Rays Of Hope
A few things I’ve noticed from the sidelines of the coronavirus pandemic that suggest a new awareness is emerging.
So I’ve noticed that I haven’t been exactly optimistic these last few days and today, I’d like to change the tone. I’d like to take note of some of the good things that are coming out of this pandemic. I know it seems a bit early, but I think I need to be looking at all the good coming out of it. And I believe that a little optimism is important.
It seems like there is a bit more compassion out there these days. I see a bit more collaboration and working together. I see a more conciliatory tone in the business community. I see people getting together online to solve the problems presented by a deadly virus. In some quarters, I’m starting to notice an emphasis on humanity, empathy, and compassion.
I guess that’s what happens when we face a common threat and there is literally no silver bullet, no magic cure, no defense against the coronavirus.
We’re at least 18 months from a vaccine. We’re just beginning to start trials on drugs that could possibly help ease the suffering of those who are unfortunate enough to become infected and sick. And we’re still learning about how the virus works in the human body. We may even be seeing threads of a potential cure for the disease, COVID-19.
Of late, I’ve been noticing a change in the business community. Where before I saw “every man for himself”, I’m now seeing that businesses are becoming aware that using fear to keep your employees working can only go so far. In California, more than 1 million people have applied for unemployment benefits since the outbreak. To businesses, those people are customers. Business needs customers. If people don’t have money, they can’t be your customers.
It seems ironic then, that the elites in Washington have finally figured this out these last few weeks. They figured out that businesses need to keep people on the payroll. Yes, it will cost them dearly, but it won’t be “money for nothing”. Turnover is expensive. If the people who would be customers run out of money, then say bye-bye to your customers. Those people who could be customers will be more concerned with where the next meal will come from, not their next opportunity to buy your shiny product.
The United States Senate passed a giant economic stimulus bill for $2 trillion. The vote was unanimous. I guess no one wanted to be “that Senator who gummed up the works”. No one wanted to be remembered as someone who was against helping the American people. The bill now heads to the House where I suspect it will pass easily, but not without its detractors on the left and on the right. Even if it passes today and is signed by the president tomorrow, best estimates suggest that it may be a month or two before checks are mailed. At least they are thinking of us, even if what they send to us might not be enough to get us through the crisis.
Then I’ve noticed a few billionaires who have been thinking of us. They also seem to be aware that fleecing is really bad PR during a crisis. For example, activist investor Mark Cuban is warning American businesses not to rush their employees back to work. According to CNBC, Cuban had this to say:
“How companies respond to that very question is going to define their brand for decades. If you rushed in and somebody got sick, you were that company. If you didn’t take care of your employees or stakeholders and put them first, you were that company.”
I also noticed something else about Cuban. He’s one of the few investors calling for a ban on stock buybacks for companies that receive aid from the government. He knows that it’s tempting for the owners of a company that gets a bailout, to turn around with that money to buy their own stock.
The value of a company’s stock is dependent on the ratio of outstanding stock to the wealth generated and owned by the company. If the number of outstanding shares of company stock decreases, then the price of the stock rises. When companies buy back their stock, the stock price rises. This is great for the people who are compensated with stock options, like the CEO, the board of directors and high-level managers. It’s not so great for the workers in the company, for they have no skin in the game.
Then there is Marc Benioff, the billionaire co-founder of Salesforce. According to Business Insider:
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is calling on CEOs to take a 90-day “no layoff pledge” as part of an eight-point plan to end the coronavirus crisis.
Benioff even tweeted his own pledge not to engage in any layoffs:
Benioff is initiating a wave of employer compassion here. By pledging not to layoff anyone for at least 90 days, he is paying employees. He is calming jangled nerves. He is reminding everyone that business serves at the pleasure of the public, not the other way around.
At The Verge, they are taking notice of a change in perception of big tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon. They see an opportunity for the biggest tech companies to turn perceptions around from exploiters of data to channels of compassion. To wit:
They have donated tens of millions of dollars to relief efforts. They have contributed large stocks of precious N95 masks acquired during last year’s wildfires to medical organizations. They have added sections to their apps highlighting accurate news about COVID-19. And as unemployment surged, Facebook pledged $100 million in grants to small businesses, and Amazon said it would hire 100,000 people.
Everywhere I go with Google, Twitter and Facebook, I see links to reliable information about the coronavirus. Making such changes requires planning, coordination, and programming resources. They are not cheap, but once invested they are sunk costs that will only generate goodwill between the company and their customers.
The last bit of hope that I see is that the folks at Slashdot have noticed an interesting trend:
Social Distancing Is Slowing Not Only COVID-19, But Other Diseases Too - Slashdot
"As governments around the world have pushed their citizens away from populated places to slow the spread of Covid-19…
What we are learning from our experience with the coronavirus will have knock-on effects with other diseases. We are becoming a nation on pause for many habits that we once took for granted. In my city, the public fitness centers, libraries, the schools, and many businesses are closed. Many of us are staying home to weather through the pandemic. We are waiting for the virus to evolve to a less deadly form, which is what happens with all viruses. Viruses that kill their hosts die off. Those that do not kill their hosts continue.
Curiously, it turns out that 8% of the human genome is virus DNA. We’ve been fending off viruses for millions of years. They’re not going away and there will always be another one. The most successful virus, the common cold, rarely kills its host.
In my personal experience of the crisis, I’ve been lucky. The company I work for had a generous work from home policy long before the pandemic. To enjoy that benefit, I got a docking station for my laptop to take home. I bought a couple of monitors to connect to the docking station. I bought the keyboard of my choice. I have a gigabit internet connection courtesy of community broadband. And I’ve been told that I may work from home until the pandemic is over. Some sources I’ve read suggest that the pandemic could last 18 months. Well, I don’t know about that, but I’m prepared to conduct social distancing for as long as it takes. I want to see Christmas with my family, again.
I still check the numbers every day. I still am wary of going shopping, going out, going anywhere, really. I know that this must drive my family a bit nuts, but we are working it out, day by day. We will get through this. We will see it through. We have no other choice, for the alternative could be pretty grim.