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Feudal Future Podcast – The World After COVID

On this episode of Feudal Future, Marshall Toplansky hosts a discussion of the global future after COVID with Richard Florida, Joel Kotkin, Bheki Mahlobo, Li Sun, and Laure Mandeville.

Feudal Future Podcast – Is There Hope? The Future of California Politics

On this episode of Feudal Future, hosts Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky are joined by Tom Campbell and Shawn Steel to discuss the future of California politics.

The Great Office Refusal

The pandemic has cut a swath through our sense of normalcy, but as has been the case throughout history, a disastrous plague also brings opportunities to reshape and even improve society. COVID-19 provides the threat of greater economic concentration, but also a unique chance to recast our geography, expand the realm of the middle class, boost social equity, and develop better ways to create sustainable communities.

Driven partly by fear of infection, and by the liberating rise of remote work, Americans have been increasingly freed from locational constraints. Work continues apace in suburbs and particularly in sprawling exurbs that surround core cities, while the largest downtowns (central business districts, or CBDs) increasingly resemble ghost towns.

This shift has made it more practical for individuals and particularly families to migrate to locations where they can find more affordable rents, and perhaps even buy a house. But such a pattern may be countered by investors on Wall Street, who seem determined to turn the disruption to their own advantage by gearing up efforts to buy out increasingly expensive single-family homes, transforming potential homeowners into permanent rental serfs and much of the country into a latifundium dominated by large landlords.

We are in the midst of what the CEO of Zillow has called “the great reshuffling,” essentially an acceleration of an already entrenched trend of internal American migration toward suburbs, the sunbelt, and smaller cities. Between 2019 and 2021 alone, a preference for larger homes in less dense areas grew from 53% to 60%, according to Pew. As many as 14 million to 23 million workers may relocate as a consequence of the pandemic, according to a recent Upwork survey, half of whom say they are seeking more affordable places to live.

This suggests that the downtown cores of U.S. cities will continue to struggle. Since the pandemic began, tenants have given back around 200 million square feet of commercial real estate, according to Marcus & Millichap data, and the current office vacancy rate stands at 16.2%, matching the peak of the 2008 financial crisis. Between September 2019 and September 2020, the biggest job losses, according to the firm American Communities and based on federal data, have been in big cities (nearly a 10% drop in employment), followed by their close-in suburbs, while rural areas suffered only a 6% drop, and exurbs less than 5%. Today our biggest cities—Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago—account for three of the five highest unemployment rates among the 51 largest metropolitan areas.

The rise of remote work drives these trends. Today, perhaps 42% of the 165 million-strong U.S. labor force is working from home full time, up from 5.7% in 2019. When the pandemic ends, that number will probably drop, but one study, based on surveys of more than 30,000 employees, projects that 20% of the U.S. workforce will still work from home post-COVID. 

Others predict a still more durable shift: A University of Chicago study suggests that a full one-third of the workforce could remain remote, and in Silicon Valley, the number could stabilize near 50%. Both executives and employees have been impressed by the surprising gains of remote work, and now many companies, banks, and leading tech firms—including Facebook, Salesforce, and Twitter—expect a large proportion of their workforces to continue to work remotely. Nine out of 10 organizations, according to a new McKinsey survey of 100 executives across industries and geographies, plan to keep at least a hybrid of remote and on-site work indefinitely.

The shift of work from the office to the home, or at least to less congested spaces, threatens the strict geographic hierarchy of many elite corporations. Some corporate executives, like Morgan Stanley’s Jamie Dimon, are determined to force employees back into Manhattan offices, like it or not. It’s now a common mantra among like-minded executives, especially those connected to downtown office development, that workers are “pining” to return to the office. Some have even threatened employees who do not come back in person with lower wages and decreased opportunities for promotion, while offering to reward those willing to take the personal hit of coming back on-site every day.

Read the rest of this piece at Tablet.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs 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 credit: Steven Zwerink via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

The COVID Class War: The Obedient Online Educated vs. The IRL Resistance

A new class conflict is emerging across the world. You can see its face in the mass protests over COVID-19 restrictions from Paris, Berlin and London to southern California and Melbourne. The protestors are often cast as a death cult of ignorant rubes, but they are exposing a new class conflict that’s pitting two increasingly irreconcilable populations against each other: those who wish to obey and those who refuse restraints.

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Feudal Future Podcast – The Psychological Impact of the Pandemic

On this episode of Feudal Future, hosts Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky are joined by Ross Elliott and Aaron Kheriaty to discuss the psychological impact of the pandemic.

Feudal Future Podcast – The Crisis on Labor

On this episode of Feudal Future, hosts Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky are joined by Robyn Domber, Lane Windham and Michael Bernick to discuss the crisis on labor shortages.

Feudal Future Podcast – What Works Best? Working from Home vs. Working in the Office

On this episode of Feudal Future, hosts Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky are joined by Doug Holte, Kate Lister, and Andrew Segal to discuss work post-pandemic.

How America Abandoned the World—and Our Own Inner Cities

In America and across the globe, COVID-19 is diminishing people’s prospects, exacerbating inequality and creating ever-more feudal societies as the pandemic ravages the health and the pocketbooks of the poor and the poorly educated.

Globally developing countries are suffering from what The Nation describes as “a gargantuan north-south vaccination gap” between developing countries where fewer than 10 percent of people have been vaccinated compared to around 70 percent in Western Europe, Israel, Canada and US. And within affluent countries, there’s nearly as wide a gap between well-off and well-educated populations, and rural and urban backwaters still suffering from “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

In the long history of pestilence and plague, French historian Fernand Braudel noted, there was always a “separate demography for the rich”. As today, the affluent tended to eat better and could often escape the worst exposure to pestilence by retreating to country estates, while the poor have been left to fend for themselves as “victims of the urban graveyard effect” that’s persisted since the fall of Rome.

Despite attempts in the media to deny or downplay the links between density and disease, COVID death and infection rates remain worse in dense urban counties where poorer residents often have to navigate insufficiently ventilated enclosed spaces that their more affluent and mobile counterparts have been mostly able to avoid.

Generally speaking, educated and affluent city and suburban dwellers recovered their incomes within the first year of the pandemic, even as millions of Americans have fallen into poverty or are on the verge of destitution, and the federal moratorium on evictions is about to expire. Overall, upper-income workers recovered completely while lower-wage workers suffered major income declines.

As of May, employment for those making $60,000 a year or more is up by 7.4 percent since the pandemic began, while employment for those making $27,000 a year of less has plunged by 21 percent, according to tracktherecovery.org. The drop in low-wage employment has been even steeper in affluent areas, like Manhattan, as the high-wage workers who had clustered there are now dispersed while working remotely and buying services in their new locales.

This trend could accelerate if new pandemics emerge in the near future, as many fear they will. But for now, at least for developed countries, vaccinations offer a way out. Since January, COVID-19 has dropped from the leading cause of death in America to the seventh leading cause. But even here, the widely varied inoculation rates suggest future social problems, particularly as COVID-19 is becoming “hyper-regionalized” in communities with both low vaccination and low immunity rates, according to former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb.

These come primarily in two very different, but historically impoverished and poorly educated populations: rural America, where the national media has mocked the people getting sick as Trumpist rubes, and inner-city America.

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.

Homepage photo: MCJ1800, via Wikimedia under CC 4.0 License. Composite, R. Howard.

Joel Kotkin talks with Rod Arquette About How the Pandemic Changes Workplace

By: Rod Arquette
On: The Rod Arquette Show Daily Rundown

Joel Kotkin joins the Rod Arquette show for a conversation about his recent piece about how the pandemic will change the workplace in America.

 

 

Related:

How Work Will Permanently Change After the Pandemic
Winners and Losers: The Global Economy After COVID

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.