Economist Paul Krugman looks ahead to post-pandemic 'life and work' in 2023 America

Economist Paul Krugman looks ahead to post-pandemic 'life and work' in 2023 America
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If history repeats itself, the post-pandemic America of 2023 will have a boom of social activity not unlike the post-pandemic America of 1923 — albeit with much different technology and smartphones, social media and hip-hop instead of jazz bands, flappers, Prohibition and "The Great Gatsby." Liberal economist Paul Krugman, in a New York Times column published on March 15, speculates on what post-pandemic "life and work" will look like in the United States — and he predicts less working at home than in 2020 or 2021 but more than in 2019.

"How will we live once the pandemic subsides?," Krugman writes. "Of course, nobody really knows. But maybe our speculation can be informed by some historical parallels and models. First, it seems safe to predict that we won't fully return to the way we used to live and work."

Krugman goes on to say that remote work will not disappear after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

"The pandemic, by temporarily making our former work habits impossible, has clearly made us much better at exploiting the possibilities of remote work," Krugman explains. "And some of what we used to do — long commutes so we can sit in cubicles, constant flying to meetings of dubious value — won't be coming back."

According to Krugman, the pandemic has demonstrated that remote work makes sense from a business and productivity standpoint.

"The advantages of remote work — either from home or, possibly, in small offices located far from dense urban areas — are obvious," Krugman observes. "Both living and work spaces are much cheaper; commutes are short or nonexistent; you no longer need to deal with the expense and discomfort of formal business wear, at least from the waist down. The advantages of going back to in-person work will, by contrast, be relatively subtle — the payoffs from face-to-face communication, the serendipity that can come from unscheduled interactions, the amenities of urban life."

Krugman speculates that in large urban areas, the end of the pandemic will encourage gentrification.

"The revival of cities won't be entirely a pretty process," Krugman warns. "Much of it will probably reflect the preferences of wealthy Americans who want big-city luxuries and glamour…. But while cities thrive in part because they cater to the lifestyles of the rich and fatuous — like it or not, their wealth and power do a lot to shape the economy — cities also thrive because a lot of information-sharing and brainstorming takes place over coffee breaks and after-hours beers; Zoom calls aren't an adequate substitute."

Krugman predicts that in-person work will make somewhat of a comeback after the pandemic, but without returning to pre-pandemic levels.

"The best bet is that life and work in, say, 2023 will look a lot like life and work in 2019, but a bit less so," Krugman speculates. "We may commute to the office less than we used to; there may well be a glut of urban office space. But most of us won't be able to stay very far from the madding crowd."

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