California’s Vanished Dreams, By the Numbers

Even today amid a mounting exodus among those who can afford it, and with its appeal diminished to businesses and newcomers, California, legendary state of American dreams, continues to inspire optimism among progressive boosters.

Laura Tyson, the longtime Democratic economist now at the University of California at Berkeley, praises the state for creating “the way forward” to a more enlightened “market capitalism.” Like-minded analysts tout Silicon Valley’s massive wealth generation as evidence of progressivism’s promise. The Los Angeles Times suggested approvingly that the Biden administration’s goal is to “make America California again.” And, despite dark prospects in November’s midterm elections, the President and his party still seem intent on proving it.

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America is Headed for Class Warfare

Nothing has revealed the class divide in the U.S. quite like runaway inflation and skyrocketing gas prices. But in addition to the economic impact the staggering incompetence of the Biden administration is having on the working class, there is a political one; it’s undeniably driving working class voters even further from the Democrats and toward the GOP.

But it’s not all good news for conservatives. The recent Amazon vote to unionize could be a precursor to something less appealing to the Right: a nascent rebellion among the vast armies of service workers who for decades have inhabited the lower economic rungs.

The truth is, the rising tide of class conflict is problematic for both parties. The Amazon vote challenges the GOP’s anti-union stance and its free market dogma. But Democrats, too, face an embarrassing conundrum, since the companies most likely to face continued union drives—Amazon and Starbucks among them—are themselves core funders and media stewards of the Democratic Party.

This is not the discussion either liberal oligarchs or Right-wing activists want. They would rather battle over media hot buttons like climate, race, and gender, than meaningfully address working conditions, wages or rapidly rising rents.

In other words, neither party has developed a program to boost proletarian aspirations.

And this despite the fact that the growing class divide could well be the dominant issue of the next decade. Middle- and working-class Americans are widely—and correctly—pessimistic about their economic futures. Even before the civil unrest of recent years and the pandemic, Pew reported that most Americans believed our country was in decline, with a shrinking middle class, increased debt, alienation from leaders and growing polarization.

Almost 70 percent of Americans told pollsters last year that the next generation will be worse off than their parents. And it’s not just the masses. Young people across the country are pessimistic as well: Most people 15 to 24 also think life will be worse for them than for their parents.

They aren’t wrong. The share of American adults who live in middle-income households has decreased from 61 percent in 1971 to 51 percent in 2019, and the pandemic appears to have accelerated this pattern, hitting low-income workers hardest while the recovery helped them least.

Meanwhile, those at the top are raking it in. CEO compensation reached record levels this year, investment bankers on Wall Street enjoyed record bonuses and the giant tech firms now boast a market capitalization greater than the bloated federal budget.

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 and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Photo: Elvert Barnes via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

When the Arc of History Bends Back Toward the Dark Ages

The notion that “the arc of history” favors humanity extends across the political spectrum from George W. Bush to Barack Obama. Yet rather than facing the dawn of a progressive future, we may be entering “the great regression,” a period where the world becomes more hierarchical and feudal, less prosperous, and much less free.

A decade or two ago, optimism was buttressed by the economic boom that followed the end of the Second World War and was further extended by the collapse of Communism. This “end of history” moment seemed to be the dawn of a future that was more like Star Trek, with advanced technologies used to deliver universal prosperity under a regime of enlightened rulers. Instead, today’s new world order is a springtime for dictators, revanchist ideologies, and the pitiless global struggle for supremacy.

In place of the broad-based prosperity enjoyed by Europe, Australia, and North America that gave birth to capitalism and modern democracy, those regions have become more feudalistic, hierarchical, and profoundly unequal. The middle class, which was critical in destroying feudalism and ushering in the prosperity of the modern world, has lost ground to a small aristocracy of financiers, as corporate and tech hegemons have increased their power over the global economy.

Once-dynamic Western societies are now stagnating as they did in feudal times. Median incomes have stayed flat while the populations of post-industrial societies are growing slowly or not at all—a problem exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The mid-20th-century liberal “golden age” has receded under the rising tide of autocracy. Indeed, according to a recent study by Sweden’s University of Gothenburg, nearly 70% of the world’s population lives under some kind of autocracy, including illiberal electoral regimes, up from 50% in 2011. Belief in democracy is also declining, most disturbingly among young people who are intimately acquainted with the shortcomings of Western liberal democracies but have no historical memory of what life was like under previous autocracies.

Although the united Western response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine offers some hope of a revived liberal alliance, the most likely solutions to the crisis will come from deals struck between monarchs fighting over turf and prestige. While no one is expecting the UN bureaucracy to broker a solution, dictators like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan have a vital role to play. At the moment, global oil shortages have already empowered autocrats in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Venezuela. Soon Iran’s mullahs, saved by Europe and the United States, will see their own windfall as Western nations purposely surrender their capacity to generate energy on their own.

The United States’ failure to prevent Russia’s strategic dominance of Europe’s energy sector or China’s relentless drive for global preeminence is not a predetermined fact of history—rather, it reflects choices made by our ruling establishment. Rather than seek, as in the past, to boost the United States’ productive power with investment in manufacturing and energy, corporate and political elites in the United States have comprehensively demonized and dismantled precisely those industries in the name of a green ideology that Joel Garreau calls “the religion of choice for urban atheists.” It is no coincidence that the very industries that tend to spread wealth to ordinary workers, enrich owners, and support an independent middle class are portrayed as being full of deplorables and contributing to the climate apocalypse. Like the early Christians, today’s climate activists employ religion to strangle dissent and control opinion.

Read the rest of this piece at The Scroll.

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 and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

The Coming Bloodbath of the Democrats

The depression-era comedian Will Rogers once famously said he did not belong to an organised political party because he was a Democrat. Yet today the traditional factiousness of the Democratic coalition has been engulfed by an almost Stalinist attitude that brooks no dissent on its most treasured policies – even though these do not resonate well with the bulk of the electorate.

To recover, Democrats need to find a way back to their historic base of working-class and minority voters, who now seem to be heading to the GOP. Franklin D Roosevelt’s alliance between big cities, small towns, labour unions and farmers was often awkward, but it still achieved remarkable success in restoring US confidence and winning the war. In contrast, President Biden’s boneheaded embrace of a progressive agenda that is widely detested across most of the population may prove to be one of the greatest political blunders of recent American history.

Given the probability of a significant loss in this November’s Midterms, we should expect – and hope for – a full-scale brawl over the party’s trajectory. There needs to be something equivalent to the New Democrats who, under Bill Clinton, revived the party after the devastating defeats of George McGovern and Michael Dukakis in the 1970s and 80s by moving the party to the centre and connecting it to the country’s diverse regions. ‘Too many Americans’, wrote New Democrats Bill Galston and Elaine Kamarck in 1989, ‘have come to see the party as inattentive to their economic interests, indifferent if not hostile to their moral sentiments, and ineffective in defence of their national security’.

This time around, the rhetorical knives are already coming out to counter the Democrats’ seemingly inexorable shift to the left. Much of the emerging argument centres around the most unappreciated and largest voting bloc – working- and middle-class Americans.

Many of these voters may be receptive to the traditional, economic-centred social-democratic message of the Democrats. But they are less enthused about the priorities of the now dominant progressives – especially the loudest and most pervasive among them, namely, the climate-change activists. Backed by the media and numerous celebrities, and funded generously by tech and Wall Street oligarchs, they have asserted their dominance since the very beginning of the Biden administration, and appear to have further solidified their control over energy policy, even in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its numerous after-effects.

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 Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Homepage photo: Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz via Flickr under U.S. Government Work.

Foreign Threats Demand a Muscular Domestic Response

With our natural resources, our productive capacity, and the genius of our people for mass production we will…outstrip the Axis powers in munitions of war.
Franklin Roosevelt, Message to Congress, Jun 10, 1941

War, or the threat of war, should awaken nations from their dogmatic quarrels. So too should concentrated economic threats and assaults on our political system from unfriendly powers. It is not so much a matter of good global intentions but the embrace of hard-headed national interests, not only in the realm of energy and manufacturing, that will be key in responding to the autocratic challenge.

In the end, it’s only the nation state—in alliance with other similarly minded states—that can stand up to the threats now coming from our primary adversaries, China, and Russia. NATO does not build planes and failed to counter Russian threats; the UN has not exactly stamped out aggressive wars. Meanwhile the global economic hegemons have backed policies on energy and manufacturing that have made our autocratic enemies, and their allies like Iran, stronger.

Fortunately, America has revived itself before, albeit often later than would have been ideal. We freed ourselves from Britain through Hamilton’s embrace of industrial development; Lincoln’s development of credit systems, the Homestead Act, and the development of industries proved critical to defeating the slave economy of the south. Massive American production was critical in defeating Nazism and, over the ensuing four decades, under both parties, the United States managed to innovate and out produce the Soviet industrial state.

To be effective at countering that vast effort, a new American nationalism must transcend Donald Trump’s often hyperbolic “America First” rhetoric. We are fighting a primarily economic war, not against ideological opponents like the USSR or Mao’s China, but against leaders strategically motivated by imperial revanchism. In countering these autocratic moves, we cannot count on the United Nations, the European Union, or the globalist grandees of Davos. The current challenge can only be met by a national response on every level—from our increasingly weakened military, to our industrial and agricultural establishment—as well as an embrace of America’s uniqueness and historic mission.

Successful nationalism lies in tapping the power of our productive economy—real products, not just digital ones—as occurred under Franklin Roosevelt and successive presidents. America’s rise to global predominance in the last century, and its creation of a vibrant middle class, had its roots, notes economic historian Robert Gordon, in great investment in physical infrastructure and production. In contrast, our current focus on digital technology and social media has resulted in a slow and diminished productivity and growing social inequality. This has been made worse as by what one analyst describes as “the transformation of disruptive tech companies into rent seeking monopolies.”

Read the rest of this piece at American Mind.

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 and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Photo credit: Nikolas Zane, via Flickr, under CC 2.0 License.

How America’s Division Empowers Putin

For more than a decade, Vladimir Putin has sought to sow division and undermine American democracy. Now that he’s distracted by the conflict unfolding in Ukraine, his successor has stepped into the spotlight: America’s political class.

Once wars united people, but not in modern America. Here, the vast majority of citizens share remarkably similar opinions about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: that it should be condemned outright. Our politicians, however, seem blissfully unaware of this.

In Congress last week, despite strong pro-Kyiv sentiment among the vast majority of Republicans, pro-Trump acolytes constituted the largest faction of those who voted against supplying aid to Ukraine. Yet on this issue, there is little to distinguish them from the Democratic Socialists of America, who have called for America’s exit from the “imperialist” Nato. There are even some on the far-Left who believe the West’s sympathy for Ukrainians reflects our unredeemable racism.

And yet the past fortnight has revealed something more optimistic than the intellectual adolescence of America’s politicians. The key to repelling Putin’s campaign of division in the West has also become apparent: unifying around basic economic interests.

Much attention has been paid in recent years to Russian online interference in our elections. But it is tangible realities — such as oil, food, and the ability to build things — that will determine our ability to resist external autocratic forces. And it is here that energy policy becomes crucial.

Before Biden became President, America was well on its way to energy independence, and emerged as the world’s leading gas exporter. Far more than words or military threats, the US energy revival was a blow to Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia. American production was a critical factor in weakening the price of the one commodity that keeps their economies alive.

Yet this weapon is being systematically dismantled. Since taking the White House, Biden has turned the Federal Reserve and other executive departments into enforcers of “net zero” policies. From the very beginning, Biden and his green allies have busily cancelled gas pipelines, ended new leases for offshore oil, and introduced new regulations that make it harder to build new fossil fuel plants. All of this was manna for Moscow.

Biden’s energy policies, so poorly timed amid the prospect of a looming Russian invasion, has also widened a deeper, more long-lasting schism that will reverberate for years to come. Perhaps more than anything else, it seems certain to expand both class and geographic divisions.

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 and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Photo credit: Werner Slocum / NREL, via Flickr, under CC 2.0 License.

Tarnishing the Golden State

No state advertises its egalitarian bona fides more than California. Governor Gavin Newsom brags that his state is “the envy of the world,” a place that is “not going to abandon our poor people.” In his inauguration speech, he claimed that “unlike the Washington plutocracy, California isn’t satisfied serving a powerful few on one side of the velvet rope. The California Dream is for all.” Yet even as Newsom and his progressive allies have backed Black Lives Matter and enacted a racialized “ethnic studies” curriculum in public schools, reality tells a less positive story. The Golden State’s racial minorities are far from thriving. Increasingly, they’re seeking fortunes elsewhere—often to redder, less “enlightened” states.

The minorities leaving California are not running away from beautiful weather or scenery but toward an opportunity horizon that no longer seems achievable in the Golden State. In a new report for Chapman University, my coauthors and I found that African-American and Latino Californians’ real earnings ranked between 48th and 50th among the states. Blacks in California earn roughly the same, or slightly less, than do their counterparts in Mississippi. The state has the nation’s worst cost-adjusted poverty rate and the third-highest Gini Inequality index (behind New York and Louisiana). According to the United Way of California, over 30 percent of California residents lack sufficient income to cover basic living costs even after accounting for public-assistance programs; this includes half of Latino and 40 percent of black residents.

It was different once. Ever since the nineteenth-century Gold Rush, people from around the world rushed to California to seek their fortunes, giving the state a diverse population of whites, Asians, Latinos, and blacks. Deeply afraid of an “Asian invasion” into what newcomers called Gold Mountain, incumbent Californians limited the rights of Chinese, Japanese, and other migrants from the East and backed racially oriented bans originating from Washington, D.C. that lifted only in the early 1950s. The Asian population has risen since. Until 1990, Asians were not systematically enumerated in the decennial census but were instead combined with Pacific Islanders; this larger grouping increased from 2.0 percent to 9.6 percent of the state’s population, according to Census Bureau research. The state’s Asian population increased from 10.9 percent in 2000 to 15.1 percent in 2020.

Immigrants also entered from Mexico, at first to escape the chaos of that country’s brutal 1910–1920 revolution. Controls on Mexican migration tended to follow economic conditions, but a liberalization of immigration laws in 1965, and a mass amnesty in 1986, assured that Latinos would be the Golden State’s largest group. Census Bureau research indicates that California’s Hispanic population rose from 6.0 percent in 1940 to 13.7 percent in 1970 and 32.4 percent in 2000. A figure of 37.6 percent was reached in 2010, rising to 39.4 percent in 2020.

Finally, African-Americans started coming to the state in the 1920s and 1930s, with their numbers increasing during World War II. Lured by good jobs in the state’s burgeoning aircraft, automobile, and construction economies, blacks may have faced some discrimination, but far less than they did elsewhere. In L.A., wrote Ralph Bunche, blacks were “eating high up” off the hog. As late as 1940, less than 2 percent of the population was black—a number that more than doubled by 1950 and reached a peak of 7.7 percent in 1980. Since 2000, however, California’s black population has dropped from 6.7 percent to 5.4 percent.

Today, the California opportunity structure is no longer so promising. Once seen as a mecca of sorts for blacks, L.A. now ranks toward the bottom of the Urban Reform Institute’s Upward Mobility Index, which measures such factors as income, housing affordability, unemployment, educational attainment, and homeownership. San Francisco does poorly by the same metrics. The best American cities for upward mobility today are not Los Angeles or San Francisco but Atlanta; Phoenix; Virginia Beach and Richmond, Virginia; and Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Read the rest of this piece at City Journal.

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 and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Photo: City Journal.

The Great New Game

Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine will be remembered as one of the great crimes of the 21st century. The ensuing humanitarian crisis has already caused more than two million refugees to flee their homeland. Read more

You Can’t Fix Housing with New Houses. We Need New Cities

Housing is rapidly becoming the key economic issue facing America’s beleaguered middle class. Even as interest rates rise, rents are on a wild binge, up near 20 percent in the past year or more in some cities. Meanwhile, home prices have hit a high and appear to be climbing further still. Higher prices are emerging even in what have long been relative bargain communities in the southeast, as refugees from the high-priced Northeast pour in with their greater resources.

The property gold rush has been made more problematic by the growing role of professional, well-funded investors and speculators, to whom the housing market is more attractive than a sometimes unsteady stock market. Read more

The New Eurasian Century

The current crises in eastern Europe reflect more than just Kremlin mischief-making—they reflect the first fruits of an emerging world order that spans the vastness from Beijing to Berlin. Unlike the longstanding liberal status quo, with its roots in classical civilization and the Enlightenment, this emerging alternative draws upon a mélange of German geopolitics, the legacy of Chinese emperors, the Mongols, and Orthodox Russian autocracy. For now, the new Eurasian ascendency encompasses Russia and its expanding list of recovered satellites, as well as China, the world’s premier dictatorship and workshop. Read more