Own Nothing and Love It

From the ancient world to modern times, the class of small property owners have constituted the sine qua non of democratic self-government. But today this class is under attack by what Aristotle described as an oligarchia, an unelected power elite that controls the political economy for its own purposes. In contrast, the rise of small holders were critical to the re-emergence and growth of democracy first in the Netherlands, followed by North America, Australia, and much of Europe.

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The Socialism America Needs

Clobbered from all sides by the pandemic, climate change and disruptions in virtually every industry by the rise of artificial intelligence, the capitalist dream is dying — and a new, mutant form of socialism is growing in its place. In the US, perhaps it’s no surprise that most Democrats have a better opinion of socialism than capitalism. Far more startling is the fact that they are not alone: the Republican party and the corporate establishment, which once paid lip service to competitive capitalism, are both starting to embrace the importance of massive deficit spending and state support.

But unlike the social democracy movements that followed World War Two, the New Socialism focusses not on material aspirations but on climate change, gender, and race. While the old socialism sought to represent the ordinary labourer, many on the Left today seem to have little more than contempt for old working-class base and its often less than genteel views on issues such as Critical Race Theory.

Yet perhaps the most critical difference between traditional socialism and its new form relates to growth. The New Socialism’s emphasis on climate change necessarily removes economic growth as a priority. Quite the opposite, in fact: the Green agenda looks instead towards a shrinking economy and lowered living standards, seeking to elevate favoured groups within a stagnant economy rather than generating opportunities for the general population.

As a result, this new variant of socialism seems more feudal than Marxist. As Edwin Aponte, editor of the socialist blog The Bellows, has observed, Marx opposed utopian socialists, with their dreams of a return to the cohesive social order of feudal times — instead, he favoured using technology and economic growth to lift them up.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may not realise that the much-admired European socialist system was built on the back of a private sector. But the truth is that virtually all the successful welfare states — Germany, Netherlands, Scandinavia — rose on competitive economies: Swedish steel, Dutch chemicals, German machine tools and cars were critical to funding socialist programs in capitalist countries. But as this model slowly crumbles, as Europe loses its competitive edge to China and elsewhere, this lesson appears to have been forgotten. And in its place has risen a New Socialism that serves Wall Street, the City and the tech oligarchy.

The usual response from environmental activists is that the rapid transition to “zero carbon” will create oodles of new, well-paid jobs. In reality, however, these jobs generally pay less, offer fewer hours and are rarely unionised. The reality facing the middle class is an acceleration of our class divides and lower living standards. It’s long been de rigueur on the Green Left to cut back on homeownership, limit use of private cars or even fly on vacation. In other words, those who will suffer most are the very people whom socialism is supposed to save. Already energy poverty is on the rise in those places — from California to the EU — where punitive fuel costs have been increased.

Elsewhere, supply chain problems and inflation are now dismissed as “high-class problems”, even if it also means high prices for essentials such as milk, gas and rent. The Atlantic, a premier voice of the gentry Left, grumbles that “America’s central organizing principle is thoughtless consumption”, echoing the kind of homily handed out by Medieval clerics to disgruntled serfs.

Read the rest of this piece at Unherd.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Homepage photo: Andrew Armistad via Wikimedia under CC 1.0 License.

The Reshoring Imperative

The COVID-19 pandemic brought tragedy and disruption to America. But it has also provided another stark warning concern­ing the country’s disastrous over reliance on overseas production. It has demon­strated that without a strong, self-reliant industrial base, this country’s ability to forge a healthy, prosperous future—and even its ability to defend itself against foreign enemies—will be severely compromised.

The fact that the world’s largest, and theoretically most advanced, economy could not provide basic medical equipment like masks or the basic components of pharmaceuticals came as a shock, particularly as the country was forced to lean on its leading geopolitical rival, China, to address a health emergency that originated there. These developments have stirred some businesses and politicians in both parties to seek ways to encourage domestic production.

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California Dreamin’

“I just took [my son] to our local Walgreens to buy him a toy. While there, a man shoved past me so firmly that he sent me into the shelving. Then he proceeded to fill a brown paper bag with Halloween candy and waltzed out of the store. This is one of five Walgreens stores in SF that will be closing in the next two months, in part because of rampant theft. And our city leaders all keep insisting crime is down.”   San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities, by Michael Schellenberger

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Serfing the Planet

Like its global predecessors, the COP26 Glasgow conference will usher in a new wave of apocalyptic warnings about climate change. It will also likely prove no more successful, in terms of actually addressing the issue, than its predecessors, particularly as China, India and other developing countries ramp up their emissions.

Nevertheless, none of this will force the climate activists to reconsider how the current strategies against global warming could break the backs of the already beleaguered working and middle class. (For British readers, I use the phrase ‘middle class’ here in the American – less bourgeois – sense.) The climate chorus of celebrities, oligarchs and royals may feel virtuous, but for most people the future could prove to be propertyless proletarianisation. Many of those in Glasgow at the moment pray at the altar of ‘de-growth’. They want to limit the consumption of the working and middle classes, undermine their jobs, raise their energy bills, and inhibit their ability to buy property or travel.

These policies are fine with ‘woke’ corporatists like BlackRock, who see enormous profits in the regulated shift in energy, even as they seek to expand their business with the world’s dominant polluter, China. What’s missing is any focus on how to cut emissions without causing high inflation, raising energy prices and destroying the middle class. So far, more palatable options, like increasing remote work, geothermal energy, natural gas, nuclear power and varied new technologies, have not managed to get on to the agenda.

With climate, as with many other issues, the upper classes are inflicting their own preferences on working- and middle-class people. As nonprofits, oligarchs and bureaucrats plot out the future, small business owners and the middle class, as one entrepreneur put it, are ‘not at the table – or even in the room’. This is the very class – what I refer to as the yeomanry – that has driven much of the West’s economic progress and nurtured self-government. Democracy was born when both Athens and later Rome included small property owners in governance. Democracy died when these small owners lost power to what Aristotle labelled the ‘oligarchia’.

After the autocratic Middle Ages, both human progress and self-rule came back as the middle classes began to rise – first in Italy but then more profoundly, and more pervasively, in the Netherlands and the British Isles, before spreading to North America and Oceania, where there was no true hereditary aristocracy. Students of classical experience, such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Adams, all considered the over-concentration of property in a few hands as a basic threat to republican institutions, an insight shared by such intellects as Edmund Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville and Adam Smith.

After the brutalities of the early Industrial Revolution, and two world wars, the middle class thrived not just in America, but also in Britain, Australia, Canada and increasingly in East Asia. But by the 1970s we began what has become an inexorable march towards an ever more feudalistic structure. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has noted that, across the 36 wealthier countries, the uber-wealthy have taken an ever greater share of national GDP in recent decades, while the middle class ‘looks increasingly like a boat in rocky waters’.

These patterns are clearly evident in the United States, where wealth gains have been especially concentrated among the top 0.1 per cent. The share of national wealth held by those below the top 10 per cent has fallen since the 1980s by 12 percentage points, the same proportion that the top 0.1 per cent have gained. Today, roughly half of all Americans earn less than $35,000 annually, living essentially pay cheque to pay cheque.

Even with their robust social-welfare provisions, over two thirds of European Union countries, including Sweden, have experienced declining social mobility. Germany is significantly less equal than its EU peers, with richer households controlling a bigger share of assets than in most other Western European states. The bottom 40 per cent of German adults hold almost no assets at all; barely 45 per cent of Germans own homes. Even in theoretically socialist China the top one per cent of the population hold about one third of the country’s wealth. Meanwhile, the prospects for the Chinese middle class are fading, particularly in light of the recent debt and housing crisis.

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 joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Photo: Paul Farmer, via Geograph.org.uk, CC 2.0 License.

Elites are Using Climate Hysteria to Immiserate the Working Class

Few things in life are as predictable as the rhetoric of climate change summits like this coming week’s in Glasgow. Over the next week, you will hear again and again that the planet is dying and that climate change will cause mass dislocations and starvation. The end is nigh, the UN has told us, and only green house gas reducing penance can save us.

We have been hearing this now for decades, with each global confab upping the ante, insisting that with the inevitable denouement, “not enough” is being done and what we need is to get more militant. And this despite whatever progress has been made.

The climate industrial complex, as economist Bjorn Lonborg has aptly called the climate doomsday crowd, has persuaded the media to indulge consistent exaggeration and predictions that link virtually any weather event— droughts, floods, hurricanes or heavy rains—directly to human caused climate change. As President Obama’s undersecretary of energy for science, physicist Steve Koonin, pointed out, the most widely reported projections reflect only highly improbable worse case scenarios based on such things as ever growing coal usage and no significant technological improvement.

Increasingly, even climate scientists are noting that the constant, and often poorly supported doomsaying threaten the credibility of the movement itself. And there have been quiet reversals; the more extreme predictions have been abandoned or walked back, even by the UN itself. And yet, in the U.S., the vast majority of young Americans continue to believe that we face imminent environmental catastrophe. And Canadian psychologists have found elevated levels of anxiety among young people, some of whom see climate as justifying the decision to not have offspring—not surprising given that they are constantly told that their world will be coming to a catastrophic end.

Of course, some climate change is real and deserving of our attention; it needs to be addressed. But what we need to combat it is not despair, but rather, a willingness to face future climate changes of any kind, including those that may be induced by human activities, with positive effort. The environmental movement needs to give up “utopian fantasies,” writes Ted Nordhaus, a longtime California environmentalist, and “make its peace with modernity and technology.”

A mix of diverse options from nuclear power and hydroelectric generation to replacing coal with abundant, cleaner natural gas and geothermal, as well as entirely new innovations could reduce emissions over time without catastrophic economic and social consequences. This is particularly true in the developing world that remains critically short of reliable, affordable energy.

Read the rest of this piece at Newsweek.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Photo: UK Government via Wikimedia under OGL v.3.

Slow Boat from China

To some in the Biden Administration, the supply chain crisis can be dismissed as a loss of East Asian-made consumer trinkets that, as Vox tells us, we could all be better off without—or as White House spokesperson Jen Psaki suggested, amounts to little more than “the tragedy of the delayed treadmill.” Yet, in reality, a broken supply chain is hardly a rich man’s problem—global bankers are having their best year ever—but mostly impacts ordinary folks suffering from rising prices for everything from soybeans to natural gas. The crisis is now expected to last for at least a year.

The chaos on the ground level may not much hurt the elites of Manhattan or Palo Alto, but inflation, which is now expected to continue apace for at least the next year, has wiped out wage gains in the U.S., the UK, and Germany. Low-income groups are the most threatened, struggling to pay energy costs, surging rents, and higher food prices. All this is also eroding President Biden’s already weak poll numbers.

Our vulnerability to supply chain disruption clearly predates the Biden Administration, forged by the abandonment of the production economy over the past 50 years by American business and government, encouraged and applauded by the clerisy of business consultants. The result has been massive trade deficits that now extend to high-tech products, and even components for military goods, many of which are now produced in China. When companies move production abroad, they often follow up by shifting research and development as well. All we are left with is advertising the products, and ringing up the sales, assuming they arrive.

Unable to stock shelves, procure parts, power your home, or even protect your own country without waiting for your ship to come in, Americans are now unusually vulnerable to shipping rates shooting up to ten times higher than before the pandemic. Not surprisingly, pessimism about America’s direction, after a brief improvement Biden’s election, has risen by 20 points. The shipping crisis is now projected to last through 2023.

Not everyone loses here. For years the American establishment saw China as more of an opportunity than a danger. High-tech firms, entertainment companies, and investment banks profit, or hope to, from our dependency, becoming in essence the new “China lobby.” Behind the scenes these representatives of enlightened capital often work to prevent condemnation for the Middle Kingdom’s mercantilist policy, and its joint repression of democracy and ethnic minorities.

After all, the pain is not felt in elite coastal enclaves, but in Youngstown, south Los Angeles, and myriad other decaying locales. Meanwhile, by enabling China’s focus on production, and the conquest of technologies related to making goods, we have devastated  large parts of our country.  This shift has cost us 3.7 million jobs since 2000. Throughout the period between 2004 and 2017, the U.S. share of world manufacturing shrank from 15 to 10 percent, while our reliance on Chinese inputs doubled, even as our dependence on Japan and Germany shrank.

Yet perhaps even more debilitating has been our drift towards what British historian Martin Weiner has called “psychological de-industrialization.” Weiner was referring to the lack of interest in productive enterprise during late Victorian and Edwardian England, but he could just as easily be describing contemporary America’s corporate and financial elite.

Fortunately, America is not England, now a shadow of itself as an industrial country, living off its imperial connections to bolster its media, finance, and tourism sectors. It is a small country, at the edge of a fading continent in seemingly permanent decline. It lacks our vast expanse with its agricultural, energy, and other resources, not to mention our still considerable entrepreneurial spirit. As a huge continental country with enormous resources, lots of arable land and a large, traditionally hard-working population, the United States should be ideally suited to survive the retreat of the global economy, so evident in the supply chain crisis, and be able to shift to a more autarchic model. 

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 joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Homepage photo: Don Shall via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

Confronting the Supply Chain Crisis

For a generation, the Long Beach and Los Angeles harbors in California handled more than 40 percent of all container cargo headed into the US and epitomized the power of a globalizing economy. Today, the ships—mostly from Asia—still dock, but they must wait in a seemingly endless conga line of as many as 60 vessels, sometimes for as long as three weeks. These are the worst delays in modern history, and the price per container has risen to as much as 10 times its cost before the pandemic. The shipping crisis is now projected to last through 2023.

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Joe Biden’s Class War

Joe Biden may present himself as a ‘working-class hero’, a claim reiterated recently in the leftist American Prospect, but increasingly America’s workers are showing signs not of common cause but disquiet. Hollywood workers just announced a large-scale strike, some of whom blame their hard times on the ‘disruption’ to their industry wrought by tech firms, which are distinctly hostile to unions. There’s also increased tensions at Disneyland, as well as numerous organising efforts targeting Biden’s oligarch allies like Amazon and Starbucks.

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Feudal Future Podcast – Is There Hope? The Future of California Politics

On this episode of Feudal Future, hosts Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky are joined by Tom Campbell and Shawn Steel to discuss the future of California politics.