This article was originally published on The Hill.
During our public health crisis, Americans have heard again and again that things will never go back to normal.
This is just as much an uncertainty and data crisis. On the bright side, as more data becomes available, there are lessons to be learned that could help avoid the worst predictions about the future. Empirical evidence from health care professionals experimenting with different types of protocols and treatment options are being written and disseminated faster than ever, potentially changing the future of peer-reviewed studies.
One of the most important data points will be the results from ongoing research on anti-viral and other types of treatments, which could be as important as research into a vaccine. (On the vaccine, there is already encouraging progress.) Such data will provide more room for risk management, lending insight into virus mitigation and containment.
But, even beyond medical data, there are three important lessons to learn that could lead to an improved new normal:
Increased skepticism about bureaucracy
Excessive rule making has made America’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic much slower than it otherwise could’ve been. To say that bureaucracy killed is not an exaggeration or a partisan point of view. Early delays from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) diminished testing capacity and wasted precious time in mounting an effective response to the virus. According to medical experts, the FDA and CDC’s onerous approval processes delayed testing administration by months.
There should be an outcry to hold elected officials accountable and change those bureaucracies, for the sake of efficiency and efficacy. Reforms should include accelerating the approval of new medicines and treatments and allowing a decentralized approach to producing desperately needed viral tests. In addition to bureaucratic reforms, policymakers must relax medical licensing rules, reducing or eliminating “certificate of needs” laws that artificially limit the number of health care facilities in the United States.
Improved family life
Besides just spending more time with the family, parents have become more involved in their children’s schooling, since it is taking place at home. The key role of parental engagement in education will be revived or enhanced, a result that academics like Nobel laureate Jim Heckman have shown to be one of the most crucial precursors for success later in life.
Additionally, as we have recently heard from Lenore Skenazy and Let Grow, kids are likely to become more independent. “Free play” will play a larger role in families’ lives, which will have an immensely positive impact on developing resilience and future-proofing our kids — that is, making them more adaptable and resilient to changing technological circumstances.
Greater appreciation for human ingenuity
If the “new normal” has shown us anything, it’s the power of human ingenuity, innovation and entrepreneurship. Conversations about income inequality in our hyper-polarized political landscape, including lamentations about Jeff Bezos becoming the world’s first trillionaire, have come to look down on success.
Yet, as they demonstrate their flexibility in adapting to the changing economic landscape, entrepreneurs and the private sector writ large will be recognized as a key component of a thriving society. Many small businesses are finding ways to survive and even thrive during an unprecedented pandemic. But even those businesses that will not make it out of the pandemic will be an important part of the “new normal,” by demonstrating the costs that small- and medium-sized businesses face when denied the ability to bounce back quickly from unexpected events.
Whether these lessons will indeed be learned is yet to be seen. But learning them would help ensure that, whatever “new normal” we face in the months ahead, it can be a positive one. The pandemic has cost America thousands of lives and countless dreams, but we still have the opportunity to come out stronger on the other side.
Let’s err on the side of optimism. To quote Warren Buffett, we should “never, ever bet against America.”
Gonzalo Schwarz serves as president and CEO of the Archbridge Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank focused on economic mobility.