and opportunity throughout our history.  Companies ranging from the largest to the smallest are pledging substantial resources to do their part.  Luxury retailers are sewing PPE and making sanitizer; profitable corporations are offering ad space and grants, as well as direct financial support; even our struggling legislative system is coming to the table with real, impactful programs that economists agree are necessary for us to move forward.

As we face this crisis, we recognize the American story is also one of turning tragedy into triumph, no matter how great the loss.  Fort Sumter led to the elimination of slavery.  World War I gave birth to a nascent global peace system.  World War II brought women into the workplace, the foundation of integration, and even our modern infrastructure, from concrete freeways to digital highways and the internet. 

This crisis provides an unprecedented opportunity not just to “see” what innovation develops, but to engineer it.  We can build the country we want to be. 

Imagine if at the height of World War II, Roosevelt had issued an executive order mandating that because women were so needed in the workplace, all federal contracts required equal pay to incentivize those same women to enter factories for the first time.  Barely an eye would have blinked – we had far bigger crises on our hand, like the fate of the entire free world.  At the same time, such a move would have laid the foundation for success in a gender and pay inequality battle that we are still fighting 80 years later.

What if our government established a policy to allow for private corporations’ repatriation of assets, as long as they invested a substantial portion of them domestically?  Or if we established renters’ protections nationally, preventing unjustified evictions by landlords, and renters being priced out of their neighborhoods? Simultaneously we could also incentivized owners with greater financial benefits for creating multi-family residences in the most housing-strapped neighborhoods.  Imagine if we used the innovation driving the single most critical enterprise—the search for a treatment and a cure—to create a system where drug companies faced restrictions on marketing and patent manipulation, while also fostering greater incentives for R&D like longer patents for legitimate innovation. 

History has taught us that this will be a time of change – but for the first time, we should also have the foresight and experience to realize we can choose some of that change.  We can help determine a path and a future that benefits both the right and the left, as well as those most in need and those with resources, if we just have the courage to do so.

These are just a few sample policies.  There are hundreds more available to us.  All would serve a much-needed purpose now, and lay the foundation for a more equitable and fairer future for people throughout the country.  No one would, or should, question policies that deliver help now while also fostering a brighter tomorrow.

We face a choice to allow our fate to choose us, or to engineer one that works best for every citizen and stakeholder in America, not just our own favorite constituencies or interest groups, no matter how noble or corporate. We can and should demonstrate our better selves, not just to serve today, but to build tomorrow.

COVID-19 may have taken us by surprise, but our future, and the change the pandemic brings, should not.