While Gov. Andrew Cuomo has warned that “we are your future,” since “what happens to New York is going to wind up happening to California and Washington state and Illinois” and the New York Times has blared that “This Is Going to Kill Small-Town America,” the COVID-19 death rate in the United States appears to be more than twice as high in large urban counties Read more
The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to widen even further the growing class divides now found in virtually every major country. By disrupting smaller grassroots businesses while expanding the power of technologies used in the enforcement of government edicts, the virus could further empower both the tech oligarchs and the “expert” class leading the national response to the crisis. Read more
The COVID-19 pandemic will be shaping how we live, work and learn about the world long after the last lockdown ends and toilet paper hoarding is done, accelerating shifts that were already underway including the dispersion of population out of the nation’s densest urban areas and the long-standing trend away from mass transit and office concentration towards flatter and often home-based employment.
As of this writing, the long-term effects of the coronavirus pandemic remain uncertain. But one possible consequence is an acceleration of the end of the megacity era. In its place, we may now be witnessing the outlines of a new, and necessary, dispersion of population, not only in the wide open spaces of North America and Australia, but even in the megacities of the developing world. Much of this has been driven by high housing prices and growing social disorder in our core cities, as well as the steady rise of online commerce and remote working, now the fastest growing means of “commuting” in the United States.
Pandemics naturally thrive in large multicultural cities, where people live “cheek by jowl” and travel to and from other countries is a fact of international tourism and commerce. Europe’s rapidly advancing infection rate is, to some extent, the product of its weak border controls, one of the EU’s greatest accomplishments. Across the continent, cities have become the primary centers of infection. Half of all COVID-19 cases in Spain, for example, have occurred in Madrid while the Milan region, with its cosmopolitan population and economy, accounts for half of all cases in Italy and almost three-fifths of the deaths.
In the US, known cases and deaths are overwhelmingly concentrated in the Seattle area, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, and New York. Gotham, with six percent of the US population, now accounts by itself for nearly half of the 18,000 cases in the country. Even the New York Times, a consistent booster for packing people into small spaces, now acknowledges that the city’s high densities are responsible for its much higher rate of infection even than relatively dense but far more dispersed areas like Los Angeles, which is equally diverse and global but still consists largely of single family houses.
In places like New York, crowded mass transit systems remain essential to many commuters, while suburban, exurban, and small-town residents get around in the sanctuary of their private cars. These patterns can be seen in a new report by the mid-American think tank Heartland Forward (where I am a senior fellow), which shows how relatively slight the impact has been outside of a few large urban centers on the coasts. Rural areas around the world have been largely spared, at least for now. The North American hinterlands, according to health professionals, benefit from less crowding and unwanted human contact.
Living in dispersion may not save you from contagion, but being away from people, driving around in your own car, and having neighbors you know, does have its advantages in times like these. Even the urban cognoscenti have figured this out—much as their Renaissance predecessors did during typhus and bubonic plague outbreaks, wealthy New Yorkers today are retreating to their country homes where they struggle with the locals over depleted supplies of essentials.
Back to the Dark Ages?
In classical times, plagues devastated Athens, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome. Along with barbarian invasions, they reduced the population of the Eternal City from 1.2 million at its height to barely 30,000 by the sixth century. Outside Europe, pandemics devastated cities such as Cairo, Canton, and Harbin. Following the conquest of the New World, the indigenous population suffered massive casualties from exposure to European diseases like smallpox.
Read the rest of this piece at Quillette.
Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute — formerly the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His last book was The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us (Agate, 2017). His next book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class, is now available to preorder. You can follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.
By late spring, the most severe impacts from the coronavirus may be fading, but its impact on how we live and work will not go away. Indeed, many of the most relevant trends — including the rise of dispersed work and living arrangements — were already emerging even before the pandemic emerged.
In “Millennials Find New Hope In The Heartland,” Heartland Forward Senior Fellow Joel Kotkin and his contributors address a fundamental topic for future economic success in the Heartland: Will Millennials return and remain at higher rates? The answer to this question is critical as Millennials are the largest generation, eclipsing the Baby Boom generation, and they represent the largest portion of the American workforce. The economic ramifications have made this cohort a highly prized demographic target. If Millennials do not find the Heartland more attractive, even the most well-conceived and articulated economic development strategies will be rendered mute. Growth of the Millennial population in the Heartland is, perhaps, the single most important indicator for its economic vibrancy.
This past week, in most states, America’s liberal party voted for a doddering, but non-threatening old man, rejecting a strident socialist from Vermont. But second thoughts about socialism appear not to be on the agenda for California’s Democrats, who almost single-handedly kept Bernie Sanders’ anti-capitalist crusade from an untimely implosion.
Moderate Democrats are celebrating Joe Biden’s big Super Tuesday, but their joy may reflect a short-term triumph of the party’s past over its longer-term future. The sudden consolidation of the moderate vote around Biden, paced by the relative inability of Michael Bloomberg to spend his way into relevance, has elevated the creaking former vice president to the top of the pack, mainly as the most likely alternative to socialist senator Bernie Sanders. Moderation may have triumphed for now, with help from African-American and older voters, but the Sanders–Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party remains the choice of rising demographic groups of the future Read more
Race, gender and class may be shaping our society, but increasingly generational change drives our politics.
Over time this suggests a major realignment of America’s party system that could create either whole new parties or transform the current, and failing, political duopoly.
One must look just at the results in New Hampshire. Bernie Sanders won by winning roughly half of voters under 30, according to exit polls, almost twice the percentage he gained among the rest of the electorate.
In contrast, Bernie did poorly among voters over 35, who overwhelmingly chose either the well-scrubbed boy next door Pete Buttigieg, or the emergent suburban mom candidate, Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar. Both did poorly with younger voters but much better with middle-aged and older cohorts, with Klobuchar winning those over 45 and scoring particularly well among seniors.
The Millennial Moment?
According to the Harris survey, all generations are similar in their views of the country’s direction, about evenly split between pessimists and optimists. But different generations may not be dissatisfied by the same things and have different solutions to pressing problems.
For a decade now, progressives have been counting on millennials, already the largest portion of the current adult population, to shove American politics to the left. This generation follows left-leaning positions on a host of issues including gender, race, immigration and the environment. In fact, they are the most Democratic-leaning of generations, notes Pew, with almost 60 percent fealty to the Democrats.
The key issue here may not be culture but economics. Roughly two in five millennials see the current robust economy as not being on “the right track,” roughly 10 percent more than older generations. In 2012, I labeled them the “screwed generation,” and, even in the current strong economy, they continue to struggle, with wages well below those of previous generations at the same age.
Property ownership may be the defining difference with older generations. In 2016, only a third of people under 35 owned a house, far below previous generations, where that percentage was closer to half. Their noted lack of enthusiasm for capitalism is understandable; according to projections by the Deloitte Center for Financial Services, they will own barely 15 percent of the nation’s assets by 2030, when most will be well in their late 30s or 40s.
This explains the appeal of the septuagenarian, not too removed from octogenarian, socialist. If your prospects to start a successful business, buy a home and raise a family are dim, the appeal of rent control, housing subsidies, guaranteed income and government make-work are understandably appealing. Nearly one-third of Sanders backers nationally, according to Pew, are under 30, more than twice the percentage for Warren, and four times as much as Buttigieg, Bloomberg or Biden.
The big challenge for Sanders may lie in the difficulty of motivating younger voters, who tend to turn out at considerably lower rates than older generations. But Sanders and other Democrats may also be encouraged by the 2018 results, which saw a 20 percent spike over the previous off-year election; in that election younger voters cast more votes, for the first time, than the boomers and those older than them.
The X mark
Sandwiched between two giant generations, the boomers and the millennials, the Generation X, now mostly in their late 30s to late 50s, may end up determining both the Democratic and ultimately the November election.
Xers have done comparatively better than millennials, but not nearly as well as the Boomers. Their ascent is somewhat inevitable; by 2030 they will own 30 percent of the nation’s assets, doubling their share in 2015.
As property and business owners, as well as parents, Xers are caught between their somewhat liberal social views and their interest in preserving their assets. These have grown under Trump and done so far more quickly than in Obama’s second term.
X generation voters, particularly the more affluent and well-educated, may want Obama-like changes, but not the kind of “revolution” that Sanders epitomizes. “They don’t want a revolution,” observed Matthew Walther in The Week. “They want more of the same, but without the mean tweets and with the approval of their neighbors.”
Trump does only slightly better with Xers than millennials and almost half identify as Democrats. But Sanders’ leftist agenda has done poorly among these middle-aged voters so far, and it is not inconceivable that many Xers may, albeit reluctantly, rally to the president, choosing offensiveness over catastrophic change. After all, Xers have already paid off their college debts and worked hard to buy a house; a socialist revolution would essentially devalue these investments and make a mockery of their thrift.
As generational chroniclers Mike Hais and Morley Winograd point out, we owe our current dysfunctional polarized politics to the Boomers. This far from “greatest” generation continues to fight over the same culture wars that animated the 1960s and 1970s, with strong coteries on the right and left.
Traditionally Boomers divide their votes, and are about even in their partisan affiliation. Trump’s ill behavior and boorishness has offered Democrats an opportunity to gain among them, as was clear in the 2018 election. But this is also a wealthy generation — owning roughly half of all assets — besides enjoying high rates of homeownership. Although some are poor, many in this generation are middle class and overwhelmingly suburban.
Left-wing Democratic plans to increase income taxes, undermine homeownership and wipe out whole industries, such as energy, agribusiness and much of manufacturing, will not have much appeal to many Boomers who depend on these for a living. Sanders, for example, did very poorly among Boomers in New Hampshire. But with a more moderate candidate, it’s likely more people in the 30 to 50 age range will, as in 2018, abandon the GOP.
Still not silent
They may be fading in numbers, but the Silent Generation, those born before the post-World War Two boom, remain politically and economic consequential. They continue to hold some 30 percent of America’s assets and right now include three of the most likely candidates in November, including Trump himself, Sanders and “Moneybags” Mike Bloomberg.
No surprise then that Silents are the one majority pro-GOP generation. But many are still Democrats or independents and their influence will be felt through the primaries. In New Hampshire very few supported their fellow Silent generationer Sanders, opting for younger and less divisive candidates. Biden, who one would think would appeal to older voters, also did comparatively poorly there.
Even when the Silents are mostly gone, aging will continue to influence our politics. All ethnic groups, according to the Census, are now aging — more than four out of every five counties were older in 2018 than in 2010. Issues of Social Security and the “safety net” will only grow, which could provide an opportunity for Democrats given Trump’s politically deaf talk of cutting these programs.
What the future holds
Perhaps the biggest question mark, however, may be the direction of the so-called Z generation, who are just now getting to voting age. Unlike the millennials, the Zs did not enjoy growing up in the relative boom periods before the Great Recession; they and their parents went through difficult times, making them what analyst Winograd describes as a “grit generation,” a characteristic that may arguably make traditional GOP approaches more attractive to younger voters.
To be sure, Zers share many social and environmental views of Millennials, but 63 percent, according to one recent survey, identify as something other than liberal. Similar research by AEI conducted by Sarah Lawrence’s Sam Abrams found that Zers do not fit easily into the liberal monoculture.
Over time the new generational politics could be to redefine our current political parties, and even lead to the rise of new ones. According to a recent Harvard survey, over 70 percent of Americans already would like to replace every member of Congress, including their own. This could foreshadow the kind of fragmentation already happening in Europe as the Greens win over the old social-democratic constituencies while many others embrace the Trumpian politics of far-right parties.
Even if new parties do not emerge, generational politics will continue to shape our politics, dragging the Democrats to the left, particularly in the increasingly neo-feudal states along the coasts. This could nudge more Xers and Boomers toward the GOP just long enough to prevent them ending up in the near future like the 19th-century Whigs, cast into a memory hole of forgotten history.
This piece first appeared at The Orange County Register.
Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His last book was The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us (Agate, 2017). His next book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class, is now available to preorder. You can follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin
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