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I’m currently watching the waves crash on the beach from a decent sized condo I am renting in a small town in England. It’s pleasant. The sound of the waves is quite peaceful at night, and the beautiful blue color relaxes you during the day. The people who live in this small town are laid back.
This wasn’t the case a few months ago. A few months ago I was living in a $3,000 apartment outside of Manhattan that was 650sq ft. I was living next to the train and would hear it rumble outside of my window multiple times a night. Why was I living there? Because I didn’t want a long commute to work. Instead, I had a short 25 minute train ride into Manhattan. But the ride wasn’t nice. I squeezed in the train car every morning with hundreds of other people. Should to shoulder. With humanity. The NYC subway was disgusting. The entire aesthetic is like a bombed out third world country. Laughable that this was one of the richest cities in the world. It was hard for me, a writer and a sensitive man, to handle every morning. So I wore sunglasses.
So I get off of the train and I’m in midtown Manhattan. I see people scurrying everywhere, walking very fast. The energy is buzzing. You walk fast too. I also put in earbuds for music. I can’t handle listening to the cars and horns, it’s not nice. You feel like an insect in Manhattan. The skyscrapers are built to an enormous height, which are not human scaled. Everything around is filled with nervous energy. Even the dogs who are being walked on the street are in this constant state of alertness. There is a lot of stimulation in the air. And then I walk into my work and do my work. I repeat this routine everyday.
Why do I need this in my life?
Meanwhile, for the past few months my “commute” to work is making a pot of coffee and opening my laptop in my living room next to the window.
There is a worker’s revolution happening right now. A revolution just as radical as the Haymarket Square Riot that led to the 8-hour work day. Thanks to this crazy virus that emerged from a foreign land and has devastated the planet, If you’re a white collar worker, you can take your laptop and go live wherever you want. This is a big deal.
Why are people in cities?
Why was I living in a big city? For the same reason everyone else was in that city: jobs. I need a job. So I move to the city. I hope to get a good paying job. That’s it. That’s the reason. Who’s in that city? I have no idea. All I know is there is a job for me. A working man. Ok. So now I’m in this scaled up, 12 million population level city. Now I do my little routine everyday. I hope to “make it” and get maybe, an even higher paying job. That’s why we’re all here. Companies cluster in a few cities. then they bring jobs. So you end up with a few spaces in this country where all the people live.
In the age before the internet and computers, you had no choice. There was no way to work without being there in person. Now, if you’re someone who works behind a computer most of the day, there is technology that lets you do it from wherever you want. Or wherever, your boss wants you to go.
America is a big country
Look how big this country is. look at all that space! And yet, we’re all just clustered in a few cities on the coasts and midwest (Texas too). Why? Because that’s where the jobs are. but is it good for you?
Total Fertility Rate
The only people having kids above replacement anymore is the very rich and the very poor. The very rich have all their wealth to take care of them. The very poor have the government to take care of them. Who’s taking care of you? No one. So you’re not procreating.
No one is buying homes anymore. Your job is in a big city, and so home prices are insane. Where are you going to go?
You don’t have to live like this. This is killing people.
You buy a house in some far flung suburb. Now you’re commuting an hour or an hour and a half each way, every day. You’re miserable. I’ve seen it all my life. Why do you want to be miserable everyday just getting to work?
How to Remote Work
I hear some people complain about remote work. That they’re “lonely”. These people are not doing it right. It’s a completely different mindset and setup you need. You can’t be alone in some small apartment. You’re going to get crushed. Here is what helps.
1) Get yourself a woman. A partner. Someone around. It’s nice. You don’t have to talk all the time, but it’s nice having a place where someone is milling about. In a lot of relationships, you run out of things to talk about. The relationship isn’t about deep conversations, because you’ve had that for years. You’ve run out of things to talk about. Now the relationship is about existing in the same place and being comfortable. It’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. Humans need that. Presence.
2) Get yourself a place with some natural lighting, some green, some windows. When you live in the city, you are away from nature. Right now I’m listening to various birds squacking. I think they’re seagulls. There is a lot green outside my window. It’s good stuff man. All the little things adds up over time, it increases your mood slightly. it accumulates.
3) Get yourself an exercise routine. I work out in the mornings, or sometimes on my lunch breaks. I also take walks around the town.
At some point, if enough people work from home they’re going to create voluntary communities. This means like minded people will gravitate to towns to settle together. Right now, we’re in different cities because our jobs are there. People are social creatures. You’re going to see clusters of them move into areas. Some beach towns, some in the woods, some mountain towns. Who knows what. Things are going to get interesting, because we live in a decentralized culture now. You can choose where you want to live based on the people there or the type of people drawn to this particular place. This could be the antidote to modern alienation.
1) Even a moderate—say 10-20%—decrease in business travel and white-collar commuting is going to have a huge impact on jobs for hotels, airlines, restaurants that rely on business lunches, downtown retail, building maintenance, etc.
2) Freelancing. A lot of white-collar companies are becoming virtual group chats, punctuated by Zoom meetings. As some ppl realize their connection to the office is virtual, they'll monetize the fact of their independence by starting new things. Side businesses will be huge. Whether its owning physical space in another town (restaurant, bar) or a virtual side gig.
3) Electoral politics: Liberal white collar workers moving from expensive cities in blue states to small towns and metros in red states will accelerate the changes already underway in the US political landscape. Or, they may be changed into red state voters. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Will the soil change the man? Like it has so many times before…..
4) Existing cities. I think remote work is much more likely to change which cities people live in (cheaper ones or maybe better weather) than to change the fact that there are returns to living in cities. Cities aren’t going anywhere. They may be scaled down from their monstrous size. But people like living in cities. I like it. I like walking around everywhere. It feels good. I hate driving all the time. But some cities aren’t going to make it. Places like Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee or a number of other places just aren’t worth living in. The weather is terrible. It’s not walkable. The real estate isn’t cheap compared to the now open market for the rest of America. Some cities will be in trouble. Other cities will thrive.
What stops companies from firing you and hiring someone in India or the Middle East who speaks english and has similar credentials from replacing you? Nothing. That’s why we need federal laws protecting remote workers in this country. Protecting their remote status from being taken away from them (Licenses) and protecting them from being replaced by foreign workers from abroad. Ideally, you’d want to cultivate a remote job market so employees can easily get another remote job without having to sell their house and move somewhere else.
I remember being in New York when the riots hit this year. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Roving gangs going from store to store smashing up downtown manhattan for hours and hours. No one to stop them. Later on, we’re seeing a historic rise in crime rates this year throughout America. Last week we saw even larger riots in downtown Chicago.
Look, I don’t want to deal with any of this stuff. I’m a working man. I live a 4-hour life. I need law and order. I understand one on one combat for honor and I support that. But roving gangs, I cannot support. This doesn’t make me want to live in these big cities. Now they want to defund the police, which I think they may do. Big cities have huge budget deficits. They have to find a solution for cuts. They will cut the police department eventually.
Optionality is a good thing. Embrace it.