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Upward and Outward: America on the Move

These are times, to paraphrase Thomas Paine, that try the souls of American optimists. A strain of insane ideologies, from QAnon to critical race theory, is running through our societies like a virus, infecting everything from political life and media to the schoolroom. Unable to unite even in the face of COVID-19, the country seems to be losing the post-pandemic struggle with China while American society becomes ever more feudalized into separate, and permanently unequal, classes.

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The New Labor Crisis is the Biggest Opportunity in a Generation

The COVID-19 pandemic has left pain and tragedy in its wake. But it has also created a unique opportunity to address the country’s persistent class divides, thanks to a persistent lack of labor resulting from the pandemic. In a world economy that has seen labor’s share of income drop for generations, this labor shortage could provide some restored leverage for both white and blue collar workers.

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The Next Entrepreneurial Revolution

The coronavirus pandemic has altered the future of American business. The virus-driven disruption has proved more profound than anything imagined by Silicon Valley, costing more jobs than in any year since the Great Depression. But there’s also good news, as Americans’ instinctive entrepreneurial spirit is driving growth and innovation: 4.4 million new business applications were recorded by census data in 2020, compared with roughly 3.5 million in 2019. Self-employment, pummeled at first, has recovered more rapidly than conventional salaried jobs, as more Americans reinvent themselves as entrepreneurs.

To be sure, the initial impact of the pandemic favored big chains and accelerated the already dangerous corporate concentration in technology—Amazon tripled its profits in the third quarter of 2020 and the top seven tech firms added $3.4 trillion in value last year. This in turn has made all business, as well as ordinary Americans, subject to manipulation by the handful of “platforms” that control the primary means of communication. Meanwhile, lockdowns drove an estimated 160,000 small businesses out of existence and left those that survived to face “an existential threat,” according to the Harvard Business Review.

Like pandemics of the past, the current one, according to Berkeley economists Laura Tyson and Jan Mischke, has already driven new investments in technology that could reverse the long-term decline in U.S. productivity. Low real estate prices could spark a return to street-level enterprise, even in places like Manhattan that have long been ultra-costly.

But the focus of opportunity is more likely to be found in the suburbs and exurbs, as well as in the middle of the country. The movement of populations away from the big urban centers started before COVID, but a recent study in CityLab notes that it has since accelerated in places like California’s Inland Empire, the Hudson Valley, and the New Jersey suburbs. Overall, according to demographer Wendell Cox, offices on the fringe have recovered far faster than those in the largest urban cores like Manhattan, San Francisco, Chicago, and Houston.

The geography of work has changed as well. Upward of 30% of those who plan to work remotely after the pandemic, notes a recent Upwork survey, plan to do so outside the house: in coffee houses, coworking spaces, or other office environments closer to home. This has created a new market for suburban office spaces, real estate investor Andrew Segal told me. He sees remote offices filling with workers who may be tired of working at home but do not want to go back to their long commutes. Segal has recently purchased properties in the suburban commuter sheds around Chicago, New York, Phoenix, and Colorado Springs. “The problem is called COVID, but it’s really about commuting,” suggested Segal, who is based in Houston. “People now know they can get their work done from somewhere else that’s easier to get to than Manhattan, downtown Houston, Chicago, or Los Angeles.”

Businesses are following the trend. Between September 2019 and September 2020, according to the firm American Communities and based on federal data, inner cities experienced nearly a 10% loss in jobs, while outer suburbs, exurbs, and rural areas fared far better. According to Jay Garner, president of Site Selectors Guild, companies are looking increasingly at smaller cities and even rural locations rather than in the big core cities. Indeed, seven of the top 10 midsize cities preferred for new investments include not just sunbelt boomtowns but heartland cities like Columbus, Des Moines, Indianapolis, and Kansas City.

Analysis by Zen Business this year found that the best places for small businesses in terms of taxes, survivability, and regulation were overwhelmingly in the South, parts of the Great Plains, Utah, and across the Midwest. Places like the Bay Area, New York, and Southern California crowded the bottom of the list. In some cities like San Francisco, even opening an ice cream shop has become subject to unendurable, endless regulatory reviews. Many heartland cities are exploiting this opportunity, with some offering generous bonuses to telecommuters from the coasts.

Read the rest of this piece on Tablet Magazine.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Homepage photo: G. Keith Hall via Wikimedia under CC 3.0 License.

Winners and Losers: The Global Economy After COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the world economy in ways that will be debated by pundits and future historians for decades to come. Yet, as hard as it is to predict a disrupted future accurately, the pandemic (not to mention its probable successors) looks likely to produce clear economic winners and losers. The top digital companies—Amazon, Apple, Tencent, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Ant, Netflix, and Hulu—have thrived during quarantines and the ongoing dispersion of work. These are the most obvious winners in what leftist author Naomi Klein has called a “Screen New Deal” that seeks to create a “permanent and profitable no-touch future.” Since 2019, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google have added over two-and-a-half trillion dollars to their combined valuation, and all enjoyed record breaking profits in 2020.

But it’s not just the tech oligarchs who have benefited from the pandemic disruption. Companies that keep the basic economy functioning—firms dealing in logistics, for example, or critical metals or food processing—have become, if anything, even more important. With the shipping supply chain disrupted due to the pandemic, logistics giant Maersk is set to increase its inland-based operation with the acquisition of the Swiss-based broker KGH Customs Services. The company reported its best quarter ever in the first quarter of 2021, launching a $5 billion share buyback scheme. And although the developing world has been hit hard by declines in tourism and investment, mining giants such as Glencore are investing billions to challenge China’s market dominance in rare earth minerals. The global market for cobalt is expected to double by 2025 and has launched a new “scramble for Africa,” which is also raising moral questions about whether or not the green oligarch’s love of the planet outweighs human rights abuses such as the practice of child labor in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Even some high street businesses which have taken major hits are finding new niches. Many small businesses may never return to pre-COVID levels, as people have become used to the convenience of online purchases. Nevertheless, some are finding new uses for redundant malls, and have discovered new ways to reach more customers using social media and technology. Lower property prices are also opening up potential opportunities for entrepreneurs in pricey places such as Manhattan, San Francisco, or London. Pestilence re-shapes economies.

In his 2017 book The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire, historian Kyle Harper argues that plague, as well as climate change, undermined the Roman empire, creating conditions that boosted the barbarian warlords who would later become the Medieval aristocracy. The lethal plagues of the Middle Ages likewise disrupted the great Mongol empire, at the time the largest in history, and in conjunction with cooling temperatures, undermined the stability of the great Silk Road and ended the Pax Mongolica. This opened the door to the Age of Exploration and Europe’s maritime conquest of the world. Within Medieval Europe, the Black Death killed as much as 40 percent of the population, but also precipitated the rise of the Third Estate, and in some places raised wages for scarce labor. “People were fewer,” noted historian Barbara Tuchman, “but they ate better. The pandemic also led to greater emphasis on long-distance navigation.”

During the current crisis, disintermediation has been the primary driver of the post-pandemic economy. The novel coronavirus forced businesses to adapt quickly to new circumstances, and as with all economic crises, created winners and losers. The lockdowns accelerated the use of digital technology for work, retail, and entertainment. This has not only helped the big firms but also produced a whole crop of new startups, many of which address the shift to online work. The tech oligarchies now face competition from decentralized networks based on blockchain technology which is less vulnerable to domination by giant firms with algorithms that are designed to eliminate the incentive structures that lead to central node control and promote monopolistic behavior. Domains such as Lokinet, Ethereum, Odysee, and Urbit seek to give users ownership of their own data. Even Google’s near-monopoly of web browser supremacy is set to be challenged by data-privacy-conscious alternatives such as DuckDuckGo, which has seen a 62 percent growth in search results in 2020. Users are clearly becoming more conscious of privacy and data ownership.

Read the rest of this piece at Quillette.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Hügo Krüger is a Structural Engineer with working experience in the Nuclear, Concrete and Oil and Gas Industry. He was born in Pretoria South Africa and moved to France in 2015. He holds a Bachelors Degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Pretoria and a Masters degree in Nuclear Structures from the École spéciale des travaux publics, du bâtiment et de l’industrie (ESTP Paris). He frequently contributes to the South African English blog Rational Standard and the Afrikaans Newspaper Rapport. He fluently speaks French, Germany, English and Afrikaans. His interests include politics, economics, public policy, history, languages, Krav Maga and Structural Engineering.

Homepage photo: Steve Jurvetson, via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

There’s an Exodus From the ‘Star Cities,’ and I Have Good News and Bad News

By: Thomas B. Edsall
In: New York Times

When it comes to the fate of big cities in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, there are two sets of overlapping economic and political consequences, but they are not necessarily what you might expect.

Declining tax revenues, business closures, spiking rates of violent crime and an exodus to smaller communities have left major urban centers anxious about surviving the pandemic’s aftermath and returning to a new normal.

But all is not lost.

In a paper published earlier this month, “America’s Post-Pandemic Geography, two urbanists who come from very different political perspectives, Richard Florida, a professor at the University of Toronto, and Joel Kotkin, a professor at Chapman University, argue:

Any shift away from superstar cities may augur a long-overdue and much-needed geographic recalibration of America’s innovation economy. High-tech industries have come to be massively concentrated — some would say overconcentrated — in coastal elite cities and tech hubs. The San Francisco Bay Area and the Acela Corridor (spanning Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C.) have accounted for about three-quarters of all venture-capital investment in high-tech start-ups. In the decade and a half leading up to the pandemic, more than 90 percent of employment growth in America’s innovation economy was concentrated in just five major coastal metros: San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, San Diego, and Boston, according to the Brookings Institution.

In addition, Florida and Kotkin write:

The current shift to remote work makes geographic rebalancing of these industries more feasible, and a number of leading big tech companies have openly embraced it. Such a rebalancing might help not only smaller cities develop more robust economies but also take some pressure off the housing and real-estate markets of superstar cities and tech hubs, making them more affordable.

Read the rest of this piece at New York Times.

Related:

America’s Post-Pandemic Geography
The Geography of COVID-19
Could COVID Exodus Speed the Heartland Revival?

America’s First Infantada

We are here to guide public opinion, not to discuss it.
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, 1804

By the calendar, the American republic is mature, but it’s becoming rapidly ever more infantilized. In everything from schooling to Covid-19 to race and global warming, we seem to be looking for simple, easy answers that a toddler might appreciate but healthy adults know are too pat to be true. Read more

A Test of Strength: Pandemics Through the Eye of Religion with Rev. John L. McCullough

In this episode of the Feudal Future podcast, hosts Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky talk with Rev. John L. McCullough about the impact of COVID on faith-based organizations and how religion will reinvent itself through this pandemic.

The Clash: The Power Divide Between the Working Class & the Managerial Elite

In this episode of the Feudal Future podcast, hosts Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky talk with Michael Lind about how changes in economic control and the rise of social media affect national polarization.

The End of Innovation: Exposing California

In this episode of the Feudal Future podcast, hosts Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky talk with Tracy Hernandez about the end of innovation exposing California’s need to focus on job creation, electing public officials with job creating focus and ability.

Covid mRNA Vaccines and the State of Future Pandemics

In this episode of the Feudal Future podcast, hosts Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky talk with Joe Payne and Tony Lemus about COVID mRNA vaccines and their likely impact on the future of pandemics.