The Real Winners

Progressive ideologues often like to evoke the idea that they speak “truth to power,” but this year it’s their leaders who are consolidating their clout. Although Democrats did far worse on the whole than expected, control of the White House assures greater influence for those already occupying what Lenin referred to as “the commanding heights” of both society and economy. Read more

California and Its Contradictions: Rumblings of Realignment Beneath a Solid-Blue Surface

California remains deep blue, but the good news from this week’s elections is that it has not yet achieved complete ballot-box unanimity. California voters appear to have turned two or three house seats red, and statewide voters rejected some of the most extreme progressive proposals governing contract workers, affirmative action, expansion of rent control, and raising property taxes on commercial properties. Read more

The Limits of Rhetoric

Deep-blue cities and states are eager to declare their social-justice credentials. New York mayor Bill de Blasio has set up a commission designed to uproot the city’s “institutional” racism, while California governor Gavin Newsom brags that his state is “the envy of the world” and will not abandon its poor. “Unlike the Washington plutocracy,” he proclaims, “California isn’t satisfied serving a powerful few on one side of the velvet rope. The California Dream is for all.”

Yet California, though well known for its wealth, also has the nation’s highest poverty rate, adjusted for housing cost. If rhetoric were magic, metropolitan areas like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago would be ideal places for aspirational minority residents. But according to statistics compiled by demographer Wendell Cox in a newly released report, these cities are far worse for nonwhites in terms of income, housing affordability, and education. New York and California also exhibit some of the highest levels of inequality in the United States, with poor outcomes for blacks and Hispanics, who, population-growth patterns suggest, are increasingly moving away from deep-blue metros to less stridently progressive ones.

The current focus on “systemic racism”—often devolving into symbolic actions like mandatory minority representation on corporate boards, hiring quotas, and an educational focus on racial redress and resentment—is not likely to improve conditions for most minorities. “If a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness,” Martin Luther King said. “He merely exists.” That remains true. Our lodestar should be upward mobility: improving how well people live, across the board. When it comes to that criterion, blue states and cities are falling short.

The Covid-19 pandemic has inflicted disproportionate harm to the health of Latinos and African-Americans, who, according to the CDC, have suffered rates of infections and deaths higher than the overall population, which makes a focus on upward mobility even more important. To measure progress, we have developed an Upward Mobility Index, with “opportunity ratings” for the nation’s 107 largest metropolitan areas—those with populations of 500,000 or more in 2018—by race and ethnicity. We examined the factors that underpin upward mobility and entry into the middle class. Then, we created a ranking by metro that combined these factors for the three largest ethnic and racial minorities: African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians.

The results confound assertions that nominally progressive policies—affirmative action, programs for racial redress, strict labor and environmental laws—help nonwhites. It turns out that places with low housing costs, friendly business conditions, and reasonable tax rates do much better than cities proclaiming their woke credentials.

African-Americans do best by these measurements in southern metros such as Atlanta, the traditional capital of black America; McAllen, El Paso, and Austin, Texas; and Raleigh, Virginia Beach/ Norfolk, and Richmond, Virginia. The Washington, D.C. metro area, well known for its large, middle-class African-American suburbs, also compares well. Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and (perhaps surprisingly) Provo, Utah rank high for black success.

At the bottom of the list, California dominates, with four of the worst ten locations, including Los Angeles, which a half-century ago was widely seen as a mecca of sorts for blacks. Two of the state’s most prominent political leaders of the late twentieth century—four-term Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley and long-time assembly speaker and San Francisco mayor Willie Brown—came from poor Texas families, not Golden State metros. Other cities traditionally attractive to African-Americans no longer serve as leading places for black ambition, including Miami and New York.

Similar, though somewhat varied, results can be seen for Latinos, now the nation’s largest minority, and Asians, the fastest-growing. Latinos seem to be doing best outside the Northeast Corridor and the West. Fayetteville (Arkansas/Missouri), for example, ranks number 7; it’s an evolving economic hub paced by Walmart, JB Hunt, and Tyson Foods. Latinos have found opportunities in metros tied to basic goods as well as technological production (St. Louis); logistics and agribusiness (Kansas City, Des Moines, and Omaha); energy (Pittsburgh and Oklahoma City); and manufacturing (Grand Rapids and Akron).

In contrast, California, with the nation’s largest Hispanic population, now includes eight of the bottom 15 metros on the Hispanic Upward Mobility Index. The nation’s largest Hispanic conurbation, Los Angeles, ranked 105th out of the 107 largest U.S. metros. The remaining six worst performers, apart from Honolulu, are on the much-deindustrialized east coast, including New York, Bridgeport-Stamford, and Worcester.

Read the rest of this piece at City Journal.

Charles Blain (@cjblain10) is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues. Joel Kotkin (@joelkotkin) is a contributing editor of City Journal, the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and executive director of the Urban Reform Institute. His latest book is The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class.

Elite Democrats Could Destroy the Middle Class if Biden Wins in 2020

It’s been a long time since the Democrats were considered “the party of the people” and the GOP the party of the fat cats. This year Joe Biden and even more so his running mate, Kamala Harris, are raising record sums from the corporate elite, notably the tech giants and their Wall Street allies. These wealthy donors dominate the party, own much of the media, and can manipulate the social-media platforms where a growing proportion of Americans get their news.

Meanwhile, the Republicans find themselves largely castigated in the press and overwhelmed by a torrent of oligarchic wealth at the Senate and local levels. This wealthy oligarchy is not just liberal; many members also support a thorough remaking of our country. Some, like former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, are so committed to progressivism that, as he said recently, those who don’t get with the program should “face a firing squad.” Currently led by CEO Jack Dorsey, Twitter has gone so far as to block The New York Post’s account after it reported on the unsavory foreign business dealings of Biden’s son Hunter.

If these Democrats win both houses of Congress as well as the White House, things could get far worse for the already beleaguered middle class, which has been rocked by the pandemic, with an estimated 100,000 small firms going out of business. Particularly hard-hit by the recent urban unrest are inner city and minority businesses.

The other big winners have been the professional managerial class, including top levels of the federal bureaucracy, academia, and the mainstream media. These are, for the most part, people who can work from home, or, in some cases, the safety of their country houses. Meanwhile, they have achieved power at a level never before exercised outside of wartime and are as likely to surrender this control as the oligarchs are to give up their money.

If the Democrats win on Election Day, the future for the middle class could be bleak. As a lifelong Democrat, this is not easy to write, but most of the party’s initiatives — such as the Green New Deal — are directly harmful to those in the middle and working classes, who’d be forced to face increased housing and energy prices and fewer upwardly mobile jobs in industries like manufacturing.

A Democratic landslide could prove particularly devastating to owners of small businesses, particularly those in the energy, agriculture and manufacturing sectors, who were all critical to electing Donald Trump and seem likely to follow him again this year, despite the recession caused by the pandemic.

Read the rest of this piece at NYPost.


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: ptufts via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

Democratic Prospects & The Plural Generation with Morley Winograd

In this episode of the Feudal Future podcast, Morley Winograd joins hosts Joel and Marshall on Feudal Future Podcast to talk about the 2020 election, and the prospects for a democratic administration should they win.

Democrats’ Energy Dilemma

The biggest challenge facing a putative first-term Joe Biden administration and the Democratic Party may lie with energy policy, where gentry and green wishful thinking confront the daily realities of millions of middle- and working-class Americans.

Democrats could choose a climate policy that allows for gradual change – for example, transitioning from coal to natural gas – and consider the feasibility of smaller and safer nuclear plants, while keeping the productive economy afloat. But Biden, despite some wriggling about fracking on private land, just last week committed himself to the gradual eradication of the fossil fuel industry. His running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, is beloved by California’s extremist greens.

Already, in anticipation of a Democratic sweep, utilities are putting some natural gas projects on hold – threatening a powerful growth engine in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio. If Biden continues to embrace the basic thrust of the Green New Deal, if not its full-bore socialist program, the impact could be devastating for manufacturing areas that compete with China, which depend largely on natural gas, coal, and nuclear power to keep costs down. These state economies cannot fantasize, as some do in California, that the resulting social costs will be paid for by the wealthy digerati; lacking sufficient numbers of the rich and famous, these states will be hit hard, and fast.

If, as seems likely, victorious Democrats enact legislation broadly derived from the Green New Deal, major blowback – and economic disruption – seems inevitable. Biden and Harris have been almost comically inconsistent in their statements about fracking, but they’re certainly hostile to it: if they win the White House and pursue a ban, it would likely drive higher prices for energy, reduce national energy self-sufficiency, and cause massive job loss among a large number of Americans, particularly in key states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Read the rest of this piece at Real Clear Energy.

Joel Kotkin is the author of the just-released book 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 — formerly the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin

Trump Finally Slaps Google with an Anti-Trust Suit, and Protects Democracy

Sometimes Donald Trump does the right thing, even if it may be for the wrong reasons. His Justice Department’s late-term assault on Google for its monopolistic tyranny over search and digital advertising is precisely what is needed. Some may paint this as the last desperate act of a fading tyrant, but in reality it may be the most important move to protect democracy in recent years.

The anti-trust suit, filed just weeks before the election, is the latest example of the growing gap between the tech oligarchy and Trump on issues including the H1-B visas big tech depends on to keep labor costs down, web censorship, and, of course, Trump’s trade war with Silicon Valley’s close allies in China.

With the prospect of a Biden presidency looming, Google and the other tech monopolies may simply be willing to wait to try and regain control of the national agenda and recover at least some of the vast political sway they enjoyed under Barack Obama. It’s likely that Trump was acting not to protect free markets and democracy but to punish his perceived foes who in his view have unfairly supported his opponent not only with their contributions and their expertise but also with their policies and algorithms.

Yet if Trump’s motivations are questionable, his action is the right one. The giants of the tech world—Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft—have become so powerful and so wealthy that they constitute a compelling danger to the economy, upward mobility, freedom of expression, and prospects for a functional democracy.

All five companies started with enormous innovation, part of an entrepreneurial ecosystem of garage startups envied all over the world. But in more recent times, these companies have become part of a system of conglomerate control more akin to the Japanese keiretsu or Korean chaebol, essentially interlocking directorates who parcel out control of critical parts of the economy. With competition down, innovation has slowed as most smaller firms are either acquired or relegated to being tools to be exploited and then discarded. One online publisher uses a Star Trek analogy to describe his firm’s status with Google: “It’s a bit like being assimilated by the Borg. You get cool new powers. But having been assimilated, if your implants were ever removed, you’d certainly die. That basically captures our relationship to Google.”

The steady erosion in anti-trust enforcement over decades and under both political parties has left firms like Facebook and Google with almost unlimited power to acquire or crush competitors. Unfettered by government, consolidation has allowed oligarchs to gain dominant shares of key markets from search (Google) to social media (Facebook) to cloud computing and book sales (Amazon); Google and Apple together provide over 95 percent of operating software for mobile devices while Microsoft still accounts for over 80 percent of the software that runs personal computers around the world.

The pandemic has strengthened their positions further, and the tech giants now account for nearly 40 percent of the value of the Standard and Poor index, a level of concentration unprecedented in modern history. Today seven of the ten richest Americans come from the tech sector. From March to June 2020, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos saw his wealth rise by an estimated $48 billion to $183 billion, making him the world’s richest man.

This remarkable concentration of wealth necessitates precisely the kind of tough action endorsed by Trump and now acted on by his Justice Department. As progressives recognized in the gilded age—and some, like Elizabeth Warren, still do today—the extreme wealth and power in few hands represents a fundamental threat to democracy. “We can have a democratic society,” noted progressive Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, “or we can have the concentration of great wealth in the hands of a few. We cannot have both.”

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.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Unsplash under CC0 2.0 License.

The Coming Post-COVID Global Order

The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated economics in the West, but the harshest impacts may yet be felt in the developing world. After decades of improvement in poorer countries, a regression threatens that could usher in, both economically and politically, a neo-feudal future, leaving billions stranded permanently in poverty. If this threat is not addressed, these conditions could threaten not just the world economy, but prospects for democracy worldwide.

In its most recent analysis, the World Bank predicted that the global economy will shrink by 5.2 percent in 2020, with developing countries overall seeing their incomes fall for the first time in 60 years. The United Nations predicts that the pandemic recession could plunge as many as 420 million people into extreme poverty, defined as earning less than $2 a day. The disruption will be particularly notable in the poorest countries. The UN has forecast that Africa could have 30 million more people in poverty. A study by the International Growth Centre spoke of “staggering” implications with 9.1 percent of the population descending into extreme poverty as savings are drained, with two-thirds of this due to lockdown. The loss of remittances has cost developing economies billions more income.

Latin America had seen its poverty rate drop from 45 to 30 percent over the past two decades, but now nearly 45 million, according to the UN, are being plunged into destitution as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic. In Mexico alone, COVID-19 has caused at least 16 million more people to fall into extreme poverty, according to a study by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

These trends undermine the appeal of neoliberal globalization across the developing world. The pandemic has forced people to stay in their countries, and has closed off the ability to move to wealthier places. With Western countries themselves in disarray, there’s been a growing temptation to adopt authoritarian controls modeled by China, which appears to have emerged from the pandemic and economic collapse quicker than the rest of the world. The pandemic could boost China’s great ambition to replace the West, and notably America, as the heart of global civilization.

Poverty and pestilence

In the long history of pestilence and plague, French historian Fernand Braudel has noted, there was always a “separate demography for the rich.” As today, the affluent tended to eat better and were often able to escape the worst exposure to pestilence by retreating to country estates. This pattern was evident in Rome, as the city endured growing plagues in the second and third centuries. As Kyle Harper explains in The Fate of Rome, those left behind in the city often became “victims of the urban graveyard effect.”

These differing impacts were also evident in the late Middle Ages, when plague killed upwards of half Europe’s population. One 14th century observer noted that the plague “attacked especially the meaner sort and common people—far seldom the magnates.” Of course, some of the mighty also died, but far less often than hoi polloi. Whether in the towering insulae of Rome, Medieval hovels, or the tenements of the Lower East Side, the poor have suffered from economic dislocation, infection, and death far more than the affluent.

We may be entering an age that reprises Medieval patterns of mass infections. Three decades ago in The Coming Plague, Laurie Garrett identified the rise of an “urban Thirdworldization” that creates ideal conditions for new pandemics—SARS, MERS, Swine flu, and now COVID-19. These challenges will likely not end even with a vaccine or a weakening of the virus, but may resurge in a different form. Anthony Fauci, director of America’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, already sees potential new viruses incubating in China and warns that more pandemics may arise in the near future.

Read the rest of this essay on Quillete.


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.

Hügo Krüger is a Structural Engineer with working experience in the Nuclear, Concrete and Oil and Gas Industry. He was born in Pretoria South Africa and moved to France in 2015. He holds a Bachelors Degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Pretoria and a Masters degree in Nuclear Structures from the École spéciale des travaux publics, du bâtiment et de l’industrie (ESTP Paris). He frequently contributes to the South African English blog Rational Standard and the Afrikaans Newspaper Rapport. He fluently speaks French, Germany, English and Afrikaans. His interests include politics, economics, public policy, history, languages, Krav Maga and Structural Engineering.

Photo credit: Jade Scarlato via Unsplash under CC0 1.0 License.

Democratic Civil War

The three heads of the Democrat Hydra will soon start biting at each other.

Donald Trump may still sit in the White House, but America seems increasingly submissive to the rule of the Democrats. The Party now enjoys predominant influence over mainstream media, rising influence among wealthy elites, a stranglehold over education and entertainment industries, and the domination of the burgeoning non-profit world. Remarkably the self-styled “party of the people” now accommodates the big Wall Street firms and tech oligarchies alongside the progressive, neo-socialist, activist base and an ever-diminishing remnant of traditional working-class voters.

This powerful coalition is also a fundamentally unstable one—a three-headed hydra whose heads, particularly after Trump leaves, will soon be biting each other furiously. One faction, the corporatist elite, genuflects and even profits from the progressive mantra on climate, gender, and race. Some, like former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, are so committed to gentry progressivism that he recently suggested those who don’t get with the program could “face a firing squad.” Others, like the Marxists and rioters of BLM, seek a total social revolution and increasingly speak of ending “racial capitalism.”

Many on the Right, having learned nothing since Reagan, simple-mindedly identify each of these two dominant groups as “liberal.” A more accurate assessment would be “corporatist” and “socialist.” Largely left:  the constituency that once drove the Democratic Party—middle-of-the-road voters, many of them in unions, who constitute roughly half of party members. Only 15% of Democrats consider themselves “very liberal.” Along with older African-American voters, these suburban voters, also mostly older, were critical to nominating the lackluster former vice president. They could very well get him into the White House itself.

The Corporatists

The tech oligarchs and their Wall Street allies were clear winners of the Democratic primaries. The so-called “party of the people,” Biden and other Democrats now can count the wealthiest individuals on the planet among its ranks, including former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskowitz, Zynga’s Mark Pincus, Steve Jobs’s widow Lauren, as well as media moguls Michael Bloomberg and Barry Diller.

This pattern, already notable in 2016, can also be seen in 41 of the 50 wealthiest Congressional districts that Democrats now represent. It is now wealthy donors who dominate the party, not the grassroots youth movement agitated by Sanders. This point bears repeating over and over again. This is particularly true in the key battle for the Senate, where most Republicans find themselves overwhelmed by a torrent of oligarchic wealth.

Some oligarchs, such as Jeff Bezos with his mouthpiece the Washington Post, are following along not out of enthusiasm, but at least partially out of naked fear of socialists like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. But it’s doubtful even an unhinged San Francisco billionaire like Costolo has much interest in having his wealth and market power disrupted by radicals, who feel, justifiably in my mind, the largely unrestrained oligarchs, and their Wall Street allies, devour far too much of the nation’s wealth and should have much of their property confiscated by the state. After all, both Sanders and his acolyte Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez believe that billionaires “should not exist.”

Read the rest of this piece at American Mind.


Joel Kotkin is the author of the just-released book 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 — formerly the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin

Image credit: SilviaP_Design via Wikimedia, in Public Domain.

Will the Cultural Revolution Be Canceled?

It’s an article of faith among many conservatives, and some liberals, that we’re being swept by a Maoist cultural revolution destined to transform American society into a woke collective. Yet before surrendering basics like equality of opportunity, social order, and free speech to leftist authoritarians, we should consider whether they’re the ones who will wind up getting canceled.

Most Americans don’t favor defunding police or instituting race quotas; they are wary of the costs connected with the Green New Deal and of allowing Washington to control local zoning. Many are already voting with their feet, fleeing places that promote these ideas and seeking out areas aligned with more recognizable American values. Over the past 20 years, virtually all the most progressive large states—New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and California—have suffered massive outmigration, while red or purplish states like Florida, Texas, the Carolinas, or Arizona welcome more and more Americans to resettle there. On the metropolitan level, even before Covid-19 accelerated the trend, a steady, largely unacknowledged, movement from the deep-blue core to the less progressive suburbs or exurbs has been underway.

Political correctness—the secular religion of elite liberal society—turns out to be enormously unpopular, something President Trump has exploited politically. Some 80 percent of Americans, notes one recent survey, including most millennials and minorities, see political correctness as “a problem,” not a solution for the future. Progressive social activists, a survey by the liberal research organization More in Common found, account for barely 8 percent of the adult population, less than a third of the number who identify as traditional conservatives.

The fact that most Americans—Democrat and Republican—fall between these two categories suggests that social attitudes may be far less polarized, and less susceptible to political correctness, than has been widely assumed. As seen in the reaction to the George Floyd case, most Americans generally back the police but also embrace the notion of police reform; they are increasingly hostile, however, to the wave of violence that has accompanied some of the protests. Rather than support growing attempts to limit free speech, almost four in five Americans, according to Pew, support protecting it. These attitudes extend well beyond the base of Trumpian conservatives to include most Americans, regardless of ethnic background.

The media epitomize the gap between the public and the nation’s dominant institutions. Subjectivity, notes a recent Rand study, has replaced the world of shared facts with approaches that lead to “truth decay.” Reporters once believed that their mission was to inform the public, but now many journalism schools, including Columbia, embrace progressive groupthink, openly advancing a leftist social-justice agenda in which reporters are advocates. Even Teen Vogue has taken a neo-Marxist tack. “Moral clarity” replaces objectivity. Free speech is somehow linked to white privilege.

These partisan attitudes have dramatically eroded trust in media, according to a new Knight Foundation study. Public trust in most large media has declined steadily over the past four years, with the biggest drops among Republicans; the New York Times, the publisher of the 1619 Project takedown of American history, is trusted by less than half of the public, compared with almost 60 percent in 2016. Gallup reports that, since the pandemic, the news media has suffered the lowest ratings of any major institution, performing even worse than Congress or President Trump.

Certainly, the shift leftward has not helped the progressive-dominated newspaper business. Between 2001 and 2017, the publishing industry (books, newspapers, magazines) lost 290,000 jobs, a decline of 40 percent. Endless partisan sniping and countless crises have boosted CNN, but the network lags well behind right-wing Fox. NPR has seen its ratings drop as many listeners gravitate to less predictable, livelier voices like Joe Rogan.

The new media also suffer from a credibility crisis. Controllers like those at Facebook, Google, Apple, and Twitter are increasingly determined to curate “quality content” on their sites, or even eliminate views they find objectionable, which tend to be conservative, according to employees. The idea that managers of huge social-media platforms aim to control content is more than conservative paranoia. Over 70 percent of Americans, according to a recent Pew study, believe that such platforms—as demonstrated in the case of Reddit, Facebook, and Google—“censor political views.” In California, the center of Big Tech, people express more trust in the marijuana industry than they do in social media, according to a 2019 survey.

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 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: City of St Pete via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.