From Boris to Trump, Yesterday’s Men Won’t Go Away

Boris Johnson may not be the UK’s next Prime Minister, but he could easily become the Tory choice after the party’s likely drubbing whenever the next general election happens. Or perhaps earlier, if the party disintegrates ahead of schedule once again.

Johnson’s return, although now delayed, will reflect a growing political tendency around the world to keep bringing back the old warhorses of bygone eras. Even in Israel, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 73, seems primed to return to the office he held for a record-breaking 15 years.

The most important retreads, however, are in the US, where the two likely presidential contenders are President Biden, who will be well over 80 at the time of the election, and Donald Trump, who is already 76 years old. Neither one of these figures are particularly popular — their approval ratings tend to be in the low 40s or below — but they have nonetheless captured much of their party apparatus.

The reasons for this phenomena are complex, but reflect a torpor in our political culture which, like Hollywood, feels more secure with reruns than original ideas. Well-known politicians, even ones like Donald Trump, benefit from constant news coverage that newcomers can only fantasise about. The big money people often follow the media and notoriety, and usually back candidates with significant name recognition.

President Biden, the ultimate political retread, epitomises this trend. He was virtually nobody’s favourite candidate in 2020 yet the oligarchs who dominate Democratic politics feared the rise of the openly socialist Bernie Sanders and his slightly less dogmatic rival Elizabeth Warren. In the end, party grandees and big money interests took the less risky option and picked the cognitively deficient ancient mariner from Delaware as the party candidate.

In the general election, Biden was a somewhat calmer alternative to the toxic Donald Trump. His campaign was simple: hide in the basement, say little or nothing of substance, and let Trump suck up the news cycle. But now, it look as though we are going to have a repeat. Trump still inspires huge amounts of support among the GOP base, and he can count on 30-40% of the vote. What we could witness, ultimately, is a rerun where both candidates are disliked by a strong majority of Americans.

Trump is a master of self-promotion and seeks to reduce everyone else to a footnote, something the Democrat-friendly media is sure to emphasise. This is not a good strategy in the midterms, in which the media will make Trump the issue rather than the clearly incompetent man occupying the White House, as Barack Obama has pointed out. On the other hand, when on the ballot Trump may serve as the best means for the Democrats, bearing the burden of an unraveling economy, to keep control of the White House.

Of course, not all retreads are from the Anglosphere. Xi Jinping, already 69, has essentially appointed himself dictator for life. In Brazil, Lula is likely to be re-elected — after serving in prison for corruption. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin remains in office at the age of 70 and may stay there unless he is purged from within. It turns out that old politicians are hard to get rid of, whatever their politics, except by death.

This piece first appeared at UnHerd.


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.

Photo: Whitehouse45 via Flickr, in Public Domain.

Ohio and the Battle for Populist America

This midterm year, in which many states have to choose between non-entities and the certifiably insane, Ohio is blessed by a real political dogfight. The Senate battle between representative Tim Ryan and Hillbilly Elegy author, JD Vance, is becoming one for the ages.

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Three Paths to Despotism

“Democracy is at stake,” US President Biden told a gathering of Democratic Party governors on September 28th. His warning about the global spread of illiberalism followed the stunning gains made by populist parties in Sweden and Italy, the latter of which he mentioned directly. “We can’t be sanguine about what’s happening here either,” he added. Biden has already called much of his own domestic opposition “semi-fascist,” and fears of anti-democratic violence remain following the storming of the US Capitol on January 6th, 2020, by rioters attempting to overturn his own election.

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What Really Divides America

Reading the mainstream media, one would be forgiven for believing that the upcoming midterms are part of a Manichaean struggle for the soul of democracy, pitting righteous progressives against the authoritarian “ultra-MAGA” hordes. The truth is nothing of the sort. Even today, the vast majority of Americans are moderate and pragmatic, with fewer than 20% combined for those identifying as either “very conservative” or “very liberal”. The apocalyptic ideological struggle envisioned by the country’s elites has little to do with how most Americans actually live and think. For most people, it is not ideology but the powerful forces of class, race, and geography that determine their political allegiances — and how they will vote come November.

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Environmentalism is a Fundamentalist Religion

Today’s climate activists resemble nothing so much as a religious movement, with carbon the new devil’s spawn. The green movement is increasingly wedded to a kind of carbon fundamentalism that is not only not realistic but will reduce living standards in the West and around the world. And as with other kinds of religious fundamentalism, the climate hysteria is often overwrought and obviously so; a decade ago, the same activists predicted a planetary disaster by 2020 if the U.S. and China did not reduce their emissions by 80 percent—which of course never happened.

This approach is a losing one that reduces the effectiveness of the green lobby. What’s needed to combat climate change is a pragmatic approach based on adapting to real and verifiable dangers. And this starts with environmentalists acknowledging the limits of our ability to curb emissions in the short run.

This is not to cede the fight. The reality is what we do in the West means increasingly little. Today’s biggest emitters comes from China, which already emits more GHG than the U.S. and the EU combined, while the fast growth in emissions comes increasingly from developing countries like India, now the world’s third largest emitter. These countries have developed a habit of blaming climate change on the West, then openly seeking to exempt themselves from net zero and other green goals. And the West’s penchant for hyper-focusing on our own state or national emissions misses the reality of where the future problems are actually concentrated.

We aren’t just missing the forest for the trees, though. Under the green lobby’s current policies, our “war” against climate change is doomed to make things worse for most people, creating what economist Isabel Schnabel calls “greenflation.” Higher prices for energy and food, worsened further by the war in Ukraine, are already are forcing countries to adopt massive subsidies for food and gas. In the developing world, billions now face immiseration, malnutrition or starvation. And green targets of zero emissions only make this situation worse.

Residents of rich countries will also suffer from the rapid adoption of current green policies that are focused almost entirely on wind and solar. Germany, for example, suffered the highest electricity prices in the world before Russia’s war in Ukraine. In California, residents pay up to 80 percent above the national average for power. Reliance on wind power has made even Texas’ grid vulnerable.

The real winners from green policies are not the birds and the bees but tech oligarchs, the uncompetitive U.S. auto industry, and Wall Street.

Given our limited ability to meaningfully reduce emissions, more attention should be placed on adapting, something we’re actually good at. Since the beginning of the modern era, technology and science have been employed successfully to changes in temperature and precipitation. In the 1700s, people dealt with a colder climate by planting potatoes, which thrive in cooler weather. They also learned to use waterpower, wind and most critically fossil fuels, which made life bearable in the icy cities of the north and, later, with air conditioning, in the brutally hot south.

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.

Photo: Stefan Müller via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

There Are Dark Days Ahead for the Jewish Diaspora

Jews around the world, particularly outside the fortress of Israel, are threatened in a way not seen since the 1940s. A fundamentally unstable world, with rising class and racial animus, creates a perilous environment for history’s favourite target, as seen previously in such periods as the fall of Rome, the Crusades, the Black Death and the Great Depression of the 1930s.

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Step Aside NASA, Elon Musk Is In Charge Now

NASA’s recent decision to scrub their big moon flight — with rescheduling weeks away — is yet another illustration of how this once mighty federal agency has lost its way. It is already 2022 and the space agency has failed to send another person on the moon for a half century. It is far from tackling the more critical project of visiting Mars.

So with NASA locked in bureaucracy, the momentum has shifted to private industry, which increasingly dominates the burgeoning space industry. Here there is a parallel with what historian J. H. Parry called the “Age of Reconnaissance” in which the initial moves for the creation of the modern world economy were state-sponsored, but the development of the global shipping and the establishment of mercantile colonies was private. Many of the boldest explorers of that era were figures like Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake, privateers seeking profits as well as personal glory.

We are now entering the “Commercial Space Age”, replacing the era of state-led exploration. Today exploration is being driven by billionaires like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson, and a host of young companies like Space X, Relativity Space, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and Rocket Lab, which recently announced a mission to explore the gases of Venus.

Government is still a large player in countries as diverse as India, Japan, Russia and Israel. China, which is considering a mile-long spaceship, will not likely allow entrepreneurs to lead its dreams of a galactic mandarinate. But in the West, the drive will not be led to NASA, suffers from what author and space expert Rand Simberg notes calls “risk aversion”.

The reasons for the rise of privateers resonates with that of the sea-going privateers — the lure of lucre. The government’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) estimates that the space industry contributes approximately $200 billion to the U.S. economy and employs 354,000 people today. New research sees that number growing substantially, and projects the global space economy will be worth $1.0 trillion by 2040. This unscripted opportunity, of course, can expect opposition from the green progressives who dub it just a reflection of capitalism’s flawed obsession with growth.

Read the rest of this piece at UnHerd.


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.

Homepage photo: NASA under CC 2.0 License.

Can Space Save Earth?

The world economy is in the doldrums, pessimism is rife around the world, and most young people, according to one survey, believe climate change means the end of human life on Earth.

Yet a better future beckons, if we can only begin to look outside ourselves, and even beyond our planet. It is in space that we may find solutions to some of our most pressing problems, including a workable energy strategy and access to the precious minerals needed to sustain our prosperity.

Space has always held a special place in our collective imagination. Missions to Mars, the mining of asteroids and the development of space-based human societies have been the subject of TV shows and movies for decades, all speaking to the notion of a human “manifest destiny” that will transcend the inertia of our Earth-bound society.

Despite a decades-long torpor at NASA, the space industry is making a major comeback. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis has just announced that it is formally tracking the industry’s growth, which it estimates contributes approximately $200 billion annually to the U.S. economy and already employs 354,000 people. The global space economy could reach $1 trillion by 2040, according to new research from Morgan Stanley.

This rapid growth reflects not so much the desire to “boldly go where no one has gone before” but — as in the westward expansion across America of the 19th century — our hunger for riches, precious metals and minerals. It has less to do with exploratory zeal and more with maintaining and feeding our terrestrial habitat.

In this quest, government is still a large part of the effort — with serious players including nations as diverse as China, Russia, India, Japan and Israel. NASA, for its part, has spent five years building the Artemis moon exploration program.

But increasingly, today’s return to space is being driven by private sector innovation and for-profit companies, which made 2021 the best year for space growth in decades.

The dominant players now are firms like SpaceX, Relativity, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and Long Beach-based Rocket Lab, which has recently announced a new mission to explore the gases of Venus. A recent report from the not-for-profit Space Foundation noted that about 90% of the more than 1,000 spacecraft launched this year have been backed by commercial firms — most notably the hundreds of Starlink internet satellites launched by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The pace of new launches is now the greatest since the late 1960s during the U.S.-Soviet “race to the moon.”

SpaceX dominates today, accounting for upwards of 60% of all new commercial rocket launches. The company has achieved major technological breakthroughs in recent years, dramatically lowering the cost of spaceflight. Sending people or cargo into space, measured per kilogram, is 85 times cheaper today than when the space shuttle first launched in 1981.

SpaceX is preparing to establish a permanent presence on the moon and launch a crewed mission to Mars, but other players are also driving change. NASA, for instance, is planning new unmanned deep-space exploration. Japan has already started small-scale efforts to test the feasibility of retrieving metals from asteroids, the first attempt to shift mining away from our fragile planet to the vast and, as far as we know, empty areas in space.

These activities are already helping Earth in profound ways. Perhaps the most evident benefit has come in the form of satellite communications. SpaceX, through its Starlink constellation of satellites, beams broadband service to customers around the globe.

The efforts of space companies to provide orbital communications networks have, among other things, begun to bring cyberspace to the developing world. Aerospace engineer and consultant Rand Simberg says the Starlink system is why “Ukraine has maintained the internet through the war.” Sadly, the U.S. government recently rejected a Starlink project to serve rural America.

Read the rest of this piece at Los Angeles Times.


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.

Marshall Toplansky is a widely published and award-winning marketing professional and successful entrepreneur. He co-founded KPMG’s data & analytics center of excellence and now teaches and consults corporations on their analytics strategies.

Photo: SpaceX via Flickr under under CC 2.0 License.

The Democrats’ Green Agenda is Hurting Californians

The once-great state of California is now in a dire condition. With a heatwave now in full force, Governor Gavin Newsom is preparing to cut energy use, which may result in blackouts, brownouts and water rationing.

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Gavin Newsom’s Presidential Prospects

Conservatives often see prospective presidential contender Gavin Newsom as a tool of the far Left—and, as such, politically doomed by the seemingly endless crises afflicting California. Yet the Golden State governor is a more formidable candidate than this portrayal suggests. Rather than being a progressive windup doll, the 54-year-old is in fact a skilled political opportunist, with far less dogmatically left-wing views than most of his party’s legislative delegation. He would have no qualms abandoning unpopular progressive stances to pursue the goal of succeeding a doddering President Joe Biden.

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