Following the money

One thing that has long baffled me about our ongoing global clusterfuck has been the push to just pretend that it's not happening. Who benefits financially from that?

I think the answer is, commercial landlords and hotel financiers.

Backing up:

I don't think that the dropping of all mitigation measures happened just because "people" are "over it". I don't think it's some spontaneous groundswell. People have been given permission to say they're "over it", by misinformation campaigns that have been inflicted upon them.

Random individuals may be driven by infantile short-sightedness, but they are being encouraged in this by businesses, governments and state actors; they are being given cover to just pretend that it's not happening. Businesses are legendarily short-sighted, rarely able to see past the end of the quarter, but more than two years into this, shouldn't they have seen some patterns emerge? Even from the point of view of Capitalism Red in Tooth and Claw, how is it in their interest to have their employees dying by the thousands? To have them become saddled with life-long disabilities that will impact work and jack up the companies' own insurance costs for decades to come?

We've got stunts like this, where Maskless Mayor Breed gathers together a Rogue's Gallery of the world's worst businesses and pressures them into forcing their employees back into their cars and cubicles:

By committing to San Francisco, these businesses and many more are investing in this city and the people who live and work here. We are excited to welcome people back to downtown to work, dine, and experience our arts and culture. March is a new chapter for SF!

Which, due to character limits, she followed up with a second twit containing nothing but a list of the various companies' twitter handles. Ideally she'd be forced to wear their logos on her blazer like a NASCAR jacket, but she probably wouldn't even be embarrassed by that. Scarlet letter my ass.

tbreisacher: If the @SFPride parade was a tweet:

London Breed:

@BankofAmerica @BlackRock @sffed @FibroGenInc @GapInc @warriors @Google @HOKNetwork @Invitae @jpmorganchase @Meta @salesforce @united @Kilroyrealty @Mastercard @Microsoft @Orrick @SFGiants @SFSymphony @SPUR_Urbanist @Uber @usfca @Visa @WellsFargo

If a CEO wanted their employees back in the office for whatever reason (they think they're more productive, more controllable, whatever) they would just DO it. they don't need permission. They don't need the mayor campaigning for it. It's literally their call, and theirs alone. So why is the mayor campaigning for this? On whose behalf? We know it's not the CEOs, those are the targets of the campaign.

Part of the party line on this has been about the financial pain suffered by other downtown businesses, so is this on behalf of the hot dog cart on the corner? The food truck, the pizzeria, the upscale lunchtime businessman steakhouse?

No. Those businesses have no lobbying muscle at all. And more to the point, the various mayors and governors gave zero fucks about those businesses during the decades when the tech companies were building their own "free" cafeterias and restaurants directly into their office towers. Those companies did the math and figured out that if they served their employee a $6 meal in-house, they'd get an extra 2 hours work out of them every day. And all they had to do was shank that hot dog cart, that food truck, that pizzeria. Zero fucks were given while that was happening.

So who's left?

Commercial landlords. They see the spectre of the Googles of the world deciding that they need half as much floor space, and strong-arming their way into smaller leases, or just defaulting on it and daring them to fight it out in court. "We're Google, what are you gonna do?"

I think that those are the donors on whose behalf Breed is lobbying. That's why she wants us to believe the pandemic is over. So that when the CEOs tell everyone to get back to work, to justify those downtown tower leases, that the drones don't just quit. She, and the landlords, require the consent of the abused.

Notably, it will not be the employees of the commercial real-estate holding companies whose lives will be put at risk by these back-to-the-cubicle policies.

Who else, though? Here's another clue:

Breed is currently on a corporate-funded tour of the Great Houses of Europe, glad-handing movers and shakers in the capital cities, putting on her dog-and-pony show about how San Francisco is still a great tourist destination. Hitting all the talking points countering the Fox News stories about blood in the streets, telling everyone the Tenderloin is still a safe and welcoming place for High End Retail.

So who benefits from that? Which lobbyists will be pulling those strings? Airlines, obviously, but more importantly, hotel financiers, and the money-laundering oligarchs who love them.

As we learned from Scooby Doo, Donald Trump and Lex Luthor, it's always a real estate scam.


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18 Responses:

  1. CSL3 says:

    Breed Logic: a COVID wave temporarily drops, so all mandates drop.

    Meanwhile, crime legit drops, but we still have police trucks guarding Union Square like a medieval stronghold.

    Makes prefect sense.

  2. tfb says:

    So it probably is Putin, again (there must be oligarchs he doesn't own, but he owns a lot of them, as well as being likely the richest man in the world in his own right). People laundering money generally seem to like commercial property and commercial property people must be absolutely horrified by what's going to happen to all their shiny towers. And buying politicians is really cheap (Boris Johnson seems to have sold the UK for the price of some expensive wallpaper).

    The 'good' thing is that long covid now seems like a relatively minor problem compared to the whole WWIII thing. I'm trying to make sure that whenif it's clearly inevitable I know which nearby target to get to so I die quickly. You're probably OK from that perspective already.

    • jwz says:

      "Buying politicians is cheap" always bothers me because that's just not how it works at all. You aren't finding some politician and giving them a stack of money to subvert their values, do a u-turn, and give you what you want. You just back the one who was going to do what you wanted in the first place. The one who already agreed with you.

      • Rodger says:

        Jesus it’s like no one knows their Chomsky any more.

      • tfb says:

        I partly agree. I don't think you're paying politicians to subvert their values: I do think that, sometimes, you are arranging things so that politicians with no values other than self-glorification and self-enrichment make it into power, and then paying them to pretend to have values which suit you.

        There is a very good current example in the UK: Boris Johnson is best viewed as a johnson maximizer: he has no values other than that there should be more money and glory for johnson. In 2016 he famously did not know which way to jump on brexit but, when it became clear that Putin's stooges would (mostly indirectly) pay him to cheerlead for it, he did so without a second thought.

        (Putin wanted brexit because he judged that it would substantially eliminate the UK as a significant power and would also weaken the EU. It's done both those things although the EU has not become as weak as he perhaps hoped.)

        I think this is very different than the US where Trump actually had (loathsome) political views I think: Johnson really doesn't, he is just a very pure maximizer for his johnson function.

        • jwz says:


          But as far as I can tell Trump and Johnson are basically the same, except that Trump is much, much stupider. (And I realize that Johnson is also no rocket surgeon.) Trump also has loathsome political views but if he had to choose between "loathsome views" and "money, power and attention", we all know which way he'd jump. He's so fortunate that he found a way to make them coincide!

      • Richard says:

        "Buying politicians is cheap" always bothers me because that's just not how it works at all. You aren't finding some politician and giving them a stack of money to subvert their values, do a u-turn, and give you what you want.

        Having had a lot of experience in this over several decades, I can assure you that in fact it is the case that politicians are shockingly cheap, because most of them (as with most people!) don't have "values" around most issues (who could!), so persuading them to take one position or another on something about which they care little (or less than nothing) is ... really really really ridiculously cheap.

        Now maybe if the issue is something that attracts national press attention there will be scrutiny of who votes for what, but if, as is so very often the case, some deep-pocketed operator can line up one super-cheap local city council vote after another in resolutions support some seemingly-vague expression of policy that doesn't really seem to exercise anybody all that much ... well ... pretty soon they're talking "regional consensus" for something that will make somebody billions of dollars happier, and all it cost was a few tens of thousands of dollars of lobbying a bunch of hicks or grifters or well-intentioned but under-resourced local hicks,

        Trust me, it really is super super cheap to buy off these ignorant fuckers.

  3. Jeff says:

    It's more complete and insidious than you describe. Remote work is one of those things which absolutely terrifies capitalists of all sorts, because it creates a dual advantage for the worker.

    First, it implies "I can work anywhere." The six, eight, or twenty companies in your area that you'd consider working for can much more easily form a wage cartel than, say, the hundreds or thousands of similar companies world wide. That is to say, if you have the freedom to sell your labor on the national or global market, you are more likely to get a better salary. This forces local companies to be more competitive, and corporations never want competition, especially in the labor market.

    Second, it implies "I can work from anywhere." This is really, really bad for residential landlords, especially if they have property in a city now famous for its horrible housing crisis. "If you don't like the rent you're paying, just move," is the common mantra of the landlord, and the very last thing they ever want you to be able to do.

    Add in the fall-out effects of fewer people needing cars, less coffee being purchased at drive-throughs, etc. and you have the makings of a once-in-a-century shift in economics and urban planning. The sort of thing we last saw with the great migration to the suburbs after WWII.

  4. One thing that has long baffled me about our ongoing global clusterfuck has been the push to just pretend that it's not happening. Who benefits financially from that?

    The unexamined assumption here is that The Money is not just as stupid as everybody else. On the contrary, I think the evidence of the last 20 years weighs heavily on the side of "The Money is even stupider than the median person." The Money is far more cossetted and protected from the consequences of its ignorance than the people it controls.
    As is generally the case, you don't need some far-reaching conspiracy to explain the behavior of The Money, you just need to see greedheads with no consciences or capacity to resist eating all the food now doing what they do.

  5. nooj says:

    One thing I find supportive of your thesis is that a lot of Covid stimulus money ultimately went to landlords. That money no longer being available, other measures are being taken.

    Off topic, your pixels are leaking again! My scrollbar is green!

  6. AdamB says:

    Isn't it possible that the company CEOs themselves did lobby the Mayor to tweet this, so that they would be better able to form a bloc and collectively demand all employees return to the office, with less risk of said employees jumping ship to a competitor who didn't demand it?

    • jwz says:

      Yeah, it's also possible it was aliens. But your theory is more complicated and requires a much larger group of selfish egotists to keep a secret.

  7. Carlos says:

    You're correct, as far as it goes. But you didn't go far enough.

    You're right that your mayor doesn't GAF about any of those local businesses. However, she almost certainly does give one for all of those businesses in the aggregate - she doesn't care about the business owners or their employees or the products they sell, but she definitely cares about the tax base of her city. Without that tax base, how does the gravy train continue on to the next station?

    As far as who else profits from workers going back to their horrific commutes and soul-crushing glass towers, besides real estate owners and hotel owners? Everyone in the financial industry, particularly credit card companies and banks. If you look at the numbers, people working from home have drastically cut spending, due to less opportunity, more wanting to cover uncertainty, and less need for commuting etc. Household savings are higher than they've been in decades. All of that represents less spending, fewer credit card fees and overdraft fees, less credit card interest, etc.

    If the people get used to spending less money ... a lot of credit card companies are going to be awfully upset.


  8. Mitch says:

    There's a very simple reason why there is so much misinformation about getting people back to the office. The Commercial Real Estate market, according to their own sources, is a $16T market as of 2018. Many of the Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) are traded on the markets ( A major hit to commercial real estate means that peoples' retirements take a big cut and so does the market.

    • Jim says:

      Let them suffer. It's not impossible to convert commercial space into residential units, but that's where demand actually is. Plumbing and HVAC retrofits are the skilled line items, plus cosmetic stuff like sound insulation are what amounts to what's really needed to make it work. They've got a lot of slush, but they can absolutely bring those resources to bear on conversions instead of using them to weather commercial tenant shortages. The clock is running out.

      • jwz says:

        I am 100% for replacing commercial real estate with residential, but the reality is that "converting" pretty much means "level the building and start over", for lots of reasons, but as you noted, the first one is plumbing.

        What has already been built is unsuitable for (non-squatter) habitation, and changing that is fantastically uneconomical and can't be done quickly. If you think it is no big deal to reconfigure the plumbing in a commercial open-floor office to "just throw in some kitchens and bathrooms", you do not understand what's involved.

        Part of the reason we have un-walkable cities is that building commercial real estate is way easier and more profitable than building residential (for both the builder and the municipal government). So the bottom falling out of commercial real estate might be really good for us.

  9. Joe says:

    During the pandemic I spoke to a bunch of commercial real estate people on a few different levels (architechts through to owners) about how things will probably change after the pandemic and they are going to have a lot of floor space (I was pitching an way to reconfigure buildings for more short term lets).
    Short answer was they all had their fingers in their ears and said they were waiting it out and things were going to go back to pre-pandemic times. So I woudn't be suprised if they are trying to make sure that happens.

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