The Killing of Kern County

Located over the mountains from Los Angeles, Kern County has always been a different kind of place. Settled largely by “Okies and Arkies” from the Depression-era South, the area has a culture more southern than northern, more Ozarks than Sierra. Home to just under 1 million people at the southern end of the state’s Central Valley, Kern is noted for producing the “Bakersfield sound,” epitomized by the late country star Merle Haggard, and is sometimes even referred to as “little Texas.”

Read more

America’s Overdue to Unfriend Mark Zuckerberg

Many have understandably applauded Facebook’s decision to ban former President Donald Trump from the site for the next two years, but the ability of a company to decide who should be in the public square, which the social network has effectively become, raises troubling questions about the future of our tattered democracy.

The decision was announced by Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom who’s now the vice president of global affairs at the social network, but there’s no question that the final call here belonged to Facebook’s co-founder, chairman, CEO, and controlling stockholder.

Not long ago, Mark Zuckerberg was a kind of folk hero to many Americans, a nerd who made billions with an idea developed at a Harvard dorm. He was a firm believer in free speech as recently as 2019, even to the point of offending the progressive cognoscenti. All that has changed, along with the political currents.

His free speech views faded when they became a threat, rather than a boon, to his bottom line. Now, rather than being seen the way he wants to be, as an open-minded entrepreneur and even a potential presidential candidate, Zuckerberg finally stands exposed as a leading member of the new techno-aristocracy manipulating the world and shaping our society to fit their own world view, while getting ever richer in the process.

This ascendency offers little for most Americans, even as Americans have provided so much to Zuckerberg and his ilk as tech has become ever more concentrated and monopolistic, putting a lie to the heroic myth of “a guy and a garage.” Since 2019, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google have added more than two and a half trillion dollars to their valuation, including record-breaking profits in 2020 as the pandemic shut down much of the in-person economy, while workers and consumers have faced stagnant incomes and purchasing power.

This is, as the left of center American Prospect put it, “predatory capitalism.”

This accrual of power relies on having influence in Washington. Quasi-monopolies like Facebook could never have grown into such behemoths if not for the willingness of regulators, in both parties, to let them buy potential competitors like Instagram, Oculus, and WhatsApp. Taking a proactive approach, Zuckerberg put several fingers on the scales to assure the defeat of the less controllable Trump by financing Election Day operations in many critical states through an obscure Chicago based front group, the Center for Tech and Civic Life, which used its Facebook windfall to fund election offices, and staffers, around the country.

Facebook itself, along with Twitter, also de-platformed the New York Post, America’s oldest newspaper, to keep information about Hunter Biden’s laptop from circulating. And both sites booted Trump himself, a stance that horrified those like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian dissident Alexei Navalny who have lived under autocratic regimes.

Read the rest of this piece at 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.

Homepage photo: Anthony Qunitano, via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

A Middle Class Rebellion Against Progressives is Gaining Steam

A specter is haunting America, a great revolt that threatens to dwarf the noxious rebellion led by Trump. The echoes of a another potentially larger pushback can already be heard in progressive America. But it’s not towards socialism, as many suggest. It’s the opposite: a new middle-class rebellion against the excesses of the Left.

This new middle-class rebellion isn’t rejecting everything that progressives stand for; the Left’s critique of neo-liberal excess is resonating, as is the need for improved access to health care. But the current focus on “systemic racism,” coupled with a newfound and heavily enforced cultural conformism and the obsessive focus on a never-ending litany of impending “climate emergencies” are less likely to pass muster with most of the middle class, no matter how popular they are with the media, academics, and others in the progressive corner.

And this new middle-class rebellion is being bolstered by a wide-ranging intellectual rebellion by traditional liberals against the Left’s dogmatism and intolerance. Indeed, what we’re about to see has the potential to reprise the great shift among old liberals that had them embracing Reagan in reaction to the Left’s excesses of that generation.

In a way, this should not be surprising. After all, the progressive base is limited: According to a survey conducted by the non-partisan group More in Common, progressives constitute barely eight percent of the electorate. The report also found that fully 80 percent of all Americans believe that “political correctness is a problem,” including large majorities of millennials and racial minorities.

Party line journalists may see President Biden as the new champion of the middle class, but every time he adopts central tenets of the new Left, he undermines his pitch. And this happens not infrequently: The Biden Administration has adopted elements of the “anti-racist” agenda, for example, by explicitly favoring Black farmers for subsidies, rather than focusing on all farmers in need. Race issues may be popular on college campuses and in the human relations departments of giant corporations like Lockheed and Amazon, but a recent Yale study found that language based on inclusivity around class was far more popular than one focused largely on race, even with progressive voters.

This is not the message coming out of the Biden administration, which has put a premium on diversity hiring and “equity,” despite the fact that racial quotas, in hiring or in college admissions, are unpopular with three out of four Americans, including African-Americans and Hispanics; 65% of Hispanics, 62% of black Americans and 58% of Asians oppose affirmative action in college admissions.

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.

Homepage photo credit: Hollywata via Flickr under CC 2.0 License

Joe Biden’s Imaginary America

After two painful recessions and ever greater national discord, there is considerable support for a new beginning, even if it takes massive federal spending. The question we must ask now is what kind of spending makes sense given the character of the country, its geography, and its economic challenges. America remains a vast and diverse place, and decisions that make sense for one locale do not necessarily make any sense in others. A dispersed country needs dispersed decision-making, not edicts issued from on high by the D.C. nomenklatura.

Read more

Why Jews Are Confused

Assailed from two sides, American Jewry is having an acute crisis of identity.

Es iz schver tzu zein a yid. (It is hard to be a Jew.)

—Sholem Aleichem

From missiles falling on Tel Aviv and the assault on synagogues during last summer’s riots to mob violence on the streets of LA and New York, the sense of well-being among America’s Jews has been shattered. After decades of relentless social and political ascendency, Jews now face rising anti-Semitism in ways not encountered in over half a century. Attacked from the far right, as well as an increasingly vitriolic far left, Jews are pincered and suffering whiplash.

Amidst what Hoover Institution fellow and Somali immigrant Ayaan Hirsi Ali describes as a rampant rise of “tribalism,” anti-Semitism is becoming normalized in America. Yet in the face of this rising risk, Jews themselves are divided and deeply conflicted. The Jewish establishment has generally focused on white nationalists as the prime threat and, to be sure, lone racists have expressed their anti-Semitism lethally from Kansas City and Pittsburgh to Poway. To a people who have experienced centuries of persecution from the Tsarist regime to the Nazis and the Klan, the far right’s elevated profile fueled by the power of social media—if not the actual size of the white nationalist movement—is nevertheless terrifying.

Yet this is not the real measure, or even the bulk, of the threat. Groups like the Anti-Defamation League focus on Islamists and right-wing hate groups, but their statistics have been roundly criticized in such respected magazines as Tablet, and are widely thought to reflect their increasingly progressive bias. The reality, missing from the mainstream narrative, ignores the arguably more potent threat from an aroused, and increasingly radicalized, left.

The roots of leftist anti-Semitism are nurtured in anti-Zionism that has been brewing for a half century on the left. But now, for the first time, even Congress has a band of anti-Zionists who denounce Israel’s strong response to missile attacks as a war crime. The assault on Israel’s right to self-defense—though still backed by President Biden—comes from the ascendant left faction of the Democrats—led by such figures as Rashida Tlaib and the openly anti-Semitic Ilhan Omar. They assign exclusive blame to Israel for their response to the mass missile attacks on their cities from groups like Hamas, whose genocidal urges are well demonstrated and enshrined in the group’s founding documents, and whose Judenrein territorial goal, “from the river to the sea,” is now chanted by street mobs around the world, and tweeted by none other than the labor union at the New Yorker magazine.

Israel appears to have lost support among American Jews, particularly the younger and less affiliated. Having alienated the Obama administration with their West Bank settlement policies and opposition to the Iran nuclear agreement, Israeli policy-makers now worry more about Democratic Administrations. A former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. recently opined that Israel should prioritize the “passionate and unequivocal” support of evangelical Christians over that of American Jews, who he said are “disproportionately among our critics.” Certainly the new administration’s intent to return to the Iran accords are troubling, as are charges that John Kerry, the president climate czar, gave intelligence to the Iranians, who openly promote eradication of the Jewish state.

These divides are particularly dangerous as the community is aging rapidly, faces increasing pressures to assimilate, while major institutions are under pressures not seen in generations. Overall, the American Jewish population—unlike that of demographically robust Israel—is unlikely to grow by 2050. There is no likely replacement for the influx of Persian, North and South African, and Russian Jews who rescued the community from demographic decline over the last half century. It is also a community that is no longer the global center of Jewry, and has been replaced by Israel, a state that acts primarily in its own self-interest, sometimes in ways that upset many American Jews.

Although Trump made some modest gains among Jewish voters in 2020, the bulk of American Jews, nearing 70 percent according to Pew, identify with the Democratic Party. Jews are widely represented in the upper echelons of the Democratic Party, including Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and progressive icon Bernie Sanders, and are well represented in the media, academic, and corporate communities that have rallied behind President Biden. Democrats account for 36 out of the 38 Jews in Congress, and one-third of them are members of the far-left leaning Congressional Progressive Caucus, whose leading members, during the current hostilities, moved to block a planned $735 million weapons package for Israel.

Leading progressive Jews often embrace the notion of tikkun olam (“healing the world”) as the mission of the faith. In their mind, Jewish values are intrinsically progressive and point with pride to the community’s support for the African American civil rights movement, and their more recent unrequited backing for the Black Lives Matter movement and the Women’s March. Yet many of these groups are led in part by enthusiastic backers of the most influential anti-Semite of our time, National of Islam head Louis Farrakhan, who smirks that he is an “anti-termite” and insists that Jews controlled the slave trade, and other leaders who accuse Israel of genocide, and of running an apartheid state. Professedly anti-Zionist, BLM has allied with Islamist groups and disparaged Israel during last year’s DC demonstrations as well as during the recent Gaza conflict. BLM protests have also led to rioters vandalizing synagogues and trashing Jewish owned businesses in Los Angeles, New York, and Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Moreover, violent, unprovoked attacks on Jews in Los Angeles, New York, Raton, Montreal, LondonArgentina, Chile, Germany, Austria, Poland, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, and Turkey demonstrate that much of anti-Zionism is in reality anti-Semitism.   

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 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.

Edward Heyman is currently active as a volunteer and consultant in the Orange County, California, Jewish community, following a career as a partner in a software development firm serving the defense and intelligence communities.

Photo credit: Gregory Hauenstein via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

The Rise of Corporate–State Tyranny

In explaining his shift away from Maoist economics, Deng Xiao Ping, chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, described his market-oriented changes as “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Today, American businesses, as well as the media and academic establishments that serve them, increasingly embrace what can best be described as “Chinese capitalism with American characteristics.”

Read more

How America Turned Into the EU

For many liberal Americans, the European Union is the perfect elite model: a non-elected, highly credentialed bureaucracy that embraces and seeks to enforce the environmental, social and cultural zeitgeist of the urban upper classes. It is, as the establishment Council on Foreign Relations puts it, a “model for regional integration”.

Now that “progressives” have returned to the White House, aping the EU has become a national policy. Taking his cue from his party’s Left, President Joe Biden has already sought to federalise many functions — from zoning to labour laws to education — that historically have been under local control.

But while Biden’s administration has been embraced by the Eurocrats, Americans would do well to consider the EU’s remarkable record of turning Europe into the developed world’s economic and technological laggard. Overall, nearly a third of Europeans consider Brussels an utter failure; half admit the EU’s pandemic response was inadequate. Indeed, while the American media was busy denouncing the US response to Covid under Trump as the “worst” in the world, the EU was showing them how it was done: of the 15 countries suffering the highest fatality rates, 13 are European, of which nine are in the EU — all worse than the US.

The US may always have had a “Federal Government”, but the notion of dispersed power gained approval from many on the Left only after President Trump’s election, as many Democrats looked to local government as a means of fighting back. Cheerleaders for Barack Obama’s imperial presidency, such as The New Yorker, started to embrace states’ rights with an almost Confederate enthusiasm.

But once the Democrats won back the House in 2018, the appeal of total central power became irresistible, with leading Democrats competing for who could most expand DC’s remit. Kamala Harris, now Vice President, demanded Washington give teachers across the country a federally funded five-figure pay rise, while Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro sought to hand over local planning and zoning powers to the DC bureaucrats.

President Trump, for what it’s worth, had little interest in such issues — though even he made a point of trying to overturn states’ laws when it suited his agenda, particularly with the border wall and his attempts to crack down on radical education policies. In many ways, Trump’s authoritarian brand of Republicanism was always going to express an interest in an expanded federal role.

Yet in looking to expand federal power, Biden is picking up the mantle of President Obama, regarded by Republicans as one of the most prolific authors of executive power in US history. During its first six years, the Obama administration put forward more than twice as many major rules as George W. Bush’s government during the same period, focusing largely on issues such as climate change and immigration.

Of course, the notion of decentralised control — and the benefits associated with it — predates America. Ancient Roman cities enjoyed particular autonomy from central control, while the great Italian and Dutch cities of the early modern period developed extensive forms of self-government and, in some cases, functioned as independent states. Indeed, born out of Enlightenment ideals about limited government, the US Constitution lays out a system of dispersed power, creating in localities “the habits of self-government”.

In some cases, however, federal action was necessary; for example, to end the abomination of slavery and keep the Republic safe from European encroachments. And of course, some local governments continued to pass detestable laws, such as Jim Crow segregation in the South — though states also innovated in a more positive direction, providing models for other jurisdictions. For example, western states less tied to parochial ways of thinking — such as Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Washington and California — introduced female suffrage well before the federal government. New York built the earliest welfare state, while my adopted home of California invested heavily in roads, schools, universities and technical training, leading to its remarkable boom in the late 20th Century.

States, as progressive Supreme Court Judge Louis Brandeis noted, were “laboratories of democracy”, places that experimented with policies that, when they were successful, would be adopted by others, and sometimes the federal government. In contrast, Europe’s bureaucratic meddling has served to keep wealth concentrated, as it has been for centuries, in places like Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia, while the south and east lag perpetually behind.

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 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: European Parliament via Flickr, under CC 2.0 License.

Feudal Future Podcast — Biden’s Tax Plan

On this episode of Feudal Future, hosts Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky are joined by Hank Adler, Associate Professor of Accounting for Chapman University, and Steven Malanga, City Journal’s senior editor, to discuss Biden’s new tax plan.

America’s First Infantada

We are here to guide public opinion, not to discuss it.
Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, 1804

By the calendar, the American republic is mature, but it’s becoming rapidly ever more infantilized. In everything from schooling to Covid-19 to race and global warming, we seem to be looking for simple, easy answers that a toddler might appreciate but healthy adults know are too pat to be true. Read more

The Green New Deal will Impoverish America

‘The interesting thing about the Green New Deal is it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all… Do you guys think of it as a climate thing? Because we really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.’ So said Saikat Chakrabarti, former chief of staff for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and generally acknowledged author of the Green New Deal.

Read more