The Fading Family

For millennia the family has stood as the central institution of society—often changing, but always essential. But across the world, from China to North America, and particularly in Europe, family ties are weakening, with the potential to undermine one of the last few precious bits of privacy and intimacy.

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Powering Down the Developing World

The Covid-19 pandemic has been particularly cruel to the developing world, with Africa, Latin America, and South Asia all epicenters of high fatalities. But something worse may be on the way – this time not from viruses but good intentions, bolstered by often-unrealistic climate projections, which threaten to keep these countries in poverty for the foreseeable future.

Economically strong countries – China, above all – account for most of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions. But increasingly, western powers, along with the World Bank, investment banks, development funds, and the huge nonprofit sector, are moving to block fossil-fuel projects that could lift large parts of the world out of energy poverty. Emissions and economic progress remain closely linked; in the last two decades, CO2 ­concentrations have been falling in all wealthy nations, though these reductions were offset by the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs to a resurgent China.

The still-developing countries’ misfortune has been to get to the economic table when the climate change movement has gained unprecedented power in the West, placing new roadblocks in their following the East Asian path of manufacturing-led growth. At the same time, concerns over loss of industrial and other fossil-fuel-related jobs have led to growing calls from the likes of Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and the European Commission to tax the carbon content of imports, threatening the anti-poverty strategies of India and other poorer countries  while also dimming the prospects of struggling middleweights like Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine.

These countries are not likely to agree with U.S. climate representative John Kerry’s notion that “no one is being asked for a sacrifice.” It’s all about which populations get hit hardest under green-ification. We can see previews already in places like California and in Germany, where green energy shortfalls produce higher prices, rising energy poverty, blackouts – and a growing dependency on less-green places, like the Intermountain West or Russia, for energy.

Of course, such comparatively rich places are far better equipped to absorb soaring energy bills. If decarbonizing means the end of growth in the West, including restrictions on air travel, what will it mean for countries that are already poor, energy short, and possessing little in the way of savings? The Rockefeller Foundation estimates that more than half of Sub-Saharan Africa still lives in energy poverty, with deforestation making up the majority of its energy-related needs. The practice of indoor cooking on open fire and stoves alone contributes to almost half of all childhood-pneumonia related deaths worldwide.

Africa needs energy: the continent is set to make up almost 40% of the world’s population by the end of this century, and it is urbanizing at a rapid rate. In some senses, Africa’s problem is not its carbon footprint, but lack of one; the continent accounts for only 3% of the world’s carbon emissions. In Africa’s two largest economies, South Africa and Nigeria, the youth unemployment rate pre-Covid-19 approached 50%, five times that of the U.S. and three times that of the EU.

These social ills can be traced in part to lack of reliable energy and water for developmental needs. South Africa has since 2008 experienced an energy shortfall and simultaneously a water crisis. In 2021, Nigeria experienced a total grid collapse, and blackouts in the country are routine. Comparable situations exist in Iran, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

There are also massive political risks. Africa’s young population is frustrated and unemployed, and riots over a rise in energy prices have occurred in South Africa, Nigeria, and Senegal. Comparable events occurred in 2019 in Iran, when protestors demonstrated against increasing fuel prices, as well as in Lebanon and Ecuador in 2021 The pandemic has made these places even more unstable, but long-term energy deficits could make such disorder commonplace.

Read the rest of this piece at Real Clear Energy.


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: Kate Holt via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

How America Abandoned the World—and Our Own Inner Cities

In America and across the globe, COVID-19 is diminishing people’s prospects, exacerbating inequality and creating ever-more feudal societies as the pandemic ravages the health and the pocketbooks of the poor and the poorly educated.

Globally developing countries are suffering from what The Nation describes as “a gargantuan north-south vaccination gap” between developing countries where fewer than 10 percent of people have been vaccinated compared to around 70 percent in Western Europe, Israel, Canada and US. And within affluent countries, there’s nearly as wide a gap between well-off and well-educated populations, and rural and urban backwaters still suffering from “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

In the long history of pestilence and plague, French historian Fernand Braudel noted, there was always a “separate demography for the rich”. As today, the affluent tended to eat better and could often escape the worst exposure to pestilence by retreating to country estates, while the poor have been left to fend for themselves as “victims of the urban graveyard effect” that’s persisted since the fall of Rome.

Despite attempts in the media to deny or downplay the links between density and disease, COVID death and infection rates remain worse in dense urban counties where poorer residents often have to navigate insufficiently ventilated enclosed spaces that their more affluent and mobile counterparts have been mostly able to avoid.

Generally speaking, educated and affluent city and suburban dwellers recovered their incomes within the first year of the pandemic, even as millions of Americans have fallen into poverty or are on the verge of destitution, and the federal moratorium on evictions is about to expire. Overall, upper-income workers recovered completely while lower-wage workers suffered major income declines.

As of May, employment for those making $60,000 a year or more is up by 7.4 percent since the pandemic began, while employment for those making $27,000 a year of less has plunged by 21 percent, according to tracktherecovery.org. The drop in low-wage employment has been even steeper in affluent areas, like Manhattan, as the high-wage workers who had clustered there are now dispersed while working remotely and buying services in their new locales.

This trend could accelerate if new pandemics emerge in the near future, as many fear they will. But for now, at least for developed countries, vaccinations offer a way out. Since January, COVID-19 has dropped from the leading cause of death in America to the seventh leading cause. But even here, the widely varied inoculation rates suggest future social problems, particularly as COVID-19 is becoming “hyper-regionalized” in communities with both low vaccination and low immunity rates, according to former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb.

These come primarily in two very different, but historically impoverished and poorly educated populations: rural America, where the national media has mocked the people getting sick as Trumpist rubes, and inner-city America.

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: MCJ1800, via Wikimedia under CC 4.0 License. Composite, R. Howard.

The Battle Between the Two Americas

In recent history, the United States has arguably never been so divided — but not in the way you might think. Yes, the country has been split by the culture wars, with their polarising focus on race and gender. But behind the scenes, another conflict has been brewing; shaped by the economics of class, it has created two Americas increasingly in conflict.

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America’s Post-Pandemic Geography

Even as vaccination increases across the United States and an end to the tragedy of the Covid-19 pandemic seems in sight, the economic, fiscal, political, and geographic fallout from the virus cannot be overstated: a massive public health crisis that left more than half a million Americans dead, an economic catastrophe that caused record unemployment and small-business closures, and a seismic political event that surely helped tip the presidential election. The pandemic will pass, and the economy will revive, as it is already doing. But in geographic terms, today’s Covid-precipitated crises may well prove to be the most transformative event that America has experienced since the great migration to the suburbs after World War II. After hitting record lows, mobility is up as a result of the pandemic. Between 14 million and 23 million Americans say that they are likely to move as a result of their ability to work remotely, according to research by economist Adam Ozimek. These geographic shifts are even more critical because they point in many directions and represent less a fundamental break with the past and more an acceleration of changes already under way in how we live and work.

America’s economic geography has long been shaped by the interplay of pull and push forces. On the one hand, centrifugal forces pull some people out of cities: families seek more affordable space, backyards, and access to better schools. With the wider scope of choice that remote work affords, some are casting their nets wider and moving farther afield, not just to suburbs but also to other cities, smaller metro areas, and even rural communities. On the other hand, centripetal forces remain that push other groups and activities toward urban centers. College-educated young people in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties have accounted for roughly half the revival of close-in urban neighborhoods (those located near a metro area’s central business district) over the past decade, according to research by Joe Cortright of City Observatory. They are likely to do so, perhaps even more profoundly, in the decade ahead, propelled in part by falling urban real-estate prices. Superstar cities may regain some of their former creativity as artists, musicians, writers, and the like, many uprooted by the pandemic, can once again afford to live in them.

It’s hard to predict how this will play out in the long run, but the pandemic has placed a new burden on all communities. Big cities, Sunbelt boomtowns, small urban regions, and rural areas alike must develop effective strategies for recovery in a post-pandemic world.

The pandemic hit superstar cities like New York and London first and hardest. With their central business districts turned into ghost towns, big cities have suffered a blow from which they will need years to rebound. New York’s midtown and Wall Street still remain noticeably empty. Broadway theaters are still shuttered. San Francisco’s office district, home to many leading tech companies, stands similarly empty.

Dense cities suffered the most total fatalities largely because, as globally connected places, they were hit by the virus in its first, deadliest phase. Time and research have shown, however, that they are not uniquely vulnerable. By the fall of 2020, the second wave of infections and death had spread out across the country to smaller states and rural communities. While large urban centers and big states still have the highest overall death tolls, more sparsely populated places overtook them on a per-capita basis, with North Dakota logging the nation’s highest Covid death rate in the fall. The danger lies not in density per se, but in overcrowding: the number of people per square foot, as opposed to square mile. (See “Problem: Overcrowding,” New York City: Reborn, 2021.) A kind of “exposure density” thus seems key to the spread of the virus.

Yet superstar cities are not about to disintegrate. Cities are more resilient than in the past. The swift distribution of vaccines makes urban comebacks more likely, and far more rapid, than those of ancient cities rising after eruptions of the plague. London recovered from cholera, and New York added 2 million people in the wake of the Spanish flu. Berlin survived Hitler, World War II, and a half-century of partition. New York roared back after 9/11. Large global cities are incredibly resilient places. (See “The Enduring City,” New York City: Reborn, 2021.)

But part of the exodus from New York and San Francisco is rooted in factors that will outlast the virus and that were already in play earlier. Both cities lost people before the pandemic, largely because of their increasing unaffordability. The rate of growth in America’s biggest and most expensive cities began to decline as early as 2015. The pandemic has worsened the new urban crisis of rampant gentrification, high living costs, and class and racial division—all sharply dramatized amid the wave of protests and riots in the summer of 2020.

Read the rest of this piece at City Journal.


Richard Florida is a professor at the University of Toronto and a senior fellow at Heartland Forward. 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, a senior fellow at Heartland Forward, and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Photo: BlueRidgeKitties via Flickr, under CC 2.0 License.

The Looming Democrat Civil War

The Democratic Party has always been a loose confederation of outsiders — poor farmers, union members, populists, European immigrants and southern segregationists. As the actor Will Rogers said in 1924: “I am not a member of any organised political party. I am a Democrat.” Yet despite being unwieldy, it was often effective, and usually beat the more homogeneous country-club-led Republicans.

Today, the Democratic Party seems more united, still glowing in the aftermath of the defeat of Trump. But that is just an illusion: Joe Biden’s first hundred days in office are almost up — and the internal conflicts of his party are bound to surface soon.

These divisions are not petty, or merely personal, but based on demands from a number of incompatible constituencies and ideologies. Take the Democrats’s newest supporters: America’s tech oligarchs, Wall Street financiers and urban real estate speculators. They may act “woke” on issues surrounding gender, race and the environment. But such “virtue signalling” is no substitute for the drastic policies pushed by the party’s Left: the confiscation of vast wealth, the break-up of monopolies and the introduction of ever-higher taxes. Big business, after all, is the clear winner in the status quo that the Left, with good reason, despises.

But the impending Democratic civil war is more than, as some conservatives see it, a two-dimensional conflict between “the establishment and the radicals”. Largely ignored in this narrative is the most unappreciated, least articulate yet arguably the largest Democrat-voting bloc: middle and working-class moderates who make up roughly 50% of the party. These voters may often favour populist economics, but remain threatened by the cultural, economic and environmental policies pushed by the other two factions.

All of which leaves Biden in an unenviable position: if he seeks to placate both the corporate woke and the activist Left, the Democrats could sever their last connections with the vast majority of the country, and allow the GOP, even in the wake of the Trump disaster, to recover political momentum.

For what it’s worth, Biden has often been associated with this largely neglected group of what might be called FDR Democrats. His reputation as a moderate “reasonable guy” helped secure the votes of older Democrats, Independents and African-Americans in the recent election. In the primaries, it gave him an edge over both the radical Sanders, whose program frightened many older voters, and the candidates of the corporate elite, notably the well-financed former Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg. These voters may be fading in the numbers, but still constitute up to 44% of the total electorate, easily the largest identifiable class constituency.

Certainly, parts of Biden’s program — expanding health coverage as well as investments in basic infrastructure and manufacturing — could appeal to these voters, who are now generally supportive of an activist government. But Biden has also backed measures on cultural and environmental issues that are unlikely to win over the traditional working and middle classes. For example, fracking bans, already endorsed by Vice President Harris, could, according to the US Chamber of Commerce, cost 14 million jobs, far more than the eight million lost in the Great Recession.

Belying his regular guy image, Biden has also expressed support for programmes that would force suburban areas to densify. It is likely few suburbanites, the majority of all Americans, would welcome federal overseers deciding how their communities should be changed. Meanwhile, attempts to force residents out of their cars and into transit, something they were abandoning well before Covid, seems quixotic as well as politically stupid. The President’s Transportation Secretary has even suggested a tax on “vehicle miles” travelled, a measure almost calculated to alienate middle and working-class families outside a few dense urban cores.

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

Economic Civil War

Our national divide is usually cast in terms of ideology, race, climate, and gender. But it might be more accurate to see our national conflict as regional and riven by economic function. The schism is between two ways of making a living, one based in the incorporeal world of media and digital transactions, the other in the tangible world of making, growing, and using real things.

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Why the 2020 Election Will Be Decided in Suburbia

American politics is increasingly about dueling geographies. Democrats have become the party of the nation’s cities, while the Republican Party finds its base in rural, small town and low-density exurban America, places of less extreme class divisions than the big cities, but also with less diversity and a smaller share of the population.

Yet the political fulcrum of 2020 won’t be found in these competing universes — but in suburbia. Read more

Rural-Urban Migration and Class Structure in China With Li Sun

In episode 3 of Feudal Future podcast, Joel Kotkin & Marshall Toplansky interview guest Li Sun about her research on China’s urbanization and globalization.

Triumph of the Woke Oligarchs

Like the rest of the country, although far less than New York, California is suffering through the Covid-19 crisis. But in California, the pandemic seems likely to give the state’s political and corporate elites a new license to increase their dominion while continuing to keep the middle and working classes down.

Perhaps nothing spells the triumph of California’s progressive oligarchy more than Governor Gavin Newsom’s decision to off-load the state’s recovery strategy to a task force co-chaired by hedge-fund billionaire Tom Steyer. A recently failed presidential candidate, Steyer stands as a progressive funder. He is as zealous as he is rich. Steyer sometimes even found the policies adopted by climate-obsessed former governor Jerry Brown not extreme enough for his tastes. Read more