Pain is coming
2 min read

Pain is coming

Inequality isn't one big thing. And if economic pain worsens, at least three flavors of it will need smarter solutions than what we have now.
Desert plant, Phoenix, AZ, 2011.

You don't need a tarot deck to see a lot of pain coming.

Our public conversations about pain are a sort of inequality shorthand: Who's hit the hardest, who's going to get away with little discomfort or a thousand other variants. There's comfort in context: "Yeah, things suck. But you know who's *really* screwed? Those folks over there..."

We're as class-focused as Downton Abbey, drawing lines and keeping score with likes, retweets and headlines.

But inequality isn't one big thing. And if economic pain worsens, at least three flavors of it will need smarter solutions than what we have now:

  • INCOME INEQUALITY -- No longer just the gap between rich and poor, now there's today's chasm between those who can work at home and those who are laid off, as well as tomorrow's divide between those with a job and those without.
  • WEALTH INEQUALITY -- Trillions in assets are held by a small percentage of the population. Their moves always cause ripples, but as economic pain grows the downstream waves may trigger more social and political pushback than before.
  • OPPORTUNITY INEQUALITY -- Whether their job went away or their business was destroyed, some people won't come back from this. How we help them (or don't) may define us economically and morally for a generation.

Anyone who's ever hit their thumb with a hammer knows the truth about pain: It makes careful, sober thought impossible. It blots out the sun. That's why thinking before the hammer hits our thumb is so important.

I'm not suddenly shilling for UBI or a welfare state. But it's prudent to think about whether what's worked until now will work in the months or years ahead.

The virus was the beginning of this crisis. It may not be the end of it.