Triumph of the Oligarchs

A new class of overlords are making their bid for world domination.

The Coronavirus has trammeled the prospects of most Americans, particularly low-income workers. But for one small group, the pandemic has proved something like manna from heaven. Already ascendant beforehand, the tech oligarchy—a relatively small number of companies, venture, and private equity funds—are riding the current crisis to unprecedented dominion over our ever-weakening Republic. Read more

The Green Civil War

Like many contemporary social movements—#metoo, Black Lives Matter, the Women’s March—the environmental lobby has tended to create an atmosphere of unanimity. In its struggle to win public and elite opinion, it has frequently evoked “science” as something settled and immutable, warning that those who dissent are either self-serving or seriously deranged.

Yet in recent months, there has been growing criticism about the current green orthodoxy, including from people long associated with environmental causes. Read more

Coronavirus: Why California’s Small Businesses May Not Survive

Whatever the medical benefits achieved from the prolonged coronavirus lockdown, California’s small business community will be suffering severe symptoms, likely for decades to come. The state’s small entrepreneurs, particularly in poorer areas, face major readjustments and perhaps obliteration, a situation further complicated for some by damage stemming from the protests over the killing of George Floyd.

These small firms were already in parlous shape before COVID-19. Despite the immense wealth generated in Silicon Valley and among real estate speculators and the entertainment elite, most of the state’s growth in recent years was in low-end service businesses. As a result, 80% of all jobs created in the state over the past decade paid less than the state median income and half of those well under $40,000, according to Marshall Toplansky, a researcher at Chapman University. Read more

How Coronavirus Pandemic is Bringing a Return to Feudalism

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many things, but also accelerated America’s descent into a new form of feudalism. The preexisting conditions of extreme economic concentration, inequality and reduced social mobility already were painfully evident before, but the pandemic has made them considerably worse. Read more

The Coronavirus is Also Spreading a Dark New Era of Neo-Feudalism

Adapted from The Coming of Neo-Feudalism (Encounter Books). 

The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the global shift already underway towards a neo-feudal society. With the middle-class economy largely shut down and, in the best-case scenario, in for a long and painful recovery, the population that is barely hanging on is expanding rapidly in America and around the world. In the U.S. alone, the ranks of the poor are projected to increase by as much as 50 percent, to levels not seen in at least a half century. Read more

Hygienic Fascism: Turning the World Into a ‘Safe Space’ — But at What Cost?

Author Aldous Huxley once said, “A thoroughly scientific dictatorship will never be overthrown.”

Even as we try to battle the COVID-19 pestilence, we may be contracting a more dangerous virus — hygienic fascism. This involves a process when our political leaders defer to a handful of “experts,” amid what Dr. Joseph Ladopo, an associate professor at the UCLA School of Medicine, describes as an atmosphere of “COVID-19-induced terror.”

Ideologically, hygienic fascism is neither right nor left, nor is it simply a matter of taking necessary precautions. It is about imposing, over a long period of time, highly draconian regulations based on certain assumptions about public health. In large part, it regards science not so much as a search for knowledge but as revealed “truth” with definitive “answers.” Anyone opposed to the conventional stratagem, including recognized professionals, are largely banished as mindless Trumpistas, ignoramuses, or worse. Experience may show that debate and diversity of choices serve the public’s health and general well-being better than unchallenged rule by a few, largely unaccountable individuals.

Even some non-Trumpians — like Elon Musk — see this as less an adherence to scientific standards than a “fascist” attempt to impose often impossible conditions on society and the economy, and without popular recourse. That these orders are often issued by the executive, and in the vast majority of states without legislative recourse, certainly follows an authoritarian pattern.

Big Brother, the ‘Great Helmsman’ and us

The degree of social control being proposed often reveals staggering tunnel vision. Former Vice President Joe Biden’s adviser, Dr. Ezekiel Emmanuel, suggests that eradication of the virus will require a year or even 18 months of lockdown policies. This likely would catapult an already steep recession into something approaching a depression. Scientists and academics, it appears, may be less vulnerable to such a policy than, say, hotel workers, retail clerks or small business owners.

Read the rest of this piece at The Hill.

Joel Kotkin is the author of the just-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: Christopher Michel via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

One Nation, Under Lockdown, Divided by Pandemic

The last thing this polarized Republic needs is, well, more polarization, but that is what we are contracting from the pandemic. Americans, irrespective of region, broadly want the same things, such as safety, a return to normalcy, and an end to dependence on China for medical supplies, but they differ in the depth of their experiences with the pandemic.

Rather than rallying the nation, COVID-19 has amplified every fissure in this society from class to race, but perhaps most of all regarding geography. This reflects, in large part, the different experiences felt in various localities and the differences in how economies function from region to region.

On one hand there is the New York City urban area, which has suffered roughly 40 percent of fatalities, and bore the brunt of the crisis. Places outside New York with the most deaths have been central cities such as New Orleans and Detroit, where the vast majority of deaths have been endured by African Americans living in crowded, low income districts.

In past circumstances (after 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina), Americans responded with their customary generosity. New Yorkers, in particular, were seen as heroic, and for a short while Rudy Giuliani, hard as it is to believe now, was “America’s Mayor.” Not this time. Only a person just arrived from Mars would see New York Mayor Bill De Blasio as an inspiring figure, although his nemesis, Andrew Cuomo, has gained some national street cred.

The polarized reaction to the pandemic reflects already established patterns of partisan group-think, particularly in the dominant mainstream media. In early times a pandemic would inspire a surge of unity akin to 9/11 among Americans — even journalists. But the never-ending battle between bombastic narcissist Donald Trump and the equally self-indulgent media seemingly allows for no such genuflection to national interest.

Viral Geography

To the political divide, add a major geographic one. Huge parts of the country have been barely impacted by the virus but almost everywhere has been hit by the lockdowns and social distancing policies. Not surprisingly, extending lockdown orders seems far less compelling in places where the pandemic’s impact has, so far, been minimal.

This pattern of infection and fatalities almost completely parallels that of our political divides, with the generally GOP dominated countryside least impacted, the suburbs only somewhat so, and the big blue cities bearing the bulk of pain. By one estimate, states with Republican governors, mostly in the South, Intermountain West, and the Great Plains have suffered one-third the rate of fatalities seen in Democratic controlled states, which tend to be denser in their settlement patterns.

Read the rest of this piece at Daily Caller.

Joel Kotkin is the author of the just-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: screenshot from COVID-19 CSSE Dashboard Johns Hopkins.

The Pandemic Road to Serfdom

Even before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, America, like most higher-income countries, was already heading toward a neo-feudal future: massive inequality, ever-greater concentrations of power, and increasingly widespread embrace of a uniform (albeit secular) religion. The pandemic, all too reminiscent of the great plagues of the Middle Ages, seems destined to accelerate this process.

Read more

Triumph of the Woke Oligarchs

Like the rest of the country, although far less than New York, California is suffering through the Covid-19 crisis. But in California, the pandemic seems likely to give the state’s political and corporate elites a new license to increase their dominion while continuing to keep the middle and working classes down.

Perhaps nothing spells the triumph of California’s progressive oligarchy more than Governor Gavin Newsom’s decision to off-load the state’s recovery strategy to a task force co-chaired by hedge-fund billionaire Tom Steyer. A recently failed presidential candidate, Steyer stands as a progressive funder. He is as zealous as he is rich. Steyer sometimes even found the policies adopted by climate-obsessed former governor Jerry Brown not extreme enough for his tastes. Read more

California’s Post-Corona Challenges

California has, at least to date, escaped the worst effects of Covid-19. Despite predictions by Governor Gavin Newsom that upward of 25 million Californians would become infected, after six weeks of lockdown the state, despite having twice as many residents as New York, has suffered only one-eighth the number of cases and considerably less than one-tenth the fatalities. The numbers could worsen, but if the rate of growth of infection slows, as is now occurring even in New York, the Golden State may well avoid the worst-case scenario. Read more