The Elite's War on Remote Work Has Nothing to Do with Productivity
The elite are trying to whip everyone back to the office to avoid a commercial real estate crash.
Back in my 20s, I used to hang out with trust fund kids. They told me about the paid internships their parents lined up for them. They bragged about taking long lunches and shopping on the clock. One chick laughed about her firm accidentally sending her three checks after her last day.
She tried to return the money.
"Keep it," they said.
Even my non-rich friends found ways to slack off. I had friends who managed to sneak back to their apartments for sex. I've worked at bars where the bartenders and servers snorted coke in the bathroom.
It made them more productive.
It made them smile.
These days, I work at a university. I have bosses making $200,000 a year. Do you know what we've caught them doing at the office? Watching soccer games. Taking selfies. Holding wine tastings. Zooming with family. Reading for edification. Holding meetings that were more like social gatherings.
David Graeber's essay on bullshit jobs blew the myth of office productivity wide open a few years ago. The elite have been promising us shorter work weeks for about a hundred years. We have the technology. As we speak, they're bragging about their new AI minions.
The vast majority of us know what it's like to work an office job. It's full of bullshit errands that don't matter. It's full of distractions. A lot of that gets filed under "office culture." A lot of us finish our core duties in a few hours. We spend the rest of the day looking busy so we don't get fired. At the other end of the spectrum, some office workers can't ever get their real work done because of all the pointless interruptions they have to put up with.
Before the pandemic, the internet was filled with stories about the evils of office work. It was bad for your productivity. It was bad for your creativity. It was bad for your health. They were trying to sell us treadmill desks.
Remember all that?
Now everything has changed. If you work from home, apparently you're a lazy bum who wastes company time by snacking, playing video games, watching Netflix, shopping, hanging out with your friends, drinking, spending time with your family, or having sex. You're an awful person.
How dare you cook a healthy lunch at home. How dare you go for a walk in the middle of the day to clear your head. How dare you take a short nap to regain your focus. Didn't you know that an epic commute is actually good for your mental health? Sitting in a cubicle is great for your heart.
So, what's really going on here?
It’s about real estate.
There's an office real estate apocalypse unfolding. Corporate landlords currently hold $1.2 trillion in loans on office towers all over the country. In some cases, these are the same assholes who've been buying up all the houses and driving up prices on residential real estate, too.
They were greedy, and dumb.
When the pandemic hit, these landlords did something even dumber. As The Financial Times states, they took advantage of “nearly free money” from the Federal Reserve to buy up “trophy office buildings.” Now that everyone is embracing remote work, they can’t lease that office space to anyone. They have a bunch of zombie office towers.
They can’t do anything with them.
Some of these commercial real estate owners are trying to turn their empty buildings into apartments and restaurants, but it’s an expensive overhaul. Not every zombie office building makes a great apartment.
Anywhere from 12 to 20 percent of office space remains vacant. It’s worse than the 2008 recession. If these landlords can’t find a way to make money off their corporate real estate soon, they’re going to start defaulting on their loans. The landlords will go bankrupt, and banks will wind up with giant office towers they can’t sell. More than $1 trillion will go poof.
The Federal Reserve’s misguided war on inflation has made everything even worse over the last couple of years. By raising interest rates, they’ve motivated more companies to ditch their office leases. Now commercial real estate is in a death spiral that could tank the economy (again).
There’s more bad news.
Major cities have spent the last several decades catering to these corporate landlords. Now their entire downtowns rely on workers for commerce. We’re talking about all those restaurants and coffee shops that serve breakfast and lunch to white-collar workers, and all the bars where people used to go and complain about work before they spent an hour commuting home.
These cities also depend on property taxes from overpriced commercial real estate. When nobody wants those buildings, their value plummets. New York alone has lost $453 billion in office real estate. Across the U.S., office buildings have shed anywhere from 40 to 80 percent of their value.
So, we have a problem.
Once again, the elite have gotten themselves into big trouble. They want the rest of us to bail them out. If they don't want our tax money, they want us to give up our freedom and autonomy. They want us to sacrifice ourselves on the altar of capitalism to protect their fortunes.
They don't care how productive we are. They don't care how creative we are. They sure as hell don't care about our health.
It's all a bunch of lies.
They only care about one thing, forcing warm bodies back into office buildings to stop the commercial real estate apocalypse.