California’s Progressive Betrayal

California’s left-wing policies hurt working-class and middle-class residents.

The recent California Democratic Party convention in San Francisco exposed the divide between the state’s progressive and working-class voters. Progressives, in their militant certitude, support left-wing policies that often don’t affect them; it’s the working class that suffers the consequences of these proposals. But the Green New Deal, widely embraced by party leaders, pushed too far, triggering a backlash at the convention. The state’s private-sector labor unions, notably the building trades, organized a “Blue Collar Revolution” protest against the Democrats’ climate legislation. Read more

The Populist Dilemma

The recent upsurge in support for populist conservatives, not only across Europe, but in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and even India has inspired talk of “a nationalist revival” and “the cosmic magnetism” of Donald Trump and Brexit. Here, it is argued, is a movement that finally can take on both the Green-oriented and increasingly authoritarian left. Read more

The Resistance We Need: Trump Administration Gears Up to Trust-Bust the Tech Giants

If ever any group had it coming, it’s the giants of the tech industry. The recent decision by the Trump administration to look into monopolistic practices by the tech oligarchs—talk about collusion!—represents a welcome change from over two decades, under both parties, of sucking up to these firms as they bought up competitors and consolidated market positions that would put the likes of John D. Rockefeller to shame.

As in the gilded age a century ago, the tech industry epitomizes capitalism run amok, with huge concentrations of wealth, power, and control over key markets, like search (Google), cellphone operating systems (Apple and Google), and social media (Facebook/Instagram).

We have been accustomed to think of technology entrepreneurs as bold, risk-taking individuals who thrive on competition but now we know that it is more accurate to see them as oligarchs ruling over an industry ever more concentrated, centrally controlled and hierarchical. Rather than idealistic newcomers, they increasingly reflect the worst of American capitalism—squashing competitors, using indentured servants from abroad, colluding to fix wages, and dodging taxes while creating ever more social anomie and alienation.

The Valley, as one observer puts it, has taken a “reprieve from the bogeymen in the garage.” That is, while the tech giants peddle the tired meritocratic myth that there’s some genius in a garage this close to replacing them—if that genius could still afford a garage in the Bay Area, at least—in fact, they simply buy out or price out new competitors.

The industry’s influence flourished most under President Obama, where Google’s presence, for example, was all but ubiquitous, with nearly 250 people shuttling one way or the other between government service and Google employment, and dozens of others going between the search giant and his campaign operations. Needless to say, the search giant had little to fear from corporate lawyer Eric Holder’s Justice Department, which was more interested in delivering politically correct homilies than protecting consumers or small businesses through anti-trust actions.

Lack of oversight from Washington allowed these firms to grow to gargantuan size and consolidate their monopolistic control. Now they are taking over much of what’s left, from food delivery to finance, movies to space exploration. The message to everyone else? Move aside—we’re taking over.

Financed by a small charmed circle of venture capitalists and private equity firms, these behemoths have employed their close political ties in Washington to avoid antitrust scrutiny that firms in less “sexy” industries would be hard-put to avoid. This has allowed, for instance, Facebook to buy up competitors like Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus, and for Google to devour hundreds of firms, at times purchasing a new venture every week.

As big donors to the Democratic Party and supporters of numerous politically correct causes, tech giants, led by Google, seemed at one point about to acquire the progressive left as well. But with the demise of corporate facilitator Hillary Clinton, the ascendant Bernie Sanders-Elizabeth Warren style populism now openly targets the oligarchs and favors their breakup. Progressives, at least those not dependent on oligarchal funding, increasingly also question their labor practices, which are resolutely anti-union and extraordinarily inegalitarian, and their ability to hoard cash while paying minimal or no taxes.

Compounding their political jeopardy, the oligarchs also have managed to alienate the right, traditional defenders of property rights and capital. Some conservatives doggedly still defend them, but more have been alienated by the firms’ systematic bias against conservatives—often suspending their online presences, and even access to online credit.

As a result, there is growing support on the right for anti-trust action against the oligarchy, as evidenced in Glenn Reynolds’ new book, The Social Media Upheaval. Others, such as centrist Michael Lind, suggest that if these are in fact natural monopolies, it would be best that they be regulated as such, much as we have seen in markets such as electricity and water. Whatever the kind of poison being prescribed, the oligarchs have generated a remarkable range of enemies.

The new pressure on big tech from the Trump administration, and from the left, is critical if we wish to remain an open and democratic society with broad-based opportunity. It’s important to understand that these companies—unlike earlier generations of tech firms that manufactured physical products in the U.S—are not, as economist Robert Gordon notes, making our economy much more productive or improving people’s lives as they focus on ad revenue and surveillance.

“We wanted flying cars,” lamented tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel, “and we got 140 characters.”

In the end, the oligarchs’ steady accumulation of wealth, power and information—like that of the Gilded Age moguls—is incompatible to a fair and responsive republic. Their promise is to create a nation of subsidized rental serfs, who can spend their time doing gig work or enjoying what Google calls “immersive computing.”

With little commitment to upward mobility, the oligarch’s ascension would mean that the rest of us—billions of people of “surplus humanity”—will be turned into something like medieval serfs, powerless and landless, whose last remaining power may be the threat of setting up the guillotine in the town square.

You want that future for yourself or your children? Of course you don’t. Therefore we need to applaud the Trump anti-trust moves, as well as the fierce new critiques coming from the left. But critics like Warren, Sanders, and Trump will still need to overcome the inevitable gauntlet of media influencers, big money donations, and well-financed propaganda that the oligarchs can muster. After all, they can always find new tools, like Kamala Harris, who is busily raising cash along San Francisco’s “millionaire row.”

At the end of the Middle Ages, the middle classes displaced their aristocratic lords to establish the first modern democracies. A century ago both parties participated in efforts to curb the power of the Gilded Age moguls. Resistance to overweening power means more than just fighting Trump or fending off the left.

In our day, if people left or right want to take our future back, they first must seize it from the tech oligarchy.

This article first appeared in The Daily Beast.

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. He authored The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, published in 2016 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.

Making Life Worse: The Flaws of Green Mandates

“Saving the planet” should be an unbeatable political slogan. Yet consistently the imagined “green wave” mindlessly embraced by most of the media continues to fall short, as evidenced by recent elections in Canada and Australia, as well as across much of Europe.

These results reflect climate scientist Roger Pielke’s 2010 notion of “the iron law of climate policy.” Pielke noted that support for reducing greenhouse emissions is limited by the amount of sacrifice demanded. “People will pay some amount for climate goals,” he noted, “but only so much.” Read more

America Can’t Ignore the Economic Threat of a Rising China

In the aftermath of the Communist victory in the late 1940s, the question often asked in Washington was: “Who lost China?” That fueled the McCarthyite inquisition that followed. The question our children might ask is: “Who lost America?”

The long-running side-show around Russian “collusion” focused on the nasty but largely inconsequential ties between some of Donald Trump’s more sleazy aides and their equally disreputable Russian or Ukrainian counterparts. Yet, compared to China, Russia represents at most a pesky but fundamentally second-rate power; Russia’s GDP is smaller than that of South Korea and barely a tenth of China’s.

In the 21st century, how we cope with China will determine the future of American economic and political pre-eminence. Read more

Mayoral Mismatch

Mayors have had little success in becoming president, with only one big-city chief executive, Grover Cleveland of Buffalo, later governor of New York, actually making it to the White House. Yet this year’s running of the donkeys includes several: a minor-city chief executive, Pete Buttigieg of South Bend; a former big-city mayor, Cory Booker of Newark; former San Antonio mayor Julian Castro; and John Hickenlooper, formerly chief executive of Denver before becoming Colorado’s governor. They may yet be joined by New York’s Bill de Blasio. Read more

After Amazon: What Happened in New York Isn’t Just About New York

The fiasco surrounding Amazon’s recent escape from New York reflects a broader, potentially devastating trend. By driving the Seattle-based behemoth out of the Big Apple, New York’s increasingly militant progressives have created a political paradigm that could resonate in cities across the country.

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The Once-Lucky Country

Planners and other elites threaten the long-established pleasures of life in Australia.

Few places on earth are better suited for middle-class prosperity than Australia. From early in its history, when it was a refuge for British convicts, the vast, resource-rich country has provided an ideal environment for upward mobility, from the pioneering ranches of the nineteenth century to the middle-class suburbs of the late twentieth. Journalist Donald Horne described Australia in 1964 as “a lucky country run mainly by second-rate people who share its luck.”

Over the last decade, though, Australia’s luck has changed, as the country develops many of the pathologies of crowded, socially divided societies like the United Kingdom or the United States. Read more

Our Suicidal Elites

The French nobility, observed Tocqueville in The Ancien Regime and The Revolution, supported many of the writers whose essays and observations ended up threatening “their own rights and even their existence.” Today we see much the same farce repeated, as the world’s richest people line up behind causes that, in the end, could relieve them of their fortunes, if not their heads. In this sense, they could end up serving, in Lenin’s words, as “useful idiots” in their own destruction.

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The Twilight of America’s Mega-Media

It’s far too early to predict which party will win next year’s election, but not too early to announce the national media as a clear loser in terms of national influence and prestige.

Pew reports that millennials have become as negative about major media as older generations, with their rate of approval dropping from 40% in 2010 to 27% today. Gallup tracks a similar pattern, finding 70% losing trust in the media, including nearly half of Democrats.

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