Always and Forever
Sam Sifton | Working From Home Is Polarized, Too | A Great Email Signature | Factoids | Growth At Any Cost Comes At A High Price
Quote of the Moment
Time’s a flat circle, a record spinning, always and forever returning to its start.
| Sam Sifton
Working From Home Is Polarized, Too
Looks like the divide between Trump and non-Trump voting states is polarized. Nick Bloom shared some data on Twitter, saying
The growth of WFH has been uneven across the US. Biden voting parts of the country have more tech, finance and law jobs, so have seen a surge in WFH jobs. Trump voting places less so, so saw far less WFH job growth. This risks a political divide in support for WFH.
Also varies by industry, which tends to cluster in some regions.
So, a great deal of the benefits of WFH are being concentrated in non-Trump parts of the country, which are (incidentally) less economically strong. In effect, this polarization acts like a tax on the people working there: more commuting, less time with family and friends, more stress.
A Great Email Signature
Freelance writer Meg St-Esprit posted on Twitter:
Some folks who saw my email signature commented on it, so I wanted to share. The US is the only developed nation w/o subsidized childcare. Adding it would increase our GDP over 1 trillion dollars. Not a handout — it’s a smart decision when facing a recession and labor shortages.
And her email signature reads:
Please note I may be slower to respond to email in the months of June, July and August due to the United States' inability to provide affordable childcare for working mothers.
Danielle Campoamor, who reported on the email signature, did some analysis of levels of childcare in other developing countries:
The United States is an outlier among industrialized nations when it comes to subsidizing child care, spending just 0.2% of its gross domestic product on child care for children 2 and under, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Other nations part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a forum of 37 democratic countries with market-based economies, spend an average of of 0.8% on child care for young children with some Nordic countries going up to 1.7% of their total spending. In 2019, the U.S. spent less than $500 a year per child age 0-2, according to the Department of the Treasury.
In 2022, the U.S. lost a reported $122 billion in lost earnings, productivity and revenue as a result of unattainable child care, according to a report from the Council for a Strong America, a bipartisan nonprofit.
As you see in the first factoid below, we could cut a bit of fat out of our bloated healthcare system and underwrite childcare, and still save a trillion dollars or so.
The U.S. spent more than $4.4 trillion on healthcare in 2022. [Around 17.3% of GDP, compared to the 8 to 10% pretty much all other developed economies spend, and they have better outcomes.]
Gas-powered vehicles produce 24 percent of [U.S.] greenhouse gas emissions. | Binyamin Appelbaum
People in the U.S. spend 135 minutes (2 hours 15 minutes) connected to social media daily. | Atlas VPN
Growth At Any Cost Comes At A High Price
Tara McMullin uses the collapse of Gimlet, the podcasting service, as an indictment of an entire philosophy of entrepreneurialism: the VC-backed, growth-at-all-costs mentality that seems to running into a hard whipsaw effect in an economy where money can no longer be borrowed for free.
In the discourse around business and entrepreneurship, you get the impression that, with "bigger," you get the chance to do "better." More money equals more opportunities for creativity. More staff translates to more experiments. More support leads to higher quality. And as all of that comes to fruition, the business will do well. It has to, right?
But no, it doesn't have to.
Bigger can mean being strapped with must-hit metrics, dozens of other people's opinions, and the crushing responsibility of all the livelihoods you've tied to your shot at success. Bigger breeds conformity and homogeneity, not creativity and experimentation.
She goes on,
There is a particular kind of creator economy business that operates on a rationale of value extraction. They purport to create value—through education, media, software, etc.—but value creation isn't the logic of the business.
The logic of extraction demands that business operations focus on squeezing money out of a project in any way it can possibly be squeezed out. It's not a logic constructed for values for quality or unique contribution. It's a logic that works on finding some small advantage and working it until it doesn't work anymore.
This is the logic that has become the chief economic driver in the US over the last 25 years. Scale or die. Maximize profit or go bankrupt. Hit your metrics or get laid off. It's obviously very bad for people—both founders and workers (especially workers). But it's also bad for the economy, as growth revolves around the financialization of more and more abstract “products.” And it's bad for businesses because executives have lost interest in their customers and their products.
I suppose at the end of the day, one of my motivators for talking about the absurdity of our economic and financial systems is that I believe business and work can be prosperous without adhering to the logic those systems run on. Just because a product doesn't "scale" doesn't mean it can't be sustainable or even wildly profitable.
Whether it's podcasting, or writing, or making videos, or any other culturally valuable pursuit, we can make it work without playing by their rules.
An arresting plea for ‘small is beautiful’ in an economy increasingly oriented around breakneck growth, financialization, increasing monopolies, and industry consolidation.
Thank you, Tara.
In the same week, we read that the ‘savior’ of WeWork, Sandeep Mathrani, is leaving the company after trying a turnaround, even while the company has lost 95% of its once-upon-a-time valuation in 2019 of $47 billion.
WeWork’s business model never made sense. Signing long-term leases on commercial office space and signing up tens of thousands of tenants to short-term leases was inevitably going to collapse in an inevitable economic downturn, and never really made money even when the economy was on fire.
And it won’t just be the shareholders that will be burned by WeWork’s collapse (which now looks inevitable), but perhaps even more devastating to the economies of the cities where WeWork has become the dominant renter of office space. As Maureen Farrell and Peter Eavis report [emphasis mine]:
Office landlords are watching the company with dread.
A collapse of WeWork could be a “systematic shock” to the weak commercial real estate sector in New York, San Francisco and other cities, said Stijn Van Nieuwerburgh, a Columbia Business School professor who specializes in real estate.
“It would pour more cold water on the office market, which is struggling direly,” he said, noting that WeWork rents nearly 20 million square feet of office space, more than any other company in the United States.
If WeWork enters bankruptcy, dumping that much office space into an already distressed real estate market in the big cities will be like a neutron bomb going off.
Surely, some economic watchdog should have been monitoring these events with alarm. Could there have been an intervention to step in before this Tulip Mania ends up blowing a hole below the water line in the commercial real estate market?
And what caused this state of affairs, where so much office space is under the control of one player? Unchecked growth:
The model never really worked on a large scale. At most locations, costs greatly outpaced revenue. WeWork grew fast, doubling its revenue most years since it was founded, but it also more than doubled its losses.
A business model based on cancer-like growth, and never finding a sustainable financial model, fueled by dumb, cheap money, and insatiable hubris.