To all the Wall Street and tech bros heading out to Miami and Austin: Goodbye and good riddance.
- You’re leaving New York or San Francisco because the taxes are too high and COVID has you scared?
- Cool. Auf wierderesehen. Don’t worry about us.
- Trust and believe, someone will take your spot.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
What was once a one-off novelty is now a genre.
Chad, a (hypothetical, yet real) hedge fund guy from New York City is moving to Miami for income tax reasons. Brad, a (again, hypothetical) start-up bro is moving from San Francisco to Austin because Elon Musk said so.
Both Chad and Brad will tell anyone who will listen that it’s too hard and too expensive to live in the cities they are leaving. And they lament the continued erosion of each one’s income tax base as they exit. It will be decades, they proclaim, before cities like New York and Los Angeles come out of the coronavirus induced coma in which they find themselves — so good bye.
Many pundits are concerned about what this means for the cities losing Chad and Brad. Much ink is being spilled over the meaning Chad and Brad’s departures.
To all that I simply yawn and respond: Good riddance.
New York (and LA and San Francisco) have seen this before
I’ve lived in New York City since 2004. I remember the financial crisis, during which New York state was expected to be $17 billion in the hole — we’re basically there again — all of Wall Street was sunk, and our Governor (Patterson — who stumbled into his job through a combination of family name and Spitzer scandal) seemed ill equipped to bring the capital of the world back to its feet.
But we did it. And we did it faster than anyone thought we would. While Wall Street was on its knees the rest of the city kept chugging along making art and music, doing shows, going to work (if they could) and summoning the collective energy that makes New York City what it is. Mercifully, during this period, barely anyone sobbed about income taxes (though I did catch a few Merrill Lynch guys crying about their second mortgages).
The discussion, instead, was about rebuilding and investing in a city that has given global culture so much. In late spring of 2008 I was an intern at City Hall, and one Friday morning I caught Mayor Bloomberg at his desk before he went to his weekly Spanish class. We started chatting (partly in Spanish) and he asked me what I planned on doing after graduation. I mentioned something about moving to New Orleans, which I thought still needed help after Hurricane Katrina.
Bloomberg scoffed, and said something to the effect of ‘this is my city, and this is your city, and it needs you now.’
Chad, Brad, and other basics
Part of the allure of New York City — and cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles — is that people will show up even when things are looking bleak. They show up for the energy and the possibility — not necessarily for a job, but to make something.
The same hedge fund bros worried about New York City’s safety and whining about the “tax burden” are the same people watching documentaries about Studio 54 and CBGB — interesting places that don’t exist on Manhattan right now because the rent got too high when extremely dull rich people moved in and took over.
In the decades that the wealthy have fully taken over Manhattan it has become a corporate hotel, a place where you can find a Starbucks across from a Starbucks. And while Chad and Brad can tell you about all the hottest “clubstaurants” and prattle on and on about which fund is investing in what startup, they can rarely tell you who their city council member is or recall the last time they participated in city and/or state elections. To them living in a great city is a commercial convenience, not a home. It is an incident, not a way of life.
Chad and Brad will bring this same self obsessed lack of amor civitas to Miami and Austin, but hey at least they’re buying condos, right?
That is to say, many who are leaving these cities in their time of need were part of the reason why the cost of living got so high and all the interesting people were forced to move to the outskirts in the first place. They will not be missed. And, as we’ve seen time and time again, they will ultimately be replaced.
Don’t call it a come back
In NYC the real estate market is telling us that there will be a shuffle. People who had to live with roommates may now afford to live alone. People who were renters before may decide to buy. The $30 million apartments that used to belong to hedge fund managers will see chop after chop, and real estate moguls will take a bath on too-expensive buildings that tenants say sound like they’re haunted by ghosts. We’ve seen this before. None of it will change the dynamic energy that is New York City. To anyone who knows this history of this city, it’s clear that it’s time to buy the dip.
This is in part because everyone in the world is sick of life spread apart, of keeping their distance. Husbands are sick of their wives and wives are sick of their husbands. Parents are sick of their children. Children miss their friends. Everyone who decamped to the Hamptons is sick of eating at the same dozen or so restaurants. No one wants to Zoom anymore. The many, many divorced people are looking for places to be single. It may come back slightly leaner, but the office will come back.
And if you work on Wall Street and you think that David Solomon isn’t calling all of his war dogs back to the trading floors of Goldman Sachs you’ve lost your mind. He said as much on Wednesday, calling virtual working and training an “aberration.” When this is over, there will be a premium on being able to touch someone — on looking directly into their eyes during an interaction. (Or, on Wall Street, being able to scream in someone’s face after they mess up a spreadsheet.)
Just as they did when the flu pandemic 100 years ago turned into the Jazz Age, the life cycles of these cities will snap back. In 2021 young people will go to the office for their internships. They will date and fall in love. They will start families. At that point they’ll have to make a decision — do we stay here in the life we’ve built or do we go elsewhere? This has always been the story of these cities. And certainly, the coronavirus accelerated this transition for thousands and thousands of couples and families. But it didn’t upend it.
Your new homes are not like your old homes
This is not in any way to offend cities like Austin (which I’ve never been to) and Miami (which I adore). They simply aren’t the generations-long keepers of culture and capital that New York City and San Francisco are. And it just so happens that a bunch of bankers and tech bros fleeing to them will not make them so. The fancy carpet baggers invading may make things expensive, but they don’t make them interesting.
As much as this is a message about the people who are leaving, this is a warning to the wonderful cities they are leaving to. Good luck staying weird, Austin. You’re going to need it. For all of us left at home, it’s time to stretch out and get wild before the Chad-Brads show up again. Trust and believe, it won’t be long.
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