The Middle Kingdom and the U.S. Economy

In the poker match between President Donald Trump and China’s new all-but-emperor, Xi Jinping, it’s widely assumed that Xi holds the best hand. Yet President Xi’s hand may not be as awesome as it appears, while the United States, even under this very flawed president, may hold some fine cards.

Of course, Xi wields power in a way that Trump could only dream about. He has close to total control over the media, academia and the business community. In a way not seen in my over three decades of travel to China, Xi has fostered a cult of personality that looms over that vast country, and even has developed a strong cheering section among western business and intellectual leaders.

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The Democrats Finally Won the Suburbs. Now Will They Destroy Them?

The Democratic Party’s triumphal romp through suburbia was the big story of the midterms.

In 2016 the suburbs, home to the majority of American voters, voted 50 to 45 for Donald Trump; this year, 52 percent went Democratic. In affluent suburban districts once controlled by the GOP—outside Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Seattle, Kansas City and Philadelphia, and in Orange County, California—long-held GOP seats flipped and are unlikely to flip back unless Democrats alienate their new constituents by seeking to destroy suburban life.

The suburbs are where most Americans, including roughly four in five residents of our largest metropolitan areas, live. Historically, they have favored Republicans in most elections. But that tie has been weakened for reasons including the growing diversity of these areas and revulsion at Trump, particularly among educated women. Read more

Emmanuel Newsom?

A youthful and handsome appearance, the blessings of the autocrats and clerics of our times, and a fawning media — all these belonged to French President Emmanuel Macron just a year ago. He was praised as everything from the “new leader of the Free World” to Europe’s Reagan.

Today Macron’s presidency is adrift, paralyzed by grassroots opposition to his policies — mostly from the middle and working classes — and a popularity rating about half of that suffered by Donald Trump. Is this the fate that awaits our new governor, Gavin Newsom?

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What Will Come After the Era of Trumpism?

If this undisguised reality series played by Hollywood rules, it would have already been canceled. The President Trump show has failed to grow its audience, and the reviews, even from the mildly sympathetic, are consistently bad.

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The Past and Future of Latino Politics

Perhaps nothing will define our future politics more than the dispensation of Latino voters. Once limited to a few states, Latino voters are now an important and growing factor in many parts of the country beyond the Southwest or New York.

Where are Latinos going? More than African-Americans, who tend to vote roughly 90 percent Democratic, Latinos have traditionally divided their votes, with roughly two in three generally supporting Democrats. Some Republican politicians, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, George W. Bush, new Florida Sen. Rick Scott as well as current Texas Gov. Greg Abbott have gotten over 40 percent support or higher.

Right now, thanks in part to loutish remarks by President Trump, most Latinos seem to be following an increasingly homogeneous one-party orientation. In the last congressional election, nearly 70 percent of Latinos supported Democratic candidates. In California, they played a key role in the overturning of several Congressional seats, and reinforcing the one-party domination of the Legislature.

What is the agenda?

Latino voters, many of whom tend to be socially conservative, have been won over by Democrats based largely on immigration policy. “Almost any time that Donald Trump talks about immigration, he’s offending a large number of people in California,” notes pollster Mark Baldassare.

Yet over time the Democrats’ “open borders” stance could prove surprisingly controversial even in the Latino community. After all, the newcomers, notably the undocumented, represent what Marx called “a reserve army of the unemployed.” Generally speaking, the influx of mostly poor migrants works largely against other low-wage workers while being something of bonus to the gentry classes, reducing the costs of gardening, housecleaning and, for some businesses, workers as well.

Other parts of the Democratic agenda hurt more directly. Trump’s economic policies have been, at least to date, beneficial for lower-end workers and minorities but the Democrats’ increasingly draconian climate change agenda hurts the very industries — construction, manufacturing, logistics — that employ many members of the community. In California Latinos account for 20 percent more of the manufacturing workforce and warehouses than their share of the population, and almost twice as large a share in construction. In energy, mining and agriculture, their share is roughly five times larger than their proportion of the population. Cutting off water to the Central Valley to improve fish runs mean little to Silicon Valley or Hollywood but could prove devastating to farm workers.

Identity or uplift?

Democrats used to support policies that helped lift working people through economic opportunity, homeownership and entrepreneurship. Now they show little interest in any industries other than real estate, information and media, from where they draw their financial support.

Many Latino legislators are complicit in this. Failed senatorial candidate Kevin de León and media darling Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have accepted the notion of “leftist” moneymen like Tom Steyer who are more focused on carbon emissions than the economic health of their struggling communities. Talk of the “Green New Deal,” with massive expenditures and necessitating large new taxes, is likely a fairy tale we can tell our children so they will go to bed.

Latino political power, with such leadership, helps the well-connected few but not close to the majority. In California, where Latino influence in Sacramento has grown, the relative economic position of the community has declined. Latinos suffer rates of poverty in California well above the national average, with over half of households barely making ends meet.

Alternatives better than vassalage

Of course, as long as Trumpistas run the GOP, you cannot expect Latinos to embrace Republicans. But the community would do well focus more on economics and improvement of the dysfunctional education system than a “Green New Deal,” cultural or social issues. Support for extreme climate legislation and the teachers’ unions might fill the campaign coffers of the Latino political class but does not serve their constituents’ interests.

One model for the future may be found in Texas metros Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio, where the Latino population has grown this decade roughly five times the rate of Los Angeles or San Francisco. Texas’ vibrant manufacturing and construction growth has provided many opportunities for Latino families; these cities are all among the best for Latino entrepreneurs. More than 50 percent of Latinos in Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston own their own homes; in San Francisco and Los Angeles this percentage is 25 percent or more lower.

This economics-first approach has been adopted by Latino politicians in both parties. “The consensus in San Antonio,” notes former Mayor and Clinton HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, “is all about jobs. Everything is driven by that. The idea of inclusiveness for Latinos may have started a political dialogue but now everything is focused on business and opportunity. People get along because we have same goals.”

Cisneros’ approach sets the standard for Latino politicians, and would be greatly welcome in California. Racial solidarity may be fine, but the long-term future of any community, if it wants to gain independence for its members, depends on economic prosperity. If Latinos wish to reach their potential, and help us all reach ours, this needs to be the primary focus.

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. 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 and lives in Orange County, CA.

Photo: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez via Twitter.

The First Shots in the Climate Wars

In launching their now successful protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s gas hike, the French gilets jaunes (yellow jackets) have revived their country’s reputation for rebelling against monarchial rule. It may well foreshadow a bitter, albeit largely avoidable, battle over how to address the issue of climate change.

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The Soul of the New Machine

Thirty-five years ago Tracy Kidder electrified readers with his “Soul of a New Machine,” which detailed the development of a minicomputer. Today we may be seeing the emergence of another machine, a political variety that could turn the country toward a permanent one-party state.

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The Gig Economy, Americans and the Future

The rise of automation and artificial intelligence is keeping many Americans up at night, worrying about their jobs, and certainly those of their children. The World Bank predicts that 57 percent of all jobs in developed countries could be automated in the next two decades. Some studies suggest that almost half of all current jobs will be made redundant while others suggest that past technological innovation created enough new jobs to make for those lost.

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To Make the Internet Great Again, Trump Must Smash Facebook and Its Tech Oligarch Friends

Even as many Americans look with horror on the authoritarian blusterer in the White House, we are slowly succumbing to a more pernicious, less obvious and far more lasting tech oligarchy gaining ever more control over our economy, culture and politics.

“We are certainly looking at bringing antitrust cases against Amazon, Facebook and Google,” Trump said in an interview just before the election, adding that he’s had “so many people” warning him about their overwhelming power.

Unreliable narrator though the President may be, people are indeed waking up to the tech giants’ massive and largely unchecked power, and the consequences of turning over our channels of communication to them. Read more

Lurching to a New Weimar

America seems to be heading inexorably toward a Weimar moment, a slide toward political polarization from which it could be increasingly difficult to return. Weimar — that brief, brilliant and tragic German republic of the 1920s — was replaced by Hitler’s murderous regime in 1933.

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