What if You’re Right?

66 thoughts on “What if You’re Right?”

  1. This is me to a “T” :
    “There are many people who long for the city that existed before the tsunami of stock options, leveraged buy backs, foreign real estate investors, and Internet wealth transformed it. What if the city did depopulate and decline to a poorer more run down condition? For some folks it would present a fantastic opportunity to thrive in a far more forgiving and affordable milieu. That’s not the worst thing in the world – at least for the people who love cities warts and all. The people who demand a pristine suburban environment never mattered to the city anyway.”

    Born and bred in NYC, with stints in Europe and California, I live in a low-rise “affordable” (e.g. working class) neighborhood surprisingly lush with parks and bordered by two rivers. We are lots of self-employed, creative, small business owners and immigrants; the demographic is shifting but we are still babies to grannies. Most of us patronize local businesses rather big box or chains; we say hello to each other on the street. Our neighborhood has just been rezoned (in court now and holding our breath). Until corona I would long for the coming recession so all that shiny, empty new nonsense would stop. I miss the subway (for now), the museums, the serendipity; I will not miss the upscalers or the tourists. I wonder what will happen to all those supertalls, though; in my dreams they become housing for those who need it.

  2. “Yesterday her company informed her that her salary would be adjusted down to the Oklahoma level since there was no need to compensate her at the old San Francisco premium. She ran the new numbers. Turns out, they didn’t step up by moving to a less expensive market. They actually fell off a cliff. Surprise!”

    Question: was the cliff-falling due to the decrease in income or the size of the house that she bought in Oklahoma?

    Here in flyover country, there are plenty of modest three-bedroom, two-bath houses in bland suburbs for $175k to $200k, some considerably less if you’re willing to move to a less fashionable part of the ‘burbs. From what I’ve read about the San Francisco housing market on your blog, it wouldn’t surprise me that a comparably sized home there would be $750,000 or more. You’d think the difference in housing costs alone would compensate for the pay adjustment.

  3. Right. The worst case scenario is that the difference in the price of real estate between the few cities what went nuclear in the 2010s and their suburbs, and between the largest metros and the rest, will shrink. The bovine heard that abandoned the cities in the 1970s, because everyone was doing it, and then flooded into a small number of cities in the 2010s, because everyone was doing it, will move on.

    Is that really a worst case? It might mean that some people who own SUVs might no live in Brooklyn anymore, but it might also mean my children can stay here. Same in San Francisco.

    “Yesterday her company informed her that her salary would be adjusted down to the Oklahoma level since there was no need to compensate her at the old San Francisco premium. She ran the new numbers. Turns out, they didn’t step up by moving to a less expensive market. They actually fell off a cliff. Surprise!”

    Next up? We are adjusting the Oklahoma rate down to the India rate. Because if workers could be anywhere…


    The stock market is up because businesses are getting to cut wages, but they think someone the government will give Americans money so they can still buy things the can’t afford, by going deeper and deeper into debt in the run-up to a final collapse when Generation Greed isn’t around anymore.


    “The source of unemployment in a crisis like this is a lack of aggregate demand,” he said. “Pay cuts are only going to make that worse.”

    No kidding. Somehow nobody thought of that for the past 45 years. And to think how much those at the top paid each other for creating an unsustainable system destined for collapse.

  4. The conversation of an urban diaspora is hyper-localized.

    Maybe COVID is enough cause a cycical downturn in a few places, but I see it having no special effect in the majority of urban america, which is more like Framingham Massachusetts than it is like Brooklyn New York. That is, the last remnants of pre-war america nurtured for decades by immigrants & the working classes while it’s cache of buildings succumb to parking-lotification at varying rates.


    1. My friend Steve at http://rationalurbanism.com/ offers the same observation. His gentle criticism of New Urbanism is simple: for every tiny new mixed use building or quasi-traditional subdivision with front porches and garages in back there are 7,000 lovely old pre-war buildings that get bulldozed to make way for parking lots and storm water retention ponds.

  5. Tangentially, the NYT has an article today about Covid-19 being much deadlier in blue areas. Density, race, and age are cited as factors. California did well, despite being dense and diverse, probably because of an early decision to shut down. NYC is the epicenter and I wonder if the slower response there allowed infected New Yorkers to spread to other blue areas and lead to outbreaks there.


  6. It is important to separate what is realistic from that is perceived based on peer pressure. Individuals who grew up in a rural setting may live the urban life for a while, but maturity brings them back to at least the sigle family home community or modest sized municipality. True urbanites may have fears of the less populus locations. Throughout history ,dotted around the globe are ruins of urban centers. Some of the common threads that are believed to be the cause of the urban declines and failures are attributed to limited fresh water supply, too far from the coast ,or lack of a navigable port and the resources of the location no longer supported the workforce . Many were cultured and educated ,but still abandoned. These same questions we could ask today. Does the amount produced by a city equal or surpass what is required to maintain it?

  7. Her budget allowed for one of the most expensive homes in their new town.

    Yesterday her company informed her that her salary would be adjusted down to the Oklahoma level since there was no need to compensate her at the old San Francisco premium. She ran the new numbers. Turns out, they didn’t step up by moving to a less expensive market. They actually fell off a cliff. Surprise!

    Maybe she should’ve de-leveraged and bought a cheaper home. Also, it’s not a good look to move from San Francisco and buy a mansion in BFE – it just confirms what everyone already believes about San Franciscans. Does she want to have friends?

    If all these things come true, our assumptions about the price of commercial real estate are going to shift massively. The question is a very good one. People should ask themselves what actions they’re now taking to hedge against the future they predict. For example, if the future is going Water World due to global warming, are you learning to sail? If you think wages are going to be lower in the future, are you getting out of debt now? Etc.

  8. “I see it in friends and family who are in the 10%. They have good salaries but not much wealth. Certainly nowhere near the wealth to fund their lifestyle they, “need.” They got handed a nice start by their parents but they are so strapped by consumption they won’t be able to pass on a cent to their kids.”

    Exactly. I have been surrounded by these 10% folks both in Texas and now in the Portland metro area. They tend to be the MOST rigid and least creative when it comes to things like single family zoning. They are the ones most clamoring for HOAs and gated communities and all of that. And the ones most fearful of any change that might increase density and bring the “wrong element’ into their local schools. Often their homes are their only real asset and so they militantly try to create a moat around their little piece of suburbia.

    The ultra wealthy tend to be much more comfortable with urban living and are much more rootless. Maybe an apartment in Manhattan, a weekend home somewhere in the country. Perhaps a vacation home in Costa Rica or somewhere in Europe. Their assets are diversified and they aren’t religiously rooted to a specific location.

    1. This. The term often thrown in to trump any new thing in or near a suburban HOA development is “but it will affect our property values”. [I understand the word “trump” carries connotations today beyond its classical meaning, but please don’t read anything more than the classical meaning into it here.]

      1. And they’re probably right.

        Homes seem to be managed more like a currency than like an essential good. Don’t create too many of them (or don’t allow developers to create too many), otherwise the value of those homes will collapse.

        So the permission to build one home will be more expensive than actually building it. For older houses in central Auckland it is not unusual to see an estimated ‘land value’ which is more than 5 times the estimated value of the building on it (the ‘improvement value’).

        1. In US “flyover country” (where I have lived all but a decade of my life), there are only a handful of places where the land value of a parcel is higher than the value of a home on it.

          Rule of thumb here for SFH is that land is typically up to/less than 20% of total improved property value (and often closer to 10%), especially suburban HOA settings.

  9. I think one of the problems in the discussion is the defining of terms. The best opportunities in the US are largely in the big megalopolises, the large city and their suburban agglomerations on the East and West coasts. The discussion centers on the urban center of the megalopolis versus its suburbs versus rural areas. But the small cities and towns in the middle are completely ignored. To Americans it seems inevitable because it is all we know. But if you look at the settlement patterns of Europe, there are thousands of vital cities and towns of say 50 – 500 thousand people that have one or two good companies and good opportunities and some culture. Opportunity and settlement is far less centralized. Every 10 miles in Europe there is a beautiful city with some vibrant historic center and an important company or two. Settlement and opportunity are dispersed. Whereas in California, for example, there are two clusters, the Bay Area and greater metro LA. The rest is the boonies. Who puts a startup in Modesto? What major companies are there in Stockton or even Sacramento? This is the problem. If you look at the East Coast it used to have a settlement pattern like Europe. Albany, Rochester, Syracuse, Schenectady, Utica. All of these places were vital and had their own serious companies. Now almost anything outside of New York and its suburbs in New York state is considered second rate. This is the issue. Our choices is not between little house on the prairie or Manhattan. It’s Metro New York versus Albany. Why do serious companies and new graduates not settle in Albany? Let alone the cities of 25k, 50 or 100k. There are uncountable numbers of such cities and Europe such places are largely vital and strong. If we had this of distribution of opportunity and settlement the housing price and quality of life issues that plague us would disappear and the sense of community that seems so lacking would be far more abundant at these smaller scales.

      1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2018/12/18/americans-say-theres-not-much-appeal-big-city-living-why-do-so-many-us-live-there/

        With VR, telepresence, driverless cars making movement faster and cheaper and the experience from Covid of remote working the trend towards large cities could be reversed, the desire is there, if the technology allows it and if it makes sense financially for the companies due to lower costs, I think the possibility is there. Technological and social circumstances made large conurbations the trend for the last 50 years, technological and social circumstances can change again.

    1. Scott,

      Europe isn’t the paradise in this respect that you seem to think it is.

      In England, London completely dominates politics and economics, at the expense of the rest of the country, despite having accommodation costs on a par with Manhattan and San Francisco. Anyone seeking a career in England pretty much has to move to London. Those urging reform to reduce this dominance have advocated a more decentralized form of government modeled, perhaps ironically, on the federal/state/local split in this country. In France, Paris tends to dominate the regions. Meanwhile in Italy, the south of the country trails the north, despite the Italian government having pumped billions into the south in an attempt to get it to catch up.

      1. Of course big cities tend to dominate their hinterlands. But it is definitely not true in Europe that there are only opportunities in only a couple of big cities.

        Worth noting that the definition of a city is quite fuzzy. London and Paris are 2 big cities with a clear centre and periphery. But what about areas like Randstad in the Netherlands, or the Ruhr area in Germany?

        1. The difference in Europe seems to be the effort to maintain some or substantial greenbelts between cities and towns in an agglomeration and to maintain the identities and walkable urban centers of the individual cities. In American sprawl this is not the case. We could do a lot better if we looked to Europe. What do you think?

          1. Preventing developable land from being built upon in desirable and profitable locations just isn’t a thing in the U.S. It’s sometimes delayed by a couple of decades (as in Oregon) but economic and political pressure eventually overwhelms the boundaries.

            But we’re getting greenbelts by other means. We practice a form of slash-and-burn urbanism. All the effort goes to creating shiny new things. But the old stuff ages poorly, loses value, and eventually reverts to some version of “nature” after it’s been abandoned.

    2. Both my sons live in large metro regions and are now taking a hard look at returning to Central NY (Rochester or Syracuse) as they can see the value of a moderate-sized urban center (symphony, theatre, concerts, opera, etc.) along with the benefits of rural or suburban living within 20 low-traffic minutes from the city.

  10. A realtor friend in Cedar City UT (pop. 40,000, 3 hrs. from Vegas) who grew up in Vegas says they, right now, are really busy because of people from cities deciding to move to a friendly, low-key place like Cedar.

    I said, “So, Southern Californians who moved to Vegas to get away from it all are now moving to Cedar?”, She said, “Yes.!” and is not at all convinced this will totally be a good thing.

  11. Neither cities nor burbs are sustainable under the current systems that preference productivity solely for wealth generation. If we do not confront this and begin the transition to well-being based economies– that is human, environmental, and economic in equal measure — then no one will be thriving. The wealthy for whom the current system works so well — for now — cannot continue to increase wealth if the people they work for are no longer functioning as full participants in work life, civic life, and governance. The destruction of our relationships to each other and the environment are what have brought us to this point. Even this current virus — and there will be more– is a result of the destruction of our relationship with the Earth that is only extractive and not regenerative.

    If we begin making our buildings part of these cycles that give back to the environment and if we begin to understand that we are all part of the same ecosystems, we won’t need to have this conversation. We can all live where we feel happiest.

  12. I’m surprised her salary could be adjusted legally, based on where she lives. I find that odd.

    I do think you’re overlooking one thing: control. The classic company model thrives on it and CEOs/CIOs/whatever like to have their workers in the office. It allows for a direct form of control they cannot exercise in a work-from-home situation. I think many, even most, of those offices will fill back up because management wants to manage and they cannot do it to their liking from a distance. Just my thoughts.

    A lot of newer companies will be fine with work-from-home, but they are not anywhere near in the majority. Normal company structures are just not any more human-centric than they have to be. I expect work-from-home to be considered “a great experiment that worked better than we expected”…but, now we can go back to our business model….

    1. So the techies, so celebrated in literature and media, really aren’t worth anything more than the average non-tech blessed. They just commanded higher salaries based on their desire to live amongst one another in a tiny zip code surrounded on three sides by water. Oh well, what technology giveth, technology taketh away.

      1. Yes and no. There are skill sets that really do command premium salaries. The right engineer can move anywhere and not experience a decline in income. It’s the in-between workers who are more fungible and vulnerable to salary cuts as circumstances shift. An executive secretary who has to sit at a desk in Manhattan can be replaced by a remote assistant who lives in Austin. For many lesser middle managers the human assistant has already been replaced by algorithms. And the march to squeeze our middle management itself is ongoing. Then there’s the top brass who can bounce from mountain home to tropical beach home to luxury city home with no consequences to compensation.

    2. Only a minority of US workers have contracts or other arrangements governing salary. Most private sector employees are at will and can have cash comp adjusted at any time so long as it does not single out someone based on status as a member of a protected class.

      1. Yes, and most often the company has location-based adjustments to their pay scales anyway. The same job in SF will pay more than that job in Pittsburgh. Or Oklahoma.

        It’s a challenge for everyone though to make that clear before someone moves. It’s a tricky thing for companies with locations in cities with different costs of living – often they don’t want to be too public with the geographic adjustments for fear of making the people working in the lower-cost areas jealous. “Why does Sue make 30% more than me for the same job just ’cause she lives in some over-priced metro?”

        The only real unfortunate thing here is the woman didn’t know ahead of time she’d need to take a pay cut to move. Bad on the company not being very clear about that.

    3. Federal gov’t employees have a locality pay adjustment. It’s not as dramatic as what I imagine happened to the woman from SF, but still consequential.

      1. Former Fed here. And yes, there is locality pay. It is especially consequential in the Federal government because your pension and TSP (401k) match is also pegged to your gross salary. So those living in higher cost areas earn both higher pensions and higher TSP matches relative to those doing the identical jobs in lower cost areas. So while the Fed salary difference between SF and OK might not be quite this dramatic, the difference compounds when you add in retirement.

  13. The spread of this virus in our nation is continuing, spurred on by people who don’t wear masks and think their life will fall apart if their sideburns grow beyond an inch. There are many people who have been laid off, a lot of economic troubles, but if we had a strong Federal response of testing, along with stringent social distancing and mandatory face coverings we would have had many less people die and fall ill. An advanced nation would adopt testing that has been proven internationally instead of going it alone.

    And urban density does not cause the virus to spread. Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore are much denser than NYC and have lower rates of death and infection (many times lower.)

    We are at war with our American heritage, the one that produced the problems you’ve laid out weekly in your blog: the empty parking lots, the sad sprawl, the inequalities of health and money that plague us. So now a real plague has descended upon us and shown us who we really are.

    But sadly, that won’t matter. Denial and the cult of exceptionalism and Trumpublicanism are the state religion of the US of A.

    1. The Dems do no better. The issue is that we are a nation of individuals. We have no centralized response, no coordinated action. People will constantly make their own decisions and, because we’re a nation based on an insane level of individual rights, they won’t be punished for whatever they choose. The American heritage is the heritage of Democracy: the enshrinement of the individual above all. It is poorly suited to confront calamity on this scale.

      As with every response America has, our conformity to common sense (wearing masks, social distancing, etc.) is already fraying as people insist the economy is “equal” to human lives and things need to open back up ASAP. Capitalism requires consumption; the Beast must be fed. The high ideas of mandatory safety practices barely lasted a couple of months. We have no endurance.

      1. I agree with what you have written and would add that far too many of us exhibit and practice an adolescent mind-set as evidenced by current events as well as those of the past many years. There’s also the fact that our acting President sports an adolescent attitude and a DA hair-do that probably was first commissioned by him when he was a sophomore in high school and still got elected, with no real qualifications, to the highest office in the land.

  14. I think you are missing a the key argument in the dense city vs suburban controversy. In a nutshell, the planning community and local governments advocate dense living in core urban areas, often giving each community a quota of dense affordable housing (unprofitable to build and so must be subsidized) and market rate housing. However, many people, even those city loving millennials, seem to want to move to the ‘burbs because that’s what they are doing, even if it’s often to Texas suburbs. We have this conflict between what people want and what the government say they should get. Will Covid19 make city living less attratctive? Who knows? But what is apparent is that it has always become a bit less attractive to generations of people who as they matured, married, had kids and got a dog came to prefer the suburbs. The people who stay in the cities all their lives because that’s what they like may be the exception.

    1. I could argue the opposite is true – that low density sprawl is forced on everyone almost everywhere due to government regulations. High density is only built where land values are so high and market demand is so strong that developers bother to jump through the hoops and overcome the administrative obstacles. The intervention from government is complex and often driven – ironically – by a desire to preserve a very specific kind of suburban pattern of low density. https://granolashotgun.com/2020/01/08/belle-reve/ Adding a tiny hint of density (like adding a second story to a one story house) is often verboten due to zoning and codes. That happened to me as I’ve written about .https://granolashotgun.com/2016/11/08/lessons-learned/ So don’t pretend the government if forcing density. It’s much more complicated than that.

      1. I have to disagree vehemently. Have you ever looked at the Plan Bay Area as published by ABAG or the housing elements (chapters) to many local cities’ general plans? You’ll find that the quotas in the SF region are about 55% dense affordable units and the remainder market rate. However, the quotas over the past two decades have been reduced in the outlying communties such as in Sonoma and Solano Counties and more and more on the core urban areas. Of course, once a community has met its market rate quota it may well decide to deny new building because the “need” has been met and the “need” for affordable units is still unmet (and likely always will be). High land prices are very much a result of zoning which is a result of government action.

      2. From the dawn of civilization up until about 100 years ago, the majority of humans lived in something the size of a village or smaller. During that time, the 5 to 10% who lived in urban areas developed robust patters of city building.

        At the time of the American revolution, 5% of the new nation lived in cities. 90 to 100 years ago, the US tipped over into a majority-urban population. A generation later, we abandoned all our traditions of city building and began building suburbs in huge numbers.

        I believe those two events are connected. When cities were lived in by the roughly 10% of the population who enjoyed cities, we built cities for the people who wanted to live there. When cities began to be lived in by a majority of people who had to live there but didn’t really want to, we started building them for those new people. You could say cities were the equivalent of Californicated – they’re now dominated by a majority of people who aren’t really urbanists and have vastly different expectations than the people who enjoy big cities.

        Suburbs are ersatz villages, built to attract a workforce to the city that wants to live in a village. Of course, since we imagine we’re rich, they’re ersatz villages full of ersatz manor homes. All the subsidies and market force manipulations are just the price cities – and the governments that want them to grow – have to pay to attract an ever-growing work force.

        1. Suburbs do feed a rural manor fantasy, but the reasons they were built when they were were more prosaic: transportation technology changed. Cities up until recently were built for walking speeds because everyone walked; then the streetcar brought streetcar suburbs; and then the automobile brought car dependant suburbs. Faster transportation let people spread out. Of course then they were dependant on the cars to get around, and traffic became a problem…

    2. Hi, a millennial here. I know I can’t speak for my entire generation, but I can say with confidence that a major reason why millennials are returning to the suburbs is that we are being priced out of cities. Even smaller cities like Sacramento, Portland, Denver, even Austin are becoming unbearably expensive.

      It’s not really a complicate reason.

      1. I’m old enough to remember when New York and San Francisco were cheap and run down. The places young people struggled to afford where homes in the suburbs where respectable people wanted to live. Only freaks (that would be me and my ilk) actually wanted to live in the older parts of cities. We got a great deal back then because we were counter cyclical. You can compete for the hot location or you can find the scratch and dent niche on offer at a deep discount and make your own weird dream off the beaten path.

          1. I always found work and so did all my friends. Were they fabulous jobs? No. Did we manage to buy property and support ourselves? Yes. Would everyone enjoy living the way we did back then? No. Did we? Yes. Would I have traded that life for a nice house on a cul-de-sac? No.

        1. Well, currently there are no properties in my area that investors won’t touch, especially the ones from the much affluent and trendy cities a couple hours away. It has become popular in the last few decades buy large Victorian homes and turn each into combinations of studios and one-bedrooms, or to buy Spanish style villas and turn them into more studios/one bedrooms. These little apartments will be handed off to the property managements to deal with us renters, of course. Turning them into commercial real estates is also an option (lawyers here love their little Victorian offices).

          There are also old apartments from the 70s and 80s in the rougher areas that have been turned into individual condos for sale. Investors have been buying them for 80k-90k back in 2016-2018, and slapped on some new cabinets, granite counter tops, and vinyl flooring. They are now selling them for $130-175k for one bedroom. Oh, because they are still old condos underneath all the cosmetic improvements, you will have to pay $400 HOA for the upkeep, so to speak.

  15. I think you’re right in that the pain will be bi-partisan. I’ll just offer a personal anecdote that might shed light on San Francisco Bay Area real estate in particular:

    I work in a small tech startup in SF. We’ve ditched the office, gone fully remote and taken pay cuts to preserve cash. We’re not even close to profitable. The investors have cut all funding and are angling for a quick acquisition, which is far from certain. As for the employees, we fall roughly into 3 camps:

    1. The Older Homeowners. Working remote has been a godsend. No more inflated commuting & childcare costs. Unless our mortgages go underwater (a distinct possibility!), we’ll stick it out because whatever was “home” in our youth is a bad memory. In fact, as long as we’re able to survive, we’d be secretly pleased if San Francisco “fell” to 1990s status, when it was a second fiddle (read: more fun) city like Denver or Portland.

    2. The Kids. With rich parents and name brand degrees, they pivoted into six figure tech careers with ease right out of school in the 2010s. They’re paying the highest rents for prime locations in SF and Palo Alto to stay close to the action. If the salaries and prestige factor evaporate, I expect most of them will flock back to the parental nest in (insert wealthy SoCal or East Coast suburb here.)

    3. The Immigrants. They’re also paying nosebleed rents. They have complicated legal status and know very little about the rest of the U.S. So if SHTF they’re not moving to Oklahoma, which might as well be the Moon from their perspective! Now, will they join that distant cousin in Dallas instead of renting a $4000 shoebox in Foster City? Maybe. Or will they go back to India, Russia or Taiwan? Also a possibility.

    In other words, the demography of a city like San Francisco has become complicated over the last 20 years. It’s not a simple Kotkin-esque city vs suburb narrative, although that’s certainly part of the story for select suburbs.

    1. It’s actually quite surprising where immigrants wind up. In Spokane a couple of years in a brew pub I talked with the waitress who was Russian. She said quite a number of Russians had moved there. A number of years ago we bought a house from a Korean couple who were moving to Boise and talking about the huge house they could buy there; when we reached their age we wanted a smaller place. In the most podunk town there is a good chance that the local motel is owned by a Patel. The history of the US is that immigrants wind up moving to the darndest places. If Oklahoma ever offers opportunities you can bet immigrants will move there pdq.

      As for the older homeowners you are correct. If you’ve lived here a long time and own your house outright and are financially secure, it’s still a pretty good life if you’re in one of the nicer communities. If you are the kids of such older homeowner then chances are you’ll inherit well one day and perhaps when you are in your 50s you’ll live like your parents were able to do in their 30s. If you didn’t have such parents, or if you aren’t a technology whiz or hedge fund star, California has become a tough place to make it where once it was full of opportunity.

      1. Oklahoma has two metro areas of over a million people. Because of that, guesses about our demographics tend to be quite wrong. Here’s some facts: https://www.reddit.com/r/dataisbeautiful/comments/cu2fd2/average_racialethnic_diversity_in_us_public/exry0cd/

        The rural areas may be exactly what one thinks, depending on how bleak of a picture someone is painting in their mind, but that is less an a third of the state in terms of population, and aging out. Our suburbs don’t look different than suburbs elsewhere, we have a few old downtowns that were retooling themselves as weird, walkable places . . . in the before time. . . We have old oil-money estates and new oil-money-with-leverage-built McMansions. We have universities, Amish communities, native reservations (now flush with casino money!) and everything. . .

        Being from a university town, in this state I have known, worked with, or played basketball with people from Russia, China, Taiwan, India, Nepal, Japan, Pakistan, etc.

        I would apologize for our politics, but watching Blue America settle on Biden has kind of taken away the high-ground here. Prison colony and big banks it is. I love America.

        1. My post didn’t say anything about Oklahoma’s culture or politics. I focused on the economic dynamics of one family. I’m sufficiently jaded by all sides of the spectrum that I focus on the things I personally have some control over. I could live in Oklahoma if I had to. It’s just… “Dallas.”

          1. Oh Johnny, I know. It wasn’t you I was replying to with all that. I know you have traveled wide and looked with your own eyes.

            Your comment section was just going wild with showing off their ignorance, and speculating on things that they probably could have learned were not true with a few internet searches. Because Oklahoma was mentioned in the article, they were primed to use it as their proxy for “otherness” — to their reference of seeing the left coast as progress, cosmopolitanism, and productivity.

            1. Well, there’s no question that OK is different from the coasts, especially culture and politics. (I visited Norman many times a decade or so ago and considered moving there.)

              The OKC metro is one of the least-dense of US metro areas over a million and Norman is a Blue speck in a sea of Red.

  16. I live in Denver, So far there have been 262 Covid-19 deaths in a city of 705,000 people. I have no desire to move to a suburb or exurb. I work from home and I mostly ride my bike to stores but use a car once a week or so, rarely taking any kind of public transportation. I like living in a medium density city; my zip code has 8000 people per square mile or about the same as Seattle’s. I’ve spent time working in San Francisco and found it’s too crowded for me, not that I could afford to live there even if I did like the density.

    I think the changes you’re describing above will hit New York City–with a population density ten times Denver’s–hard. Those of us in medium density cities won’t see much change.

  17. Eldercare is the elephant in the room. Every baby boomer I know is headed for a “retirement home”…a place that looks more like a slaughterhouse as the facts and figures start to roll in.

    The outsourcing of the care for our parents during their “dying time” or the burdensome time just before that, is just plain convenient. And it’s probably wrong from a moral and political perspective.

    Because people are waiting too long to start families, often their children are positively geriatric when they would be needed to tend to their final needs.

    We know that confinement chicken houses and industrial hog farms are places where disease and respiratory illness necessitate extreme pharmaceutical interventions in our food supply.

    It’s time to start to consider that the confinement of our parents into large group homes may have a similar impact on their health.

    Right now the people that are in the best position to care for our elders are told they should spend that time in their life riding SeaDoos, eating Viagra, and “doing“ Golf.

    And if we must talk about urbanism,
    I would say that changing mom’s diapers in a lonely suburban basement is not a suitable workplace for the task. A plaza or courtyard where the cared for and the care taker can be properly seen and respected by the community is probably a good place to start.

    This crisis is an opportunity to reorient oneself toward the duties and responsibilities that we have neglected – there probably isn’t anything more essential than that.

    1. That outsourcing is largely due to the fact that the ‘dying time’ has gone from a few years to decades, due to prosperity and medical advances. It’s not a sudden outbreak of selfishness or elder hatred. The alternative to a long, slow decline is a short, deadly illness and less years at the end of life. That choice is still available by refusing heroic measures, either for yourself or your loved ones. Who will make that choice?

      1. Personally, I’m a “pull the plug” guy for myself. But if the people around me want heroic care I’ll do as directed. The problem is the cost of such care. I know several close friends who juggled $12,000 per month burn rates above and beyond what insurance and/or government would pay for. Most families can only do that for so long.

      2. The length of the end stage is not that long – it’s still years. I’m dealing with it now as my parents and their friends are all getting into that stage. None are in this state because of “heroic measures”, just advanced age and accumulated disabilities. What’s different is the shift in family structures. Rather than living in multi-generational families with at least one family member being home to maintain the household, we live as singles and couples, and all adults have to work to pay the rent. There’s nobody at home to care for an infirm grandma, so they have to go to nursing homes.

        1. I suspect most in nursing homes are in a debilitated enough state that having a stay at home caregiver would be very difficult, especially for those needing 24/7 care. (Two strokes in my family made that plain.) I never bought the notion families dumped their elders into nursing homes because it was convenient. But that the homebound alternative simply isn’t workable.

          1. People send their infirm relations to nursing homes because they can. They either have the cash or the insurance or the government support. When those funds and programs don’t exist people care for the elderly at home whether or not it’s a good option. Just a few generations ago almost everyone received care and died at home and not always under pleasant circumstances.

    2. “Every baby boomer I know is headed for a “retirement home”…The outsourcing of the care for our parents during their “dying time” or the burdensome time just before that, is just plain convenient. And it’s probably wrong from a moral and political perspective.”

      You have parents? So do I. We were lucky.

      But a very large share of Baby Boomers, and even the generation before, far more than any generations in history, decided that the obligations of family were not for them, back when their children needed them. You need look no further than the White House. Isn’t it time to trade in Melania for a newer, fresher model?

      After a lifetime of that, and his business and political life, who is going to want the job of changing The Donald’s diapers in a decade or so?


      There is a whole play waiting to be written, with various children from various relationships showing up to help hoping to get a share of the inheritance, only to find that when he passes The Donald, like his generation, has managed to cash it all and spend it in on himself, including everything that HE inherited. I didn’t say he was THE MAN of his generation for nothing.

  18. Johnny,

    Love the post. There’s a certain part of this that I can see providing opportunity. The 1% will be able to continue investing capital into the best places. That’s not going anywhere.

    But the next tier down, the 10%, making over 100k… they aren’t going to move into “that (urban) neighborhood,” and put their kids into that school district. They won’t buy that old building with a store under the shop. And they won’t find a creative reuse for a pile of crumbling suburban strip mall.

    It will be immigrants and the creative, scrappy poor that will do so.

    I see it in friends and family who are in the 10%. They have good salaries but not much wealth. Certainly nowhere near the wealth to fund their lifestyle they, “need.” They got handed a nice start by their parents but they are so strapped by consumption they won’t be able to pass on a cent to their kids.

    In your words, “shrug.”

    1. Yep. I know some young 10%-ers. To be honest, they impress me with their work ethic and determination to make the C suite. I think they’ll do much better than most, despite my feeling that the poor should get a chance. That being said, they have no playbook for the world that’s coming, which us older folks had a minute taste of in 1981, 1991, 2001, etc. And this is more like 1929. A plate of humble pie, incoming.

      1. The thing with humble pie of course, is trying to make it at palatable enough, with whatever ingredients are at hand. And the menu’s always changing.

    2. We live in a small town (walkable & bikeable) with a small lake in a metro region with a population of ~660,000. We own our house outright in the average section of town that has no HOA’s or any of that nonsense so we have a clothesline, rain barrels, garden, etc. We walk, bike and even haul our paddleboards to the lake with bikes so we’re known as a little eccentric & maybe poor-ish. What most people don’t know is that I make >$100K/year and we have no mortgage or other debt. It’s kind of fun to be weird…

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