Who really runs the United States: Also, is urbanization becoming a dead-end for thematic investors?
- June 1, 2020: Vol. 7, Number 6

Who really runs the United States: Also, is urbanization becoming a dead-end for thematic investors?

by Mike Consol

It has become apparent that governors and mayors of major U.S. cities are running the country. Even before President Trump washed his hands of so many aspects of the coronavirus pandemic, it was evident the Dems versus GOP gridlock in Congress made progress impossible. States have since learned they must act where the federal government has no ability or inclination to act. This isn’t necessarily bad news. Cities and states understand their problems better than the feds and can apply solutions closer to the ground, getting a read on their efficacy more clearly and acting to modify legislation more quickly. What’s more, the state-level approach is a more portfolio-style method to problem solving, with the states representing potentially 50 different approaches to the big issues the governments face. What’s more, states then have the ability to quickly emulate successful programs that have been demonstrated effective in other states.

Has the macro-investing theme of urbanization just been undermined by the coronavirus and the aversion it might instill in people about living in crowded quarters? Probably not, according to Janette Sadik-Khan, former commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation. She points out that cities are what societies are built on. Cities have come back from wars, depressions and plagues before, and Sadik-Khan thinks the real issue is using our imagination to make cities better, so the result is not just recovery but renewed prosperity. Cities across the world are rethinking how to operate in an optimal way. Milan, for example, is creating 22 miles of bike lanes, extended sidewalks and car-free zones because city leaders have recognized when streets are made easier for walking and biking they foster business, as well as the health of the citizenry. “Cars don’t shop, people do,” Sadik-Khan observes, adding that when Mike Bloomberg was mayor of New York City he implemented a program to increase citizen access to their parks and green space, in part because it improved New Yorkers’ physical and mental health, and the Big Apple’s social and cultural health.

Fintech algorithms are capable of many remarkable things. One thing they cannot do is determine a user’s race, which is proving to be a good thing for minorities seeking financing. A November study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia found that fintech lenders have made more loans in underserved minority and rural neighborhoods. The theory behind this is that old-style bankers discriminated against minorities because they met loan applicants face-to-face. Fintech’s computer algorithms, the argument goes, are blind to race, and loan approvals are more anchored in a borrower’s creditworthiness.

Imagine the shocking chaos upon existing chaos, as field hospitals go dark, ventilators stop working, monitors run out their batteries, and pressurized oxygen masks quit without a hiss. Sound like nonsense? It’s not, says a report in Energy Central. Why? The U.S. electric grid is fragile and especially vulnerable to physical attacks on unprotected and unmanned open-air substations. The country has a wafer-thin stock of large power transformers, without which our electrical system just won’t work. Floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and lightning strikes present yet another threat to those vital substations.

Billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones is buying bitcoin. Bloomberg reports Jones told his clients in a market outlook note that he believes bitcoin will serve as a hedge against a jump in inflation, a jump he believes is coming as a result of central banks printing money and sharply expanding their balance sheets to combat the coronavirus-induced economic crisis.

Ralph Bivins, editor of, put it bluntly in a recent edition: “Open offices are dead. It was a short-lived trend, really. As a pop culture observer, I’d estimate the open-office design trend lasted longer than disco music, but not as long as VHS cassettes home movies … But our tragic coronavirus pandemic has changed all of that.”

Also dead might be investors who used Airbnb as a business, by acquiring numerous housing units as rentals. As an example, The Wall Street Journal recently cited Cheryl Dopp, an IT consultant, who used to collect $8,000 a month renting out a property in Jersey City. It was like “magical money” in good times, she said. But Dopp lost $10,000 in bookings alone in March, and has $22,000 in monthly expenses associated with other properties in her Airbnb portfolio.

Zillow reports the continued economic fallout from the spread of COVID-19 has introduced immense uncertainty into the housing market as consumers step back from large purchases, prompting the company to forecast home prices are likely to fall by 2 percent to 3 percent after years of appreciating. The volume of home sales could fall by as much as 60 percent.


Mike Consol ( is editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter @mikeconsol to read his latest postings.


For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click Here.

Forgot your username or password?