From Coronavirus to Utopia – How Will the New World be?

From Coronavirus to Utopia
Coronavirus and opportunities, symbolized by viruses destroying word opportunities to picture that Covid-19 pandemic affects opportunities in a very negative way, 3d illustration

Yesterday, I read a piece written by Yuval Noah Harari titled ‘the world after coronavirus‘. The writing struck the chord and I couldn’t help myself from penning down my own thoughts. This is my attempt to present my version of the world after coronavirus!

I’m writing this from India, where we are following a 14-hour nationwide curfew today. The number of COVID-19 cases is rising every day, so is the general feeling of uneasiness. People have stopped looking straight into the eyes. This seems to be just the beginning of a long long summer. Nobody knows when and how this all will end. Maybe this year, maybe the next. Humanity will survive and reorganize itself like it has done many times in the past.

After the second world war, the world saw the end of colonialism and the rise of international co-operation. The cold war saw the ideologies of capitalism and communism fighting for dominance. While communism, which deviated from the original idea of Marx, lost its charm with the fall of the USSR, capitalism saw its grand failure in 2008’s great recession. Today, we live in an unequal world full of aspirations and disillusionment. We need a new world and the Coronavirus crisis is our chance to hit the reset button! Can it happen? definitely Yes. Will it happen? I’m cautiously optimistic.

Goodbye economics, hello Coronomics!

Borders are closed, stock markets are in red

Like never before, it’s chaos ahead

Will we see new ‘nomy’ out of all of this?

Where people are content in a utopian bliss 

 

As a millennial, I’m angry. Yes, we have seen a lot of progress since the turn of the Millenium. But the whole idea of having to compete for basic necessities sounds absurd to me. If you are not an Indian, imagine 1.3 billion people having to fight for livelihood and prosperity. It’s a zero-sum game where the rich are getting richer. In India, the top 10% account for 56% of the total pre-tax income, up from 40% in 2000.

Not just in India, inequality is high throughout the world. Economic growth, as we know it, is based on essentially 3 factors:- Labour, Capital, and Productivity. Labour’s share in GDP around the world has been on a decline. It simply means human efforts are valued lesser now than a couple of decades ago. At the same time, capital is gaining more prominence. The fact that productivity improvements are indeed capital intensive doesn’t help. With AI at our doorsteps, the inequality is bound to get worse, unless we do something about it.

Will Coronavirus Lead Us to Utopia?

What can we do? Raising taxes on the rich is perhaps the most straightforward way of rebalancing the world. However, the world is ruled by crony capitalists and the ultra-rich have their say in policymaking. Even if governments manage to raise taxes on the rich, deploying the additional tax revenues to bridge the gap is a challenging affair. Corruption ensures that only a portion of the benefits trickles down to the masses. Even if governments manage to wipe out the corruption, how should the government go about reducing the inequality? Should they invest in infrastructure to make the world more equal? Should they focus on ‘affirmative action’ to provide justice to the underprivileged? I have been thinking about these questions for years. I firmly believe that ‘Universal Basic Income’ is the answer.

Back in 2016, I came across Utopia For Realists written by a great thinker of our generation, Rutger Bregman. I must admit that it converted me from a soft capitalist to an advocate of Universal Basic Income. The Coronavirus crisis is our opportunity to create a world where nobody needs to work just to survive. Where the power is truly in people’s hands. Where respect is the foundation of everything humans do. With governments around the world writing paychecks for their citizen due to the Coronavirus crisis, we are definitely a step closer to the utopia. I highly recommend the book to anyone looking to deep dive into the topic.

Coronavirus can bring sanity to tech startup capital markets!

In the aftermath of the great recession of 2008, tech startups mushroomed. This was backed by the smartphone revolution that started with the iPhone. With bond yields low and stock markets still getting out of the crisis, investors turned to these promising startups. Facebook, Uber, WeWork gained prominence in the post-2008 world. Some of the posterchild startups commanded humongous valuations that didn’t make sense. The focus shifted from RoI to world domination at any cost. Just 15% of the tech companies that went public in 2018 were profitable. 2019 saw that number jumping to 32%, only because the failure of Uber and other IPOs hampered the risk appetite.

When it was time to go public, all hell broke loose. Uber couldn’t convince the public that it was worth even its already discounted valuation. WeWork couldn’t convince the public that it was worth going public. Theranos didn’t even have a product! (Bad Blood is a must-read for anyone who wants to know how the world of silicon-valley startups work).

I hope that Coronavirus brings some sanity to the world of private capital markets. While these capital markets help startups turn their ideas into reality and drive innovation, the deals are often market by greed by either side.  In the post-Coronavirus world, I hope startups aim for collaboration more than world domination. I particularly like the philosophy of guys at Basecamp, a remote company. In their book, It doesn’t have to be crazy at Work, they have outlined their content approach towards running a company.  We need more of those!

Coronavirus can Accelerate Workspace Innovation

Since 2016, I have been advocating remote work. There have been more frustrating times than good ones. But I never thought some tiny virus can force most of the world to work from home! It’s chaos everywhere. That’s how it starts. Many companies are unprepared to transform. Most will take time to learn the ropes of remote work. There would even be a substantial proportion of companies that will vow never to get back to remote work. It’s time to go remote or perish! I have created a basic guide for the first steps in going remote if that helps.

I firmly believe that remote work has the power to change the world for better and save all of us from devastation. Imagine this. By simply turning into a remote company, you are letting people choose where they want to be. Most will choose to be away from congested urban ghettos. The transition can also help the environment by reducing commute and use of electricity (hence fossil fuel usage), by saving water needed to run offices, and by reducing food wastage associated with office cafeterias.

There are enough reasons to take radical steps to make the world office free. Coronavirus crisis has given us the opportunity and much-needed time to think about our priorities. Workspace innovation should really be on the top of our list. If you are a company or a team wanting to go remote and need some support, I can help. You can reach out to me at mayur@nomadgao.com.

The Future of Travel and Globalization

With the rise of remote work, possibilities of ‘digital nomadism’ becoming a mass movement are high. On the other side, the difficulties and trauma all of us have faced during the last few weeks undermines that very possibility. Some of us are overstaying their visas because they can’t get out of the country they are in. Some are uninsured where they are. Others are just numb with so much happening around.

Travel is beautiful! Yes, we should avoid it during times like this. But travel makes us more human. It opens our eyes and helps us appreciate a different way of life, a different point of view.

There is a Coronavirus-induced wave of xenophobia hitting the world right now. Governments are either failing to understand the plight of foreigners in their country or can’t do much about it. Even people are apprehensive about foreigners and outsiders in general. This will pass. Some airlines will go bankrupt and some will survive.

globalization, as we know it, is perhaps dead. Global supply chains will see drastic changes. Back in 1933, Keynes advocated ‘national self-sufficiency’. Countries may go back to the drawing board and Keynes in an attempt to be self-sufficient. I hope that it won’t hamper openness.

How will our natural environment shape up from the Coronavirus crisis?

congratulations humans! I heard dolphins are back in Venetian canals. Even in Mumbai, people have spotted dolphins. This doesn’t excite me much. In fact, I’m afraid that it will make our politicians think that it’s easy to clean the environment. Having seen 2 black swan events (got stuck in the worst flood in my area for 10 days in August and now this) within months, I know its a mirage to think that a few weeks of lockdown can undo what we have done for decades.

On the positive side, I think that the crisis will make us think that previously unthinkable things are indeed possible. Nobody thought the world will be under lockdown. It is. No one thought they could survive such a thing. Most are. Nobody thought world leaders will act together. They are cooperating. We are in this together! I have a great belief that we will continue to be together, to overcome some of the world’s biggest challenges even after this is over. The mass exodus to remote work will also help as previously outlined.

I hope we will be kinder towards other species after knowing how one virus emerging from a wet market of Wuhan can keep the world hostage. I do see more people converting to vegetarianism and veganism as a result of this. The meat industry is one of the biggest contributors to global warming. As the meat industry slows, so will the carbon emissions.

The way we learn and teach won’t be the same anymore

The current lockdown and school closures have forced many parents to homeschool their kids. Just like people working from home for the first time, many are not able to manage. Some were planning to homeschool but are not sure anymore. This will pass.

The current situation will accelerate the digitization of education. These few weeks have the potential to alter the way we learn and the way we teach, forever. It’s been over a decade since MOOCs came into play. I myself had an online education venture back in 2008, which we had to close down because we were too early into it. MOOCs showed a big promise but largely failed to make much difference, thanks to ultra-low completion rates. Online learning will make the world more efficient. The flexibility in choosing the courses will rise, leading to happier and motivated students. All of this can lead us to a utopia!

For teachers, it’s gonna be a steep learning curve hereon. How traditional teachers and professors adapt to the e-learning will decide their competitiveness.

Local Communities – The Post-Coronavirus Future

Over the last decade, our world has become more interconnected than ever. Count things in your house and perhaps there are things made in 10 countries out there. Why? Because we focused more on efficiency in the flat world. Not long ago, Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat made all of us believe that there is no end to globalization. Even the contagion caused by the subprime crisis couldn’t hamper it. The US-China trade war, which made headlines in 2019, only partially threatened the idea of globalization.

Viruses don’t know boundaries and global supply chains. Most epidemics so far have been a result of global movements. Returning soldiers from World War 1 spread the Spanish flew. The more recent SARS and MERS also spread wide due to the global movement. While SARS and MERS didn’t manage to uproot globalization, Coronavirus has special abilities to do so. First, it spreads faster. Second, it goes undetected. Third, it has locked the world down.

With borders closed and supply chain under threat, governments will be forced to look back at self-sufficiency. It won’t be the most efficient thing to do. But it will become vital for survival during such shocks. With our environment spoilt, we must also be prepared to face higher frequency for such shocks. Having lived in small communities before and running one right now, I feel that smaller communities will be the way forward. The idea of a metropolis might see a challenge.

The communities of the future

What sort of communities will thrive? Small alternate lifestyle communities will be in vogue. Think of a community of 20 homeschooling families living comfortably on a farm, teaching kids there, growing their own food, making art, brewing their own beer, and working online. That’s what we want to build in NomadGao 2.0. If you share the same vision or can contribute to my vision in any way, connect with me!

In the new world, compassionate visionaries, who can form close 1-on-1 relationships and bring people together, will be in great demand. As a finance student, my worldview was shaped by modern portfolio theory, which assumes that people are selfish and rational. When I met people outside the scope of finance, however, I saw them imperfect and nice. Someone who can forge friendships with imperfect human beings without judging them, someone who doesn’t take advantage of the niceness of other people, would be the ideal member of these micro-communities.

Will the Sharing Economy survive the crisis?

The last decade has been all about sharing. Shared cabs, shared workspaces, shared housing, and so on. With communities getting smaller and remote work getting prominence, there will be substantial changes in the way the world operates. Shorter commute powered by remote work may give e-bikes/scooters/bicycles a boost. Coworking/coliving spaces will have to follow the ‘small is beautiful’ model.  Large players like WeWork may find it hard to scale down and convince investors. Consumerism may finally see some pushback with small communities sharing resources. The sharing economy will live, only in a different form. In essence, the first wave of sharing economy saw us sharing assets and spaces, now we will see a shared life.

Summing it all up

Coronavirus pandemic is a defining moment in human history. While the picture doesn’t look great at the moment, I’m bullish about the future of humanity when all this settles down.

Remote work, urban-to-rural shift, environmental aspects, educational reforms, localization of communities – There are plenty of good things to look forward to! For now, we should just hold on, stay home, reskill for the new world, and bond with the family.  Take care!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Mayur Sontakke

I wear many hats. I run NomadGao, advise companies on strategy and remote work, manage various communities, advise people on finances, and write about the future of work and the world. I live in beautiful Goa with my wife and 3 wonderful kids.

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