I spoke at the New Orleans Investment Conference last week, which I rather enjoyed.
Except I didn’t get to go to New Orleans, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. In fact, I didn’t even leave my house – it was all done over Zoom. Welcome to the new normal.
My topic was “The Future of Work, Tax and Money” – and it’s the future of work that I’d like to consider today.
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Covid has accelerated the move towards remote working
What is happening was going to happen anyway, but like everything, Covid-19 has accelerated the trend. More and more of us are working remotely, and more and more of us are turning freelance.
The New Orleans Investment Conference itself was held remotely. Good though a virtual conference can be, you might say, you lose the excitement of rubbing shoulders with attendees and meeting new people. But you could just as easily take the other side and say it was great, because there wasn’t all the palaver of travel – and there were plenty of ways of meeting people via chatboards and so on. Here’s the point: to the surprise of the organisers, the conference had more attendees than ever before. Park that thought for a moment.
One of my close pals is a solicitor; so is his wife. The pandemic has been kind to them and business is good. They live in Kent, worked from home part of the time, and occasionally commuted into London. Since Covid, they have both long since sneaked off to their bolthole in the South of France and are working successfully from there.
Their story is part of a bigger trend. Only 40% of UK office workers are back at their desks. Most are working remotely. What’s more, all the surveys show that the large majority not only prefer working remotely, they are more productive at home too. There are even recruiting apps, platforms and headhunting companies specifically designed for remote working.
Meanwhile, estate agents all report a mass exodus going on from city to countryside. Many of us dream of a life in the country and Covid has given us the impetus. LonRes Research reports this week – in its update on “prime London” properties – that the number of new instructions in London in September was almost double what it was in the same month last year, and 38% higher than the average for the same month between 2010 and 2019.
As for rents, there were 78% more properties on the market across prime areas of London, compared to the same period last year, putting pressure on achieved rents, discounts available and void periods. Why be in some poky flat in London, when you can be in the country? Then, as my solicitor buddy has shown, why be in the UK when you can be in Provence? Heck, others will be thinking, why not Greece, Thailand or South America?
Now that the new normal of remote working is established, more and more people will be sneaking off, especially if Covid subsides. If it doesn’t, it’s also possible that many will travel to jurisdictions where Covid is less prevalent (where it isn’t winter, for example) or where the authorities are less draconian.
I can earn London wages, and pay Greek living costs. Great!
How to invest for the brave new world of work
This raises a number of issues. What is the right kind of visa? There are tax implications too, if the workforce is remote and abroad, or moving. Who does the worker pay tax to? Who does the employer pay tax to?
If the employee decides to live in Greece, the employer might feel why pay London wages? We need only pay Greek-level wages.
Before Covid hit, Ernst and Young expected a full 50% of full-time US workers to be contingent – working as contractors, freelancers or temps – by 2030. This is a global trend and Covid is accelerating it. As we start working remotely, or perhaps lose our full-time jobs, more and more of us will start taking on jobs on the side. Employers like gig workers too – the costs of employment are dramatically reduced.
Over half the world is now middle-class or richer, according to the Brookings Institution. The global population is projected to be nine billion by 2035. Of this, the workforce will be some six billion, says entrepreneur Pieter Levels in his presentation on digital nomads, and of that six billion, roughly half will be freelancers. One in three of those freelancers will be a nomad (a remote worker of no fixed location). Thus does Levels arrive at his projection of a billion nomads by 2035.
How do you play all this as an investor? Tech stocks are one obvious way – but this is all priced in already into the large caps. I can, by the way, see a huge role for Facebook’s libra coin in all this. This new borderless workforce, operating over the borderless medium that is the internet, is going to need borderless money.
And that brings us to your friend and mine – bitcoin. “Of all the nomads I meet,” says Levels, “at least half work in the crypto economy.” The percentage that use crypto money will be much higher. Bitcoin has become the backbone of the crypto economy. It performs a similar role to gold in the physical economy of the 19th century. The simplest way to play this new dynamic is to own bitcoin.
At the New Orleans Conference I also spoke on a panel with Chirs Martenson, Adam Taggart and Dave Collum, entitled “Pandemics, Politics, Protests & Money Printing: What's Next?” The overwhelming concern of all the panellists was the incredible money-printing that is going on – and what the consequences will be. One statistic bandied about is that 20% of all the US dollars in existence were created this year.
The Bank of England is at it too. Just yesterday afternoon it conjured up another £1.47 billion, as Tommy Cooper would say, “just like that”.
Bitcoin, like gold, is a hedge against all that too.
Check out Dominic’s new audiobook, The Shadowpunk Revolution, on Audible and iTunes. It’s a sci-fi rock drama about invisibility with a full rock soundtrack. And it’s very much a metaphor for bitcoin. Out now on Audible and iTunes.
Dominic Frisby (“mercurially witty” – the Spectator) is the world’s only financial writer and comedian. He is MoneyWeek’s main commentator on gold, commodities, currencies and cryptocurrencies. He is the author of the books Bitcoin: the Future of Money? and Life After The State. He also co-wrote the documentary Four Horsemen, and presents the chat show, Stuff That Interests Me.
His show 2016 Let’s Talk About Tax was a huge hit at the Edinburgh Festival and Penguin Random House have since commissioned him to write a book on the subject – Daylight Robbery – the past, present and future of tax will be published later this year. His 2018 Edinburgh Festival show, Dominic Frisby's Financial Gameshow, won rave reviews. Dominic was educated at St Paul's School, Manchester University and the Webber-Douglas Academy Of Dramatic Art.
You can follow him on Twitter @dominicfrisby
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