International Man: What made big American cities attractive places to live in the past?
Doug Casey: Well, it’s not just American cities; it’s cities in general. Throughout all of history, cities have equated with civilization.
Cities offer safety, comfort, wealth, and community. They’re a medium for people to exchange ideas and trade easily. The Ascent of Man is built on cities and wouldn’t have been possible without them. Civilization is all about specialization and division of labor. The larger the city, the freer the society, the greater the possibilities.
American cities have been among the best in history because America itself has offered more freedom and less government restrictions than anything in the past.
It’s no mystery why American cities should have been so great in the past, but things are changing. To destroy cities is to destroy civilization.
International Man: American cities have visibly deteriorated across all metrics in recent years.
For an increasing number of people, the value proposition of living in cities no longer makes sense.
What is your take?
Doug Casey: I presume everybody’s heard the mnemonic, “Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men, and weak men create hard times.”
Unfortunately, American civilization has reached the stage where it’s getting soft, weak, and degraded.
I place the State—government—at the root of this collapse. It’s implemented welfare, which not only allows but encourages people to consume without producing. So-called “democracy” has created class warfare, wherein everyone tries to gain control of the government to gain wealth and power. It’s created an unstable society, inventories of people that have been correctly called “useless mouths.” They’re incapable of anything beyond consuming and voting.
Governmental policies have turned the cities into cesspools.
That little aphorism about weak men that we quoted earlier can be seen as a variation of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics—one of the few laws that I believe in. It states that everything winds down over time unless there’s an adequate input of energy to keep things going. In other words, to stay healthy, they should produce more than they consume. But that’s no longer true. Many American cities are now net drains on the country.
The collapse that American cities are experiencing has been very quick from a historical point of view. You can lay part of it to the general degradation of society, which has been actively promoted by academia, the media, and the entertainment industry. Wokesterism, a philosophy of neo-Marxism, racism, and rabid collectivism, has totally captured governments everywhere. But especially in the cities, from which their corrupt and degraded ideas spread out to the general population.
International Man: What will happen to the already tight budgets of many cities as their most productive residents continue to leave in increasing numbers? What are the implications?
Doug Casey: Well, the degradation affecting American cities is actually nothing new. It’s happened across time and space throughout history. Babylon rose and fell and went back to dust. The Egyptian, Hittite, and Assyrian Empires all vanished. The golden age of Athens lasted less than 100 years. After Rome collapsed, cows and goats grazed in the forum during the following Dark Ages.
It doesn’t have to happen that way, but that’s the general trend of things. At this point, the American empire is collapsing, and its cities are leading the way.
International Man: If not cities, where would you recommend people consider living?
Doug Casey: Well, certainly not the suburbs. They used to be a good alternative that allowed some space, sunshine, and other advantages of a rural environment while maintaining many of the advantages of a city. But no longer. If you’re going to get out of the city, forget the suburbs.
It’s best to head for small towns, especially those in red states. If you narrow the focus further, choose a small town on a body of water—the ocean, a river, or a lake, preferably with mountains nearby. Those things make them more recreation-oriented. More pleasant and amenable, drawing economically successful people. California was perfect 75 years ago. But, as they say, that was then. And this is now—a different world.
International Man: A recent article in the NY Times claimed there are over 26 Empire State Buildings worth of empty office space in New York City.
What are the implications of this trend on commercial real estate and financial markets? Are there any speculative opportunities you see?
Doug Casey: That’s a pretty shocking statistic.
It’s still way too early to jump in. There’s going to be a collapse that compounds upon itself. Many office buildings will be permanently emptied as businesses contract. Furthermore, people don’t want to come into the city anymore. They’ve found they can work more effectively from home at least one or two days a week, and they want to avoid both monetary the expense and the waste of time involved in commuting.
As more buildings become see-through, most of the shops and restaurants that catered to business people will also close. As that happens, those buildings become even less desirable. It’s a negative feedback loop.
Can office buildings be repurposed into residential condominiums? Not easily. They don’t have the necessary plumbing for bathrooms and kitchens. They’re mostly not laid out in a way that allows economic conversion.
On top of that, as people leave, city governments will no longer be collecting property taxes, sales taxes, or a myriad of other levies. Even now, city governments are highly indebted and borderline bankrupt. But they’ll still have to support their useless mouths—not only a large number of employees but thousands of migrants. Crime will certainly go up, further aggravating the situation. It could result in a real crisis.
We’ve got to ask ourselves: What’s going to happen to cities as the economy descends deeper into the Greater Depression? Will vagrants take over empty office buildings and hotels to avoid sleeping on the streets? That’s what’s happened in Caracas, which used to be a wonderful city, years ago…
And Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. It was always poor because of stupid government policies, but it was very safe and, in many ways, really delightful as late as the early 1980s. Now it is one of the worst hellholes on the planet.
But things can go the other direction too. When I first went to Dubai at about the same time, the airport was as tiny as an airport can be. Now it’s one of the largest and most efficient in the world. Dubai has gone from a tiny little fishing village to a world center of commerce. The same is true of Singapore and Hong Kong. Things can rise as well as fall.
It’s all a question of culture and management. However, I regret to say I’m not optimistic about either the US or its cities.
Reprinted with permission from International Man.