The coronavirus and the accompanying lockdown have exposed the fragility of the American economy, heightening the contrast between the “laptop class” and those either furloughed by the virus or forced to continue working. Those comfortable with an extended lockdown seem to think that some combination of free money, online delivery services and streaming video are key to the good life. Yes, these measures are portrayed as only temporary, but they have emerged out of a policy matrix rife with universal basic income (UBI) proposals rather than detailed considerations of how to restore Main Street.
However we begin to emerge from this crisis, it is clear that the state will play a far larger role in buoying and shaping the American economy than in the past. In a matter of weeks, it has become a state decision which among nail salons, marijuana dispensaries or churches are “essential services.” A cynic might be forgiven for thinking that, in the eyes of many in the laptop class, the purpose of American life is to glory in a shallow consumer culture populated by compliant subjects who watch movies at home while using marijuana for palliative care. Rather than bewailing the situation or recycling Reagan-era anti-government bromides, conservatives will have to make a case for how state power is to be used. When we emerge from this crisis, it will be high time to ask about our social and economic priorities as a nation—and whether those in charge have our best interests at heart.
The problems American families will face in the coming years are real. Already, according to an April 29 report by the National Center for Health Statistics, “a record number of current youth and young adults are projected to forego marriage altogether.” As of 2018, the rate of family formation stood at 6.5 new marriages for every thousand people—the lowest rate in the 1900–2018 period. A 2014 study from the University of New Hampshire pointed out the additional damage caused during economic recessions, particularly that which followed the 2008 financial crisis. The existing long-term trend will only be accelerated by a further cyclical decline during the impending recession or even depression. The incentives set up in late capitalist economies already militate against family formation, making it expensive and portraying it as secondary to careerism and consumption. We believe that the state can be used to channel more societal resources into family formation and away from outlets that encourage vice and atomization.