With the election behind us, there are still many unknowns

There are some positive signs, but the future remains unclear
Bill Norton

Bill Norton

It is 10 a.m. on Election Day. We are in the office and enjoying the rising interest and buzz from clients. Ten months into the pandemic we are beginning to see activity – mostly valuations, opinions of value and sales. Leasing is still “frozen.” Of course, this comes with lots of “rising numbers, spikes and Covid hot spots.” Neighboring states are dialing back business openings, re-imposing quarantines, isolations, etc. A vaccine will be available next summer. How long it will take to disseminate and how long to achieve the herd effect is still not known.

This does not mean we are through with the pandemic. The virus is still out there, and cohorts of our population will remain vulnerable. Best case it will be late 2021 or the first half of 2022 before we are fully back in business.

The Covid-19 pandemic was, is and will continue to be a disruptor. We in the U.S. did hunker down, and despite large numbers of infected as well as deaths (a majority of which were elderly) the economy is still breathing. But as of this writing, the future is not clear.

It is likely we will go into another isolation/lockdown, hopefully not prolonged, but we do not know. There has to be another round of stimulus – somewhere between $1.5 and $2.5 trillion that will address the economic disruption, hopefully successfully

But we have social disruption as well. Remote learning and remote working. Not everyone will thrive in the remote world. With a vaccine, we will likely swing back towards the former norm – but not all the way. Many workers are content to give up their hour or two-hour-long commute by working at home. Are they as productive? Some are. Some are more so and many are not. So, adjustments will need to be made.

Ultimately, and soon, we need to take stock and reassess the delivery of education, K-12, college and graduate levels; health care (is telemedicine here to stay?); and social services, to name a few.

This disruption has exposed many fractures in our society, including income disparity, racial tensions and immigration policies as well as law and order concerns. The current chasm in the political arena does not allow us to civilly discuss and analyze these serious social shortcomings. The longer they continue, the deeper they become.

While much of this is our own doing, some is the result of globalism and globalization. We are no longer living in the “Ozzie and Harriet” and “Leave It to Beaver” ‘50s and ‘60s. The world has changed. and we need to change with it.

With all the political uproar and drama, I found myself reading two books. The first is an abridged edition of Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” edited by Moses Hadas. The Roman Empire lasted 1,000 years. America is 200 to 400 years in the making. Some of the similarities are thought-provoking!

The second book is Robert Reich’s 1991 book, “The Work of Nations.” This is somewhat dated, but still germane. Back then, Japan was the rising economic engine rattling the U.S. economy. Today, it is China. Nonetheless, the challenges are similar.

Reich identifies three groups of workers: routine production services; in-person services; and symbolic-analytic services. His basic premise is that the symbolic-analytic group are the higher-educated professionals who use their brains, not there brawn, to earn their pay. This group has emerged and prospered. They have captured an increasing share of the national income, which leaves the other two groups working harder, often part-time and many without benefits, for less. This dichotomy is diverging every year. The rich get richer.

Since mid-summer, we have said we need to get through the election and then to the New Year, then we need a vaccine and then we can begin to forecast where we are heading nationally and globally. More to come.

Bill Norton, president of Norton Asset Management and principal of Harrington & Reeves, is a Counselor of Real Estate (CRE) and a Facilities Management Administrator (FMA). He can be reached at wbn@nortonnewengland.com.

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