Making the Middle Class Wealthier: A Conversation with Joel Kotkin

With: Walter Russell Mead
On: Hudson Institute

Join Hudson Institute for a discussion with Joel Kotkin about building middle-class wealth and housing opportunities. Described by the New York Times as “America’s uber-geographer,” Joel Kotkin is an internationally-recognized authority who has published reports on topics ranging from the future of class in global cities to the places with the best opportunities for minorities. His newest book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class, was published in May 2020. Hudson Institute Distinguished Fellow Walter Russell Mead will moderate the conversation.

For most of American history, housing has been the key to middle class prosperity. Starting with the original settlers, ordinary Americans have been far more likely to own their homes than their counterparts in other countries. Homesteaders on the frontier tended to own their own farms and urban workers began moving to the suburbs for inexpensive housing before the Civil War. As the Industrial Revolution brought more people to work in cities, suburban housing became vital for the working class. Today, concerns about “urban sprawl” and the environment have made some policymakers concerned about continued suburban growth, potentially jeopardizing the next generation’s pathway to homeownership and wealth accumulation.

This conversation is part of a series entitled, “The Future of the Middle Class” by Hudson Institute’s Center for the Future of Liberal Society. In this series, Hudson Distinguished Fellow Walter Russell Mead will moderate discussions with thought-provoking policy experts about some of the most pressing challenges associated with rebuilding the economy and promoting the prosperity of America’s middle class.

Click to Hudson Institute to Watch the Video Event

 

Related:

Beyond Feudalism: A Strategy to Restore California’s Middle Class
Preserving Opportunity for the Global Middle Class
The Two Middle Classes

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.

Podcast Episode 12: Kyle Harper

On this episode of Feudal Future, hosts Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky are joined by Kyle Harper, Professor of Classics at the University of Oklahoma. Their discussion looks to the fall of Rome to help understand the problems of today. Kyle’s book, The Fall of Rome takes a look at infectious disease as part of the destruction of Rome.

The Coronavirus Reopened America’s Wounds — and Poured Salt in Them

Yes, the coronavirus hit the president and his White House hard, likely because of the irresponsible choices this president has made, but let’s not kid ourselves: The virus has devastated with alarming efficiency minorities and the impoverished, particularly in cities, while accelerating America’s return to a more hierarchical and far less democratic society.

The virus has been inconvenient for the affluent, many of whom still could work comfortably from home and who suffered far lower rates of infection. And it’s been a boon for the elite bureaucracy and even more so for the already fantastically wealthy tech oligarchs whose ownership of people’s data is even more valuable with shopping and entertainment largely online.

That’s nothing new. Faced with pestilence in crowded cities, the wealthy in past centuries often escaped to country estates and rentals, as they have this year. Of course, some of those escapees died, too, but at a far lower rate than the hoi polloi. Whether in the towering insulae of Rome, medieval hovels, or the tenements of the Lower East Side, the poor have always been hit first and hardest by economic dislocation, infection, and death. Although far less lethal, COVID-19 has followed this pattern.

Overall, counties with urban densities greater than 10,000 per square mile constitute less than 4 percent of the nation’s population but have suffered 14 percent of deaths associated with the pandemic. By comparison, in the most typical suburban areas (urban densities of 1,000 to 2,500 per square mile), where 53 percent of the population lives, the COVID fatality rate is approximately one-fifth of that. In counties with urban densities under 1,000 (largely rural), it is one-sixth.

The biggest problem lies with what demographer Wendell Cox labels “exposure density,” which results from insufficiently ventilated places like crowded housing, transit, elevators and office environments. Poor people, as a new paper suggests, are far less able to socially distance either at home or at work. As race and class often overlap in America, whites are roughly twice as likely to telecommute as African Americans or Hispanics.

Nationwide, African Americans, who make up 13 percent of the population, account for 21 percent of COVID-related deaths. The difference in hospitalization rates between groups is even more striking, with Native Americans at 300 per 100,000, African Americans at 267 and Latinos at 265, while its 57 for non-Latino whites.

Poverty seems to be the common thread. Even in lower density areas like native American reservations and along the Mexican border, poorer people often live in crowded, pandemic-friendly unventilated places. The worst-hit areas have been those with both high rates of poverty and household crowding, like New York’s outer boroughs and Chicago’s south and west sides. Although California’s infection rate has been lower, the worst effects by far have been felt in impoverished parts of Los Angeles County—home to five of the 10 most crowded zip codes in the U.S. In Houston, poor areas like the First and Third Wards have experienced far higher rates of infection and fatalities. An analysis by the Houston Chronicle revealed that seven of the 10 zip codes with the highest rates of infection were majority-black and low-income communities. Some suffered double or triple the county’s (already high for Texas) average per-capita rate.

Read the rest of this piece at The 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.

Image by Silviu Costin Iancu in Public Domain.

Virtual Town Hall — Middle Class Survival Strategies

Join us October 17th for a live interactive webinar on how the middle class can survive and thrive during this time of social and economic uncertainty. Read more

Podcast Episode 11: Fred and Harry Siegel

On this episode of Feudal Future, hosts, Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky are joined by guests Harry and Fred Siegel. Fred is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. His son, Harry is a senior editor at the Daily Beast. Their conversation covers the future trends of cities, the workforce, and Manhattan.

Podcast Episode 10: How COVID is Shifting Corporate Location Strategy

In this episode of Feudal Future, Jay Garner join hosts Joel and Marshall to explore site selection and how COVID is shifting corporate location strategy.

Podcast Episode 9: How COVID is Shaping the Office of the Future

In this episode of the Feudal Future podcast, Jim Young & Kirstie Acevedo of Gensler join hosts Joel and Marshall to talk about the workspace experiment, and how COVID is shaping the office of the future.

The Heartland’s Revival

For roughly the past half century, the middle swath of America has been widely written off as reactionary, backward, and des­tined for unceasing decline. CNBC recently ranked the “worst states” to live in, and almost all were in what is typically defined as the Heartland.1 Paul Krugman of the New York Times sees the region populated by “jobless men in their prime working years, with many suffering ‘deaths of despair’ by drugs, alcohol or suicide.” Read more

Green Policies Won’t Keep California Truckin’

No state advertises its green credentials more than California. That these policies often hurt the economy, driving up housing costs and narrowing opportunities for working-class people while not even doing much for the environment, has not discouraged the state’s environmental overlords. Read more