5 Surprising Things You Didn’t Expect in 2021…

I write my Friday Forecasts about as consistently as I do anything (not very) and publish them even less so. But this week a Thursday dollop aimlessness coincided with an ebb in introversion and a few provocative headlines. The resulting stew pushed my prophetic tendencies past escape velocity and into public orbit. So now I get to dare you to go on record yourself and shout me down if you think these are a swing and a miss. Am I wrong? Am I even serious? Tell me why and raise my hopes (or not). Change my mind in the comments. Or better yet, pen a prediction or two of your own! I work at keeping my worldview flexible if not totally rubberized so here is a rare chance for you to change a life!

(This post is brought to you by Green Day, who popped up in my playlist while I wrote. I’m calling it…)

Wake Me Up When September Ends (…in 2021). Forecasting New Normals.

Preface:
(this is where Wayne and Garth do their hand-wavy thing to take you back in time (from the future)):

It was back in August 2020 that headlines began including phrases like, “First cases of COVID-19 reinfection verified…” and CDC statements that, “Coronavirus antibodies could give ‘short-term immunity…’” began arising. Such headlines soon coincided with rapidly accumulating clinical studies finding that COVID-19 immunity had a short half-life (3-6 mos.), along with CDC assurances that their recommendations (unlike so much other 20th– and 21st-century science) were only ever driven by data, never politics….

A year later, in September 2021, here is our landscape:

Prediction 1: VaaS (Vaccines as a Service) A New, Big-Pharma, Direct-to-Consumer Business Model.

More people are getting flu shots, because multiple studies have shown the flu vaccine has been shown to reduce COVID infection severity). By late 2021, about 60% of the population routinely gets an annual flu shot (up from 45% in 2019). Many who don’t (yet) trust the COVID-19 vaccine, which first became available in December 2020 and was widely available from multiple venders by February or March 2021, have now begun to at least get a flu shot. A large section of the population continues to disbelieve in the safety or efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine, in many cases because they trust random strangers on the internet for medical advice more than they do their primary care physician.

The COVID-19 vaccines, now offered by in least four variants, have one thing in common: They require semi-annual boosters to maintain immunity. As it turns out, the billions invested by the big Pharmaceutical companies have resulted in a vaccine against this stubbornly ever-present virus that unfortunately requires a semi-annual booster …meaning two shots a year for the foreseeable future. You first get your primary vaccination, which is administered anywhere you can get a flu shot; then you get semi-annual boosters, which can be self-administered at home. The boosters are available via subscription service and are mailed directly from the manufacturer, which saves you 30% versus getting them from a pharmacy or doctor’s office (and the subscription includes free delivery!).

40% of the population still distrusts the COVID-19 vaccine (because, you know, Facebook and misinformation, etc). This guarantees there will continue to be endless COVID infections (and deaths) throughout the world, ensuring ongoing, perennial sales for the Pharmaceutical companies selling their vaccines. Weirdly, legislators seem uninterested in changing this situation.

Prediction 2: The Growth of Poducation (The Decentralization of Primary Schooling).

The ongoing, low-grade (but still occasionally media-hyped) threat of COVID-19 has resulted in Federal and state mandates that public and private schools require students to be vaccinated prior to (and throughout!) the school year. Only a few mid-western states have refused compliance. This has driven an unending chain of (thus-far unsuccessful) lawsuits and protests from those who’ve decided the vaccine is more dangerous than the disease (despite an absence of more than one or two reported instances of the vaccine causing a problem). The new laws have spawned an explosion in home-schooling, with most of that now being done in small “pods” of students where families or small community groups have organized to share the educational load.

An unfortunately-named (but astoundingly successful!) “Port-a-Poddies.com” Montana-based startup has become the first post-COVID educational unicorn (with a $2.5B valuation as of 3rd quarter, 2021) by becoming the “Uber of Homeschooling.” It decentralizes education by matching pods of students with qualified (mostly young, or vaccinated) instructors willing to work in a maskless environment, thus freeing parents who either don’t approve of public schooling, want more personal instruction for their children, or don’t want to vaccinate their kids, to embrace their anti-vaxxer beliefs and still get their kids an education.

Bonus prediction: The Supreme Court has agreed to rule on legislation requiring Federal, State, and local governments to redirect the public funds allocated per child for schooling (~$12,100 per enrolled child, on average across the country) to whomever is actually educating the child. If not overturned, this threatens to take billions of dollars from local school districts and give it directly to the child’s parents (or pod).

Opponents mockingly call this legislation “The Porta-a-Poddie Relief Act.” Forecasts are that a predominantly conservative Supreme Court will rule in favor of the Act, something that is driving incredible valuation leaps in Porta-a-Poddies.com stock. Unknown is whether a favorable ruling by the Supreme Court will result in families who are “poducating” their children receiving a merely a tax credit or direct monthly government checks. Either way, adversaries of The Act (from administrators to the teacher’s union) have claimed that having “the funds follow the child” will be catastrophic to the public-school system, given the mass migration away from public schooling. Schools have already begun cutting deeply into their administration and other non-teacher payroll expenses.

Prediction 3: Fleeing the Petri Dish – an Urbanite Diaspora.

Even the availability of COVID-19 vaccines has failed to slow the migration of people away from the high-density urban environments that have become recurring COVID hotspots. The events of 2020 and 2021 have reversed the multi-decade trend of population movement from rural to urban areas. Neither tax incentives nor threatened penalties have slowed the business and worker exodus from many major downtown areas. Residential and commercial property values in and around major cities continues to plummet, with office and residential inventories at record high levels on the west and east coasts.

Led by tech and finance companies, and other knowledge workers whose employers realized early in 2020 that they no longer needed expensive office space for many employees, the depopulation of mobile demographics from cities has created a cascade of economic implosions. Downtown environments that remained veritable ghost towns even after COVID lockdowns eased in 2020 crushed the last life of those few service businesses that survived Spring and Summer of 2020. The Fall and Winter COVID surges put a final nail into many of those coffins. Then lay-offs from shrinking or closing 2nd-tier “support” businesses and service industries fueled the second major diaspora. City governments facing huge budget deficits “furloughing” even union-protected public sector workers (most of whom seem to recognize that their jobs aren’t coming back anytime soon, if ever) created what is forecast to be a third migration wave away from urban areas.

Huge forces (and lots of money) are being thrown at the problem as people struggle to resurrect dying city centers, but whether that will work, how that will happen, and whom they will attract back remains to be seen. Not surprisingly, crime is up across the board in those cities as police presence decreases. If there are bright sides, it’s that suburbs and even rural areas are benefitting from an unexpected economic and population surges (although that’s not without its own problems). Also, commute time is WAY down (for those few that still commute).

Prediction 4: Domestic Tourism is WAY up!

The closure of many foreign countries’ borders (including Mexico and Canada) to anyone from the US who cannot demonstrate proof of COVID vaccination has collapsed some sectors of the tourism industry while creating several entirely new domestic tourism segments. Cooperatives branding themselves as “Playcation” networks are establishing themselves in remote areas around the country and offering a wide (and wild!) range of “geo-focused” experiences. Taking advantage of cheap land throughout rural America (a la Walt Disney, circa 1965), numerous domestic and international mega-conglomerates (and several of the billionaires who own large tracts of Montana!) continue to roll-out rapidly constructed facsimiles of international destinations that in many ways are surprisingly authentic (especially if you’ve never been there!). As one example, the recently opened “PARIS!” theme park is widely renowned to be incredible, complete with snooty Parisian waiters in overly crowded restaurants who refuse to admit they speak English (signed COVID liability release waiver required). The views of the (augmented reality) “Arc de Triomphe” and “Eiffel Tower” are reputed to be extraordinary. Other Playcation hotspots include activity-focused attractions designed to excite (or exhaust) you (or your kids) for 1-3 day stays. And you can always rest up on the train to the next experience, because…

Many of these Playcation resorts are or will soon be joined by the rapidly growing network of “Casino Trains” that are driving a resurrection in the American railroad and, more importantly for vacationers, allow gambling while traversing interstate rail (due to an obscure 19th century railroad law). These casino trains take vacationers from one Playcation resort to the next in incredible, connected, comfort, allowing families to hit any number of Playcation hotspots that they want without having to fly or drive (which is important, because flying on the two airlines that still allow unvaccinated customers is expensive!).

It won’t surprise you that these Playcation destinations are drawing the service industry workers who’ve left the cities for the greener pastures (literally!) of rural America. Many find that they’re enjoying a heightened standard of living, even though many are now living in what is essentially…

Prediction 5: The Re-emergence of the “Company Town.”

Company owned towns are rapidly becoming (more of) a thing, again. Created first by Google and Apple, but now springing up everywhere, especially around Playcation hotspots (and constructed by the Playcation conglomerate), “Company towns” like those once common in coal-mining country back in the late 1800’s are back en vogue. The first (modern) company towns were created by large tech companies who found out quickly that while working from home created productivity opportunities while cutting expenses, many employees actually *missed* the socialization with their co-workers (and found they didn’t necessarily have a lot in common with their new suburban or rural neighbors). Enter the Company Town – a fully contained urban eco-system (often even with a small commuter airport) dropped into a rural, wooded, otherwise remote area, or in some cases, large abandoned shopping malls purchased for pennies on the dollar and renovated to offer luxury condos and complete town squares, night clubs, and other amenities! Company employees living in such “towns” (often gated off from any surrounding, non-company population) gain access to affordable housing (rent paid to their employer, of course), gourmet grocery stores (groceries paid for simply via payroll deduction!), convenient full-service banking (at the First Bank of Google, for example in one Google town), and various, constantly refreshing entertainment options (cover-charge, alcohol, and other expenses conveniently deducted from your salary!). Many of these company towns are functioning models of the long-awaited cashless society. (Rumor has it that the ONLY way one will be able to pay for ANYTHING in the first Apple company town (currently under rapid construction) is via Apple Pay. No cash, Visa, MasterCard, or American Express accepted!)

That’s probably enough for now, don’t you think? For the one or two of you still reading: I hope you enjoyed my Friday Forecast for the work week ending  8/28/20. This has been another of the episodic cases of bloggarrhea that I call missives (because calling bundles of predictions hittives sounds presumptuous). Hope you had fun.

It’ll be interesting to see what the future holds dumps on us!

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