Joe Biden’s Class War

Joe Biden may present himself as a ‘working-class hero’, a claim reiterated recently in the leftist American Prospect, but increasingly America’s workers are showing signs not of common cause but disquiet. Hollywood workers just announced a large-scale strike, some of whom blame their hard times on the ‘disruption’ to their industry wrought by tech firms, which are distinctly hostile to unions. There’s also increased tensions at Disneyland, as well as numerous organising efforts targeting Biden’s oligarch allies like Amazon and Starbucks.

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The New Face of Autocracy

A former Facebook employee hailed by the media as a whistleblower testified this week on Capitol Hill about the social media giant’s algorithm, and how it harms children and democracy. Frances Haugen told the the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security that Facebook routinely chooses profit over safety, creating an addictive product that puts children—and American democracy—at risk by failing to adequately police its product.

But though Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is no doubt embarrassed by the brouhaha, he and his fellow big tech founders ultimately may have very little to worry about. At the end of the day, Haugen’s testimony was less an exposé and more a distraction from the far more urgent issue of big tech’s expanding monopolistic reach, and its growing political and cultural power. The real question when it comes to big tech is not the one posed by Haugen’s testimony—whether Facebook and the other tech platforms allow “misinformation” or “hate speech” on their platforms; her testimony instead conveniently missed the real problem: that a handful of mega-firms are now controlling content for much of the population.

Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults now get their news through social media sites like Facebook or from Google.This is even more true among millennials, soon to be the nation’s largest voting bloc. And tech oligarchs have further expanded their domain by purchasing much of what is left of the mainstream media, including the New Republic, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, and the long-distressed Time Magazine .

And contrary to what Haugen and the Senate seem to believe, the biggest problem with having the flow of information so tightly concentrated in the hands of so few is not that it allows posts from hate groups or divisive political operatives or skinny teenagers. It’s that a tiny handful of oligarchs are dictating what is knowable, or what views are valid.

Attempts to shape or control thought by the tech giants are proceeding with astonishing speed. Staffers at Google, Facebook and Twitter increasingly “curate” the content on their sites. Often this means eliminating conservative views, according to former employees; companies increasingly use algorithms intended to screen out “hate groups.” But as reporting has shown, the e-programmers put in charge of this work often have trouble distinguishing between “hate groups” and those who might simply express dissenting if legitimate supported views.

If once we thought the IT revolution would foster a more democratic era in communications, what happened was the opposite: The media became more concentrated, with just a few companies controlling all the information pipelines.The steady erosion in anti-trust enforcement under both parties has left firms like Facebook and Google with almost unlimited power to acquire or crush competitors and ideological opponents. And these firms are near-absolute monopolies; they hold market shares that exceed eighty percent in key markets like search, social media, and book sales, as well as phone and PC operating systems.

And unlike for companies in a competitive economy, customer resistance and record low levels of trust mean very little to the profits of big tech firms. With their quasi- monopoly status, Facebook and Google don’t have to worry about giving offense the way a conventional firm might.

In fact, attempts to “regulate” the tech oligopolies may just make them stronger. Mark Zuckerberg routinely agrees with the censure against him, and when the federal strictures do come down, there’s every sign he will accept them, gaining even more allies in government and consolidating his monopoly and political influence.

Read the rest of this piece at Newsweek.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs 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.

The COVID Class War: The Obedient Online Educated vs. The IRL Resistance

A new class conflict is emerging across the world. You can see its face in the mass protests over COVID-19 restrictions from Paris, Berlin and London to southern California and Melbourne. The protestors are often cast as a death cult of ignorant rubes, but they are exposing a new class conflict that’s pitting two increasingly irreconcilable populations against each other: those who wish to obey and those who refuse restraints.

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Can the South Escape its Demons?

Out on the dusty prairie west of Houston, the construction crews have been busy. Gone are the rice fields, cattle ranches and pine forests that once dominated this part of the South. In their place sit new homes and communities. But they are not an eyesore; the homes are affordable and close to attractive town centres, large parks and lakes. These are communities rooted in the individual, the family and a belief in self-governance.

The new American Dream has its heart in the states of the old Confederacy. But its allure does not merely lie in a conservative embrace of lower taxes, less regulation and greater self-reliance, although these surely matter. More important are the opportunities that come from building businesses and owning new homes, not for the privileged few but for an increasingly diverse, and growing, populace.

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Joe Biden, Nowhere Man

Joe Biden’s beleaguered presidency has fueled criticism of the man himself — his history of policy missteps, mental incapacity, and inept administrative style, as well as his family struggles. Whatever his personal flaws, though, the real cause of Biden’s incoherent and even contradictory policies lies not in his incompetence but in the contradictory nature of his agenda and his party.

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GOP Stupidity is Squandering the Opportunity Created by Woke Authoritarians

It’s hardly debatable anymore that the Left is out of control, increasingly influenced and even governed by a radical authoritarian culture that brooks no dissent and over-corrects on all fronts it sets its sights on. You would think this would present a perfect opportunity for Republicans to seize the moment and capture the confidence of moderates and even liberals deeply alienated by this woke authoritarian culture.

You would be wrong.

Through sheer stupidity, the GOP has repeatedly squandered opportunities to fight the righteous cause of left-wing overreach with sensible and popular counterproposals. Instead, Republicans have doubled down on culture war issues and their own extremism, mirroring rather than fighting the Left’s overreach. In case after case, Republicans seem to be working overtime to alienate potential constituencies in the service of their most aggrieved and even unhinged base.

The most glaring example comes from the heart of Republican power: Texas. The state passed an abortion law so extreme it effectively bans all abortions while relying on private citizens to enforce it; the law deputizes individuals to bring civil lawsuits against their neighbors should they learn that they have performed or assisted in an abortion. The law bans abortions at six weeks and anyone who assists or performs an abortion can be sued.

The new law is so extreme it has the local business community “scratching their heads,” as one Republican operative put it; business leaders were shocked to see Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a sometimes moderate, adopt such a far right stance. Like other far right pieces of legislation on things like the open carry of guns, the new law could become a barrier to attracting more companies to the Lone Star State; it’s already generated a strong set of counter-measures among tech firms. Some have been kicking pro-life activist websites off their servers and offering protections to their own employees, including Uber and Lyft drivers who might be liable for transporting people to abortions.

And it’s not just business leaders who are alienated. The abortion ban will not play well in the suburban communities that are the state’s prime political battlegrounds. As Gallup has consistently found, barely one in five Americans support a total ban on abortion, while fully one-third favor no restrictions at all.

The abortion law reminded voters how extreme large sections of the GOP have become, particularly in red states like Texas. But perhaps more critically, the abortion law and the way it deputizes vigilante justice undermines what was becoming a compelling case against progressive authoritarianism as it’s being carried out in universities, on social media, and on major internet platforms.

After all, it’s difficult to campaign against campus thought policing and the blatant politicization of information by Google and Facebook while urging citizens to spy on each other. And the fight against encroaching left-wing authoritarianism and censorship is popular according to recent surveys, not only among Boomers but the vast majority of millennials and Gen Zers, too.

This is a fight the GOP could win—and win big. But to do so, it will need to stop focusing on the culture wars. Let the progressives—increasingly the voice of the Democrats—keep hammering away at the culture wars, embracing a repressive and widely unpopular agenda. Republicans should abandon these sorts of fights that appeal to the most extreme corners of their base, and should focus on moderating across the board.

Read the rest of this piece at Newsweek.


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: David Weaver via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

Gavin Newsom Won His Recall. What’s Next for California?

What started as a lark, then became an impossible dream—a conservative resurgence, starting in California—ended, like many past efforts, in electoral defeat. With his overwhelming victory in the recall election, California governor Gavin Newsom and his backers have consolidated their hold on the state for the foreseeable future.

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It’s Not Just the Taliban: We in the West are Embracing Medievalism, Too

Many of us have spent the last week glued to our televisions watching the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. A marauding and medieval religious cult, the Taliban are famous for banning education for women, forcing young girls into marriage and vicious corporal punishment or worse for those who fail to adhere to the strictures of their religious fanaticism.

But while we in the West look at the Taliban with horror, a similar kind of fanaticism is taking hold here at home. And while we don’t use whips and American-appropriated weapons to enforce our new Medievalism, the social costs of allowing it to metastasize are enormous.

For years progressives, neo-conservatives, libertarians and business “visionaries” embraced the notion of inexorable progress leading humanity to more enlightened times. Optimistic notions about an “arc of history” bending toward greater prosperity and social justice were embraced by both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. But these days, the arc of progress seems to have done an about face and become something of a circle, bending all the way back to autocracy and intolerance, while the optimism of the Bush or Obama years appears more naïve in retrospect with every passing day.

The Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan is just one illustration of a seventh-century ideology overcoming the power of the neo-liberal world. Autocracies have arisen in countries which once seemed candidates for liberal democracy from Russia and Turkey to Iran. Arguably the most powerful person in the world is now China’s all-but Emperor, Xi Jinping, who has presided over the mass detention and forced sterilization of a Muslim minority, the silencing of Hong Kong’s free press and the arrest and prosecution of protestors and dissidents.

But the West, too, has fallen prey to encroaching illiberalism. America’s intellectual, political, and corporate establishment may not share the ideology of ill-educated Central Asian religious fanatics, but they echo the Taliban by embracing an increasingly medieval dogmatism and—crucial—an ideology that similarly scorns reason and debate. As historian J. B. Bury put it in 1913, the Middle Ages were a time when “a large field was covered by beliefs which authority claimed to impose as true, and reason was warned off the ground.”

Where does our own medieval lurch come from? Developments akin to what followed the fall of classical civilization: growing concentrations of political and economic power, a shrinking middle class, increasing intellectual dogmatism and a global pattern of pessimism about humanity’s prospects. We are also living through a relentless effort to supplant any remaining reverence for the ideals that historically have held our civilization together, and this, too, parallels the experience of the Middle Ages, a period in which, as Belgian historian Henri Pirenne noted, “the very mind of man was going through degeneration.”

Specifically, the West—like Afghanistan—is falling prey to a new form of clericalism. In Middle Ages, the clerical class—what the French called the First Estate— enforced the orthodoxy of the day from the Pope and the Bishops. Today, this discipline is undertaken by university faculties, media outlets, and, most egregiously, social media oligarchs. Once celebrated as forums for debate and open inquiry, our universities function today largely as defenders of orthodoxy.

In this, they are like their medieval and Communist counterparts. In medieval universities, dissenters, like Jews and Muslims, were rare, and barely tolerated. Similar conformity haunts our elite schools, where according to one study the proportion of liberals to conservatives ran as high as 70 to one, and at elite liberal arts schools like Wellesley, Swarthmore, and Williams, the proportion reached 120 to one.

But the similarities don’t end there. In addition to living with droughts, famines, ever-colder weather and political unrest, the masses and even the elites in the Middle Ages lived in terror of eternal damnation. More or less everyone believed that the Final Judgement, brought on by human sin, was not only real but imminent; the period saw a surge of millennialist movements that took it upon themselves to enforce this orthodoxy against dissenters and religious minorities like Jews.

It’s hard not to see that fear mirrored in today’s liberal hysterias, whether over racism, climate change or pestilence. Hysteria has become “the business model of the neoliberal age” as one writer aptly put it. In this environment, even supposed devotees of “science” often adopt attitudes which resemble Inquisitors more than empiricists, marginalizing dissenters and even threatening them with jail, dispossession, humiliation, or just public obliteration.

Read the rest of this piece at Newsweek.


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: Minneapolis Institute of Art, via Wikimedia in Public Domain.

Progressives Have Ruined California

The very idea of a recall vote seemed absurd at first in California, this bluest of US states. Yet Californians’ surprisingly strong support for the removal of Democratic governor Gavin Newsom has resulted in precisely that, with the vote scheduled for 14 September. This reflects a stunning rejection of modern progressivism in a state thought to epitomise its promise.

Some, like the University of California’s Laura Tyson and former Newsom adviser Lenny Mendonca, may see California as creating ‘the way forward’ for a more enlightened ‘market capitalism’, but that reality is hard to see on the ground. Even before the pandemic, California already had the highest poverty rate and the widest gap between middle and upper-middle income earners of any state in the US. It now suffers from the second-highest unemployment rate in the US after Nevada.

Today, class drives Californian politics, and Newsom is peculiarly ill-suited to deal with it. He is financed by what the Los Angeles Times describes as ‘a coterie of San Francisco’s wealthiest families’. Newsom’s backers have aided his business ventures and helped him live in luxury – first in his native Marin, where he just sold his estate for over $6million, and now in Sacramento.

California’s well-connected rich are predictably rallying to Newsom’s side. At least 19 billionaires, mainly from the tech sector, have contributed to his extraordinarily well-funded recall campaign, which is outspending the opposition by roughly nine to one.

There is little hiding the elitism that Newsom epitomises. In the midst of a severe lockdown, he was caught violating his own pandemic orders at the ultra-expensive, ultra-chic French Laundry restaurant in Napa.

Newsom insists California is ‘doing pretty damn well’, citing record profits in Silicon Valley from both the major tech firms and a host of IPOs. He seems to be unaware that California’s middle- and working-class incomes have been heading downwards for a decade, while only the top five per cent of taxpayers have done well. As one progressive Democratic activist put it in Salon, the recall reflects a rebellion against ‘corporate-friendly elitism and tone-deaf egotism at the top of the California Democratic Party’.

Much of this can be traced back to regulatory policies tied to climate change (along with high taxes). These policies have driven out major companies – in energy, home construction, manufacturing and civil engineering – that traditionally employed middle-skilled workers. Instead, job growth has been concentrated in generally low-pay sectors, like hospitality. Over the past decade, 80 per cent of Californian jobs, notes one academic, have paid under the median wage. Half of these paid less than $40,000.

Read the rest of this piece at Spiked.


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.

America the Indispensable

God has a special providence for fools, drunkards, and the United States of America.
~Otto von Bismarck

Post-millennium America does not look good at a glance. The country has struggled with the pandemic and with deepening divisions over race, class, inequality, and culture. It is in the humiliating process of losing another war, this time in Afghanistan. Since 2016, the world’s largest economy has been presided over first by the buffoonish and occasionally deranged Donald Trump, and then by an aging Joe Biden who bears scant resemblance to Franklin Roosevelt.

Yet, despite its manifest failings—the assault on the Capitol by Trump’s supporters was not a good image builder—the US remains the indispensable country, the last major counterforce to the rising authoritarian challenge of China, and its growing list of allies, including perhaps the new Islamist regime in Kabul. It remains, without question, the only nation with the natural resources, population, military, and technical skill to rally the West and salvage its threatened legacy.

The US routinely rises to the challenge late, a pattern evident in both World Wars, the initial period of the Cold War, the response to China’s late 20th century industrial juggernaut, and the terrorist threat. But in the end, it remains a huge and blessed land with enormous sokojikara, or “reserve power,” as Japanese political scientist Fuji Kamiya described it decades ago, that allows it to overcome competitors.

The case for America

Pessimism about America’s direction has resurged, following a brief improvement when Biden became president. According to an ABC/Ipsos poll, Americans’ optimism about the country’s direction has dropped 20 points since May. Concern is growing that the country is in a  precipitous decline, something that won’t improve with the bleak images from the Afghani debacle. Most Europeans believe that China will soon replace America as the world’s economic powerhouse. The Chinese, unsurprisingly, seem to feel the same. In a since-deleted tweet, Ministry official Zhao Lijian described Western efforts to slow China’s dominion as being “as stupid as Don Quixote versus the windmills … China’s win is unstoppable.”

So will our children—now living in unhappy and increasingly divided societies—grow up kowtowing to the Mandarins? Without America, that’s the future for the West and everyone else. Europe, politically divided, demographically stagnant, and anti-American, lacks the capacity and willingness to resist. Germany appears unwilling to stand up to either its largest trading partner, China, or to its now-favored supplier of energy, Russia. Weaker European states, such as Italy, the Czech Republic, Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, and even rightwing favorite Hungary have signed up to be cogs in China’s “Belt and Road initiative.” Asia’s democracies can’t hack it without America. Japan is a rich but aging country that lacks much forward momentum, something that can also be said of South Korea. India is still too poor and chaotic to match China’s regimented power.

Nevertheless, as Bismarck suggested, it’s not usually a good idea to bet against the United States. Trump’s disruptive interlude, notes Walter Russell Mead, may have concentrated the minds of others, creating “new leverage” for the US now that its support, particularly on the military side, can never again be taken for granted, particularly if they don’t seem willing to fight for themselves. Some countries, like the Philippines, have already reconsidered their China links and moved closer to Washington. Even some Europeans, notably France’s Emmanuel Macron, are ready to consider China as a strategic “rival.”

Read the rest of this piece at Quillette.


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.

Homepage photo: Osman Rana, via Unsplash.