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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.

Joe Biden’s Imaginary America

After two painful recessions and ever greater national discord, there is considerable support for a new beginning, even if it takes massive federal spending. The question we must ask now is what kind of spending makes sense given the character of the country, its geography, and its economic challenges. America remains a vast and diverse place, and decisions that make sense for one locale do not necessarily make any sense in others. A dispersed country needs dispersed decision-making, not edicts issued from on high by the D.C. nomenklatura.

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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?

The Geography of COVID-19

The ongoing pandemic is reshaping the geography of our planet, helping some areas and hurting others. In the West, the clear winners have been the sprawling suburbs and exurbs, while dense cores have been dealt a powerful blow. The pandemic also has accelerated class differences and inequality, with poor and working class people around the world paying the dearest price. These conclusions are based on data we have repeatedly updated. Despite some variations, our earlier conclusions hold up: the virus wreaked the most havoc in areas of high urban density. This first became evident in the alarming pre-lockdown fatalities that occurred in New York City and the suburban commuting shed from which many of the employees in the huge Manhattan business district are drawn. Similar patterns have been seen in Europe and Asia as well.

The problem is not density per se but rather the severe overcrowding associated with poverty in high density areas. Overcrowded physical proximity often includes insufficiently ventilated spaces such as crowded public transit, elevators, and employment locations, especially high-rise buildings, which often have windows that cannot be opened. Overcrowded bars, restaurants, and other retail establishments are also a part of the problem. Professor Shlomo Angel head of the New York University Urban Expansion Project at the Marron Institute and the NYU Stern Urbanization Project and principal author of A Planet of Cities and the Atlas of Urban Expansion explains:

It is important to increase density literacy among politicians, professionals, and activists to make it clear that the density that contributed to the pandemic, overcrowded multigenerational housing, mass events, crowded transit cars, or crowded bars and restaurants, is not the kind of density we need to increase to make cities more affordable and to combat climate change. The densification we need involves making room in cities, adding floor space so that more people can occupy the same area without overcrowding.

Mixed evidence on lockdowns

Overcrowding intensifies exposure density. Recognizing this, governments imposed lockdowns and social distancing measures intended to reduce crowding and viral transmission. But lockdowns can be effective in some situations and not in others. Social distancing and remote work can readily reduce the exposure density of overcrowded trains, workplaces, elevators, and retail establishments, especially in the densest urban cores. Restaurants and bars were forced to close, and as many employers switched to remote working, fatality rates dropped substantially.

But this approach has exacted a steep cost. In New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Toronto, suburban rail ridership declined by between 75 and 90 percent compared to the previous year. There has been a precipitous decline in the economies of the central business districts (CBDs) of these metropolitan areas, which have suffered economically more than most of their smaller counterparts. City Journal has reported that, in 2020, “New York City lost 500,000 private-sector jobs. Its office buildings are only 15 percent occupied. Ninety percent of the city’s restaurants failed to pay their December 2020 rent, and 5,000 have shut down altogether. Employment in the city’s arts and entertainment sector has plummeted 66 percent. And, perhaps most alarming: 300,000 New Yorkers from high-income neighborhoods have filed change-of-address forms with the Postal Service.” Rents are now the lowest in a decade.

Much of the employment activity central to modern cities—finance, marketing, technology, media, consulting—has been transferred to the “cloud model” of employment. Even in places like Hong Kong and Tokyo that have avoided the worst of the pandemic, there has been a significant reduction in CBD on-site work as remote work has increased. An ominous sign for the future: considerable evidence that productivity has improved or at least remained the same.

Nevertheless, social distancing and dispersion have proven successful in containing the spread of the virus. Our analysis of county fatality rate data shows that, in April 2020, the fatality rate in the New York combined statistical area (31 economically connected counties) was seven times the national rate. By July 2020, the CSA rate had fallen below the national rate. But the price was empty streets, sidewalks, office buildings, as well as bars and restaurants all essential to maintaining a dynamic city.

The future of cities

How many workers will return to the CBDs remains an open question, but it seems likely to be many fewer than before the pandemic. Even as we write, new lockdown measures are being implemented in Ontario, and it seems fair to ask when lockdowns will be sufficiently relaxed for urban cores to begin operating at their new normal. Downtowns have recovered far less quickly than suburban, exurban, and small towns. City centers in London, Paris, Berlin, Melbourne, Sydney, Milan, and elsewhere have suffered huge physical employment losses and increases in remote work.

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.

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy firm located in the St. Louis metropolitan area. He is a founding senior fellow at the Urban Reform Institute, Houston, a Senior Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy in Winnipeg and a member of the Advisory Board of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University in Orange, California. He has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers in Paris. His principal interests are economics, poverty alleviation, demographics, urban policy and transport. He is co-author of the annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey and author of Demographia World Urban Areas.

Homepage photo: Prayitnophotography via Flickr, under CC 2.0 License.

Could COVID Exodus Speed the Heartland Revival?

Over the past two decades America’s largest urban areas enjoyed a heady renaissance, driven in large part by the in-migration of immigrants, minorities and young people. But even as a big-city dominated press corps continued to report on gentrification and displacement, those trends began to reverse themselves in recent years as all three of those populations started heading in ever larger numbers to suburbs, sprawling sunbelt boomtowns and smaller cities and out of the biggest ones.

That shift preceded the COVID pandemic, but has rapidly accelerated with the expansion of remote work, which has undermined the economic basis for high-end urban and post-industrial economies. Meanwhile, the severe lockdowns Democratic governors and mayors favored devastated the service and small business economies that had provided sustenance to immigrant and minority entrepreneurs and workers.

The same “canaries in the coal mine” that spurred America’s urban renaissance have been leaving its big cities in growing numbers since 2014, notes demographer Wendell Cox. New York, Los Angeles and Chicago have all begun to lose population while people have flocked to new employment hubs like Austin, Dallas, Phoenix, Columbus and Nashville that have led the way in terms of both overall new jobs and high-end business and professional service jobs.

Nowhere is this shift more evident than with immigrants. The share of the foreign born settling in big coastal “gateways” has plunged from 44 percent in 2010 to barely 35 percent in 2019. Foreign-born populations, notes Cox in research for the think tank Heartland Forward, stagnated or even declined in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago as they surged in Houston (over 25 percent growth), Dallas-Ft Worth (30 percent) Charlotte (nearly 40 percent) and Nashville (a remarkable 44 percent).

Houston, in fact, is now the most diverse major metropolitan area in the country. In 1960, Harris County, which includes Houston and many of its suburbs, was 70 percent white, non-Hispanic and 20 percent African American. Today, the county’s total population is 31 percent white and non-Hispanic, 42 percent Hispanic, 19 percent Black and 8 percent Asian. The share of foreign-born Houstonians now approaches one-fourth of the population—almost twice the average for the nation’s 50 most populous metros.

More surprising still has been the equally rapid move of immigrants to smaller cities such as Fayetteville, Ark., Knoxville, Tenn,; Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Springfield, Mo., and Fargo, N.D. The fastest growth in foreign-born populations has been in areas with traditionally low immigrant concentrations. Where the foreign-born population grew by 10 percent nationally in the last decades, in states like Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and the Dakotas it has expanded by 30 percent.

Racial minorities, too, are heading increasingly to the sunbelt boom towns, the south and to smaller cities. The surges in Latino, Asian and African American growth are not in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, or the Bay Area, according to an analysis by Wendell Cox for the Urban Reform Institute, but in Atlanta, Boise, Salt Lake City, Phoenix and Las Vegas.

Again, economics is a key factor. Middle-class job creation has been generally stronger in these communities and, due to less regulation and lower taxes, costs are lower. African-American real incomes in Atlanta are more than $60,000, compared to $36,000 in San Francisco and $37,000 in Los Angeles. The median income for Latinos in Virginia Beach-Norfolk is $69,000, compared to $43,000 in Los Angeles, $47,000 in San Francisco and $40,000 in New York City. The highest Asian median household incomes are in Raleigh, Jackson, Fayetteville (AR-MO) and Austin.

Read the rest of this piece at Daily Beast.


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.

Photo: Brian Stansberry via Wikimedia under CC 3.0 License.

Why More Americans Should Leave Home and Move to Other States

America has been lazily divided by pundits into red and blue states, as if there weren’t constant movement of people between them. Fortunately, reality is a lot more purple — and hopeful — as immigrants, people of color and millennials reshape parts of America by voting with their feet and moving.

These demographic groups are migrating from the big coastal cities to the suburbs, the interior cities, the South and even parts of the Midwest. And in the process, these newcomers change both their new homes and are also changed by them.

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Remote Work is Here to Stay — and It’s Changing Our Lives

By: Michael S. Hopkins
In: The Christian Science Monitor

It’s a typical January morning somewhere in the desert outside Wickenburg, Arizona, and corporate strategy consultant Kenny D’Evelyn is heading for work. He kisses his wife goodbye, steps out of his 26-foot RV with the truck cab in front, squints into the still-rising sun, and walks 14 paces to a shiny aluminum horse trailer. He opens the door, pulls a chair across some straw, and sits at a makeshift desk. He fires up a computer. And he prepares – for the first but by no means last time this day – to Zoom.

It was not always thus. Until a year ago Mr. D’Evelyn went to work like most of us did – more than most of us did, actually, given his consultant’s life of spending four days of every week at a client’s site on the road. But then last March he was sent home. At which point he became an involuntary part of what might be the largest natural experiment in the history of work.

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Can We Save the Planet, Live Comfortably, and Have Children Too?

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about what Zillow calls “the great re-shuffling,” as more people head out of major metropolitan areas to work, often remotely, in less dense, even rural areas. The recent surges in urban crime and disorder, in once-placid London and Paris, and once-triumphant New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, are likely to make things even tougher for the urban core.

As technology shifts, particularly for white-collar workers, the economic logic behind urban densification and expanded mass transit weakens. Today, nearly 45 percent of the 155 million-strong U.S. labor force is working from home full-time during the pandemic, up from below 6 percent in 2019. When the pandemic ends, this portion will no doubt drop, but experts like Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom suggest that it will remain at least 20 percent of the workforce.

Some 60 percent of U.S. teleworkers, according to Gallup, wish to keep doing so, at least for now. Globally, some 80 percent of workers expressed a desire to work from home at least some of the time. Equally important, many executives believe that this shift will continue, disproportionately affecting our largest, most celebrated business hubs. Both executives and employees have been impressed by surprising gains, and now many companies, banks, and leading tech firms – including Facebook, Salesforce, and Twitter – expect a large proportion of their workforce to continue to do their jobs remotely after the pandemic.

The coming conflict between reality and the green urban agenda

These preferences counter the narrative, so popular with planners and pundits, of the need for greater density and smaller living units in metropolitan areas, amid the expansion of mass transit.

If the densification agenda was weak before, it is almost delusional now. Even before Covid, the largest core-city populations have been stagnant or declining, including fabled American cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Nationwide since 2010, 90 percent of major metropolitan-area growth took place in the suburbs and exurbs. Jobs followed this pattern as well before Covid started undermining the economic rationale for high-rise office towers and massive new transit investment.

To be sure, some industries may choose to concentrate in the core by preference or tradition, and certain groups, largely the childless and the super-affluent, may remain in the urban playground for reasons of culture, social contacts, or easy access to international airports. But with the rise of remote work, most are likely to labor at home or nearby. They will travel less; upward of 33 percent of all business travel, critical to the health of many inner-city economies, could be permanently lost, as people opt for remote meetings and training sessions.

Read the rest of this piece at Real Clear Energy.


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.

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy firm located in the St. Louis metropolitan area. He is a founding senior fellow at the Urban Reform Institute, Houston and a member of the Advisory Board of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University in Orange, California. He has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers in Paris. His principal interests are economics, poverty alleviation, demographics, urban policy and transport. He is co-author of the annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey and author of Demographia World Urban Areas.

Photo credit: Frantik via Wikimedia under CC 3.0 License.

The Case for American Optimism

Now that Trump has been edged out of office, Joe Biden may emerge as the harbinger of a brighter, better blue future or as a version of Konstantin Chernenko, the aged timeserver who ran the Soviet Union in its dying days. To succeed, he will have to confront massive pessimism about America’s direction, with some 80 percent thinking the country is out of control. The Atlantic last year compared the U.S. to a “failed state,” while The Week predicts “dark days ahead.”

Conservative opinion, particularly after the election, is also increasingly mordant. The American Conservative’s Rod Dreher thinks we are heading towards a state of “no families, no children, no future” as the cultural Left and its gender-fluid ideology take hold of the culture. Marco Rubio has already suggested that the new president’s administration will prove “polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline.”

America as a whole is not a “failed state” but a place where people move from areas of limited opportunity to those with more. The pandemic has accelerated this process. The Congressional Budget Office has suggested that the economy could take a decade to recover, but some metropolitan areas, such as Indianapolis, Salt Lake City, Austin, Dallas–Fort Worth, and San Antonio, as well as others across the South, have recovered far more decisively from the pandemic than Los Angeles, New York, Boston, or San Francisco. Similarly, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, California and New York suffered the highest unemployment rates outside of tourist-dominated Nevada, Louisiana, and Hawaii.

The pandemic has accelerated a shift away from expensive coastal cities that was already well under way before it hit. Urbanistas blame this migration on the pandemic, which was most deadly in dense urban areas, but it has been going on for years, for many reasons. Workers in New York City are the least likely to return to offices, according to Kastle Systems, because of virus concerns about public transportation and skyscrapers as well as the city’s population density.

The home office is replacing at banks and leading technology firms, the office for many and, to many manager’s surprise, with surprising productivity gains. A University of Chicago study suggests that this could grow to as much as one-third of the workforce, and in Silicon Valley, the number could reach nearly 50 percent.

Many companies predict much of the workforce will remain online, some part-time and some all the time. The impact on our geography could be profound: An estimated 14 to 23 million remote workers may relocate as a consequence of the pandemic, according to a recent Upwork survey, with half of them saying they are seeking more affordable places to live.

These trends likely will moderate, but much of the repositioning of work may continue even after the introduction of a vaccine. To be sure, lower rents could provide a great opportunity to reinvent and revitalize our cities, by luring a new generation of immigrants and young entrepreneurs. But the political wave now sweeping our cities threatens to undermine even a modest rebound.

In recent months, many of our once most attractive cities — Minneapolis, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Portland — have become largely dysfunctional, particularly in their downtown areas. Movements to limit the police and cut their funding have become de rigueur in our most progressive cities, and violent crime in places such as Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, and Los Angeles is picking up. Given the failures of urban educational systems, the return of fear to the cities will continue to force out many middle-class families.

The pandemic has widened the gap between the vast majority and the relatively small upper-middle and upper classes. It could widen further under an administration that appears determined to fill itself with people who have close ties to Wall Street, technology firms, and the China lobby. That tendency can be seen in Biden’s proposed choice for secretary of state (Antony Blinken) as well as his naming as head of his economic council Brian Deese, a high-ranking official at BlackRock — a firm that, like many woke corporations, has pushed “stakeholder capitalism.” In this formulation, large companies are expected to serve not only their shareholders but a specific agenda of set progressive values on such things as climate change, gender roles, and “systemic” racism.

Read the rest of this piece at National Review.


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 — formerly the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin

Photo credit: Tim Brown via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

Can California stop Big Tech from decamping to cheaper places?

For the past half-century, California has dominated America’s tech industry. From the development of precision farming to the incubation of aircraft, space, semiconductors and computer systems, this state has emerged time and again at the cutting edge of future industries. Read more