Look to Orange County for How to Turn California Purple

For decades, Orange County was a reliable incubator of conservative politics, and, in the era of Nixon, Goldwater and Reagan, a fairly powerful force in the state and on the national level. More recently, the area has been widely seen as tilting blue, particularly during the Trump era, with the media celebrating the end of “the Orange Curtain” in the 2018 midterm elections and its metamorphosis into another addition to our state’s progressive political culture.

Yet this November’s election results tell us something more nuanced. Instead of following the flow of the state’s urban centers, Orange County turned a deep purple and, in the process, reinforced its relevance to the state’s political future.

The county defied the politics of polarization, voting for Biden against Trump, but also electing two new Republicans to Congress, Michelle Steel and Young Kim, both Korean Americans. House seats in the county are now split with five Democrats and two Republicans. And its voters supported generally conservative positions on a host of state ballot issues.

This shift is not merely an expression of pent-up white resentment. Orange County is no longer just a white enclave by the beach. It is more than half Latino and Asian, with a level of education that is considerably higher than Los Angeles’ and the state‘s. Yet despite being educated and diverse, Orange County moved back toward the center-right in this year’s elections, perhaps a harbinger of changes in other parts of California as well.

Orange County’s electorate is clearly no longer right-wing conservative, but is quite heterogeneous compared with the state’s solidly left-leaning urbanized areas. It voted for Biden by a decisive margin, 53% to 44%, strongly rejecting Trump’s awful nativism. At the same time, it showed little interest in embracing progressive agendas on economic regulation, taxation and affirmative action.

This was most evident in the ballot propositions. Orange County voters rejected by roughly 20 percentage points Proposition 15, which would have raised taxes on commercial properties and drew fears of increased costs to already beleaguered medium-sized and small businesses. County voters approved by even larger margins Proposition 22, which exempted app-based drivers from state employee laws. That measure lost only in the Bay Area and in a few rural counties. An attempt to expand rent control failed miserably statewide, and by nearly 2 to 1 in Orange County, winning only narrowly even in the blue bastion of San Francisco.

One factor behind these politically mixed and moderate results may be the relatively high percentage of homeowners, many of whom oppose higher taxes and greater regulation. Roughly 57% of Orange County residents own their own home, compared with 45% in Los Angeles County and barely 37% in San Francisco. Homeownership rates are also much higher in the Inland Empire, the outer suburbs of the Bay Area, the North Coast and most Central Valley areas.

These are places where California’s middle class can afford homes, or have the chance to start a business, regardless of whether the state’s planning priorities pushes development into ever denser communities in coastal areas.

Read the rest of this piece at Los Angeles Times.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Homepage photo credit: San Clemente, CA by D. Ramey Logan via Wikimedia under CC 3.0 License.

America Isn’t Falling Apart. It’s Still the Land of Opportunity

More than 840,000 green card holders became citizens last year, the most in a decade. Over 10 percent of the American electorate was born elsewhere, the highest share in a half-century. All of Donald Trump’s huffing and puffing could not stop this demographic evolution; nor could an endless stream of stories about what an unequal, unfair, and no good place America has supposedly become.

The ground-level integration of America—what my friend Sergio Munoz calls “the multiculturalism of the streets”—continues with ever greater mingling, epitomized by the rise and acceptance of interracial dating, up 40 percent since 2003, and marriage.

What Trump and his most dedicated opponents have both had trouble appreciating is that, rather than a chaotic future defined by racial conflict, most Americans want both order and justice. Most Americans initially supported the George Floyd protests but soon overwhelmingly rejected the violence and looting that accompanied them. Racial minorities, like other Americans, are increasingly heterodox in their political views.

This was evident in Trump—an unpleasant and unprincipled man frequently labeled as a “racist” in the mainstream media, a term also applied to his voters— improving in 2020 on his 2016 results with most minorities, including a significant gain in the Latino vote, particularly in Florida and Texas, and among Black men. In California, Asian voters also didn’t flock to Trump, but they helped reject an affirmative action measure bankrolled by the tech oligarchs. In heavily Asian Orange County, Biden won comfortably but the affirmative action measure lost 2-to-1, and two Korean American women replaced Democratic congresspeople. The measure was also crushed in heavily Latino interior counties.

Another issue where elite support and popular opinion diverge is defunding the police, a position that the vast majority of Americans—including millennials and minorities—do not favor. As my colleague Charles Blain points out, when the Houston city council was swamped with testimony from residents pushing for the dismantling of the city’s Police Department, Black council members and Mayor Sylvester Turner pushed back, saying that these people clearly didn’t spend time in the communities that they claimed to support. A similar dynamic played out in New York, where Black City Council members held the line against a push to slash the NYPD budget by $1 billion.

Economics account for some of Trump’s gains among minority voters. Before the pandemic, most minority workers had done better in terms of income under his administration than they had under previous administrations from both parties. Like working-class people in general, most African Americans did worse economically under Barack Obama despite the enormous boost in political power and influence for portions of the African American upper class on his watch.

Latinos, suggests former California state Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero. have been devastated by the state’s more extreme lockdowns, and angered to see their putative advocates, like Gavin Newsom or Nancy Pelosi, flaunt their privilege in luxury and even violate their own rules as “ordinary people have literally been arrested and even thrown in jail for opening their businesses to just survive and feed their families.”

Read the rest of this piece at Daily Beast.

Joel Kotkin is the author of the recently released book The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute — formerly the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin

Homepage photo credit: Angelsharum via Wikimedia under CC 3.0 License.

Covid mRNA Vaccines and the State of Future Pandemics

In this episode of the Feudal Future podcast, hosts Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky talk with Joe Payne and Tony Lemus about COVID mRNA vaccines and their likely impact on the future of pandemics.

The End Game

With the election of Joe Biden, the environmental movement has now established suzerainty over global economics. Gone not only is the troublesome Donald Trump but also the Canadian skeptic Steven Harper. Outside of those dismissed as far right, there is virtually no serious debate about how to address climate change in the U.S. or Western Europe outside the parameters suggested by mainstream green groups.

In reality, though, few electorates anywhere are ready for extreme policies such as the Green New Deal, which, as its widely acknowledged architect, Saikat Chakrabarti, has acknowledged, is really a redder, more openly anti-capitalist version of the Great Depression-era original.

Yet getting hysterical about the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a waste of emotional energy. The real power of the environmental movement derives from those who occupy “the commanding heights” of our society – at the corporate, media, and academic realms. Though arguably not holding views as economically ludicrous as AOC’s, mainstream corporate greens are far more likely to successfully impose their version of environmental justice on the rest of us.

A finer shade of green

The modern environmental movement was launched from the top of the economic food chain. The Rockefeller Brothers, for example, funded some of the earliest environmental work, notably on population control. Today, these depositories of old money built on fossil fuels, including not just the Rockefellers but also the Fords, have become leading advocates of radical climate policies.

In 1972, the influential book Limits to Growth was published with backing from major corporate interests, led by Aurelio Peccei of Fiat. The book’s authors suggested that the earth was running out of natural resources at a rapid pace and called for establishing “global equilibrium” through restrictions on growth and “a carefully controlled balance” of population and capital. These conclusions, mostly accepted in top media, academic, and political circles, turned out to be almost comically off target, as production of food, energy, and raw materials accompanied not the predicted mass starvation but arguably the greatest rise of global living standards in history.

Yet despite this record, a growing and powerful faction of the corporate aristocracy still embraces the ideals of the Club of Rome, seeking to cut human consumption and limit economic progress. Like religious prelates in the Middle Ages, today’s environmentalists – who The Nation’s Alexander Cockburn has aptly named “greenhouse fearmongers” – see no contradiction between imposing austerity on the masses and excusing the excesses of their ultra-rich supporters. Like sinful aristocrats and merchant princes in medieval times, our “green rich” can even buy a modern version of indulgences through carbon credits and other virtue-signaling devices. This allows them to save the planet in style. In 2019, an estimated 1,500 GHG-spewing private jets were flown to Davos carrying attendees to a conference to discuss the environmental crisis. Few high-profile climate activists, including celebrities, seem willing to give up their multiple houses, yachts, or plethora of cars.

Read the rest of this piece at Real Clear Energy.

Joel Kotkin is the author of the recently released book The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute — formerly the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin

Photo credit: Coordenação-Geral de Observação da Terra/INPE via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

Dissecting Biden vs. Trump from a Former RNC Staffer

In this episode of the Feudal Future podcast, hosts Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky talk wth Kevin Shuvalov about the 2020 election, demographic trends in the electorate, and the impact of media on future elections.

The Grand New Party

Given the likely defeat of President Donald Trump, a functionally headless Republican Party is destined for a period of reflection. Trump himself, for all his rudeness and often unnecessary, divisive rhetoric, has transformed the Republican Party from being a bastion of the establishment to a voice for America’s working and middle class.

Read more

The Real Winners

Progressive ideologues often like to evoke the idea that they speak “truth to power,” but this year it’s their leaders who are consolidating their clout. Although Democrats did far worse on the whole than expected, control of the White House assures greater influence for those already occupying what Lenin referred to as “the commanding heights” of both society and economy. Read more

California and Its Contradictions: Rumblings of Realignment Beneath a Solid-Blue Surface

California remains deep blue, but the good news from this week’s elections is that it has not yet achieved complete ballot-box unanimity. California voters appear to have turned two or three house seats red, and statewide voters rejected some of the most extreme progressive proposals governing contract workers, affirmative action, expansion of rent control, and raising property taxes on commercial properties.

Overall, to be sure, California voters reaffirmed one-party rule, giving Joe Biden a two-to-one victory and maintaining the Democratic veto-proof majority in both legislative houses. The dominant urban centers, San Francisco and Los Angeles, went ever further into left field, approving radical measures such as increasing wealth taxes and using public funds to fight racism. They also overwhelmingly backed measures to raise commercial property taxes, expand rent control, and reimpose affirmative action, though these efforts failed miserably elsewhere in the state. San Francisco, where Biden won 85 percent of the vote, also voted for a new tax on companies where CEOs make too much compared with employees, and a measure to allow non-citizens to serve on public boards.

The good news for Californians is that the rest of the state is not quite ready for socialist rule by the public unions and their allies. “It’s not so much light pouring through the window, as a small crack opening,” suggests Joel Fox, editor of the widely read California political website Fox and Hounds Daily. The opportunity for centrists and conservatives lies in what a Marxist might describe as “heightening the contradictions” within the blue alliance. Consider the battle over Proposition 22, funded by Uber and Lyft, to overturn the state’s onerous AB5 law, which sought to force employers to treat contract drivers as full-time employees. This mandate, as the tech firms understood, would destroy their business model and their fortunes. Tech elites, who also worked tirelessly to defeat Donald Trump, spent an estimated $200 million to push the measure against labor opposition, and they seem to have won the day.

The conflict between the tech elites and labor, though, is not restricted to ride-sharing firms. Taxes remain a major battlefield. With the apparent defeat of Proposition 15, legislators seem likely to consider new statewide measures to raise income-tax rates to as high as 16 percent. This cannot be good news to the tech industry; not only its fabulously rich owners but also many of their well-paid top employees would be affected.

The state’s business regulations threaten even the most heralded, emblematic California companies. Disney executive chairman Robert Iger has fought with the state’s progressives, who generally favor extreme lockdowns, to keep his businesses open. Disneyland remains closed, resulting in 28,000 layoffs, even as the company’s parks in Florida and abroad are operating. The state’s inflexibility led Iger to resign from Governor Newsom’s coronavirus recovery taskforce.

Tesla’s Elon Musk has also dissented, having battled with Alameda County officials about the opening of his plant. More importantly, he seems to be shifting his investment focus, and perhaps even his headquarters, from California. He has already announced big expansion plans for both Tesla and Space X in Texas.

The contradictions between tech and entertainment oligarchs and the hard Left are likely to intensify in the years ahead. The state has neglected the basics of business competitiveness, particularly in creating the mid-skilled jobs crucial to a healthy economy. University of California at Irvine’s Ken Murphy estimates that, outside the Bay Area, 85 percent of all new jobs have paid below the area median income of $66,000; 40 percent pay under $40,000 a year. Once a beacon of opportunity, the Golden State suffers the nation’s highest cost-adjusted poverty rate.

Read the rest of this piece in City Journal.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Homepage photo credit: Thomas Hawk via Flickr under CC 2.0 License

The Limits of Rhetoric

Deep-blue cities and states are eager to declare their social-justice credentials. New York mayor Bill de Blasio has set up a commission designed to uproot the city’s “institutional” racism, while California governor Gavin Newsom brags that his state is “the envy of the world” and will not abandon its poor. “Unlike the Washington plutocracy,” he proclaims, “California isn’t satisfied serving a powerful few on one side of the velvet rope. The California Dream is for all.”

Yet California, though well known for its wealth, also has the nation’s highest poverty rate, adjusted for housing cost. If rhetoric were magic, metropolitan areas like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago would be ideal places for aspirational minority residents. But according to statistics compiled by demographer Wendell Cox in a newly released report, these cities are far worse for nonwhites in terms of income, housing affordability, and education. New York and California also exhibit some of the highest levels of inequality in the United States, with poor outcomes for blacks and Hispanics, who, population-growth patterns suggest, are increasingly moving away from deep-blue metros to less stridently progressive ones.

The current focus on “systemic racism”—often devolving into symbolic actions like mandatory minority representation on corporate boards, hiring quotas, and an educational focus on racial redress and resentment—is not likely to improve conditions for most minorities. “If a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness,” Martin Luther King said. “He merely exists.” That remains true. Our lodestar should be upward mobility: improving how well people live, across the board. When it comes to that criterion, blue states and cities are falling short.

The Covid-19 pandemic has inflicted disproportionate harm to the health of Latinos and African-Americans, who, according to the CDC, have suffered rates of infections and deaths higher than the overall population, which makes a focus on upward mobility even more important. To measure progress, we have developed an Upward Mobility Index, with “opportunity ratings” for the nation’s 107 largest metropolitan areas—those with populations of 500,000 or more in 2018—by race and ethnicity. We examined the factors that underpin upward mobility and entry into the middle class. Then, we created a ranking by metro that combined these factors for the three largest ethnic and racial minorities: African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians.

The results confound assertions that nominally progressive policies—affirmative action, programs for racial redress, strict labor and environmental laws—help nonwhites. It turns out that places with low housing costs, friendly business conditions, and reasonable tax rates do much better than cities proclaiming their woke credentials.

African-Americans do best by these measurements in southern metros such as Atlanta, the traditional capital of black America; McAllen, El Paso, and Austin, Texas; and Raleigh, Virginia Beach/ Norfolk, and Richmond, Virginia. The Washington, D.C. metro area, well known for its large, middle-class African-American suburbs, also compares well. Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and (perhaps surprisingly) Provo, Utah rank high for black success.

At the bottom of the list, California dominates, with four of the worst ten locations, including Los Angeles, which a half-century ago was widely seen as a mecca of sorts for blacks. Two of the state’s most prominent political leaders of the late twentieth century—four-term Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley and long-time assembly speaker and San Francisco mayor Willie Brown—came from poor Texas families, not Golden State metros. Other cities traditionally attractive to African-Americans no longer serve as leading places for black ambition, including Miami and New York.

Similar, though somewhat varied, results can be seen for Latinos, now the nation’s largest minority, and Asians, the fastest-growing. Latinos seem to be doing best outside the Northeast Corridor and the West. Fayetteville (Arkansas/Missouri), for example, ranks number 7; it’s an evolving economic hub paced by Walmart, JB Hunt, and Tyson Foods. Latinos have found opportunities in metros tied to basic goods as well as technological production (St. Louis); logistics and agribusiness (Kansas City, Des Moines, and Omaha); energy (Pittsburgh and Oklahoma City); and manufacturing (Grand Rapids and Akron).

In contrast, California, with the nation’s largest Hispanic population, now includes eight of the bottom 15 metros on the Hispanic Upward Mobility Index. The nation’s largest Hispanic conurbation, Los Angeles, ranked 105th out of the 107 largest U.S. metros. The remaining six worst performers, apart from Honolulu, are on the much-deindustrialized east coast, including New York, Bridgeport-Stamford, and Worcester.

Read the rest of this piece at City Journal.

Charles Blain (@cjblain10) is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues. Joel Kotkin (@joelkotkin) is a contributing editor of City Journal, the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and executive director of the Urban Reform Institute. His latest book is The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class.

Elite Democrats Could Destroy the Middle Class if Biden Wins in 2020

It’s been a long time since the Democrats were considered “the party of the people” and the GOP the party of the fat cats. This year Joe Biden and even more so his running mate, Kamala Harris, are raising record sums from the corporate elite, notably the tech giants and their Wall Street allies. These wealthy donors dominate the party, own much of the media, and can manipulate the social-media platforms where a growing proportion of Americans get their news.

Meanwhile, the Republicans find themselves largely castigated in the press and overwhelmed by a torrent of oligarchic wealth at the Senate and local levels. This wealthy oligarchy is not just liberal; many members also support a thorough remaking of our country. Some, like former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, are so committed to progressivism that, as he said recently, those who don’t get with the program should “face a firing squad.” Currently led by CEO Jack Dorsey, Twitter has gone so far as to block The New York Post’s account after it reported on the unsavory foreign business dealings of Biden’s son Hunter.

If these Democrats win both houses of Congress as well as the White House, things could get far worse for the already beleaguered middle class, which has been rocked by the pandemic, with an estimated 100,000 small firms going out of business. Particularly hard-hit by the recent urban unrest are inner city and minority businesses.

The other big winners have been the professional managerial class, including top levels of the federal bureaucracy, academia, and the mainstream media. These are, for the most part, people who can work from home, or, in some cases, the safety of their country houses. Meanwhile, they have achieved power at a level never before exercised outside of wartime and are as likely to surrender this control as the oligarchs are to give up their money.

If the Democrats win on Election Day, the future for the middle class could be bleak. As a lifelong Democrat, this is not easy to write, but most of the party’s initiatives — such as the Green New Deal — are directly harmful to those in the middle and working classes, who’d be forced to face increased housing and energy prices and fewer upwardly mobile jobs in industries like manufacturing.

A Democratic landslide could prove particularly devastating to owners of small businesses, particularly those in the energy, agriculture and manufacturing sectors, who were all critical to electing Donald Trump and seem likely to follow him again this year, despite the recession caused by the pandemic.

Read the rest of this piece at NYPost.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Homepage photo credit: ptufts via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.