Urban Blues

On the surface, progressive “Blue America” has never appeared stronger. President Donald Trump’s leadership failures exposed by the pandemic and the recent disorders, is sinking him in the polls. His rival, Joe Biden, seems likely to concede his traditionally moderate stances to placate the Democrats’ youthful activist and identitarian wings. Radical “transformation” of the United States seems to some just months away.

Yet even as their political power waxes, the woke progressives are engaged in a process of blue-icide, undermining their own urban base of disadvantaged citizens and their own credibility. Such self-destructive tendencies existed even before COVID-19 and the George Floyd upheavals, in the form of crushingly high taxes, regulatory burdens, and dysfunctional schools. The failures of Trump may help progressives in 2020, but their emerging policy agenda seems destined to benefit the red states, conservatives, and, sadly, the far right, later in this decade.

Over the past several years New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago have lost population and San Francisco seems likely soon to join them. Meanwhile the suburbs, exurbs, and sprawling cities of the interior have continued to grow. Politically, almost all the major blue states—New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and even California—are expected to lose seats in the House in the next congressional elections, while the big Sunbelt states, notably Texas, Florida, and Arizona, will gain.

The departure of the urban middle class, with even millennials now joining the exodus, has left cities such as New York increasingly divided between a predominately white and Asian, overclass and a large, and often struggling, predominantly minority population. Without the restraints that traditionally come from a politically engaged middle-class constituency pushing for moderate and necessary reform, urban politics have evolved in directions unlikely to attract desperately needed investment and higher wage jobs in the inner city.

These demographic changes have left the fate of our bluest cities in the hands of radicals such as the increasingly potent Black Lives Matter movement. The blue state political and media establishment, and their allies in the corporate elite, have conceded enormous credibility to a group whose stance is explicitly radical.

Thoroughgoing police reform, the key reason for the Black Lives Matter movement’s growth, is clearly needed. But BLM’s politics go beyond even support for such widely unpopular measures as defunding, or even abolishing, the police and the prison system, and endorsing reparations. The group generally favors radical socialist economics to battle what its founders see as “racial capitalism. ”Besides favoring federal favoritism for Black institutions, it embraces single payer health care, huge tax increases, and other leftist positions that might not appeal to blue state oligarchs. It also condemns Israel as “genocidal.”

Blue state leaders have been slow to recognize—or perhaps slow to acknowledge—that BLM politics are more akin to the Black Panther Party of the 1960s than the Southern Christian Leadership Council. Academic Melina Abdullah, a prominent BLM spokesperson and co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter, is an open admirer of the Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan. She describes the protests not as a cry for reform but an “uprising” or “rebellion.” In late May, Abdullah explained: “We’ve been very deliberate in saying that the violence and pain and hurt that’s experienced on a daily basis by Black folks at the hands of a repressive system should also be visited upon, to a degree, to those who think that they can just retreat to white affluence.” Among the areas where rioters visited pain was LA’s traditionally Jewish Fairfax district, where stores were destroyed and synagogues were vandalized and spray-painted with slogans like “Fuck Israel.” A BLM leader in New York has endorsed the armed takeover of neighborhoods, something that has already occurred, with deadly results, in painfully white and hip Seattle.

Read the rest of this piece at Tablet Magazine.

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: Ochlo via Wikimedia under CC 4.0 License.

How the Virus is Pushing America Toward a Better Future

The peak globalization bubble has finally burst and America has a chance to reinvent itself and realign how things work here with the best parts of our national identity.

Pessimism is the mood of the day, with 80 percent of Americans saying the country is generally out of control. Even before civil unrest and pestilence, most Americans believed our country was in decline, Pew reported, with a shrinking middle class, increased indebtedness and growing polarization.

It’s a dark hour, but the United States has a way of coming back, after struggling with itself, stronger than ever. As it did in World War II and the Cold War, America retains enormous sokojikara, or “reserve power,” as Japan political scientist Fuji Kamiya described it decades ago.

That power can be harnessed now that “the era of peak globalization is over,” as John Gray succinctly put it in the New Statesman. The good news is that the pandemic has shattered the mythical global village, weakening both economic and political ties between countries, including within the European Union. The days of global kumbaya are gone, as more people recognize that “free trade” has benefited the already affluent in large part at the expense of most people. Now is the opportunity for America to rebuild a more resilient economy and society, one structured around the people here more than on global capital flows.

Critically, the pandemic may bolster our ties to our communities and families. However bumbling the governmental response, Americans in this crisis have engaged in personal charity, much in evidence throughout the pandemic. There remains a natural proclivity to engage the virus as close to home as possible, providing precisely the kind of local solution, which, as the medical journal The Lancet notes, is critical to meeting the challenges posed by the pandemic. The sense of social responsibility has not disappeared. Despite attempts by some Trumpians to politicize the response, a vast majority of Americans, even Republicans, continue to wear masks and most Americans continue to socially distance.

Even faith, which has been suffering for years, could make a comeback. After all, the great pandemics of the Roman era, as William McNeil noted in his Plagues and Peoples, served as an enormous boon to Christianity, whose adherents devoted themselves to treating the afflicted while the pagans “fled from the sick and heartlessly abandoned them. Pestilence undermined pagan Rome, as historian Kyle Palmer has revealed, but it jumpstarted Christianity’s rise to dominance.

Today’s new “spiritual reawakening” may defy conventional forms, and become ever more a matter of personalized digital choice. As places of worship remain closed, virtual church attendance is booming, and according to Pew, a quarter of Americans say the pandemic has bolstered their faith, a finding also confirmed by Gallup. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the evangelical group Global Media Outreach has gone from reaching 350,000 people per day to upwards of 500,000 globally. A GMO leader told the Christian Post, “People are coming to us saying, ‘I need hope. Where can I find hope in the face of tragedy, anxiety, bankruptcy?’” He added, “When people are in pain, we offer encouragement and hope. They’re coming to us looking for answers.”

Having been stuck in lockdown for months, many of us have been reminded that, at the end, what really matters is family. We may only now being released from enforced contact with our closest relations, and even our roommates, and often painful separations from those who live farther away. “When society is facing a tremendous challenge or there’s a big uptick in suffering, people orient themselves in a less self-centered way and in a more family-centric way,” suggests Brad Wilcox, a professor of sociology and director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.

The pandemic has weakened some of the traditional advantages of our biggest cities. The culture of the “jet-setter”, the bien-pensant who run our big corporations, universities, media companies and consultancy, no longer have to cluster in a handful of cities.

The psychological impact of this shift will persist. Almost a half year after the pandemic started, airports are still mostly “ghost towns”, with some taken over by wildlife and the loss of 100 million jobs globally. Travel will likely come back but in smaller numbers, and without the legions of business travelers who now can trek globally without leaving their screens.

Rather than the airport lounge, the new focus of work, as Al Toffler predicted decades ago, will be the home. Our lunge into telecommuting has reaped surprising productivity gains. Many companies, including banks and leading tech firms, including Facebook, Salesforce and Twitter, now expect a large proportion of their workforce to continue to remotely after the pandemic. A University of Chicago study suggests this could grow to as much as one third of the workforce. In Silicon Valley, it notes, the number reaches near 50 percent.

With two out of three tech workers now willing to leave San Francisco, big tech can get bigger while spreading talent and wealth more widely. Workers in denser communities, notes a recent Apartmentalist survey, now are far more likely to move than their counterparts in less crowded areas. The preference for lower-density housing has been amplified by the pandemic, not only here but in Europe as well.

In the process the pattern of economic concentration in the core, the great signature of Gotham, faces a rapidly diminishing appeal as evidenced by the increasingly empty New York towers, failed projects in San Francisco and downtown Los Angeles. Our core cities still can have a bright future, but one also less dominant. Given the mandate of social distancing — with its impact on crowded offices, elevators, and trains — dense cities will have to adjust to dramatically scaled back capacity at everything from offices, restaurants and parks.

With the reduction of what one writer describes as “insane crowds” of tourists, city-dwellers can rediscover the pleasures of urban life. They can thrive, as HG Wells predicted well over a century ago, as “places of concourse and rendezvous” and defy his projection that the cites would be dominated by the affluent, and childless, as places of “luxurious extinction.”

After Trump’s likely and well-deserved tossing out, his nationalist policy will not go away. Before 2016, and before the pandemic, much of the American establishment, from Michael Bloomberg to Joe Biden, largely embraced Beijing’s regime; some like former Senator Max Baucus have even become paid apologists. But with COVID-19 and the ensuing recession, the repression of Hong Kong and the mass incarceration of Muslims, China’s reputation has suffered a precipitous fall.

Some aspects of Trumpism will likely survive his own reign. Prominent Democrats like Andrew Cuomo have joined Trump in denouncing our ruinous dependence on Chinese medical supplies and there’s growing bipartisan concern about dependence on Beijing for high-tech gear. For all of Trump’s needless ruffling of feathers, Europe, Australia, Canada and Japan have all joined us in an emerging de facto “united front” against China.

To maintain a majority, Democrats, suggests former Indiana Senator Evan Bayh will be forced to adopt a more economic nationalist approach, particularly in the Midwest. There is already an emerging alliance between populists in both parties—Bernie Sanders and Joshua Hawley, for example—that oppose returning to the globalist fantasies of the Bush and Obama years.

Whoever wins in November will inherit an economy plagued by high unemployment. The job losses have been larger than the entire employment of metro New York, Los Angeles and Chicago put together. Over half of families with children have lost income. The Congressional Budget office suggests the economy could take a decade to recover.

Even in the best of times, back in February, our economy was failing many Americans.. Corporate mea culpas about racism and solidarity with Black Lives Matter may blunt criticism, but do not address the fundamental problem of diminished expectations, particularly in minority and working-class communities suffering continued economic distress and hopelessness. Unlike in the past, traditional liberalism has stopped producing benefits to the mass of workers.

Educated professionals, able to work from home, have weathered the pandemic better than working class people whose jobs require a physical presence. But the lockdowns have revealed our mutual dependence on millions of essential workers, whose jobs are often performed at great at great personal risk, in producing food, basic necessities and medical equipment as well as staffing our hospitals and operating the critical logistics chain. It’s one thing to call them “heroes” but another one to extend to them opportunities to build careers, get adequate pay, and health care, and the opportunity to own a business or home.

What workers in these sectors need is more investment in domestic industries. The good news is that America’s potential, even with the erratic Trump at the helm, has been widely recognized by investors, who have returned to our stock market far more than our rivals. Taiwan Semiconductor, for example, recently announced plans to build a $12 billion plant in Arizona. Our new economic focus needs to seek “reshoring” of industry on a massive scale. Despite the much ballyhooed consumer benefits of low-cost imports, the vast majority of Americans seem willing to pay higher prices that could come from moving production from China.

We are not a racial state with roots in a common past, as can be said of China, Japan, France, or Germany.

Where countries like  China, Japan, France, and Germany can be described as states with roots in a common past, America, in its essence, is built on aspiration and a kind of reckless ambition. The American as described by the French-born 18th century traveler John Hector St. John remains a “new man”: innovative, independent, less bound by tradition or ancient prejudice. Even with racial and other barriers, no large country in history has been able to incorporate so many diverse peoples around a basic, if all too often violated, ideal.

We are either distinctly this kind of America, or simply a larger Europe without the charm and history. It is also hard to see how we can morph into a disciplined, homogeneous Confucian society, like Korea, China, or Taiwan, where people follow instructions with little question and accept the authority of the state.

Americans are different. They are not naturally obedient and have done best by taking chances. The real hero of this age is not the narcissist rich kid Trump, tech oligopolists or professional hysterics but entrepreneurs who are attempting to improve the material future by sending astronauts into space, working on electric and autonomous vehicles, developing new medical technologies and boring tunnels under our cities.

Such disruptive innovators, combined with the enormous physical expanse and wealth of our continental empire, represent secret sauce for America’s next resurgence. New companies historically take advantage of disruptions in part by accessing talent that would not have been available in better times. Many of what became great companies emerged in the Great Depression and subsequent deep recessions.

We can repeat this again. Our spirits may be down, our leadership inept and our confidence low, but we still possess that unique reserve power to confound doomsters both in the rest of the world and here at home.

This piece first appeared on The Daily Beast.

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: digitized image of “American Gothic”, a painting by Grant Wood, in collection of the Art Institute of Chicago via Wikimedia in Public Domain.

Demographic Undestiny

Demography becomes destiny, the old adage goes. But many of the most confidently promoted demographic predictions have turned out grossly exaggerated or even dead wrong. In many cases they tend to reflect more the aspirations of pundits and reporters than the actual on-the-ground realities.

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Giving Thanks Matters

Thanksgiving may be approaching, but its chief value, that of gratitude, seems oddly out of fashion. When the Pilgrims broke bread with their Native American neighbors, it was with full appreciation of the role of Providence in their salvation.

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Jews Could Swing the 2020 Election — and Why That’s Not a Good Thing

In our selfie-defined culture, it’s usually considered a good thing to get attention, the more the better. But it may not be the case for Jews, or for Israel, to be caught in the firestorm that is burning through American politics in ways not seen since the Second World War. “That Israel is becoming a wedge issue in American politics,” notes author Daniel Gordis, “ bodes very badly for Israel’s future security.”

Jews have been prominent in U.S. political life for generations but have never previously been considered a “wedge issue” as, for example, African Americans were in the past, or Latinos and Muslim Americans more recently. Yet, both sides of the political divide, along with each party’s Jewish allies, now seek to use the threat of rising anti-Semitism to either keep Jews inside the Democratic Party or pressure them to defect to the Republicans.

The 2020 presidential election is likely to make this all worse. As Republicans try to pry Jewish votes away from their traditional stronghold in the Democratic Party, they will emphasize the most divisive political issues that they wager are able to get people passionate enough to switch party loyalties—namely: Israel and anti-Semitism. This is most evident in the Orthodox community where support for Trump has manifested itself in awards to two Florida lawyers who are accused of being Rudy Giuliani’s alleged Ukrainian fixers.

At the same time, conservatives and Trump operatives point to rising anti-Israel sentiment on the left, as well as to signs of overt anti-Semitism becoming normalized in progressive politics even apart from the debate over Israel, as was the case with the former leadership of the Women’s March. For the people driving the wedge from the right, any Jews who don’t back Trump are “disloyal” to Israel and Jewish survival.

Read the rest of this piece at: Tablet Magazine.

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 NewGeography.com and lives in Orange County, CA. His next book, “The Coming Of Neo-Feudalism,” will be out this spring.

Photo credit: Mark Dixon via Flickr under CC 2.0License.

Elites Against Western Civilization

The intellectual class across the West—encompassing its universities, media, and arts—is striving to dismantle the values that paced its ascendancy. Europe, the source of Western civilization, now faces a campaign, in academia and elite media, to replace its cultural and religious traditions with what one author describes as a “multicultural and post-racial republic” supportive of separate identities. “The European ‘we’ does not exist,” writes French philosopher Pierre Manent, assessing the damage. “European culture is in hiding, disappearing, without a soul.”

The increasingly “woke” values of the educated upper classes reflect, as Alvin Toffler predicted almost half a century ago, the inevitable consequence of mass affluence, corporate concentration, and the shift to a service economy. The new elite, Toffler foresaw, would abandon traditional bourgeois values of hard work and family for “more aesthetic goals, self-fulfillment as well as unbridled hedonism.” Affluence, he observed, “serves as a base from which men begin to strive for post economic goals.” Read more

Judenrein Europe

For millennia Europe was the center of diaspora life but as Jews continue fleeing the continent, by the end of this century all that’s left will be a Jewish graveyard

Some people go their whole lives without seeing a ghost; me, I see them all the time.
– Detective Bernie Gunther in Phillip Kerr’s Greeks Bearing Gifts

Last month the German commissioner for “Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight Against Antisemitism” used his impressively titled office to advise German Jews against wearing kipahs in public. The commissioner’s response to a surge of anti-Semitic violence in his country was a sheepish acknowledgment that Germany is once again a dangerous country for Jews. And as Germany goes, so goes Europe. For millennia, following the destruction of the Second Temple and the beginning of the diaspora, Europe was home to the majority of the world’s Jews. That chapter of history is over. The continent is fast becoming a land of Jewish ghost towns and graveyards where the few remaining Jews must either accept an embattled existence or else are preparing to leave. Read more

Why Social Justice is Killing Synagogues and Churches

“If it turns out that there is a God … the worst that you can say about him is that basically he’s an underachiever.” —Woody Allen

If you go into a Reform or Conservative temple, it’s likely that you will notice two things: The congregation is becoming smaller and older. Across the United States and Europe, Jewish congregations are aging at a rapid rate, a phenomenon increasingly common for mainstream religions across the high-income world.

Overall, the American Jewish population—unlike that of demographically robust Israel—is on the decline, with a loss of 300,000 members over the past decade, a number expected to drop further by 2050. The median age of members of Reform congregations is 54, and only 17 percent of members say they attend religious services even once a month. Four-fifths of the movement’s youth are gone by the time they graduate high school. The conservative movement is, if anything, in even worse shape: At its height, in 1965, the Conservative movement had 800 affiliated synagogues throughout the United States and Canada; by 2015 that number had fallen to 594.

But Jews, and their religious institutions, should not feel singled out. The share of Americans who belong to the Catholic Church has declined from 24 percent in 2007 to 21 percent in 2014, a more rapid decline according to Pew, then any other religious organization in memory. There are 6.5 former Catholics in the U.S. for every new convert to the faith, not a number suggesting a very sunny future. Read more

Middle East Cities Should Look Forward—and Back

The Middle East may well be the birthplace of cities, and maybe capitalism itself, but for the most part, it continues to lag in developing a modern, workable urbanism. Yes, the region has produced high-tech hubs (e.g., Tel Aviv) and postmodern cities (e.g., Dubai), which can be regarded as rising international business centers, but it’s also home to megacities afflicted by mismanagement, poor planning, and some of the world’s highest unemployment rates. In some countries, like Saudi Arabia, and many of the Gulf States, there is also a chronic shortage of homegrown labor willing to work.

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Is the End Near for Religion?

This article first appeared at The Orange County Register.

“At the heart of every civilization, religious values are asserted.”
— Fernand Braudel

Even at this season that should be about spiritual re-awakening, it is hard to deny that we live in an increasingly post-religious civilization. Virtually everywhere in the high-income world, faith, particularly tied close to institutionalized religion, has been dropping for a decade, and the trend is accelerating with each new generation. Read more