An old friend writes from Baltimore:
‘I was taking a post-prandial stroll the other day, up St Paul, a left on Read, then down again on Charles.’
‘I noticed there was a single car parked inside the 1217 kraal. Two on the lot behind 808.’
‘I noticed the fading For Sale banner on the cast-iron fence in front of the Chas Street property. The dead and deserted lunchtime eateries heading down toward Pratt. Tumbleweeds where Kerrigan Kitikul used to make the best Chicken Pad Thai anywhere, complaining to me about the latter-day yuppies who ordered chicken without the chicken.
‘No chickens, no yuppies in sight. Just grad students with crap hanging from their pierced nostrils and the bored scribblings of tenth graders permanently etched on their flabby hides.
‘Looking up to good old George W, I pondered if the time was right to replace him with Horatio Nelson, gazing over the swells at Trafalgar…shot-to-sh*t French men o’war…the shivered-me timbers of Spanish galleons…a single oar still moving in frantic cones: a lone survivor unaware that the painted Fortuna at the bow was already winking at passing mackerel.
‘o quae mutatio rerum.’
Our friend was describing the carcass of our own business! Until 2020, we attracted hundreds of young workers into the city…ready to spend their money and enjoy misspending their youth. Now, they see no reason to come into the city at all. Our buildings — 10 of them in the heart of the city — are mostly empty. They had been grand houses for rich people. Then, after the rich left, they became nice places to work, with desks and computer screens amid the classical trim work.
What has happened to US cities? Democratic mayors, machine politics and wars against poverty and drugs pummelled the cities over decades. Today, we explore the circles of Hell.
‘The business districts in a number of America’s major cities like New York and San Francisco are facing an “urban doom loop” as the workforce shifts away from office work in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic — a trend that has economists raising alarm about the fiscal impacts.
‘This was not solely the fault of Democratic city governments. While they continued to jab and punch at their own voters, the Trump Administration came at them like Mike Tyson for Evander Holyfield’s left ear. In March of 2020, Trump proclaimed ‘two weeks to stop the spread’ — a shutdown of much of the US economy. Workers suddenly didn’t have to come to the office. They could work, or not, remotely.’
Even then, it was obvious that the COVID virus was a threat to the old and the unfit…not to most people with 9–5 jobs. Most working people are under 65 years of age. But the overwhelming bulk of COVID victims had already retired. The Mayo Clinic reports:
In the US, about 81% of deaths from the disease have been in people aged 65 and older. Risks are even higher for older people when they have other health conditions.
In other words, people died from COVID much like they did everything else — when they got old. And by now, despite vaccines that promised to protect them from it, almost everyone we know has gotten COVID-19, some people more than once. And (almost!) every one of them is still alive.
The horrors of the lockdowns are largely forgiven. But they are not forgotten. Dr Fauci, the perpetrator of the scam, is joining the faculty of our old alma mater, Georgetown, where he will be able to infect young minds. But office space is still largely vacant.
During the lockdown, people in cities could scarcely leave their houses or apartments. They were trapped — often in dreadful circumstances. After all, in big cities, space tends to be expensive. Many people — especially young people — use their tiny pads just as places to sleep. The rest of the time, they are out and about — at work, at health clubs, at bars, parks and restaurants.
But during the lockdown they were, well, locked down. There was nowhere to go. And nothing to do. God forbid you were trapped in a small space with someone you didn’t like.
Many people — the trendsetters — took the lockdowns as an invitation to get out of Dodge. They headed to states that were less eager to tell their citizens what they could and could not do. Small towns and suburbs were more pleasant, freer, and even cheaper. And the emigres found that they could work just as well in their new gardens — remotely — as they once worked in their cubicles.
And then, when the fake emergency was over, they didn’t want to go back to work.
‘The growing popularity of remote work has decreased the number of workers heading to the office on a daily basis and made it easier than ever for workers to live in suburban and rural areas without needing to commute. That workforce migration poses challenges for businesses reliant on sales and traffic from bustling downtowns, and risks triggering a fiscal doom loop in which cities see tax revenue dwindle and respond by raising taxes or reducing services, further exacerbating conditions for the remaining residents and businesses.’
Office occupancy rates in major cities fell to just 10% by the end of 2020. Still today, only about half the workforce has returned to the desks and diners that once knew them. In response, landlords have had to reduce office values by an estimated 39% to retain renters. But the vacancy rate is running at twice the historic average. And in total, economists believe the value of New York’s commercial office space might be cut by about half a trillion dollars as a result.
Yes…city governments and the national government have both done their parts to make city life miserable. But those are just the outer rings of Urban Hell. There are more.
For The Daily Reckoning Australia