What will post-pandemic New York City look like?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

Most of all, there will be an exodus of elderly residents. New York City will become even more the province of young people, assuming the role that Berlin has long played in Germany. That will be good for the city’s long-run vitality. [TC: No, I am not saying this is a good thing overall.]

Rents and land prices are likely to fall. This is not necessarily because of a high number of deaths, a ghoulish and difficult detail to predict. Nonetheless many businesses will think twice about locating their headquarters in New York City, if only because senior managers tend to be relatively old. The net effect will be to make the city less attractive for businesses but more affordable for residents, most of all young people. It will be more like the New York of the 1970s and 1980s, with fear of infection replacing the fear of crime.


If Covid-19 survivors have immunity, as is the case with many viruses, the city’s social life may become very segregated. Survivors will have time-stamped immunity certificates and lead relatively active social lives. Those who have not had the virus will be far more Puritan — spending more time online, refusing to shake hands, biking rather than taking the subway. Different bars and even different parts of town will have reputations as better for one group or the other.

This kind of segregation is not an especially appealing prospect. Yet New York City, with its incredible choice and diversity, will be better suited to deal with it than will rural or suburban America. Of course if you haven’t been infected yet, and cannot prove immunity and get into the safe clubs and bars, you will be all the more scared to visit the riskier outlets available to you.

In fact many people, especially the young, may actually expose themselves to the virus deliberately, to join what is ostensibly the more fun-seeking crowd. Maybe there will be bars and parties for people in the “actively infected” phase.

I hope to return to the broader topic of our future in subsequent posts.  And here is a new NBER piece that the coronavirus curve already is flattening in NYC.


I've been thinking a lot about what my city (west coast suburb) will look like after this initial wave is over, and the thought of "safe" bars and restaurants where COVID19 immune people will visit seems very likely.

I guess one major question is will people signal their immunity (or, disinterest in catching it) OR will they signal that they are a high risk person who does not want to be near infected types? The latter still need to buy groceries and still have a life.

Another possible scenario is taking precautions like measuring temperature before you enter anywehere (like they do in China) And people avoiding establishments where such precautions are not in place.

I'm not sure which situation is more likely: yours or mine. :-)

Hopefully, different areas will try different solutions and we'll get to see which are the most useful and which are harmful to health/liberty.

If we have a vaccine in a year or two, it seems doubtful that COVID-19 specifically will have any long-run social impact. Tyler's first excerpt, if discussing fear of infectious disease generally, seems more plausible.

By the way, how did the Spanish Flu change culture, if at all?

Agree that a vaccine should shorten long-run social impact.

As for the Spanish Flu, great question!

If we go by urban vs. rural population trend line, not at all -https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/urban-and-rural-populations-in-the-united-states

These numbers appear to be from decennial censuses, so conceivably there could have been a brief change right around 1920.

The plateau on this chart is 1930 to 1940, by the way. I assume that is completely tied to the Great Depression: people stopped moving to the cities because of greatly reduced employment opportunities.

There's never going to be a vaccine, at least one that is reliable enough that it will significantly change behavior. We accept flu vaccines that don't really work that well because we are not so scared of the flu. Vaccine research for Covid is a big money sink biology-full-employment scam.

I remember Jeffrey Harris very well from my time in grad school. A person with a rare grasp of health economics.

The mentality that leads people to live like rats is not a mentality that leads them to leave a decadent and unsustainable lifestyle because of one little disease.

This virus won't be around long enough to drastically change human behavior. Certainly, masks will become more common and who knows the CDC might even grow a pair and admit they are wrong about the issue.

I suspect that working remotely will have a significant jump in usage. It was already economically advantageous. This virus will loosen the societal prohibitions that acted to suppress it.

Infectious diseases will become a bigger part of the healthcare budget, Hand washing will become a little more thorough. Public touching will become a little less common.

However, I doubt the character of New York will change very much. Those older executives are going to tend to be risk takers and are going to have the wealth to minimize the risks in any case. There might be some cost cutting moves that are finally justified by these risks, but I believe it will be a marginal factor at best.

Indeed, the effectiveness of working remotely and the high costs of New York City are more likely to effect the middle class workers. If you can do your NYC job remotely, you've proven it by doing it remotely for 90 days and the costs of NYC are eating up your future retirement, then you have a strong incentive to push back with corporate memos calling everyone back to the office start being issued.

Yes. This is a case where older residents preferences might change a bit, but the bigger effect will be in the young who've already got the 'nudge' to work remotely.

Both of my millennial kids already had jobs where they were already able to work remotely before the pandemic. At this point, they'd be loathe to give that up not least because they can work and travel -- both have, at various times, flown across the country to stay a week or two with friends and worked while there most of the time -- going out in the evenings and on weekends. They're able to travel and hang out with neither them nor their hosts having to burn a bunch of vacation days.

Yes, this is indeed the norm. When my son travels I can never figure out if he's ever on vacation , since he generally seems to be allowed to work from wherever he is.

One more step in accentuating the growing gap in class in the US. All those mentioned as being able to work remotely are members of the "abstraction class", whose work is juggling numbers and concepts. The other class is the "reality class", who actually need to show up at the business venue and put their hands on the product or service, people like plumbers, auto mechanics, servers, hair stylists, supermarket employees, etc. No doubt in the near future home owners will require the visiting appliance repairman to douche in disinfectant before he gets in the door. In fact, companies will probably advertise their ability to do so. The blue collar community will become even more of an "untouchable" class than before. Both groups will be the target of political manipulation, which will make their existence even more obvious.

"Yes, this is indeed the norm. "

Really? How well do you represent the median American family? My guess is your household is upper income with a higher than normal education level.

It's not the norm for most of the country or even most of the corporate world.

"In 2015, 3.9 million U.S. workers were working remotely. Today that number is at 4.7 million, or 3.4% of the population."


Working remotely is going to be the big change.

Here are some things that it will affect:
- Less commute time and costs
- Changes in management (most present managers are more skilled in face-to-face than remote interaction, because they were promoted by other face-to-face manager specialists, and so on)
- Office real estate takes a blow (basically what online stores did to brick-and-mortar retail, but now to corporate HQ)
- Residences develop home offices as a desired room
- Business travel drops big time (or everyone more clearly sees the boondoggle for what it is)
- Relocation packages become a thing of the past
- Long term, there will be less drive for professionals to gather in cities, leading to an "exurban renaissance"
- Long-long term, a reduction in city vibrancy as knowledge workers simply live on their estates in the countryside leaving the "reality workers" to handle the ports and warehouses and supply chain hubs
- A similar gentrification of the countryside as professionals push out lower-income rural populations

"CDC might even grow a pair and admit they are wrong about the issue."

There isn't much dispute that, if you are sick, wearing a normal surgical mask helps you from spreading infection. It is like vaccination in that sense -- a critical mass of people following the social norm of wearing a mask at the first sign of symptoms of any illness help keep the population as a whole healthier.

The problem is that if people who are not sick insist on wearing masks, we have a shortage that impacts the ability of medical professionals to do their jobs. I see the CDC as looking at this issue like economists: with limited resources, we should allocate masks to where they have the highest marginal social benefit and, right now, that is with medical professionals. Going forward, if people want to adopt Japanese social norms and also improve their hygiene more generally, the market can adapt.

"I see the CDC as looking at this issue like economists: with limited resources, we should allocate masks to where they have the highest marginal social benefit and, right now, that is with medical professionals. "

Then why didn't they recommend people adopt face coverings weeks ago? They are discussing the policy currently.

If the CDC policy was for people to wear masks a few months ago, more companies and citizens would have acted to procure them. Now, in my mind this isn't as big a snafu as the testing issue was. However, when confronted with new evidence the CDC is slow to change its mind. It's clearly bureaucratic.

Or this: Why didn't the CDC distinguish between N-95 masks, essential for first responders and those who MUST deal with the public, and lesser masks for the rest of us?

If more people had worn cloth masks or cold-weather gaiters, starting a month ago, those who were infected but asymptomatic would have been somewhat -- or possibly a great deal -- less likely to spread the virus unknowingly.

This would have been helpful in the many weeks before the CDC got its act together on testing, and we would be in better shape now.

Its interesting that the chance of having had the virus is probably correlated somewhat with personality traits and maybe even political tendencies, so the resulting behaviour and spaces will reflect not just the people's immune status but their general preferences.

Move over chickenpox parties. There's a new sheriff in town....

Venice didn't stop being a major European comercial city because of the Black Death.

Venice started to lose its power 150 years later, first, with the Atlantic expansion of Portugal, and Spain; and later with the expansion of England, Holland and France.

I mean, if you want to make business and connect with people and talent, big cities is where you want to be. On top of that, NYC has the best restaurants and top execs can't give up on that. :-)

What exactly is the time period for this new NYC world? Post peak up until a vaccine is released?

The idea of bars for people with Kung Flu certificates is purely in Tyler's imagination, and it will reside there, forever.

What's telling is that Tyler has already moved on to the "It's over" phase of the pandemic.

"What's telling is that Tyler has already moved on to the "It's over" phase of the pandemic." - And boy, is he going to look like an idiot in a couple of weeks.

Is he predicting this will be all be over with in a couple weeks? Even Donald Trump has backed off that fantasy.

If you've been following the numbers closely, you will have noticed that the number of new cases per day has moved from the "exponential" territory to the clearly leveling off linear phase.
That could change, but if the trend holds in another week the numbers will be declining. Italy seems to be over the worst and we're supposed to be a week behind them.

The numbers have been levelling off in Italy several times, at least if one reads the comments here. And the U.S. is weeks behind Italy or Spain - NYC is just the opening act of a show that will be going on the road for an extended run.

Unless you feel that this statement is somehow wrong - "If we do things together well, almost perfectly, we could get in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 fatalities," Birx said.

This site seems to have a problem linking to the worldometer website, but Italy peaked around March 21st, leveled off, and the last couple of days new cases have dropped from the 5-6K range to 4K.
That is at least no longer exponential growth.

"If you've been following the numbers closely, you will have noticed that the number of new cases per day has moved from the "exponential" territory to the clearly leveling off linear phase."

I suspect that this is a factor of the US catching up on the testing backlog. We'll need to let the numbers drop and then see what the new underlying trend looks like, assuming we can get to that level of testing.

The article on "The Coronavirus epidemic is already flattening in New York city" addresses this in " Alternative explanatation #1" It doesn'' appear to be supply limited constraints on testing
The Kinsha thermometer data agrees: from the NYT article :
"For example, in Manhattan, reports of fevers steadily rose during early March, despite a declaration of emergency on March 7 and an order on March 12 that public gatherings be restricted to less than 500 people.
The turning point began on March 16, the day schools were closed. Bars and restaurants were closed the next day, and a stay-at-home order took effect on March 20. By March 23, new fevers in Manhattan were below their March 1 levels.

How prevalent are these thermometers in low-income households?

This is from an economist who wrote a book advising people to "avoid restaurants with beautiful women" .... Love this man, but don't think he has bar scene dynamics nailed ! lol

In 12 months a majority of uninfected New Yorkers will have received their SARS-COV2 immunizations and life will go on just as before. We'll still see pockets of infections, like we do with measles, but these won't be sufficient to change life very much.

I don't agree. Rent control keeps a lot of older people in New York and that isn't likely to change. You might see some changes on the margins but not a lot.

A vaccine will come in a year and reduce some if not most fears. Remote working will become more common so where you are located will be less important.

How did people adapt in the 1920-30s? More tribalism. More group attachment to protect you and yours. More international conflicts. Bigger families. Bigger government. More physical movement of populations that leads to conflict.

If the economy quickly recovers change might be slight. If the economy stays depressed radical change is possible.

Third world countries may suffer. Iran and the Middle East could become more radical. Europe will need to see an increase in the birth rate or it will drift into a lost civilization studied in history books.

If Rhode Island is any indication, full of resentful people wondering why no one likes them.

Come on... Stop treating this like it's some sort of 21st century version of Black Death. It's just the new virus wunderkid on the block. Completely overrated and ever more so every passing day. Continuing like this is just self-fulfilling prophecizing.

If there's a vaccine in the next 12 - 14 months, as many predict, won't NYCers just take the vaccine and go back to life as usual?

It's gonna be about the Haves, the Have Nots and the Have Hads.

The Have Hads bldg ID is the most exclusive
The Have Nots get swabbed in groups of 10(?) every month/qtr/whatever. Their ID/Metro Card will inform any machine of their last swab...how long this ID/card lasts
The Haves are removed/isolated. No entry

I disagree with the segregation piece. Maybe for old people... but young people don't care if they get the virus. The only way to keep all the young people from partying together now is by either making it illegal or guilt tripping them into believing they're literally killing old people. That won't work post-pandemic.

Will a vaccine not solve the problem(s)?

Yea - it seems like we would have to go quite some time without a vaccine for a segregated society to emerge. Maybe Tyler is communicating his doubt about our prospects there, it would be nice to know why.

>New York City, with its incredible choice and diversity

Yes, we're all seeing how "incredibly" that diversity is working out for them, right now.

Even a pandemic will not deter Tyler from his rigidly-held views. Do you think he'll even wait for Trump's re-election to make his first YIMBY post, complaining about how we need to cram more people into cities?

Or will he jump right into it before July?

I wonder if NYC will change that much. Did it change that much after 9/11? Different event granted, but were there predictions that NYC would become less of a business hub at that time? Or other predicted changes?

California has had Earthquakes forever. And now the wildfires are getting more intense and frequent. I'm not sure that has ever dampened their growth. People still seems to want to move there.

People keep re-building their homes in flood plains.

Unpredictable destructive events of relatively brief duration dont seem to have huge impact on human preferences.

Now, if there was no vaccine ever developed, and reinfection could happen quickly, and density was highly correlated to mortality, and maybe even the virus becomes more deadly, then, yeah, people may start to change preferences more dramatically.

You know what follows the immunity badges? A black market in convalescent plasma. Just a little shot ups your antibodies just enough so you pass the blood test and get the badge.

Presumably that problem would quickly solve itself.

Broadening TC's query only slightly: do we presently find sufficient incentive to postpone the 2020 US Census until, say, 2022 or 2025?

It begins to become difficult to think that 2020 census reportage will permit reliable extrapolation.

A census every decade is a constitutional requirement. Any attempt to postpone it would be unconstitutional

Respectfully, I would remind the Constitution that this is the first pandemic plague to assault the Republic since its founding.

Expect reduced levels of participation.

I’m surprised there aren’t more PSAs saying you’re stuck at home, don’t forget to log on to fill out the census.

Since we’re on the computer anyway.

This is some tame version of a cyberpunk fantasy. Dead on arrival in real life. Remember Oregon shutting down the online schools in the name of equity?

What, if anything, was the impact of HIV on behavior before the availability of treatment? That was a death sentence for the infected. Safe bars with current test certificate entry requirements? Significant reduction in risky behavior? Public ID of carriers?

The only thing I can recall was a blood test as part of life insurance underwriting, and eventually screening for blood donors.

+1, HIV was far more deadly and there were plenty of people who refused to change their risky behavior

A blood test for marriage was also required back then.

The CDC I think ran ads that everyone could get AIDS.

Latex gloves and masks became the norm. There are generations which had dentists stick their ungloved hands in their mouths cleaning and drilling and unmasked faces in one’s face.

How long before we have an effective vaccine? I'm guessing sooner not later within a year-- it will be fast-tracked). So I think any of these developments, like covid immune bars and the like, will be ephemeral.

Everyone assumes that there will be an effective vaccine. Vaccines against coronaviruses are notoriously difficult to develop. There may not be an effective vaccine. Immunity to coronaviruses often wanes over time. This may be a virus humans will be dealing with for a prolonged period. It may change everything.

This isn't AIDS, it only takes a couple of weeks to get over it, so I doubt there will be that much segregation, and I suspect that it won't be very long before everyone has had it in some form, and/or the virus mutates and/or there is a vaccine. So I am inclined to think that the idea of segregated social networks isn't going to work. What are you going to do, stop hanging out with all your old friends as soon as you get infected? Don't think so...

One cannot model the Q in QALY's as a constant in a plague. If the Q in one of two scenarios is off by one millionth of a unit, you may make the wrong choice.

If this scenario proves true, rents would go up as older residents leave their rent controlled or rent stabilized apartments and owners raise the rents.

Highly unlikely. What major cities and economic centers dramatically changed after the Spanish Flu? Why would things be different with a much less virulent international pandemic? Did things change after the 1957 Flu?

I think one interesting question is what will happen with education. We will have an entire cohort of students that missed most of a semester, maybe a second in the fall, of in-class instruction.

Will we detect a decline in educational outcomes in a few years? If so, will that cohort suffer in the job market or will they receive an extra semester or two of remedial instruction? The latter seems unlikely given our culture of social promotion.

More interesting, and perhaps more likely, is that we will find no discernible decline in educational outcomes, especially after a number of years. (Arnold Kling's Null Hypothesis). In *that* case, how will the present educational system be defensible? Students could skip 1-2 semesters and not suffer at all in educational quality?!?! Would that reckoning lead to substantial declines in education subsidies and explosion of school choice? Alternatively, maybe nothing would change, establishing once and for all that the true function of public education was to serve as a jobs program for unionized teachers rather than to educate students.

My young kids are out of school, technically through the end of April but probably through the end of the year. I wonder if this will be the summer that seemed to go on forever to them when they get older.

TC is an incredibly smart person, but has anyone been tracking his cultural predictions? He is not at his best when predicting the future of culture.

No one is. I look at these posts more as talking points. He stakes out a position and it triggers a discussion. It doesn't have to be correct to be valuable.

Fair point, but perhaps I was being too coy. What I really mean is that TC seems completely, totally disconnected from what most people are really like.

For the most part, this is his great strength. What makes a good economist is one's ability to reason through abstractions. What makes a good food critic is the willingness to go beyond what the normal person would eat, to expand the pallet. He's a well-traveled man, but honestly, what on Earth would he know about "the role Berlin plays in Germany?"

It's one thing to venture guesses about how society will change. It's quite another to speak with authority on the nightlife or signalling tendencies of "kids today" or what role foreign cities play in foreign cultures.

I read your comment up above, by the way, and quite liked it.

Tyler is predictably contrarian, which sometimes gets him into trouble. I can't tell if that is his genuine thought pattern or his own weird form of virtue signaling. Alternatively it could be a marketing ploy to drive more traffic to his blog. Clickbait or does he really believe everything he writes?

The only time I comment on this blog is when Tyler has something to say about NYC... he is painfully out of touch every single time. The column is bad speculative fiction. The idea that the city will end up comparatively poorer than the rest of the U.S. because of Corona, or that rents and real estate prices will go down, is a stance one can only take from the parking lot of a strip mall in Northern Virginia. Please Tyler, come visit us more often.

Tyler - would you like some sort of friendly wager that you are wrong?

Perhaps it would be best to specify a list of metrics that could be verified by an agreed 3rd-party source: population over 65, lease rates for Class A Midtown office space, average daily subway ridership, etc.

I don't see a well-specified time frame for your predictions, so we'd also need to agree on that. I would predict, however, that there won't be any fundamental changes to New York City after a period of a couple years (at most).


(1) There's a strong - but not 100% - chance we learn that the actual infection fatality rate is much lower than current case fatality rates suggest. This disease is still a problem because of how fast it spreads, but it's less deadly than you currently think.

(2) Within 3-6 months, doctors will have treatments that probably aren't a "cure" but that significantly reduce the chance of death for a COVID-19 patient. They very likely "have" them now in terms of the drugs existing but just need to determine which are most effective.

(3) We will have very effective and widely available vaccines within 2 to 3 years. Ramping up production to be "widely available" will be the only reason that it stretches as long as 3 years.

Nostradamus "I can see dead people" Cowen

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