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Eco-demics: Creating a fresh vocabulary for our new world

A few weeks back I got my June 8 & 15 edition of The New Yorker magazine (I’ve been a subscriber since I was a kid), and the cover drawing resonated with me. Beautifully drawn by the artist Richard McGuire, it depicts a COVID-19 New York street scene, with a walker, a bicyclist and people in windows all in quarantine, mostly wearing masks of course, but what stands out the most is that the drawing is displayed on the cover upside down. Titled “This Side Up,” the simple placement of this classic New Yorker cover art says everything about where we are right now.

The world is upside down.

As such, I believe the world needs different names for disciplines that have, frankly, failed us through this period of upheaval. For instance, I have heard a ton of interviews with university professors of economics of late who try to explain just what the hell is going on, but there is no context – even in long ago history – that offers any comfort, never mind explanation. When there is no precedent – 41 million-plus filing for unemployment, virtually every non-essential business closed, the price of oil dropping to less than $0 per barrel – news outlets could get just as much sense out of an economic interview with a ditch digger or a dog groomer than with an economics professor.

For the last 47 years every time there is a government scandal we attach “-gate” to it, a la Watergate, so in these unprecedented times I suggest we stop using the term economics and call it what it really is: Eco-demics. This is an ill economic situation foisted upon the whole world that turns everything the other way ‘round, maybe permanently. Like pandemic – which from the ancient Greek means literally “all people” – it carries an automatic pejorative.

And Eco-demics comes with its own subsets.

Have you noticed the odd price changes over the last several months? On the down side I have discovered that the base rate of my chain-barbershop went up some 25% during the coronavirus era. My favorite pizza joint upped the cost of the standard pie by about 20% as it transitioned to take-out-only and kept it there in the new social-distancing in-house dining. Meat prices have skyrocketed. Indeed, a ton of food prices have been on steady upticks. I am going to call this “Inflata-demics:” the eco-demic sting of higher prices in some sectors.

But it’s not all bad news. We are also experiencing what I am now calling “Deflata-demics”: the new laws of supply and demand caused by the pandemic. Just a few weeks ago I bought gasoline for $1.16 a gallon. I got a “relief payment” discount check in the mail from my auto insurance company. Air fares are flat. Hotel rates are slashed. Mortgage rates are ridiculously low.

One of the major Eco-demics subsets I have noticed is something I now refer to as “Ideo-demics”: drastic alterations of public sentiment brought about by the pandemic. For instance, who doesn’t feel sorry for all of the restaurants and service workers brought to the brink of disaster by COVID-19 fears; we gladly pay more for their offerings – and tip at a historically high rate – to try and help them through. Just recently some friends expressed some sympathy for what the oil companies are experiencing, and I now have somewhat of a warm feeling for my insurance company. My insurance company! Also, I sense that for the first time in memory people would actually gladly pay more for Made-in-the-USA products, if for no other reason than to screw China. These are truly unprecedented times.

We are going to be experiencing and studying Eco-demics for a long time, and it’ll probably take decades to sort it all out. I am offering myself as the world’s first Ph.D. in the subject, although I shudder to think, what with the pejorative nature of “-demics,” how people are thinking about academics.

After finishing my doctoral thesis on the subject, I discovered that having that first, higher-priced, Inflata-demic cocktail at a bar in months was just the perfect metaphor for this topsy-turvy world.

Bottoms up!