by Brian DeChesare Comments (27)

The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election: When the Ship Is Sinking, Does Anyone Care Who the Captain Is?

2020 U.S. Presidential Election

Since I started this site in 2007, I’ve always written a brief piece about U.S. presidential election results.

I wrote one in 2008, another one in 2012, and a slightly more controversial one in 2016.

This year is different for many reasons, but the most important one is that as I write this on November 4, we don’t know who won the election (for sure).

However, given that the remaining uncounted ballots are mail-in/absentee, it seems that Biden will win by narrow margins in the swing states and, therefore, win the election.

But I don’t think it matters too much.

When the Titanic hit the iceberg, it didn’t matter who was wearing the captain’s hat.

All that mattered was the number of lifeboats (not enough).

The U.S. has already hit its iceberg, and not only are there not enough lifeboats, but most people don’t even realize they’re sinking:

Icebergs, Lifeboats, and the Decline of Nations

I don’t want to veer too far into “rant” territory, and I do want to make this article relevant to career discussions, so here are the points I’ll cover:

  1. Key takeaways from the election results so far.
  2. Why the non-presidential results, including Senate and House races and ballot initiatives, may be more illuminating.
  3. What the results mean for the finance industry, investment banking, and your career.
  4. And a short investment portfolio update.

Key Election Takeaways

The main one here is that even though the Democrats will win the presidency and retain control of the House of Representatives, they did far worse than expected.

Not only were the polls “off,” but they off by very different percentages in different regions.

Places like Florida seemed moderately wrong (~5% miss), while the results in parts of the Midwest were very far off (e.g., Wisconsin, where Biden was up by ~10% in polls vs. a ~1% actual margin).

Unlike Clinton in 2016, Biden had enough of a “cushion” to withstand polling errors and squeak by, but the closeness of these results led to many panic attacks on Twitter last night.

And in an even stranger twist, it seems that Trump lost support among whites but gained support among non-white voters in the Sunbelt states – despite being labeled “racist” constantly:

Election 2020 vs. 2016

Taking a step back, it’s amazing that the election was this close.

Trump has always been unpopular, there’s a raging pandemic that has crippled the economy, and the “official” unemployment rate is around 8%, up from 3-4% last year.

So… what happened?

Analysts will need to dig into exit polls and other data to say for sure, but my quick take is:

  1. People do not like Trump, but they don’t necessarily like Democrats that much more.
  2. It seems that people support the Republicans’ populist/nationalist policies, but they were quite sick of Trump the individual.
  3. I’m not sure how well “identity politics” is working for Democrats, given that they lost support among minority groups.
  4. Finally, it seems like different groups blamed Trump for COVID-19 to different degrees – but his poor approval ratings on the issue could have eroded support among senior citizens and, therefore, cost him the election.

Non-Presidential Results: The Senate, House, and Ballot Initiatives

Meanwhile, as predicted, Democrats will retain control of the House of Representatives, but it seems they will lose seats and will, therefore, have a smaller margin.

The Senate is still up for grabs, but it seems likely that the Republicans will retain control or that it will be a 50-50 split, with a few surprising results that went against the polls.

These Senate results make a big difference because Biden cannot accomplish much without a majority there.

Continued Republican control means that big tax or healthcare changes over the next ~2 years are less likely and that some of Biden’s appointments may be difficult.

Yes, there will probably be another fiscal stimulus package, but it will be smaller than if the Democrats had won a clear Senate majority.

I also find some of the state-level ballot initiatives interesting because they sometimes preview policies that might arrive at the federal level.

For example:

  • Proposition 22 in California, which let Uber and Lyft continue to classify drivers as contractors rather than employees, passed by a wide margin. A victory for tech and a loss for drivers and labor groups such as unions.
  • Also, in California, Proposition 15, which allows property taxes to be based on current market value rather than the initial purchase price and fixed annual increases, appears to be in a tight race.
  • Meanwhile, in Florida, voters approved a $15 minimum wage by a 20%+ margin – even though Trump won the state and Republicans flipped a few House seats there.

There are other initiatives related to election conduct, affirmative action, drug decriminalization, and other issues, but the ones above are some of the most important business-related ones.

The $15 minimum wage result is not too surprising (who doesn’t want higher wages?), but the Prop 22 result might show that people like the services tech companies provide, even if they don’t like the companies themselves.

So, regulating and breaking up Big Tech may be more difficult than expected.

On the other hand, it might not mean much because this proposed law was poorly written and may have had unintended consequences.

Impact on the Finance Industry, Investment Banking, and Your Career

I’ll start with the broader picture: Trump vs. Biden barely makes a difference in the fiscal and monetary outlook of the U.S.

Why?

Because in either case, we’d see continued fiscal stimulus and money printing, along with a virus that seemingly cannot die… which will spur even more stimulus and money printing.

The main variable is degree: a lot (Biden / full Democratic Congress), a moderate amount (Biden / split Congress), or a somewhat-lower amount (Trump / split Congress).

And another variable is type: higher taxes and much higher spending (Biden) or similar taxes and moderately higher spending (Trump).

No one cares about reining in the deficit or returning to sound money, so we’ll see more spending and printing until something “breaks” (which it will… eventually).

These problems started decades ago, and they explain, in part, why there’s so much income/wealth inequality.

For some great examples, take a look at wtfhappenedin1971.com:

Productivity and Compensation

Cumulative Inflation

These problems will not “go away” unless something major happens, such as a New Deal 2.0 and a completely new monetary system.

Moving to specific policies now, we could see the following changes under a Biden administration:

  • Potentially Higher Taxes: This one probably won’t happen in the near term due to the Senate, but I could see the personal tax rate for high earners increase – even if the corporate tax rate stays the same (or vice versa). It may take another election cycle to see these changes, though.
  • More Antitrust Scrutiny – This one is a big “if” because Obama barely did anything about antitrust, despite making noise about it early on. But I do think Biden has more populist leanings than Obama, so we could see more challenges to large M&A deals.
  • Less-Restrictive Immigration Policies – This one is good news if you’re an international student and you’re crazy enough to want to work in the U.S. in the current environment. Biden will probably make it easier to win visas of all types… but it probably won’t be at the top of his priority list as the pandemic is raging.

It’s almost impossible to make reasonable predictions here because:

  1. It’s not clear who the power centers in a Biden administration will be, and if they’ll take an Obama 2.0 approach (i.e., defer to big companies and elites) or more of a populist angle.
  2. We’re in a highly unusual environment due to the virus, recession, and partial-recovery-but-still-weak-economy, which means that “normal” policies may be off the table for a while.

If I had to bet money on changes to the finance industry, I would guess that deal activity will fall, and after-tax pay will be lower.

But it might be a bit easier to break in as an international student, assuming the pandemic ever ends.

In terms of careers, my views haven’t changed much.

I think investment banking is still one of the best entry-level fields, but its long-term appeal has declined.

In addition to all the other issues from working at big banks – deferred and stock-based compensation, politics, bureaucracy, etc. – the potential reductions in deal activity and after-tax pay will weigh on these firms.

Longer-Term Predictions and Investment Updates

I’m not going to publish a full portfolio update, but I will post a quick update to my mid-2020 version.

The usual disclaimer applies; i.e., this is not investment or legal advice, I am not a financial adviser, do your homework, and do not follow anything I suggest.

Since my last update, I’ve continued to increase my positions in Bitcoin, gold, and silver, and I’ve reduced my exposure to U.S. equities.

However, with these election results, I am a bit less bullish on crypto and precious metals.

Yes, all fiat currencies will continue to fall, and I expect the USD to fall more than others, given the amount of money printing relative to GDP.

However, it may not be quite as rapid a drop as I had expected earlier this year.

I’ve also opened a brokerage account denominated in EUR; I don’t think the euro is much better than the dollar, but I don’t want to be tied to a single currency.

And my long-term outlook for the U.S. has not changed: it’s not going to explode in a giant fireball, but it is heading for 3rd world status.

I went back to the country in September and passed through a few major cities, and they seemed to be in worse condition than cities in actual 3rd world countries.

If you’re from another country, you should stay far, far away.

With “virtual classes,” there’s no point even enrolling in a degree program currently.

And if you’re a U.S. citizen, I would recommend finding a way out.

You can’t do much at the moment because of travel restrictions and closed borders.

But you can work on developing skills that give you the option to leave, such as remote work, an online side business, or some other source of income.

So, find your lifeboat and escape before the ship breaks in half.

If you act quickly, you might be able to do it while the other passengers haven’t yet noticed the iceberg.

M&I - Brian

About the Author

Brian DeChesare is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys memorizing obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, traveling like a drug dealer, and defeating Sauron.

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  1. Hi Brian,

    Thanks a lot for this amazing article on the US.
    I live in India and I’m passionate about the equity market and investing in general.
    I will be starting a finance/investing job in 2021.
    What is your view on finance careers in a growing emerging market like India. Is it worth pursuing?

    Thanks in advance

    1. India tends to be a bad market for finance roles for the reasons outlined in these articles (very few roles relative to the population, no chance of getting into IB unless you went to one of the top 2 IIMs, etc.):

      https://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/?s=india

      If you want to work in emerging markets, it’s better to go to somewhere like Singapore or Hong Kong that has more finance jobs and broader exposure to different countries.

      1. Appreciate your response!

  2. Are you at all worried about immigration related problems in Europe? I’m working on my EU citizenship but I’m not super bullish on the region.

    Also re: Canada – definitely better positioned than the U.S., but if shit really hits the fan south of the 49th parallel, I can’t see Canada faring much better,,,

    Thoughts on Israel? I’m currently based here.

    1. No, not really. I don’t know enough about Israel to say anything useful.

  3. Canadian-Israeli working on getting my EU citizenship here.

    Are things really that bad in the US?

    Are you at all worried about immigration related issues in Europe?

    Things dont look good for Germany & France, which could spill over to the rest of the EU….

    Canada has a better healthcare and éducation than the US, but I worry if things go bad south of the border, things go bad in Canada as well…

    What are your thoughts on Israel?

    1. Opinions vary, but I would say that yes, major cities are quite bad (both west coast and east coast, from what I saw in September). Rural and suburban areas are better and don’t have quite as much craziness.

      Visa processing is delayed in Europe, but it’s always delayed, so I’m not too worried. If anything, these countries desperately need foreigners with money to stimulate their economies, so it might be easier to get investor visas if/when the pandemic ever ends. It’s already easy in southern Europe, but it might become easier elsewhere as well.

      I don’t know enough about Israel to say much.

  4. Hey Brian, I’m curious how you reconcile the idea that investment banking is still an attractive industry, yet the U.S. is not the place to be? I would consider compensation still the highest in the U.S. investment banking industry vs. EMEA and Asia, though I may be wrong. I know the two ideas (IB good, U.S. bad) are not mutually exclusive, but was curious how you thought about it. At what point does the U.S. decline as a nation enough for it to not even be worth coming here for IB?

    1. Short-term vs. long-term. In the short-term, yes, tech/finance salaries in the U.S. are still the highest, so if you’re young and have no other obligations and no health issues, sure, go and work in one of those and save money.

      Once you’re older and want a family and something outside of work, take your money and go to a country that’s better for family life. I’m at the stage where I’ve kind of stopped caring about specific amounts of money, so I don’t have a great reason to stay in the U.S.

  5. Brian – Do you plan to cover COVID-19 prediction or anything related to it by the end of this year? I am interested in hearing your thoughts. Also, do you plan to post an updated cover of Is Finance Still a Good Long-Term Career? I am a nerd and have read most of your posts already…Thanks

    1. Yes to both. I’m waiting partially because news of these “vaccines” may change things, if they actually work.

  6. Hi Brian,

    I always appreciate your piece on these topics. I am certainly bearish about the USA longer term, not on your level though haha.

    A lot of cities are messes but it is amazing how it is day and night based on location. Im not much of a city guy so I am not down there often, especially this year. Cities have largely been plagued by one party rule. The same politicians get elected every year no matter what and it gives them no incentive to do better. Millions are wasted instead of addressing the issues directly.

    Healthcare will continue to hold the USA back. I agree with your comment above that government-run healthcare isnt the answer. I think most people agree that the US government isnt capable of running things like that. Plus, you had states like CA and NY, two of the most progressive states, fail to pass their versions of state-run healthcare due to the high cost. If you arent going to get it passed there, good luck on a national level.

    A big part of the problem is employment-based healthcare. I understand how it started, but I find it insane that it is still being used and accepted everywhere. It makes people less likely to seek a better job and leave the company or even start their own business. No one checks their pay stubs so they dont see the insurance companies continuing to increase premiums because service providers continue to up their charges because they know they can get away with it. Id much rather people buy their own plans, that would give better coverage specific for you and your family and help maintain prices better.

    I didnt like either candidate and voted 3rd party, hoping one day the two party control of this country finally breaks. It was sad that not one question was about monetary policy and no one seems to care that the Fed is continuing to hand out big checks to the people who dont need it. I think it was Mark Cuban that called QE “basic income for the rich”. Then listening to Powell repeatedly say that the Fed has nothing to do with growing wealth inequity. It’s amazing.

    So we have a lot of problems and I dont see the will power to fix them, plus a government that is only thinking 5 months ahead where forward thinking countries like China are building their 15 year plans. Di

    1. Thanks. Yes, that is true that it’s very location-dependent. I had a much better time visiting family in the middle of nowhere in Flyover State territory because there were no protests, buildings burning down, shootings in the middle of the street, etc.

      Yeah, I think the fact that healthcare is employment-based is more of a problem than whether it’s government-funded or private. One solution might be to eliminate insurance companies by having companies negotiate directly with providers, and for the freelancer / self-employed / unemployed crowd, maybe have a separate national plan. I think everyone hates the current system of health “insurance” other than the insurance companies.

      Powell is completely insane. The Fed is “fighting racial inequality and climate change” now, when it can’t even acknowledge that 0% interest rates and QE mostly help the rich? OK, sure.

      I think there will have to be some type of breaking point or dramatic event like the Great Depression for anything to be fixed. I thought that might have happened this year with the pandemic, but it seems like more of the same.

  7. Brian — interesting piece as always. I have to respectfully disagree with your points about the US in general, though. Yes, income inequality has always been an issue and it will remain in the US. However, the US still offers the best job opportunity and upside potentials (to be wealthy) if you have the right skills and education background, especially in finance or tech. I might be representing only a tiny fraction of the population here (at least college educated). But I assume that is a typical profile of most readers here.

    I have been out of the US for the time being. But based on my experience living in Asia, the competition, in general, is much more fierce than the US. The problem here is that there are simply too many people for very little decent paying jobs. You can simply go and look how many IB/PE positions there are in NYC vs. any other major finance hubs in other countries. I believe the result will not be any different for tech jobs. Also, it is needless to say most jobs in the US pay much better. Average IB associate pay in the US ranges between 200k-350k (all-in), while most other places around the world would barely pay half of that. The only comparable place I can think of would be Hong Kong. But even there, less buyside or corporate development jobs exist, so the competition gets much harder.

    Even if you talk about “average” person, I believe the US still wins. Where in the world can you get paid $15 minimum wage jobs other than the US? I have never lived in Europe, so I don’t really know about life there. But let’s be real. Life for “average” person is difficult in most places anyway.

    If you have the right skill and background, I think US stills remains the best place to leverage your skills and succeed. If not, your life is going be always difficult, no matter where you would be.

    1. Thanks. I agree that if you’re one of the top students/professionals, the U.S. is still the best place for work, mostly due to finance/tech/related industries. There is more competition in Asia, especially in places like South Korea where everyone gets 500 certificates and takes extra classes/exams and the job opportunities still aren’t great.

      But there’s one important difference: in many other countries, you don’t *need* to have one of these elite, high-paying jobs to survive. The cost of living is so much lower in some places, with benefits like healthcare, maternity leave, etc. provided by the government, that high salaries are less important.

      Also, the importance of earning a high income varies greatly by culture. People worship money in the U.S., but elsewhere, it’s just less of an issue compared with the rest of life.

      I think the average person is still better off in a small European country, even if their salary is lower, because healthcare costs are not an issue (no bankruptcies due to a broken leg in an accident), rent tends to be much lower (depending on the city, of course), and life is generally more pleasant.

      Also, with the rise of remote work, location will be less relevant in the future. Companies will hire based on time zone and skill set rather than citizenship or residency.

  8. You said US is heading to 3rd world countries, but why the GDP per capita is still No.1 in the US?

    1. I said it’s heading there, not there yet. GDP per Capital is not a good metric for judging the desirability or advancement of countries because a small percentage of high earners can skew the numbers. For example, Qatar is #9 in the world according to nominal GDP per capital, but is it at all comparable to Australia and the Netherlands (#10 and #11)? Also, the U.S. isn’t even #1 by this metric anymore. It’s around #5 in the world.

      A more useful comparison is mean vs. median wealth, or mean vs. median income, because those reveal huge gaps. See: https://twitter.com/LynAldenContact/status/1267871631206162434/photo/1

      Yes, the U.S. has quite a few rich people, but the median person doesn’t have much! Much lower median wealth than Australia, Canada, France, Spain, Japan, Singapore, etc. Only Germany is below it, and that’s because of the East / West split during the Cold War.

  9. Hi Brian. Do you think that the US needs universal healthcare in one form or another? And does the country you are currently residing in has one?

    By the way, what is your favourite candidate among both Biden and Trump as well as the primary candidates in both parties?

    1. I disliked most of the candidates, including Biden and Trump. Andrew Yang and Tulsi Gabbard were somewhat interesting because they at least talked about different ideas and had some cross-party appeal.

      Something major with the healthcare system needs to change, but I’m not sure that government-run healthcare is the answer. The problem is that if you just layer it on top of the existing system, costs could still spiral out of control, which means even more money printing and currency devaluation. The key issue is how to control costs and prevent the current mess with providers, patients, and insurance companies arguing over payments. There are mixed government/private systems that work pretty well because they’ve figured out how to control costs. And then there are pure government systems that don’t work so well, even though patients don’t “pay” directly.

      A secondary issue is that most Americans are FAT due to the lack of walking, constant junk food, etc., but I’m not sure how to fix that. Tax people extra based on their weight? Ban all sugar?

      I’m in an EU country that has government healthcare, but I cannot use it because I am just a resident, not a citizen. So I buy a private plan here, which is cheap and works OK.

  10. Avatar
    Alistar Reem

    Hi, Brian, in your 2016 article, you said you didn’t vote. What did you think about voting in this year’s election?

    1. Again, I didn’t vote. I never vote. Although this time, it’s because I want to renounce citizenship, so I don’t feel justified in voting.

  11. Avatar
    Arjun Bendre

    Why did you leave the US? & why are you so bearish on it in general?

    1. Because there was no reason to stay. I work online, so location is irrelevant, and overseas locations had better living conditions, healthcare, cost of living, women, etc. Plus, most of my friends are in other countries.

      The main problem with the country is that the average person has no hope of finding a solid career or starting a family. Yes, the top people will always find a way to succeed (hence this site), but by definition, most people are somewhere in the middle. When the average person expects to be worse off than the previous generation, the country is lost.

      1. Very interesting (although pessimistic) point of view Brian. I think world-leading countries are those which actively focus on growing and supporting their middle classes! Unfortunately, sometimes your die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the vilain!

        I hope you moved to Canada! Here, the conditions, healthcare, cost of living, and women are fantastic! The weather sucks… but hey, the great lakes and temperate climates do need a good winter to survive!

        1. Yes, agreed. I’m based in Europe, but I would definitely pick Canada over the U.S. for all the reasons you mentioned. The weather doesn’t bother me since I grew up near NYC. The main “complaint” people seem to have about Canada on this site is that there aren’t enough jobs in investment banking, or that they’re too difficult to get… valid points, but not really a concern for me.

          1. With regards to the number of IB jobs, I think the bulk of these jobs are found at Big 4 Firms in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary/Edmonton, as well as at smaller boutique practices. Each of those players usually have a client-base within the province in which their office is located. Also, their deals are more oriented toward SMBs headquartered within their regions (think Canadian-sized SMBs, which are smaller than US-based ones). This reflects the nature of the Canadian economy and its geographic reality. Larger IB players like GS, MS, JPM, CS, have their main operations in Toronto with smaller satellite offices in other cities.

            As for the difficulty in getting such jobs: yes, definitely it is a competitive process. Young people finishing their undergraduate finance degrees nearly all want to work in IB (not all of them for the right reasons), those who can and want to work at large firms will often move to the US (NYC, California) and come back to Canada. Big 4 Firms, however, rarely hire analysts straight out of undergrad. I work in M&A at a Big 4, and we usually hire our people either internally (CPA/audit background) or people with previous deal-related experience.

            In my experience, the key for people finishing their undergraduate degree is to find a first job with some or all of the following: (a) a certain exposure to deals (small PE/VC fund, pension funds, family offices), (b) a job in which you are able to produce a 3-statement projection model which ‘rolls’ and balances perfectly (financial analyst at a company, Big-4 transaction advisory divisions excl. M&A, etc), (c) a job which tests your work ethic and financial acumen (i.e. audit at a Big 4).

            I also think that the ability to network is important because some jobs are not advertised. Young people finishing their undergrad should find ways to tap into their high-school alumni networks, get involved, and think creatively about their job applications. Some job opportunities are created, not listed.

            Also, if they want to work in Montreal, a working proficiency in french is a pre-requisite 99.9% of the time.

          2. Thanks for adding those points. We’ve covered IB in Canada (and related roles) a bunch of times if you do a search on this site. I agree that Big 4 firms rarely hire people for M&A roles at the entry level (similar to most regions).

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