Democratic Prospects & The Plural Generation with Morley Winograd

In this episode of the Feudal Future podcast, Morley Winograd joins hosts Joel and Marshall on Feudal Future Podcast to talk about the 2020 election, and the prospects for a democratic administration should they win.

Democrats’ Energy Dilemma

The biggest challenge facing a putative first-term Joe Biden administration and the Democratic Party may lie with energy policy, where gentry and green wishful thinking confront the daily realities of millions of middle- and working-class Americans.

Democrats could choose a climate policy that allows for gradual change – for example, transitioning from coal to natural gas – and consider the feasibility of smaller and safer nuclear plants, while keeping the productive economy afloat. But Biden, despite some wriggling about fracking on private land, just last week committed himself to the gradual eradication of the fossil fuel industry. His running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, is beloved by California’s extremist greens.

Already, in anticipation of a Democratic sweep, utilities are putting some natural gas projects on hold – threatening a powerful growth engine in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio. If Biden continues to embrace the basic thrust of the Green New Deal, if not its full-bore socialist program, the impact could be devastating for manufacturing areas that compete with China, which depend largely on natural gas, coal, and nuclear power to keep costs down. These state economies cannot fantasize, as some do in California, that the resulting social costs will be paid for by the wealthy digerati; lacking sufficient numbers of the rich and famous, these states will be hit hard, and fast.

If, as seems likely, victorious Democrats enact legislation broadly derived from the Green New Deal, major blowback – and economic disruption – seems inevitable. Biden and Harris have been almost comically inconsistent in their statements about fracking, but they’re certainly hostile to it: if they win the White House and pursue a ban, it would likely drive higher prices for energy, reduce national energy self-sufficiency, and cause massive job loss among a large number of Americans, particularly in key states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Read the rest of this piece at Real Clear Energy.

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

Trump Finally Slaps Google with an Anti-Trust Suit, and Protects Democracy

Sometimes Donald Trump does the right thing, even if it may be for the wrong reasons. His Justice Department’s late-term assault on Google for its monopolistic tyranny over search and digital advertising is precisely what is needed. Some may paint this as the last desperate act of a fading tyrant, but in reality it may be the most important move to protect democracy in recent years.

The anti-trust suit, filed just weeks before the election, is the latest example of the growing gap between the tech oligarchy and Trump on issues including the H1-B visas big tech depends on to keep labor costs down, web censorship, and, of course, Trump’s trade war with Silicon Valley’s close allies in China.

With the prospect of a Biden presidency looming, Google and the other tech monopolies may simply be willing to wait to try and regain control of the national agenda and recover at least some of the vast political sway they enjoyed under Barack Obama. It’s likely that Trump was acting not to protect free markets and democracy but to punish his perceived foes who in his view have unfairly supported his opponent not only with their contributions and their expertise but also with their policies and algorithms.

Yet if Trump’s motivations are questionable, his action is the right one. The giants of the tech world—Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft—have become so powerful and so wealthy that they constitute a compelling danger to the economy, upward mobility, freedom of expression, and prospects for a functional democracy.

All five companies started with enormous innovation, part of an entrepreneurial ecosystem of garage startups envied all over the world. But in more recent times, these companies have become part of a system of conglomerate control more akin to the Japanese keiretsu or Korean chaebol, essentially interlocking directorates who parcel out control of critical parts of the economy. With competition down, innovation has slowed as most smaller firms are either acquired or relegated to being tools to be exploited and then discarded. One online publisher uses a Star Trek analogy to describe his firm’s status with Google: “It’s a bit like being assimilated by the Borg. You get cool new powers. But having been assimilated, if your implants were ever removed, you’d certainly die. That basically captures our relationship to Google.”

The steady erosion in anti-trust enforcement over decades and under both political parties has left firms like Facebook and Google with almost unlimited power to acquire or crush competitors. Unfettered by government, consolidation has allowed oligarchs to gain dominant shares of key markets from search (Google) to social media (Facebook) to cloud computing and book sales (Amazon); Google and Apple together provide over 95 percent of operating software for mobile devices while Microsoft still accounts for over 80 percent of the software that runs personal computers around the world.

The pandemic has strengthened their positions further, and the tech giants now account for nearly 40 percent of the value of the Standard and Poor index, a level of concentration unprecedented in modern history. Today seven of the ten richest Americans come from the tech sector. From March to June 2020, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos saw his wealth rise by an estimated $48 billion to $183 billion, making him the world’s richest man.

This remarkable concentration of wealth necessitates precisely the kind of tough action endorsed by Trump and now acted on by his Justice Department. As progressives recognized in the gilded age—and some, like Elizabeth Warren, still do today—the extreme wealth and power in few hands represents a fundamental threat to democracy. “We can have a democratic society,” noted progressive Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, “or we can have the concentration of great wealth in the hands of a few. We cannot have both.”

Read the rest of this piece at Daily Beast


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.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Unsplash under CC0 2.0 License.

The Coming Post-COVID Global Order

The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated economics in the West, but the harshest impacts may yet be felt in the developing world. After decades of improvement in poorer countries, a regression threatens that could usher in, both economically and politically, a neo-feudal future, leaving billions stranded permanently in poverty. If this threat is not addressed, these conditions could threaten not just the world economy, but prospects for democracy worldwide.

In its most recent analysis, the World Bank predicted that the global economy will shrink by 5.2 percent in 2020, with developing countries overall seeing their incomes fall for the first time in 60 years. The United Nations predicts that the pandemic recession could plunge as many as 420 million people into extreme poverty, defined as earning less than $2 a day. The disruption will be particularly notable in the poorest countries. The UN has forecast that Africa could have 30 million more people in poverty. A study by the International Growth Centre spoke of “staggering” implications with 9.1 percent of the population descending into extreme poverty as savings are drained, with two-thirds of this due to lockdown. The loss of remittances has cost developing economies billions more income.

Latin America had seen its poverty rate drop from 45 to 30 percent over the past two decades, but now nearly 45 million, according to the UN, are being plunged into destitution as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic. In Mexico alone, COVID-19 has caused at least 16 million more people to fall into extreme poverty, according to a study by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

These trends undermine the appeal of neoliberal globalization across the developing world. The pandemic has forced people to stay in their countries, and has closed off the ability to move to wealthier places. With Western countries themselves in disarray, there’s been a growing temptation to adopt authoritarian controls modeled by China, which appears to have emerged from the pandemic and economic collapse quicker than the rest of the world. The pandemic could boost China’s great ambition to replace the West, and notably America, as the heart of global civilization.

Poverty and pestilence

In the long history of pestilence and plague, French historian Fernand Braudel has noted, there was always a “separate demography for the rich.” As today, the affluent tended to eat better and were often able to escape the worst exposure to pestilence by retreating to country estates. This pattern was evident in Rome, as the city endured growing plagues in the second and third centuries. As Kyle Harper explains in The Fate of Rome, those left behind in the city often became “victims of the urban graveyard effect.”

These differing impacts were also evident in the late Middle Ages, when plague killed upwards of half Europe’s population. One 14th century observer noted that the plague “attacked especially the meaner sort and common people—far seldom the magnates.” Of course, some of the mighty also died, but far less often than hoi polloi. Whether in the towering insulae of Rome, Medieval hovels, or the tenements of the Lower East Side, the poor have suffered from economic dislocation, infection, and death far more than the affluent.

We may be entering an age that reprises Medieval patterns of mass infections. Three decades ago in The Coming Plague, Laurie Garrett identified the rise of an “urban Thirdworldization” that creates ideal conditions for new pandemics—SARS, MERS, Swine flu, and now COVID-19. These challenges will likely not end even with a vaccine or a weakening of the virus, but may resurge in a different form. Anthony Fauci, director of America’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, already sees potential new viruses incubating in China and warns that more pandemics may arise in the near future.

Read the rest of this essay on Quillete.


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.

Hügo Krüger is a Structural Engineer with working experience in the Nuclear, Concrete and Oil and Gas Industry. He was born in Pretoria South Africa and moved to France in 2015. He holds a Bachelors Degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Pretoria and a Masters degree in Nuclear Structures from the École spéciale des travaux publics, du bâtiment et de l’industrie (ESTP Paris). He frequently contributes to the South African English blog Rational Standard and the Afrikaans Newspaper Rapport. He fluently speaks French, Germany, English and Afrikaans. His interests include politics, economics, public policy, history, languages, Krav Maga and Structural Engineering.

Photo credit: Jade Scarlato via Unsplash under CC0 1.0 License.

Democratic Civil War

The three heads of the Democrat Hydra will soon start biting at each other.

Donald Trump may still sit in the White House, but America seems increasingly submissive to the rule of the Democrats. The Party now enjoys predominant influence over mainstream media, rising influence among wealthy elites, a stranglehold over education and entertainment industries, and the domination of the burgeoning non-profit world. Remarkably the self-styled “party of the people” now accommodates the big Wall Street firms and tech oligarchies alongside the progressive, neo-socialist, activist base and an ever-diminishing remnant of traditional working-class voters.

This powerful coalition is also a fundamentally unstable one—a three-headed hydra whose heads, particularly after Trump leaves, will soon be biting each other furiously. One faction, the corporatist elite, genuflects and even profits from the progressive mantra on climate, gender, and race. Some, like former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, are so committed to gentry progressivism that he recently suggested those who don’t get with the program could “face a firing squad.” Others, like the Marxists and rioters of BLM, seek a total social revolution and increasingly speak of ending “racial capitalism.”

Many on the Right, having learned nothing since Reagan, simple-mindedly identify each of these two dominant groups as “liberal.” A more accurate assessment would be “corporatist” and “socialist.” Largely left:  the constituency that once drove the Democratic Party—middle-of-the-road voters, many of them in unions, who constitute roughly half of party members. Only 15% of Democrats consider themselves “very liberal.” Along with older African-American voters, these suburban voters, also mostly older, were critical to nominating the lackluster former vice president. They could very well get him into the White House itself.

The Corporatists

The tech oligarchs and their Wall Street allies were clear winners of the Democratic primaries. The so-called “party of the people,” Biden and other Democrats now can count the wealthiest individuals on the planet among its ranks, including former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskowitz, Zynga’s Mark Pincus, Steve Jobs’s widow Lauren, as well as media moguls Michael Bloomberg and Barry Diller.

This pattern, already notable in 2016, can also be seen in 41 of the 50 wealthiest Congressional districts that Democrats now represent. It is now wealthy donors who dominate the party, not the grassroots youth movement agitated by Sanders. This point bears repeating over and over again. This is particularly true in the key battle for the Senate, where most Republicans find themselves overwhelmed by a torrent of oligarchic wealth.

Some oligarchs, such as Jeff Bezos with his mouthpiece the Washington Post, are following along not out of enthusiasm, but at least partially out of naked fear of socialists like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. But it’s doubtful even an unhinged San Francisco billionaire like Costolo has much interest in having his wealth and market power disrupted by radicals, who feel, justifiably in my mind, the largely unrestrained oligarchs, and their Wall Street allies, devour far too much of the nation’s wealth and should have much of their property confiscated by the state. After all, both Sanders and his acolyte Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez believe that billionaires “should not exist.”

Read the rest of this piece at American Mind.


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

Image credit: SilviaP_Design via Wikimedia, in Public Domain.

Will the Cultural Revolution Be Canceled?

It’s an article of faith among many conservatives, and some liberals, that we’re being swept by a Maoist cultural revolution destined to transform American society into a woke collective. Yet before surrendering basics like equality of opportunity, social order, and free speech to leftist authoritarians, we should consider whether they’re the ones who will wind up getting canceled.

Most Americans don’t favor defunding police or instituting race quotas; they are wary of the costs connected with the Green New Deal and of allowing Washington to control local zoning. Many are already voting with their feet, fleeing places that promote these ideas and seeking out areas aligned with more recognizable American values. Over the past 20 years, virtually all the most progressive large states—New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and California—have suffered massive outmigration, while red or purplish states like Florida, Texas, the Carolinas, or Arizona welcome more and more Americans to resettle there. On the metropolitan level, even before Covid-19 accelerated the trend, a steady, largely unacknowledged, movement from the deep-blue core to the less progressive suburbs or exurbs has been underway.

Political correctness—the secular religion of elite liberal society—turns out to be enormously unpopular, something President Trump has exploited politically. Some 80 percent of Americans, notes one recent survey, including most millennials and minorities, see political correctness as “a problem,” not a solution for the future. Progressive social activists, a survey by the liberal research organization More in Common found, account for barely 8 percent of the adult population, less than a third of the number who identify as traditional conservatives.

The fact that most Americans—Democrat and Republican—fall between these two categories suggests that social attitudes may be far less polarized, and less susceptible to political correctness, than has been widely assumed. As seen in the reaction to the George Floyd case, most Americans generally back the police but also embrace the notion of police reform; they are increasingly hostile, however, to the wave of violence that has accompanied some of the protests. Rather than support growing attempts to limit free speech, almost four in five Americans, according to Pew, support protecting it. These attitudes extend well beyond the base of Trumpian conservatives to include most Americans, regardless of ethnic background.

The media epitomize the gap between the public and the nation’s dominant institutions. Subjectivity, notes a recent Rand study, has replaced the world of shared facts with approaches that lead to “truth decay.” Reporters once believed that their mission was to inform the public, but now many journalism schools, including Columbia, embrace progressive groupthink, openly advancing a leftist social-justice agenda in which reporters are advocates. Even Teen Vogue has taken a neo-Marxist tack. “Moral clarity” replaces objectivity. Free speech is somehow linked to white privilege.

These partisan attitudes have dramatically eroded trust in media, according to a new Knight Foundation study. Public trust in most large media has declined steadily over the past four years, with the biggest drops among Republicans; the New York Times, the publisher of the 1619 Project takedown of American history, is trusted by less than half of the public, compared with almost 60 percent in 2016. Gallup reports that, since the pandemic, the news media has suffered the lowest ratings of any major institution, performing even worse than Congress or President Trump.

Certainly, the shift leftward has not helped the progressive-dominated newspaper business. Between 2001 and 2017, the publishing industry (books, newspapers, magazines) lost 290,000 jobs, a decline of 40 percent. Endless partisan sniping and countless crises have boosted CNN, but the network lags well behind right-wing Fox. NPR has seen its ratings drop as many listeners gravitate to less predictable, livelier voices like Joe Rogan.

The new media also suffer from a credibility crisis. Controllers like those at Facebook, Google, Apple, and Twitter are increasingly determined to curate “quality content” on their sites, or even eliminate views they find objectionable, which tend to be conservative, according to employees. The idea that managers of huge social-media platforms aim to control content is more than conservative paranoia. Over 70 percent of Americans, according to a recent Pew study, believe that such platforms—as demonstrated in the case of Reddit, Facebook, and Google—“censor political views.” In California, the center of Big Tech, people express more trust in the marijuana industry than they do in social media, according to a 2019 survey.

Read the rest of this piece at 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.

Photo credit: City of St Pete via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

The Coronavirus Reopened America’s Wounds — and Poured Salt in Them

Yes, the coronavirus hit the president and his White House hard, likely because of the irresponsible choices this president has made, but let’s not kid ourselves: The virus has devastated with alarming efficiency minorities and the impoverished, particularly in cities, while accelerating America’s return to a more hierarchical and far less democratic society.

The virus has been inconvenient for the affluent, many of whom still could work comfortably from home and who suffered far lower rates of infection. And it’s been a boon for the elite bureaucracy and even more so for the already fantastically wealthy tech oligarchs whose ownership of people’s data is even more valuable with shopping and entertainment largely online.

That’s nothing new. Faced with pestilence in crowded cities, the wealthy in past centuries often escaped to country estates and rentals, as they have this year. Of course, some of those escapees died, too, but at a far lower rate than the hoi polloi. Whether in the towering insulae of Rome, medieval hovels, or the tenements of the Lower East Side, the poor have always been hit first and hardest by economic dislocation, infection, and death. Although far less lethal, COVID-19 has followed this pattern.

Overall, counties with urban densities greater than 10,000 per square mile constitute less than 4 percent of the nation’s population but have suffered 14 percent of deaths associated with the pandemic. By comparison, in the most typical suburban areas (urban densities of 1,000 to 2,500 per square mile), where 53 percent of the population lives, the COVID fatality rate is approximately one-fifth of that. In counties with urban densities under 1,000 (largely rural), it is one-sixth.

The biggest problem lies with what demographer Wendell Cox labels “exposure density,” which results from insufficiently ventilated places like crowded housing, transit, elevators and office environments. Poor people, as a new paper suggests, are far less able to socially distance either at home or at work. As race and class often overlap in America, whites are roughly twice as likely to telecommute as African Americans or Hispanics.

Nationwide, African Americans, who make up 13 percent of the population, account for 21 percent of COVID-related deaths. The difference in hospitalization rates between groups is even more striking, with Native Americans at 300 per 100,000, African Americans at 267 and Latinos at 265, while its 57 for non-Latino whites.

Poverty seems to be the common thread. Even in lower density areas like native American reservations and along the Mexican border, poorer people often live in crowded, pandemic-friendly unventilated places. The worst-hit areas have been those with both high rates of poverty and household crowding, like New York’s outer boroughs and Chicago’s south and west sides. Although California’s infection rate has been lower, the worst effects by far have been felt in impoverished parts of Los Angeles County—home to five of the 10 most crowded zip codes in the U.S. In Houston, poor areas like the First and Third Wards have experienced far higher rates of infection and fatalities. An analysis by the Houston Chronicle revealed that seven of the 10 zip codes with the highest rates of infection were majority-black and low-income communities. Some suffered double or triple the county’s (already high for Texas) average per-capita rate.

Read the rest of this piece at The Daily Beast.


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.

Image by Silviu Costin Iancu in Public Domain.

Americans Won’t Live in the Pod

“No Bourgeois, No Democracy”
Barrington Moore

Protecting and fighting for the middle class regularly dominates rhetoric on the Right and Left. Yet activists on both sides now often seek to undermine single-family home ownership, the linchpin of middle-class aspiration.

The current drive to outlaw single-family zoning—the one protection homeowners possess against unwanted development—has notched bans in the City of Minneapolis and the state of Oregon, with California not far behind. Advocates have tapped an odd alliance of progressives and libertarians. Essentially, it marries two inflexible ideologies, in principle diametrically opposed, but neither of which see housing as a critical element of family and community. In its stead, the Left seeks to place the state in charge, while libertarians bow instinctively to any de-regulatory step they see as increasing “freedom and choice.”

Although couched in noble sentiments, both approaches are fundamentally hostile to both middle- and working-class aspirations. Without a home, the new generation—including minorities—will face a “formidable challenge” in boosting their worth. Property remains key to financial security: Homes today account for roughly two-thirds of the wealth of middle-income Americans while home owners have a median net worth more than 40 times that of renters, according to the Census Bureau. Equally important, a shift from home ownership would also weaken the basis of democracy. Since ancient times, republican institutions have rested on the firmament of dispersed property ownership.

An Odd Time for More Density

The push for ever-greater density and against suburban home ownership could not come at a less propitious time. Even before the pandemic, big cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago were losing population. Since 2010, despite all the talk of a massive “return to the city,” suburbs and exurbs account for about 90% of all metropolitan-area growth. Millennials, often seen as an urban generation, have fueled population growth in the suburbs since 2010.

Millennials have had a hard time buying homes—among post-college millennials (25-34), ownership has dropped from 45.4% in 2000 to 37.0% in 2016, a drop of 18% according to Census Bureau data—but three-quarters want single-family detached houses, according a 2019 report on home buyer preferences by the National Association of Homebuilders. A 2018 Apartment List survey found that 80% of millennials dream of home ownership. Among those under 35 who do buy homes, four-fifths choose single-family detached houses.

This shift has been greatly accelerated by the pandemic, and could gain even more momentum from the rising crime and disorder in many of our core cities. Pew reports roughly one in four Americans either moved on account of COVID-19 or knew someone who did so, with the largest percentages for young people under 30. Since 2018, according to Gallup, the percentage of Americans saying they want to live in cities dropped 55%, down to barely 13%. Rather than the much-ballyhooed “back to the city” movement, we are entering what Zillow describes as “a great reshuffling” to suburbs, smaller cities, and less expensive states. Even non-metro areas, for the first time in over a decade, are beginning to gain population.

The rise of online work is likely to accelerate the trend. Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom projects we will see telecommuting increase from 5% of the workforce before the pandemic to something closer to 20%. More important still, most people now working from home express a preference—some 60% according to Gallup—to do so for the foreseeable future. Even when offices opened early this summer in New York, real estate brokers report, most workers refused to return. And now developers, like KB Homes, are adding home offices to their newest offerings.

These trends will be reinforced by shifts in job markets. A new survey by the Site Selectors guild suggests that only 10% of companies are looking to expand in large cities, one sixth as many as choose suburbs, and a third of those who favor rural areas. Meanwhile major office and residential complexes are being downsized, cancelled, or hit with major price reductions in cities from Chicago and New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Read the rest of this essay on the American Mind.


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.

Photo credit: Taxiarchos228 via Wikimedia under CC 3.0 License.

Blue Today, Bluer Tomorrow

The long-rising blue tide that has colored American politics and values may have crested, but it could still have enough momentum to make it through the election year. Even if Trump is somehow reelected, the wielders of power and influence — academia, media, Wall Street, Hollywood, the big-tech oligarchs, the dominant nonprofits, and the governmental apparat — will remain deep blue for the foreseeable future.

Read more

Why the 2020 Election Will Be Decided in Suburbia

American politics is increasingly about dueling geographies. Democrats have become the party of the nation’s cities, while the Republican Party finds its base in rural, small town and low-density exurban America, places of less extreme class divisions than the big cities, but also with less diversity and a smaller share of the population.

Yet the political fulcrum of 2020 won’t be found in these competing universes — but in suburbia. Read more