America is Moving Toward an Oligarchical Socialism

Where do we go after Trump? This question becomes more pertinent as the soap opera administration seeks its own dramatic demise. Yet before they can seize power from the president and his now subservient party, the Democrats need to agree on what will replace Trumpism.

Conventional wisdom implies an endless battle between pragmatic, corporate Clintonites on one side, and Democratic socialists of the Bernie brand. Yet this conflict could resolve itself in a new, innovative approach that could be best described as oligarchal socialism.

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Restoring Localism

Americans are increasingly prisoners of ideology, and our society is paying the price. We are divided along partisan lines to an extent that some are calling it a “soft civil war.” In the end, this benefits only ideological warriors and their funders.

One key source of this deepening division is the relentless centralization that has overtaken both our economy and our politics. Leaders of both parties have sat by while the forces of capital and government have centralized power and authority in ever fewer hands. Read more

The Triumph of Trumpism Will Outlast Trump

Given the endless scandals swarming around him, Donald Trump’s presidency may prove, to quote Thomas Hobbes, to be “nasty, brutish and short.” But even if Trump ends up out of office sooner than planned, we will continue to live in a world shaped by him for years to come.

He retains surprisingly high ratings for the economy and keeping the country safe. His perceived successes have allowed him, in a way matched only by Ronald Reagan, to alter American politics, and policy, in ways that could well persist well after he has returned to the gold-plated garishness of the Trump Tower.

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‘Chinafornia’ and Global Trade in Age of Trump

One of the last regions settled en masse by Europeans, California’s trajectory long has been linked to its partners across the Pacific. Yet these ties could be deeply impacted by President Trump’s immigration and global trade policies, as well as resulting blowback by the authoritarian regime in Beijing.

In recent decades, California has become something of a China junkie. With China on the route to what some predict will be hegemonic power, there’s a set who eagerly wish to promote the idea of “Chinafornia.” The pattern of dependency can be seen in how our industries depend on China for their production. For some companies, like Apple, China provided the capacity to produce products cheaply without suffering heavy GHG impacts in state. China’s coal-based pollution allowed these congenitally “virtue signaling” firms to retain their “green” street cred.

Yet as a trade war looms, California could find itself without key markets, investment capital and sources of supply for its increasingly de-industrialized economy. Any reduction in immigration, and related investment flows, could dent real estate values, particularly in such speculator-driven markets as Irvine, downtown Los Angeles and Koreatown. There could be political ramifications as well given the close ties between China and California officials, including an alleged spy working as a driver for Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

California’s historic trade ties

Asia has always been a kind of ace in the hole for California. The state’s economic emergence in the early 1900s was tied directly to rising trade with Japan, China and the country’s new imperial outpost, the Philippines. These connections, wrote the Los Angeles-based journalist Harry Carr, changed our region from “a hick town” and turned it “into a city.”

Of course, some of our early entanglement with the Pacific was profoundly oppositional. Deep-seated fears of Asian immigrants engendered harsh racial restrictions, including bans on property ownership. The massive buildup against Japan during the Second World War sent tens of thousands of Japanese residents, including citizens, to concentration camps, but also initiated the region’s first great wave of industrialization.

Since the war California has benefited from its Asia ties in generally more positive ways. Asian importers, such as car companies, tended to use the Port of Los Angeles and set up their local headquarters here. Investors, particularly from Japan in the 1980s, buoyed the state property market. New immigrants from China, Korea, south Asia and Vietnam brought a tremendous work and entrepreneurial ethos to the state, helping to revitalize communities from the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys to wide swaths of Orange County.

The challenge of Trump

Over the past half century, both parties have tended to be friendly both to globalization. Yet now the state’s establishment is being rocked by Trump’s assault on both generous immigration policies and China’s unfair trading practices. China’s mercantilism alone has been linked by labor-aligned groups with the loss of millions of jobs. There’s a stark class division here; the upper classes have largely benefited while many higher-wage job opportunities for middle- and working-class Californians have disappeared.

The current Trumpian policies could change this, forcing companies to rely more on citizen workers and local capital. Silicon Valley tech firms, now dependent for 40 percent of its workforce on largely Asian imports, will have to compete for domestic labor with regions and companies that operate in more reasonably priced markets. This could benefit local workers and sub-contracting firms.

To be sure, some California exporters — notably in the Central Valley, Hollywood and Silicon Valley — could find some markets shut off to them. Yet, in the longer run, China will likely suffer more in a trade war, given its almost four times larger volume of exports than come from the U.S., weaker domestic markets and massive indebtedness. Trump’s approach could force it to compromise on key trade issues in ways that benefit our exporters.

Can we benefit from the new reality?

Given the extraordinary anti-Trump mood in the state, it may seem discordant to see any good in Washington’s trade stance. California is home to nearly 40 percent of all Chinese home purchases in the U.S. These investors are one primary cause for the insane property-price inflation that has effectively chased young American families from the state. Would it be a tragic loss to lose the capital expended by non-resident foreigners who buy property largely as a kind of safe deposit box? Some two-fifths of these investors, according to a one real estate study, do not intend to live in their homes.

Policies discouraging shifts of work to China also could help reorient our business from just originating ideas to making products. This could prove a potential boon to the state’s suffering working class and for the environment, by shifting production to relatively clean California from coal-dependent China.

We are right to be offended by the xenophobia associated with the Trump policies. But if a crisis in Chinafornia spurs the state to think about decreasing our dependence on China, perhaps we can begin to promote development that helps not just speculators, investors and oligarchs, but ordinary Californians.

This article first appeared in 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. His newest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, was published in April 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 NewGeography.com and lives in Orange County, CA.

Photo: 禁书 网, via Flickr, using CC License 2.0.

The New McCarthyism of Our Censorious Age

“If my thought dreams could be seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine”
Bob Dylan, “It’s All Right Ma”, 1965

We live in a newly censorious age, where old crudities are never forgotten. To be sure, there are some clear malefactors, like Harvey Weinstein and many others, who should be punished to the extent of the law, but there’s clearly a distinct danger to free expression as the emboldened thought police steadily expand their domain. Read more

Self-Styled Futurist Looks at California Governor’s Mansion

When he takes office this January, as seems inevitable, Gavin Newsom, a self-styled futurist, will inherit an economic legacy that could be turning sour. After a rapid expansion that seemed to make all things possible, Newsom may face challenges for which he may be poorly prepared. Read more

The Hollowing-Out of the California Dream

Progressives praise California as the harbinger of the political future, the home of a new, enlightened, multicultural America. Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill has identified California Senator Kamala Harris as the party leader on issues of immigration and race. Harris wants a moratorium on construction of new immigration-detention facilities in favor of the old “catch and release” policy for illegal aliens, and has urged a shutdown of the government rather than compromise on mass amnesty.

Its political leaders and a credulous national media present California as the “woke” state, creating an economically just, post-racial reality. Yet in terms of opportunity, California is evolving into something more like apartheid South Africa or the pre-civil rights South. California simply does not measure up in delivering educational attainment, income growth, homeownership, and social mobility for traditionally disadvantaged minorities. All this bodes ill for a state already three-fifths non-white and trending further in that direction in the years ahead. In the past decade, the state has added 1.8 million Latinos, who will account by 2060 for almost half the state’s population. The black population has plateaued, while the number of white Californians is down some 700,000 over the past decade.

Read the entire piece at City Journal.

Home photo: Office of the Attorney General of California [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Democrats are Helping Trump to Win Re-election

This article first appeared at The Orange County Register.

Donald Trump and the Republican Party, increasingly his subsidiary, should be headed to a reckoning of historic proportions. But, despite his own often unforced errors, Trump may have found an unwitting ally far more impactful than Vladimir Putin: the Democratic Party.

In their anti-Trump fervor, the Democrats have embraced leftist positions that weaken their prospects in 2018 and, perhaps even more so, beyond. This leftward shift was evident in scores of elections around the country as well as here in California where the party endorsed climate activist and open-borders advocate Kevin De Leon over longtime centrist, and still heavily favored, Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

The lurch to the left could become particularly problematic if the economy, always a big if, holds up. Right now almost two-thirds of voters think the economy is in good shape, according to a recent YouGov poll. To be sure, Trump’s approval ratings are not great, but not much worse than those at the same stage of their presidencies as Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, all but one of which was re-elected to second term.

Historically disadvantaged minorities

Continued strong economic growth could even help Trump appeal to voters who have historically backed the Democrats. Under President Obama, as Kanye West and others have observed, African Americans gained in self-esteem but little in terms of economics. If you visit the South Side of Chicago, nearby the former Obama manse, poverty has become worse while The Loop to the north has never seemed so prosperous.

In contrast, under Trump’s regime, unemployment among African Americans and Latinos has hit historic lows while wages for blue-collar workers have begun to creep up. Minorities’ sense of personal future prospects have improved markedly, notes the Zogby poll. Trump, despite his remarks about Mexico, is even gaining ground among Hispanics, according to the Harris poll. Latinos, notes Pew, consider health care, the economy and education more important than immigration.

Most minority voters, particularly African Americans, favor less immigration rather than more. The embrace of open borders by Democrats, as evidenced by the calls to dismantle ICE, shows that, like the corporate right, they are unwilling to shut off a supply of undocumented workers whose added presence in the labor market threaten the past 18 month’s still-vulnerable economic gains.

Asians and Jews

Lock-step support for Democrats among Asians and Jews could also be threatened. Jews, despite their self-affiliation as progressives, are faced with a growing anti-Israel, and at least marginally anti-Semitic, wave among “progressive” Democrats. The party’s latest leftist star, New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has made her anti-Israel opinions well known, as have several other Democratic congressional candidates, including in South Carolina and in Pennsylvania, where the party’s choice funded the boycott of Israel.

Progressive Jews make a big deal about the small, and noxious, white nationalist far right and its support for Trump, but the far more lethal threat comes from more powerful situated people like Democratic Party Vice-Chairman Keith Ellison, who has a long history of association with Louis Farrakhan, arguably the most influential anti-Semite of our time. Similar linkages exist among organizers of core resistance groups like the Women’s March.

Democratic dominance among Asians could also be threatened. Trump’s assault on affirmative action appeals to the meritocratic mentality of many Asian families, some of whom fear their offspring face active discrimination in admission to colleges and universities. This concern is also being felt in places like New York, where examinations to high-performing high schools are now being scrapped by progressives seeking to replace merit with a “more just” racial distribution.

Oligarchs and socialists

Perhaps the most serious potential problem for the Democrats lies in the incompatibility of their base of oligarch support, and the simultaneous embrace of socialist ideology. Trump’s trade and immigration policies threaten the interests of the corporate elite, depriving them of potential markets, cheap suppliers and labor. But an assault on inequality — as proposed by Bernie Sanders and his supporters — would also mean higher taxes and more stringent regulations on the oligarchal overclass.

Ultimately the Democrats may try to square this circle by increasing taxes on the upper-middle class, the only ones, outside the oligarchy, capable of paying for expansive socialist policies. Yet this too creates a problem since well-educated professionals constitute one of the key components of the party coalition. Although all the rage among the intelligentsia and the pre-taxpaying young, socialism’s overall appeal remains limited; according to one recent survey, nearly three-quarters of likely voters prefer a free market to a socialistic system.

As the party drifts left, we may see more hesitation by some to participate in a “resistance” that works against their interests. Some Republicans even see the possibility of an anti-progressive wave that could rise as early as this fall. That too may be delusional, given Trump’s repeatedly demonstrated ability to step on his own talking points. But by threatening to alienate sizable parts of the party base, the resistance may yet fail to depose Trump, largely because of its own fundamental contradictions and endemic foolishness.

Homepage photo credit: LA Mountains, via Flickr, using CC License.

The West Is In the Midst of a Migration and Identity Crisis

Excerpted from an article that first appeared at The Orange County Register.

As the economy has improved, popular concern, both here and abroad, has shifted to issues of migration and identity. Just last year, immigration, according to Gallup, was seen as the most important issue by barely 5 percent of the population, while the economy was cited by more than four times as many. But now, immigration and undocumented aliens is now the biggest concern to 15 percent of the population, equal to that of the economy.

You can blame Donald Trump, and his focus on that issue, for some of this. But Trump did not create the long mounting migration pressures — including 200,000 unaccompanied children during President Obama’s last term. Nor is he responsible for growing opposition — almost three-to-one — to mass migration among Europeans.

Unrestricted EU migration helped drive Brexit in the U.K., upended Italian politics and sent many traditionally centrist voters elsewhere flocking to anti-immigrant parties, including some on the extreme, quasi-fascist right. The move towards what the Guardian ominously calls “fortress Europe” could even dethrone the current queen of the EU, the much praised “great humanist,” Angela Merkel.

Read the entire piece 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. His newest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, was published in April 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 NewGeography.com and lives in Orange County, CA.

Photo: Elekes Andor [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons

Progressive California’s Growing Race Challenge

Excerpted from an article that first appeared at The Orange County Register.

No state in the union has been more adamant in opposing President Trump’s policy on immigration than California. The Golden State widely sees itself — and is widely seen in progressive circles — as the harbinger of America’s multi-cultural future, a “sanctuary state” that epitomizes ethnic ascendency.

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