As United States Divide, The Green New Deal Could be Democrats Undoing in 2020

If next year’s election is a referendum on Donald Trump, you can hand power to the Democrats now. But fortunately for the president, and the Republican Party, politics remains more about interests than personalities.

More than by cultural memes touching on race, gender, and even taste, the United States are divided by where we live and how we make our living. America, after all, is a vast country and its remarkable economic diversity is what makes it so dynamic and capable against all competitors.

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The New Shame of Our Cities

A metropolitan economy, if it is working well, is constantly transforming many poor people into middle-class people, many illiterates into skilled people, many greenhorns into competent citizens. . . . Cities don’t lure the middle class. They create it.
  —Jane Jacobs

Perhaps no song has been belted out more often than the one that claims that America is moving “back to the city.” Newspapers, notably the New York Times, devote enormous space to this notion. It gained even more currency when the Obama administration sec­retary of Housing and Urban Development, Shaun Do­novan, pro­claimed that the suburbs were “over” as people were “voting with their feet” and moving to dense, transit-oriented urban centers.

This celebration perhaps reached its crescendo when Amazon initially announced its move to Crystal City, Virginia, and Queens, New York. “Big cities won Amazon and everything else,” Neil Ir­win of the Times predictably enthused. “We’re living in a world where a small number of superstar companies choose to locate in a handful of superstar cities where they have the best chance of re­cruiting superstar employees.”

In fact, however, these views are more aspirational, or even delusional, than reflective of reality. Overall, data suggests that we are not seeing a great “return to the city” but, with few exceptions, a continued movement out to the suburbs and less dense cities, nota­bly in the sunbelt. The spurt of urban core growth that occurred immediately after the housing bust turned out to be remarkably short lived, with the preponderance of metropolitan growth—roughly 80 percent—returning, as has been the case since at least the late 1940s, to the suburbs and exurbs. Indeed, at no point did Census Bureau estimates show net domestic migration from suburbs to core cities, only a reduced rate of migration in the opposite direction.

Even the country’s most influential urbanist, scholar Richard Florida, now suggests that the great urban revival is “over.” Rather than the usual belief that density leads to productivity and innovation, a new Harvard study demonstrates that, between 1970 and 2010, suburban areas have overall steadily increased their economic advantages: the share of suburbs making up the top ranks of all urban and suburban neighborhoods (measured as the top quartile) went from roughly two-thirds in 1970 to almost three-quarters by 2010.

Shifting Demographics: Exaggerating the Urban Renaissance

Even at the peak of the urban “renaissance,” most of the population and job growth continued to occur in the suburban periphery. Cities achieved some parity in growth rates in the period between 2009 and 2011, as presidents Bush and Obama provided “a covert bailout”  to banks, universities, and government bureaucracies concentrated heavily in and around urban cores.

Yet as the rest of the economy improved, and urban land prices rose, population movement again shifted away from the dense inner city to less compact, more affordable locales. Analysis of census data by demographer Wendell Cox found that the core counties of the metropolitan areas with populations of more than one mil­lion, after losing only ten thousand net domestic migrants in 2012, experienced an outflow of nearly 440,000 by 2017.

Read the entire article on American Affairs.

Joel Kotkin is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. He authored The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, published in 2016 by Agate. He is also author of The New Class Conflict, The City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He is executive director of and lives in Orange County, CA.

The Twilight of America’s Mega-Media

It’s far too early to predict which party will win next year’s election, but not too early to announce the national media as a clear loser in terms of national influence and prestige.

Pew reports that millennials have become as negative about major media as older generations, with their rate of approval dropping from 40% in 2010 to 27% today. Gallup tracks a similar pattern, finding 70% losing trust in the media, including nearly half of Democrats.

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Chinese Sci-Fi Writers Give Us A Glimpse Into China’s Dystopian Present And Future

A thoroughly scientific dictatorship will never be overthrown — Aldous Huxley

In contemporary China, it’s hard to know what people outside the party dictatorship think about the future. As in the former Soviet Union, often the best guide may be not in the controlled media or cowed academia, but in the speculative wanderings of writers.

Chinese science fiction began back in the last days of the Qing dynasty, and, as author Liu Cixin suggests, became identified with a science-based optimism that fit well with the Communist vision. This has now “almost completely vanished,” he notes, replaced by a far grimmer vision.

These writers implicitly reject the notion of inevitable social progress now celebrated by President Xi Jinping and Communist-controlled media. They reflect not party orthodoxy but the most likely future, much as novels such as Yevgeny Zamaytin’s “We,” or the works of the Polish Stanislaw Lem, which identified the underlying realities of the old Soviet Empire.

The Surveillance State

These writers largely express the angst of a millennial generation, which faces a troubling future. In Chen Quifan’s “Year of the Rat,” a surplus college graduate ends up stuck hunting genetically altered rats. “We are just like rats,” the protagonist suggests, “all of us only pawns, stones, worthless counters in the Great Game.”

These writers suggest that the Chinese surveillance state, with untrammeled access to personal data, will continue to expand. Plans are being made to implant workers’ brains with monitors and to bolster a system of “social ranking,” which includes everything from credit worthiness to political reliability.

In his short story “City of Silence,” about the internet in the near future, author Ma Boyong speaks of attempts of “appropriate authorities” to restrict speech to “healthy words”; at the end of the book so few words are left that the “capital of the state” itself becomes mute.

Ma’s story suggests an autocracy amplified by technology far more subtle than the Stalinist horror depicted by George Orwell. As one dissident in “City of Silence” suggests: “The author of ‘1984’ predicted the progress of totalitarianism, but could not predict the progress of technology.”

Hierarchy in a ‘classless’ society

Hao Jingfang’s “Folding Beijing” describes a future Beijing divided into closely delineated communities for the elite, the middle ranks and a vast poor population, living largely by recycling the waste generated by the city. Hao depicts a city that literally changes shape into three forms — a luxurious first space with 5 million people, a still comfortable second space accommodating 25 million and a third space, where the protagonist, Lao Dao, lives among 50 million people clustered in dreary conditions.

Han Song’s clever “The Passengers and the Creation” speaks of a world contained within an airplane, with strict designations between first, second and coach class. The velvet curtain that separates First Class, Han writes, is “soft” but “as impenetrable as iron.” In this world, the wealthy aged live in comfort and can call on the services of young flight attendants recruited from coach.

Writers also have confronted the dire situation in the country’s countryside, where many of the some 600 million rural Chinese still live in poverty. Liu Cixin’s “The Village Schoolteacher” describes a place “so poor that a bird wouldn’t poop on it.” Mao’s revolution may have been driven by the peasants, but President Xi ‘s “moderately prosperous society” may never reach them.

The demographic crisis

China’s historic problems with overpopulation are morphing into a dearth of babies and the prospect of a rapidly shrinking workforce. This is made worse by a huge unbalance, about 33 million, of marriage-age boys over girls. By one estimate, 37 million Chinese girls were lost by abortion or infanticide since the “one child” policy came into force in 1980. China’s current male generation is so socially disconnected that the Communist Party, and some private firms, now teach them how to date.

Maggie Shen’s remarkable novel “An Excess Male” describes a society where women are allowed to take more than one husband, all to encourage greater breeding and relieve social pressures. Shen’s heroine May-ling is married to two men, neither of whom is much interested in carnal relations with her, and is looking to marry a third, an “excess male,” in order to have more children.

Life is made more problematic by the fact that May-ling’s favorite husband, Hann, is gay. In the China of the future, people designated “willfully sterile” are persecuted for not procreating. The state, whose policies fostered a looming demographic disaster, persecutes innocent citizens who don’t care to solve the country’s demographic shortfall.

Ultimately, the science fiction writers tell us much you won’t hear from the official sources or that country’s admirers here or in Europe. China could well be evolving into an authoritarian dystopia. True heirs to Orwell, Huxley and Zamaytin, these brave artists portray not only a view of China’s future but offer a window to its already existing contemporary reality.

This article first appeared at The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. He authored The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, published in 2016 by Agate. He is also author of The New Class Conflict, The City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He is executive director of and lives in Orange County, CA.

Homepage photo credit: The Erica Chang via Wikimedia Commons under CC 3.0 license,

California’s Message: You Built That, Now Get Out!

The people who build our homes increasingly can no longer afford them. As the state elite and their academic cheering crew celebrate our progressive boom, even the most skilled, unionized construction workers, notes an upcoming study, cannot afford to live anywhere close to the state’s major job centers.

In fact, notes the study, soon to be published by Chapman University, not a single unionized construction worker can afford a median-priced house in any of the major coastal counties, including Orange, Los Angeles, San Mateo, San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Diego, Alameda, Sonoma and Napa. Even with incomes averaging over $73,000 annually, notes author and economist Dr. John Husing, most can afford median-priced homes only in the further reaches of the Central Valley or the Inland Empire, requiring huge commutes.

This gap between blue collar and professional and entrepreneurial wages is even greater among the majority of construction workers who are not unionized. Husing suggests that most of these workers could only afford the cheapest starter house in the furthest reaches of exurbia and beyond.

California’s growth model

For many progressives and futurists, California’s growth model represents a beacon to a prosperous future. It’s repeatedly pointed out that California is now the world’s fifth-largest economy, largely the product of massive wealth concentrated in the Silicon Valley giants, as well as a much stronger dollar versus the pound and Euro, and sub-par growth throughout Europe.

To be sure, California came out of the recession with a robust recovery, paced by increased property values, a soaring stock market and, critically, huge growth in the Bay Area, which represents roughly 17 percent of the state’s population. Yet overall, California’s post-recession growth, according to the BLS, is now only marginally above the national average, and in many regions, notably Southern California, somewhat below. The contrast is greatest with our strongest rivals: California is now growing jobs at a rate 50 percent or more below the rate of Texas, Arizona and Nevada.

Even in the Bay Area, growth is slowing, particularly in the San Francisco-Oakland area where job growth has plummeted from nearly 5 percent in 2015 to less than 2 percent last year. The bulk of the job growth there now is at the low and high ends, leaving little in the middle. Nearly half of millennials in the Bay Area, according to a recent survey, plan to leave; since 2012 millennial outmigration from Los Angeles, as a new Brookings study reveals, lags only metro New York in exporting its youthful workers.

Future threats to the working class

The California economic model is based largely on income and capital gains accruing to a relatively small part of the population, one reason the state ranks second in inequality to New York, and is becoming ever more unequal. To be sure, the new wealth has driven housing demand, largely for expensive new homes and apartments, but overall construction employment remains considerably below its 2007 levels. Growth in the sector has actually fallen from 2013, and now lags well behind the rate enjoyed in Nevada, Arizona, Florida and Texas.

Other key blue collar sectors such as manufacturing have also under-performed national average. The sector is now growing at one quarter the national rate, a shortfall exacerbated by state climate policies that have increased both energy costs and imposed ever more rigid regulatory burdens that encourage producers to move to other locales.

How sustainable is the “California Model”?

If the rest of the country wants to adopt the “California model,” it should be aware of what this means for the middle and working classes. The likely further acceleration of our state’s tougher climate regulation polices, as well as the prospect of more taxes on things like soda, guns and tires may please our green gentry and the oligarchs, but inevitably will hurt job prospects and raise the cost of living for most California workers.

Pushing our construction workers to the far fringes, particularly as state policy seeks to concentrate employment in expensive core cities, makes it less likely that new workers will enter the labor pool necessary to address our housing shortage. With residential sales dropping across the state, and California’s rate of new housing permits per new resident roughly half the national average, the prospects facing construction workers may be dimmer than necessary.

State measures to encourage the creation of subsidized housing could help some, but in reality would make only a tiny dent in the problem. Increasingly the political class focuses not on expanding the land for development, or bringing jobs to the more affordable interior, but on mandating subsidies, set-asides and rent control. Some, including certain oligarchs, suggest offering regular cash outlays so working people can subsist but never enter the property-owning classes.

Having sought accommodation with the green, anti-suburban regulators, both developers and labor need to recognize that it’s time to challenge a policy agenda harmful to the prospects both of business and most working Californians. Rather than doubling down on policies that reinforce our state’s descent into feudalism, we need to forge a new agenda that encourages instead broad economic growth and greater opportunity.

This article first appeared on The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. He authored The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, published in 2016 by Agate. He is also author of The New Class Conflict, The City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He is executive director of and lives in Orange County, CA.

Homepage photo credit: Rishichhibber via Wikimedia under CC 3.0 license

Why Social Justice is Killing Synagogues and Churches

“If it turns out that there is a God … the worst that you can say about him is that basically he’s an underachiever.” —Woody Allen

If you go into a Reform or Conservative temple, it’s likely that you will notice two things: The congregation is becoming smaller and older. Across the United States and Europe, Jewish congregations are aging at a rapid rate, a phenomenon increasingly common for mainstream religions across the high-income world.

Overall, the American Jewish population—unlike that of demographically robust Israel—is on the decline, with a loss of 300,000 members over the past decade, a number expected to drop further by 2050. The median age of members of Reform congregations is 54, and only 17 percent of members say they attend religious services even once a month. Four-fifths of the movement’s youth are gone by the time they graduate high school. The conservative movement is, if anything, in even worse shape: At its height, in 1965, the Conservative movement had 800 affiliated synagogues throughout the United States and Canada; by 2015 that number had fallen to 594.

But Jews, and their religious institutions, should not feel singled out. The share of Americans who belong to the Catholic Church has declined from 24 percent in 2007 to 21 percent in 2014, a more rapid decline according to Pew, then any other religious organization in memory. There are 6.5 former Catholics in the U.S. for every new convert to the faith, not a number suggesting a very sunny future.

The mainstream Protestant churches are not exactly filling the sanctuaries either. Some, like the internally conflicted Methodists have seen their number of North American congregants drop from 15 million in 1970 to barely half that today. Since 2007 alone, America’s mainstream churches have lost 5 million members, and even the once vibrant evangelical movement is losing adherents outside of the developing world. Ever more churches, particularly in urban areas, are being abandoned, turned into bars, restaurants, and luxury condos. And nothing augurs worse for the future than the fact that American millennials are leaving religious institutions at a rate four times that of their counterparts three decades ago; almost 40 percent of people 18 to 29 are not unaffiliated.

This decline is not necessarily a reflection of less spiritual feeling: Two-thirds of unaffiliated Americans still believe in God or a universal spirit. The Pew poll shows that since 2012, the share of Americans who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” has surged from 19 percent to 27 percent five years later.

Why, then, the decline in religion? For one thing, young Americans have different habits. Rather than join institutions, millennials, argued Wade Clark Roof, author of the book Spiritual Marketplace, are indulging in a kind of “grazing,” finding their spiritual fixes in various different places rather than any one organized church. As sociologists Robert Putnam and David Campbell explained, those in this age group “reject conventional religious affiliation, while not entirely giving up their religious feelings.”

But the consumption habits of the young aren’t the only reason for America’s religious drought. Religious institutions and ideas are currently under political attack, predominantly from the left, with some progressives, such as California’s Dianne Feinstein or New Jersey’s Cory Booker, appearing to see embrace of Christian dogma, or even membership in such anodyne organizations as the Knights of Columbus, as cause for exclusion from high judicial office.

This trend is reinforced by the media, which is often dismissive of traditional faith. There has been a powerful tendency to demonize and suggest the worst of motives among the faithful, which was evident in the rush to judgment about the alleged racism of the Covington, Kentucky, religious students. Before the facts proved claims of racism to be false, newspaper accounts and tweets from journalists endorsed actions against the students, sometime including violence, in ways more reminiscent of Joseph Goebbels than Joseph Pulitzer.

As in many cases, this bias reflects the groupthink nurtured at our leading universities. Evangelicals and religious conservatives barely exist in the country’s leading theological seminaries, where they are outnumbered, by some estimates, 70 to 1 by liberals, and evidence suggests that those espousing traditional religious views are widely discriminated against in academic departments.

In this difficult environment, many religious movements—Reform Judaism, mainstream Protestantism, and increasingly the Catholic Church under Pope Francis—have sought to redefine themselves largely as instruments of social justice. Although doing good deeds, or mitzvot, long has constituted a strong element in most religions, the primary motivation of the faith community traditionally focused on heritage, spirituality, and family. In their haste to be politically correct, even Catholic private schools such as Notre Dame are rushing to cover up murals of Columbus, and, in one California case, a private Catholic grammar school has gone as far as hiding statues of saints.

Yet rebranding themselves as progressive often brings religious activists into alliances with people who reject their core values. The Catholic left, for example, allying itself with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, implicitly embraces the advocates of the most extreme abortion liberalization. Sometimes, these linkages are ironic: Faith in Public Life, for example, a strident “religious” group advocating a progressive anti-Trump line, gets much of its funding from George Soros, arguably the world’s most well-heeled and active promoter of atheism.

For their part, progressive Jews, embracing the notion of tikkun olam, face a similar dilemma. In their rush to oppose President Trump, with his occasional despicable winks at alt-right groups, many Jewish activists have collaborated with the organizers of the Women’s March, including enthusiastic backers of the most influential anti-Semite of our time, Nation of Islam head Louis Farrakhan.

Deep blue cities and the progressive feeding lots of the academy—strongholds of progressivism—are precisely where support for such anti-Jewish measures as the BDS movement is strongest. Anti-Semitism is particularly rife not in conservative Southern schools but in progressive places like San Francisco State; in that city, the ultimate progressive stronghold, a leftist gay Jewish café owner recently has been subject to repeated protests for being a “Zionist gentrifier.”

This alliance with anti-Semites and those opposing the existence of the state of Israel pushes the limits of cognitive dissonance. Jews in the U.K. are confronted with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who defends not only anti-Zionist but also traditional anti-Semitic tropes. Recently progressive heartthrob Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, herself an adopter of anti-Israel memes about Gaza and other occupied areas, gushed over her recent “lovely and wide-reaching” conversation with Corbyn, the West’s most politically prominent Judeophobe.

Indeed, despite the impression left by some progressive Jews, the largest threat to Jews in America stems not from the isolated and pathetically small lunatic fringe of white supremacists. The most anti-Israel members of Congress, as well as on the local level, come primarily not from the right wing of the GOP but the burgeoning left wing of the Democratic Party. Democratic voters—as well as key constituencies like minorities and millennials—poll consistently less sympathetic to both Jews and Israel than older, generally white Republicans.

Is there a way back from this sorry state of affairs?

However satisfying to its practitioners, the emphasis on social justice is clearly not attracting more worshippers. Almost all the religious institutions most committed to this course are also in the most serious decline, most notably mainstream Protestants but also, Catholics and Reform and Conservative Jews. The rapidly declining Church of England, which is down to 2 percent share among British youth, is burnishing its progressive image by adding the use of plastics to its list of Lenten sacrifices, but seems unable to serve the basic spiritual and family needs of their congregants.

In contrast, more conservative faith organizations generally enjoy better growth, and higher birthrates, particularly in the developing world . The University of London’s Eric Kaufmann explains in his important book Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? that if current trends continue, the more fundamentalist family-centered faiths seem most likely to survive. Already, for example, Orthodox Jews, historically a small subgroup, are projected to become the majority of the Hebraic community in Britain by 2100, and already constitute some three-fifths of Jewish children in New York.

Orthodox Jews and evangelicals may be finding common ground, then, but the future of religion overall does not seem a bright one. It’s hard to imagine most young Jews becoming Orthodox, or casual Christians embracing en masse Mormonism or evangelical Christianity. Instead, the future seems to point to a smaller, more conservative religious community, isolated amidst an increasingly secularized culture.

To survive, less traditionalist faiths need less “virtue signaling” and more emphasis on serving the needs of congregants. Marshall Toplansky, who advises Church World Services, a major Protestant aid group, suggested that groups like Mormons and evangelicals who focus on providing services for families and their local communities fare far better than those more tied to strictly a social gospel. Toplansky said that many mainstream churches “have overlooked the value of building grassroots relationships with their donors,” who sometimes do not share the progressive ideology of the clerical class. Without engaging the faithful and addressing their needs, he noted, “people stop identifying with their local institution and stop participating in the local activities that defined them to begin with.”

Catholicism, now under a reforming and politically progressive pope, faces a similar challenge. It is losing adherents, not only in North America and Europe, where his views are popular, but also his homeland of South America, where the church is steadily losing out to more conservative evangelical churches. Until the 1960s, at least 90 percent of Latin America’s population was Catholic, but that number has fallen to under 70 percent. Today, roughly 1 in 4 Nicaraguans, 1 in 5 Brazilians and 1 in 7 Venezuelans are former Catholics. The one place where the church is growing most, Africa, is dominated by conservative bishops often at odds with Francis.

Anthony Lemus, an influential lay Catholic, believes the church’s future relies on remaining true to its principles while refashioning its message to serve its adherents’ worldly, as well as spiritual, needs. An astrophysicist brought up in a deeply Catholic East Los Angeles household, Lemus is working with a prominent Catholic theologian, Rev. Robert Spitzer, on rewriting of the Catholic Catechism to make the faith more accessible to the new generation. He also supports efforts to improve services from the church—day care, athletic clubs, camps—that might attract young families back to the faith.

“Today’s generation is more in tune with value-add products and services influencing their lives immediately, and the relevance of faith competes with these promotions,” he said. “A ‘sticky’ rebranding of the importance of faith formation’s value in everyday life is key to reposition its importance for living a holistic life.”

Ultimately, as Lemus suggested, religions, including Judaism, can only hope to thrive if they serve a purpose that is not met elsewhere in society. It is all well and good to perform good deeds, but if religions do not make themselves indispensable to families, their future could be bleak. As we already see in Europe, churches and synagogues could become ever more like pagan temples, vestiges of the past and attractions for the curious, profoundly clueless about the passion and commitment that created them.

This article first appeared on Tablet.

Homepage photo credit: MiltonPoint via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 4.0 License

Where Millennials Really Go For Jobs

This article first appeared on City Journal.

Contrary to media hype, tech firms and young workers aren’t flocking to “superstar” cities.

When Amazon decided to locate its second headquarters in New York, it cited the supposed advantages of the city’s talent base. Now that progressive politicians have chased Amazon out of town, the tech booster chorus has been working overtime to prove that Gotham, and other big, dense, expensive cities, are destined to become “tech towns” anyway, because of their young, motivated labor pools. That argument may sound great to New York Times readers or on local talk shows, but it is increasingly untrue. Read more

Twilight of the Oligarchs?

Amazon’s decision to abandon New York City—leaving a $3 billion goodie bag of incentives on the table—represents a break in the progressive alliance between an increasingly radicalized Left and the new technocratic elite. Read more

Technological Progress and the Global Sex Recession

We may live amidst what seems a libidinous culture, but oddly also an increasingly sexless time. Of course, the drop in early teen sex – and even more so, teen pregnancies – represents positive developments, but when lack of social interaction leads to celibacy in the twenties, thirties and beyond, the implications are less than wholesome.

The Atlantic recently described a “sex recession” in the United States and most western countries, with fewer people dating and even those in relationships getting intimate less often than in the past, while fewer enjoy regular bonds of any kind. Even ogling seems out of fashion, as the decline of Hooters suggests. The family may have been stressed by the “sexual revolution,” but the “sex recession” could ultimately erode the very existence of familialism in our time.

The most extreme cases of libidinous decline are in Asia. In 2005, a third of Japanese single people ages 18 to 34 were virgins; by 2015 this expanded to 43 percent. A quarter of men over 50 never marry. This “sex recession” even impacts places like Hong Kong’s famous Wan Chai “red light” district, now being reinvented as an upscale hipster area as the sex trade plummets. China’s current generation of men are so socially disconnected that the Communist Party, and some private firms, now teach them how to date; similar attempts have been made, with apparently little effect, in Singapore.

The role of technology

The tech-savvy children of modernity clearly have problems relating to the opposite sex, a phenomenon traced in part due to their immersion on social media and access to internet porn. As social media becomes increasingly pervasive, and algorithms more sophisticated, more people appear to be exchanging human contact for that of a machine. According to Amazon, half of the conversations with the company’s smart-home device Alexa are of non-utilitarian nature – groans about life, jokes, existential questions. The Institute for Creative Technologies suggests that people are less scared about self-disclosure when they believe they’re interacting with a virtual person, rather than a real one. “By 2022, it’s possible that your personal device will know more about your emotional state than your own family,” suggests Annette Zimmermann, research vice-president at the consulting company Gartner.

Not surprisingly, a survey of American millennials found 65 percent don’t feel comfortable engaging with someone face-to-face, and 80 percent prefer conversing digitally. Similar patterns have been found in Australia where time glued to screens has raised a generation “incapable of small talk, critical thinking and problem-solving.”

In some countries, notably Japan and Germany, there’s a growing interest in using artificial beings to perform various tasks, and even provide sexual services, as an alternative to the grisly trauma of human intimacy. Shops offering sex robots provide, as one promoter suggests, “a safe space for men to practice healthy sexual interactions “without the complexity of a normal human relationship.

The demographic implications

As mammals we are equipped with a sex drive that, in the past, fueled the formation of families and the procreation of children. This drive also created many problems, including over population and sexual oppression, but the decline could now foster an unexpected, and unprecedented, population decrease never seen outside periods of famine, warfare or plague.

In many countries, economics also help discourage family formation. High property prices and rents associated with dense cities correlate closely with low marriage and fertility rates. The places where child-bearing has plunged towards historic lows are generally those with the highest house costs; including Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, Boston and San Francisco.

In some countries, notably China but also India, an imbalance of men and women is further discouraging both sexual adventures and family formation. Facing difficult odds, “leftover men”, also called guang gun or “bare branches”, are demeaned as “biological dead ends of their family tree”, explains Mei Fong, author of the book One Child. This is particularly true among working class Chinese who are unable to offer the level of possessions, like a car or apartment, that their prospective wives, or their parents, demand.

Marriage and child-bearing is also declining across both Europe and North America. This is already evident in the slowing labor force growth in the United States, as well as the European Union and China.

Can this process be reversed, short of slipping Viagra into the water supply? Certainly limiting children’s exposure to social media, and particularly pornography, should be at the top of every parent’s agenda. The media also could focus less on dysfunction of families, however entertaining, and more on their positive attributes.

Those who grew up in the shadow of Paul Ehrlich’s “population bomb,” or amidst the wanton sexuality of the 1960s and 1970s, now confront an unimaginable future. There may be some good out of these trends — for the environment, reducing abuse of women and the threat of mass unemployment. But in the end the prospect of an ever more sexless, and family free, world seems a grim one, and slightly less than human.

This article first appeared at The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. He authored The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, published in 2016 by Agate. He is also author of The New Class Conflict, The City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He is executive director of and lives in Orange County, CA.

Homepage photo credit:

Looking Forward: A New Agenda

In their essay, “Looking Forward: A New Agenda,” Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox lay out five key principles for inclusive urban growth. Their piece is part of a new report by the Center for Opportunity Urbanism, Beyond Gentrification: Towards More Equitable Growth, which explores how unbalanced urban growth has exacerbated class divisions, particularly in the urban centers of our largest metropolitan areas. To read or download the full report click here.

Read an excerpt of their piece below.

Life may have improved for many in our urban centers, but, as we have seen, many others are being left behind. Gentrification strategies, often focused on the downtown core, have done little for either the remaining middle or the largely impoverished working class, who together comprise the majority of urbanites. A recent Brookings analysis found that from 2010 to 2015, of the 30 US metros that increased their productivity, average wages, and standard of living, only 11 metros achieved inclusive economic outcomes.

Still, some urban writers embrace the idea of keeping poor neighborhoods as they are, with their low consumption rates and lack of cars, in part to reduce the area’s carbon foot-print. This seems a cruel and misplaced view. Rather than treating inner city residents as environmental lab rats, we should embrace the idea that cities, first and foremost, be places of opportunity, not only for the well-heeled and well-educated, but for all residents. The current approaches, as we have shown, lead to negative consequences in terms of higher rents and house prices, and even in reduced economic opportunity.

We believe it is time to move beyond the focus on gentrification led by the “creative class,” as Richard Florida, the term’s own author suggests. Overall, according to two recent Oregon studies, lower-income people in cities now experience less upward mobility than people from rural areas. The poorer people left in the urban core suffer from lack of opportunity, and seem to carry with them cultural and economic burdens that keep them from ascending to the middle class.

This situation is not sustainable. History shows us repeatedly that huge income gaps and a sense of diminished opportunity can lead to disorder, alienation and a breakdown of the civic order, as evidenced by the growth of moves for rent control, greater housing subsidies and low levels of labor participation.6 Ancient Rome, industrial-era London, Manchester, St. Petersburg and Shanghai, for example, all experienced revolts, and in some cases revolutions, led by the neglected classes. Substantial unemployment and economic insecurity can undermine social stability.

How do we meet this challenge? The current resources for this report were not sufficient to lay out a specific strategy. Instead, we provided a set of new principles that should shape urban policy. We do not oppose gentrification that occurs naturally, as people seek out the urban core. However, the massive funds that are spent to attract more of the creative class and appeal to the hyper-affluent have not, and will not, improve life for most urbanites. For many, this approach can only mean further impoverishment, largely due to higher rents, or lead to mass migration out of the cities that, for some, have been home for generations.

Read the full report here (PDF).

Joel Kotkin is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. He authored The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, published in 2016 by Agate. He is also author of The New Class Conflict, The City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He is executive director of and lives in Orange County, CA.

Wendell Cox is a senior fellow at the Center for Opportunity Urbanism in Houston and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy in Canada. He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, served on the Amtrak Reform Council and served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a Paris university.