Podcast Episode 12: Kyle Harper

On this episode of Feudal Future, hosts Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky are joined by Kyle Harper, Professor of Classics at the University of Oklahoma. Their discussion looks to the fall of Rome to help understand the problems of today. Kyle’s book, The Fall of Rome takes a look at infectious disease as part of the destruction of Rome.

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.

Podcast Episode 11: Fred and Harry Siegel

On this episode of Feudal Future, hosts, Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky are joined by guests Harry and Fred Siegel. Fred is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. His son, Harry is a senior editor at the Daily Beast. Their conversation covers the future trends of cities, the workforce, and Manhattan.

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.

Podcast Episode 10: How COVID is Shifting Corporate Location Strategy

In this episode of Feudal Future, Jay Garner join hosts Joel and Marshall to explore site selection and how COVID is shifting corporate location strategy.

Podcast Episode 9: How COVID is Shaping the Office of the Future

In this episode of the Feudal Future podcast, Jim Young & Kirstie Acevedo of Gensler join hosts Joel and Marshall to talk about the workspace experiment, and how COVID is shaping the office of the future.

Three Things Trump is Getting Right and Democrats Ignored

Right on cue, the country’s dominant political and media voices, after wildly applauding Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, have responded to Donald Trump’s week in the spotlight with laughter, derision and anger for its supposed amateurism, lack of star power, and racism.

And the convention has given critics plenty to laugh at, or cry if you are a Republican. The use of the gun-wielding wealthy St. Louis couple was a strange way to address the Democrats’ very real plans for undermining the nation’s suburbs. Placing the utterly clueless and unsympathetic Donald Trump Jr. on the podium, while elevating the Trump family over the party faithful, revealed a serious cognitive shortcoming worthy of the Bourbons. Read more

Kamala’s America?

By virtue of being chosen Joe Biden’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris of California has reasonable odds of becoming president someday—and probably better odds than the average running mate, given Biden’s advanced years and sometimes shaky public presentation. That’s cause for concern, not because she represents, as some conservatives fret, the far Left but because she will promote the spread of California’s increasingly feudal political and economic order, which undermines the upward mobility that long defined the California experience.

Read more

Podcast Episode 8: Making Sense of Urban Density, Death Rates & Dispersion with Wendell Cox

In this episode of the Feudal Future podcast, urban policy expert and noted demographer Wendell Cox joins hosts Joel and Marshall for a conversation on the COVID-19 pandemic, death rates, and public policy.

The Twilight of Great American Cities is Here. Can We Stop It?

The dreadful death of George Floyd lit a fire that threatens to burn down America’s cities. Already losing population before the pandemic, our major urban centers have provided ideal kindling for conflagration with massive unemployment, closed businesses and already rising crime rates. Read more