Sinking Beaches, Foreign Capital, and Scams Galore: Why Florida Is America’s Doomed Future 

Florida man could soon become America man. Artwork done by Joanna Andreasson for Paradox.

Thousands of party-crazed Americans raged in South Beach during Spring Break, twerking, fighting, stripping, and drinking. Outraged tweeters presented them as Floridians, but Miami arrest records prove most came from out of town. As a Florida native, I wasn’t surprised.

Growing up, I planned my exit long ago from my hometown of South Florida, AKA the Sunshine State, or as Floridians call it, “the Scammer State.” Nearly everyone I knew hailed from a family with sketchy money, and every time I rode my bike down the beach, a stranger would approach me, trying to sell a scammy time-share or weird financial investment. Florida seemed like a cultural dearth: What came out of Florida besides bizarre news headlines? It felt disconnected from America.

Florida now seems like the precursor to what will soon happen in America. Nearly every night, I receive a drunk call from a New York or Silicon Valley transplant who recently moved to Miami or Fort Lauderdale. They’re drinking in the streets, while their friends up north drink in secret apartments.

Americans are pent up, ready to bust in what’s already being called the roaring twenties. When I visited Los Angeles earlier this month, everyone listened to Bad Bunny, wore spandex, talked about the Florida-born cast of Netflix’s Tiger King, and pushed me to buy crypto. I haven’t been hustled this much to buy a sketchy investment since I was in my early twenties in South Beach.

Florida man is becoming America man. Most of what is horrible, and sometimes good, about Florida will soon happen to the rest of the United States. The potential consequences scare me.

Eat your heart out DeSantis. Pitbull is the Floridian politician Americans really want. Graphic done by Bullfrog for Paradox.

Climate Change

While conservatives and liberals debate whether global warming will turn America into an environmental apocalypse, Floridians have been navigating climate disasters for decades. During my early-2000s childhood, I associated the month of August with hurricanes forcing my family to evacuate to Jacksonville. The dangerous storms arrived before I formed long-term memory. As early as 1992, Hurricane Andrew damaged $27.3 billion worth of properties, including destroying the Miami Metrozoo. While one bright flock of flamingos sheltered inside the zoo’s sturdy bathroom, over 100 animals died.

The crisis is worsening. The once-luxurious South Beach neighborhood floods so often, officials are building elevated emergency roads. Angry residents complain to the Miami Herald that the raised streets send floodwater pouring down onto their homes, but politicians argue they have no choice. Deal with floods now, or drown later.

“I’m not sure if it’s really owning up to the problems that are in Miami’s future,” Rob Moore, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the New York Times about the city’s elevated roads workaround. “[It’s] just enough to reassure developers that Miami’s safe enough to build in, in the near term.”

Although Florida politicians are exploring how to preserve Miami, they openly admit they could care less if Key West drifts out to sea. The Times reports that officials consider the Keys too underpopulated to save; the county’s sustainability director openly told the publication that the area will have “less population” from climate change effects, and cannot allocate state revenue to raising miles of roads like Miami.

The Keys’ locals are much more impoverished than the nouveau riche buying Bitcoin on Miami Beach, and this classist policy is a warning shot to the rest of America. When climate change affects the rest of the states, politicians will do what they always do: Cater to the one percent and let everyone else suffer.

Foreign Investments

Politicians discriminate, but climate change doesn’t. Florida’s wealthy are aware of the jig. Over the past decade, they’ve off-loaded their beachfront condos, mansions, and art deco apartments, painting their property as an excellent investment. Who would buy these sinking yet luxurious duds? Affluent foreign investors, of course.

Twelve years in a row, Florida is the top choice for foreign real estate investors. Year after year, Real Deal reports that foreigners search online for homes in Miami more than any other city. According to Florida Realtors, 11 percent of Florida home purchasers came from abroad between 2019 and 2020. Canadians topped the list of buyers, spending $3.2 billion between 2019 and 2020, followed by buyers from Brazil, Venezuela, the United Kingdom, and Argentina. Nearly half their purchases occurred in Miami Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties, the worldwide capitals of sinking beaches.

Other states are hungrily chasing foreign cash. The National Association of Realtors finds that California takes up 15 percent of sales to foreign buyers and Texas nine percent. New York and New Jersey are way behind with five and four percent. These states should listen to the warnings coming out of South Beach. Two years ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that Florida developers built condo after condo, expecting foreigners to gobble them. Between 2013 and 2018, the number of units for sale more than doubled. Realtors found few buyers.

Scam Culture

In Florida, outstanding inventory will likely get sold through a scam. Someone recently told me about a tech tycoon who sold a company for several hundred million, then spent a few million on a studio apartment in South Beach. He claimed it overlooked the ocean. I checked out the address. The home overlooks a canal. In other words, the realtor conned him.

This anecdote may shock a New Yorker or Californian, but it’s as newsworthy as rain in August in Florida. Locals presume everything is a scam for a good reason: The FTC considers Florida the scam capital of the nation, with cons ranging from credit card to utility fraud.

The pandemic ushered in a new era of scams. Dozens of stories have run about a “Florida man” taking out a PPP loan on fake employees. One person hilariously bought a Ferarri with PPP money, but many scams veer into bizarre tragedy. Three months into the pandemic, the Attorney General of Florida’s office warned that con artists were calling seniors, claiming they would pay them to stay quarantined.

Florida has defined scams for the past decade, but every day the economy increasingly looks like one. Intangible digital art pieces are selling for millions of dollars as NFTs. Young men are piling billions into cryptocurrencies whose valuations are tired to pure speculation. On Wall Street, crypto giant Coinbase debuted as an IPO with an astronomical $100 billion valuation, only for the company’s CEO to dump $291.8 million in shares the day it went public.

Those participating in COVID financial crazes claim they’re sticking up to the man, but a family office inflated AMC and Viacom stock, not Redditors teaming up to take down Wall Street.

Good luck shutting up the bulls. Everyone is excited about the roaring twenties except Florida locals. All the locals I know are much more dubious of NFTs, crypto, and meme stocks. Listening to Americans discuss their investments in over-inflated SPACs, I remember a conversation I had with Pitbull in his tour bus outside Bob Marley’s house in Kingston, Jamaica. Mr. 305 was reminiscing about his childhood in Miami, where drug dealers taught him the ins-and-outs of personal finance. They weren’t Dave Ramsey, but they were practical. Thanks to their advice, Pitbull lost little in the 2008 recession. He owned few, if any, risky stocks.

“Stockbrokers are the ultimate hustlers,” Pitbull said. “I invest in real estate because”—he slapped his hand on his thigh—“real estate is real.” Little in Florida is real. Floridians raise their children to raise an eyebrow at everyone. What will happen when all of America grapples with the scams, climate disasters, and wealthy foreign investment currently proliferating through Florida? Likely, disaster.

Disaster on the Horizon

Americans’ lust for a roaring twenties makes me believe America could vote a Florida-based celebrity into the White House. Americans mock Florida, but can’t get enough of the state or its people, as if they secretly fantasize about being Floridians themselves.

Floridians know how to pierce through sketchy business proposals, row boats through flooded streets, and recognize a con artist when we see one. Few of us hold Ivy League degrees, and next to none of us come from old money, but we possess street savvy you can’t learn in an Ivory Tower or from a family office’s lawyer. Everything is a mirage in the everglades.

Floridians will survive the roaring twenties. We’ve been here before. In 1929, Florida’s real estate, tourism, and financial sectors imploded during the stock market crash. Then a series of hurricanes washed remaining estates back to sea. Floridians rebuilt, invented hurricane-proof architecture, and marketed their state as a retirement spot and, later, theme park mecca. During 2008, Florida was where the subprime mortgage crisis kicked off and brought Wall Street to its knees; now in 2021, the state is luring traders back in droves with sinking waterfront properties.

Floridians know how to scam people and profit from crisis. We’ve been dealing with the environment’s  consequences for decades. Nobody should have ever lived in Florida: It sits in the center of a hurricane-hot zone, yet Floridians have grown up for decades in the state’s dangerous Fountain of Youth. Floridians can handle extreme weather, and we know when to sell. What will happen when global warming and con artists come for other state residents not accustomed to alligators swimming in their pools?