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What Will Become of Cities?


12 minute read

From the Brownstone Institute

BY Jeffrey A. TuckerJEFFREY A. TUCKER 

Everyone was supposed to be back at the office by now. It’s not really happening, however, and this has huge implications for the future of the American city.

Part of the reason is the cost, not only the finances of commuting but also the time. Another contributing factor is the crime and homeless population, which can be quite scary. Between inflation, rising poverty, substance abuse, and rampant post-lockdown incivility, the cities have become far less attractive. The impact on the commercial sector is becoming ever more clear.

Leases are coming up for large office spaces in major cities around the US. But there is a serious problem on the way. Occupancy of these offices is dramatically down in most places around the country. The decline is 30 percent on average and much more in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City. That’s for now but many tech companies and others have laid off workers, meaning that even the companies that renew will be looking to downsize dramatically and with shorter-term leases.

Dylan Burzinski of Green Street writes in the Wall Street Journal:

“What began as a two-week work-from-home experiment in March 2020 evolved into an entrenched hybrid/remote work environment. Despite return-to-office mandates, office-utilization rates (how many people are physically in an office on any given day) have failed to pick up meaningfully this year and are still 30% to 40% below 2019 levels for most office markets across the country. Employers have shed office space as a result, helping send the amount of office space available for lease shooting up to historic highs across most major U.S. cities. The so-called availability rates are hovering at 25% on average compared with slightly above 15% before Covid—and things could get worse before they get better.”

You might say: there is nothing wrong with remote work. This would have happened regardless. Cities as we know them will pass into the night eventually as the whole world becomes digital.

That might be true in the long term, but it would have been far better to happen organically and not by force. That was the essence of what Burzinski calls the “pandemic” but of course it wasn’t a pathogen that sent millions out of the cities and leaving for the suburbs. It was the forced closures and then vaccine mandates and compulsory segregation by vaccine status.

For a time, cities like New York City, Boston, Chicago, and New Orleans were using state power to exclude shot refuseniks any normal public accommodations. The unvaccinated could not go to the library, the theater, restaurants and bars, and museums. It’s hard to believe that this actually happened in the land of the free but that is the real history of just two years ago.

Then once workers got a taste of remote work, and they fully realized just how ridiculously annoying the commute and office culture truly is, they would not and could not be pushed back into a full-time relationship with the office. That has left half and fully empty skyscrapers in multiple cities in the US.

The signs of doom are everywhere. A poll of New Yorkers has 60% saying that life quality is falling and this is in part due to far less quality foot traffic. San Francisco has record office vacancies. Even large cities in Texas have 25% vacancies. Population declines in many cities are continuing long after pandemic restrictions have been lifted.

And here is

Absent flexibility from building owners, businesses worry that downtown will see even more vacancies and that tourists and office workers slowly returning to the neighborhood will have less reason to make the trip. Consider the worst-case scenario: Downtown falls further into post-pandemic disarray or a long-feared “doom loop.”

Like many big-city downtowns, Boston is still in the midst of its recovery after COVID. Many offices and ground-floor spaces remain empty, and buildings lately have sold for sizable losses. Fears about what downtown will become were only exacerbated by the bankruptcy of the coworking giant WeWork, one of the largest office tenants in Boston.

How far this will go and what the implications will be is anyone’s guess. Will the skylines change? Are we looking at demolitions of some of the grandest structures in the coming years? It’s not entirely out of the question. Economic reality can be like a brick wall: when the expense consistently outpaces the revenue, something has to change.

Why not convert office spaces to domestic apartments? It’s not so easy. The buildings put up after the Second World War were made for air conditioning and had wide footprints without windows in a large swath of the space. That simply doesn’t work for apartments. Cutting a giant hole down the middle is technically possible but economically expensive, requiring the rents in the resulting properties to be in the luxury range.

The next phase will be the fiscal crisis. Dying business districts, declining population, empty office buildings all mean falling tax revenue. The budgets won’t be cut because of pension obligations and school funding. The next place to look is to the capital for bailouts and then of course the federal government. But those will only buy time and certainly won’t address the underlying problem.

What bugs me most about this is just how much it fits with the dream of Anthony Fauci as he and his co-author explained back in August of 2020. Writing months after lockdowns, with American cities on fire with protests, he wrote that we need “radical changes that may take decades to achieve: rebuilding the infrastructures of human existence, from cities to homes to workplaces, to water and sewer systems, to recreational and gatherings venues.”

If your view is that the real problem with infectious disease traces to “the neolithic revolution, 12,000 years ago,” as they claim, you are going to have a serious problem with cities. Recall that this is the guy who said we need to stop shaking hands, forever. The notion of a million people working and socializing together in a few square miles of space is something that would run contrary to the entire vision.

Klaus Schwab of the WEF, too, has an issue with large cities, too, of course, with constant complaints about urbanization and the imagined world in which large swaths of our lives are spent online rather than with friends.

So a tremendous downscaling of cities might have been part of the plan all along. You will notice that none of the cities on the chopping block seem to be offering a viable plan for saving themselves. They could dramatically cut taxes, deregulate childcare, open up more schooling options, turn police attention to petty crime and carjacking instead of traffic fines, and open up zoning. That’s not happening.

New York is going the opposite direction, having effectively banned AirBnB in the city. Why did the city council do this? Because too many renters with space found it more lucrative to offer short-term rentals and overnight stays rather than make long-term contracts for residents. This is a sneaky way of pillaging property owners, not exactly a good plan for attracting real estate investment.

All of this speaks to a much bigger problem, which is that the whole political system seems to be engaged in an amazing game of “Let’s pretend” despite the overwhelming evidence of the disaster that has befallen us. No serious efforts are underway to reverse the damage of pandemic lockdowns and vaccine mandates and segregation. This is partly because there has been zero accountability or even honest public debate about what governments around the country did from 2020-2022. We live amidst the carnage but justice seems farther off than ever.

Yes, a complete reversal is possible but it seems ever less likely, especially with the continued efforts to purge from public life those who dissented during the crisis, as well as the intensifying censorship on all mainstream media platforms.

Once you step back from it, nothing really makes sense. One might suppose that when a whole society – and really globe – embarked on such a crazy experiment and utterly failed in every way, that there would be a major effort to come to terms with it.

The opposite is happening. Even with America’s treasured cities in such grave danger, so much of it provoked by terrible policies over four years, we are still supposed to either not notice or chalk it all up to some inexorable forces of history of which no one has any control.


  • Jeffrey A. Tucker

    Jeffrey Tucker is Founder, Author, and President at Brownstone Institute. He is also Senior Economics Columnist for Epoch Times, author of 10 books, including Liberty or Lockdown, and thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.

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New capital gains hike won’t work as claimed but will harm the economy

Published on

From the Fraser Institute

By Alex Whalen and Jake Fuss

Capital taxes are among the most economically-damaging forms of taxation precisely because they reduce the incentive to innovate and invest.

Amid a federal budget riddled with red ink and tax hikes, the Trudeau government has increased capital gains taxes. The move will be disastrous for Canada’s growth prospects and its already-lagging investment climate, and to make matters worse, research suggests it won’t work as planned.

Currently, individuals and businesses who sell a capital asset in Canada incur capital gains taxes at a 50 per cent inclusion rate, which means that 50 per cent of the gain in the asset’s value is subject to taxation at the individual or business’ marginal tax rate. The Trudeau government is raising this inclusion rate to 66.6 per cent for all businesses, trusts and individuals with capital gains over $250,000.

The problems with hiking capital gains taxes are numerous.

First, capital gains are taxed on a “realization” basis, which means the investor does not incur capital gains taxes until the asset is sold. According to empirical evidence, this creates a “lock-in” effect where investors have an incentive to keep their capital invested in a particular asset when they might otherwise sell.

For example, investors may delay selling capital assets because they anticipate a change in government and a reversal back to the previous inclusion rate. This means the Trudeau government is likely overestimating the potential revenue gains from its capital gains tax hike, given that individual investors will adjust the timing of their asset sales in response to the tax hike.

Second, the lock-in effect creates a drag on economic growth as it incentivises investors to hold off selling their assets when they otherwise might, preventing capital from being deployed to its most productive use and therefore reducing growth.

And Canada’s growth prospects and investment climate have both been in decline. Canada currently faces the lowest growth prospects among all OECD countries in terms of GDP per person. Further, between 2014 and 2021, business investment (adjusted for inflation) in Canada declined by $43.7 billion. Hiking taxes on capital will make both pressing issues worse.

Contrary to the government’s framing—that this move only affects the wealthy—lagging business investment and slow growth affect all Canadians through lower incomes and living standards. Capital taxes are among the most economically-damaging forms of taxation precisely because they reduce the incentive to innovate and invest. And while taxes on capital do raise revenue, the economic costs exceed the amount of tax collected.

Previous governments in Canada understood these facts. In the 2000 federal budget, then-finance minister Paul Martin said a “key factor contributing to the difficulty of raising capital by new start-ups is the fact that individuals who sell existing investments and reinvest in others must pay tax on any realized capital gains,” an explicit acknowledgement of the lock-in effect and costs of capital gains taxes. Further, that Liberal government reduced the capital gains inclusion rate, acknowledging the importance of a strong investment climate.

At a time when Canada badly needs to improve the incentives to invest, the Trudeau government’s 2024 budget has introduced a damaging tax hike. In delivering the budget, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said “Canada, a growing country, needs to make investments in our country and in Canadians right now.” Individuals and businesses across the country likely agree on the importance of investment. Hiking capital gains taxes will achieve the exact opposite effect.

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Doubling Down on Missing the Mark

Published on

By Chris Gardner

President, Independent Contractors and Businesses Association

Earlier this year, public opinion research company Leger published the results of a nationwide poll. One result stood out: 70 per cent of Canadians agreed with the statement: “It feels like everything is broken in this country right now.”

To young people, families and business owners struggling to buy or stay in a home, find a doctor, pay for gas and groceries, hire people, worried about how unsafe our streets have become, or having to navigate a never-ending web of red tape to get projects approved, a deep sense of helplessness has set in.

Over the past few years, Canada’s long slow decline has become the subject of an avalanche of scrutiny and by every measure of social well-being and economic competitiveness, Canada is coming up short among its global peers. Canada’s ability to generate opportunities and long-term prosperity for its people is now at serious risk.

But anyone reading the 9th budget of the Trudeau Government looking for some relief from the big challenges that Canadian families and entrepreneurs are facing, will come away sorely disappointed.

It seems that every day there is a new report telling Canadians what they already know – buying or staying in a home has never been harder in this country. Just last week, RBC reported that it is the ‘toughest time ever’ to afford a home and that the share of household income needed to cover ownership costs is now 64% in Canada and an almost inconceivable 106% in Vancouver and 85% in Toronto.

CMHC estimates that we need to build 800,000 homes a year between now and 2030 to meet demand, while CIBC says it’s closer to 1 million. Keep in mind that in 2023 we built about 230,000 new homes.

With the shortage of people across every part of our economy now acute, a central question asked by many is ‘who will build all these homes?’. Our labour markets are undergoing a seismic shift – absent immigration, our population is flat-lining and will start to decline. Indeed, in B.C., in 2022, for the first time ever, natural births exceeded natural deaths – and it happened again last year.

Part of the answer is immigration. However, our immigration system is failing us. Last year we added a city the size of Calgary to our national population, and we are on track to do the same in 2024. Two major challenges have emerged. First, we have failed miserably to assess the skills gaps in our economy – doctors, nurses, technicians, teachers and trades workers – and attract them to Canada. Case in point: only 2% of all permanent immigrants in 2023 will pursue a career in the construction trades. Second, the torrid pace of our population growth is crushing affordability and overwhelming the infrastructure in our major centres. In 2021 there was a total of 1.3MN non-permanent residents in Canada; today we have 2.6MN. We must find a better balance – attract the people with the right skills to power our economy and in numbers that our schools, hospitals, transit systems and housing stock can reasonably absorb.

Canada has a remarkable competitive advantage in its natural resources – energy and minerals in abundance and in high demand. And, harnessing them provides some of the highest paying jobs in the country. Budget 2024 offered barely a passing reference to this enormous potential for Canada. No one should be surprised. Leaders from Germany, Japan and Greece have visited Canada and received the diplomatic equivalent of a cold shoulder at the suggestion that Canada supply their economies with much needed energy. One federal minister stated that Ottawa is ‘not interested in funding LNG projects.’ He missed the point completely – no one was asking Ottawa to fund anything; they simply want Ottawa to get out of the way.

Finally, last year, the CD Howe Institute reported that for every dollar that an American business spends on training, technology and capital – the essential ingredients for innovation – a Canadian company invests 58 cents. Business investment in Canada from 2015 to 2023 ranked 44 out of the 47 most advanced economies, according to the OECD. This matters because the more innovative Canadian firms, the more they spend on upskilling their people and on adopting new technology, the more they can increase the size of paycheques for workers. Canada’s lagging productivity is to the point where the Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada said, “You know those signs that say, ‘In an emergency, break the glass?’ Well, it’s time to break the glass.”

After reading the budget it’s hard not to come away with the feeling that Canada is not a serious country, and the Trudeau Government is incapable of addressing the big challenges facing the country.

Why do so many people feel like everything in this country is broken? Because so much is breaking all around us.

Chris Gardner is the President and CEO of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association.

The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA), the largest construction association in Canada, represents more than 4,000 members and clients. ICBA is one of the leading independent providers of group health and retirement benefits in Canada, supporting nearly 170,000 Canadians, and the single largest sponsor of trades apprentices in B.C. ICBA is Merit Canada’s affiliate in B.C. and Alberta.

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