Do We Need a Capitalist Civil War?

We Americans like to think of ourselves as a thoroughly modern people — living proof of what, with enough toil and grit, the rest of the free world can one day hope to be. And yet for all our progressivism and idealism, America’s political culture finds itself unable to escape the past. We may be living in a 21st century democracy, but that “democracy” increasingly resembles something that could have been plucked out of feudal Europe or, perhaps more accurately, feudal Japan.

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Serfing the Future?

Land ownership has shaped civilizations from their beginnings, with a constant interplay between great powers—the aristocracy, the state, the Church, the emperor—and those below them. History has oscillated between periods of greater dispersion of ownership, and those that favored greater concentration.

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The Kids Are Not Alright and the Center is No Longer Holding

Across the West, the young are losing faith in the future.

The recent French election provides a case study. In the first round vote, voters narrowly favored President Emmanuel Macron, the epitome of “enlightened” elite rule, over Marine Le Pen, the doyenne of French fascism. Read more

The Working Classes Are a Volcano Waiting to Erupt

Whatever the final outcome, the recent French elections have already revealed the comparative irrelevance of many elite concerns, from gender fluidity and racial injustice to the ever-present ‘climate catastrophe’. Instead, most voters in France and elsewhere are more concerned about soaring energy, food and housing costs. Many suspect that the cognitive elites, epitomised by President Emmanuel Macron, lack even the ambition to improve their living conditions.

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Red Dusk

David Goldman’s remarks on America’s challenges against China are, for the most part, spot-on. He is particularly on-target about two realities that may displease traditional conservatives: the failure of Trump’s China policy, and the need for some form of industrial policy.

Goldman may have voted twice for Trump (I did not), but he is no MAGA die-hard. He can read the numbers, which show growing dependence on China and an ever-widening trade deficit: imports from China rose over 30% more starting in January 2018, when Trump imposed tariffs. This 19th-century strategy simply did not work in the 21st.

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California’s Vanished Dreams, By the Numbers

Even today amid a mounting exodus among those who can afford it, and with its appeal diminished to businesses and newcomers, California, legendary state of American dreams, continues to inspire optimism among progressive boosters.

Laura Tyson, the longtime Democratic economist now at the University of California at Berkeley, praises the state for creating “the way forward” to a more enlightened “market capitalism.” Like-minded analysts tout Silicon Valley’s massive wealth generation as evidence of progressivism’s promise. The Los Angeles Times suggested approvingly that the Biden administration’s goal is to “make America California again.” And, despite dark prospects in November’s midterm elections, the President and his party still seem intent on proving it.

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America is Headed for Class Warfare

Nothing has revealed the class divide in the U.S. quite like runaway inflation and skyrocketing gas prices. But in addition to the economic impact the staggering incompetence of the Biden administration is having on the working class, there is a political one; it’s undeniably driving working class voters even further from the Democrats and toward the GOP.

But it’s not all good news for conservatives. The recent Amazon vote to unionize could be a precursor to something less appealing to the Right: a nascent rebellion among the vast armies of service workers who for decades have inhabited the lower economic rungs.

The truth is, the rising tide of class conflict is problematic for both parties. The Amazon vote challenges the GOP’s anti-union stance and its free market dogma. But Democrats, too, face an embarrassing conundrum, since the companies most likely to face continued union drives—Amazon and Starbucks among them—are themselves core funders and media stewards of the Democratic Party.

This is not the discussion either liberal oligarchs or Right-wing activists want. They would rather battle over media hot buttons like climate, race, and gender, than meaningfully address working conditions, wages or rapidly rising rents.

In other words, neither party has developed a program to boost proletarian aspirations.

And this despite the fact that the growing class divide could well be the dominant issue of the next decade. Middle- and working-class Americans are widely—and correctly—pessimistic about their economic futures. Even before the civil unrest of recent years and the pandemic, Pew reported that most Americans believed our country was in decline, with a shrinking middle class, increased debt, alienation from leaders and growing polarization.

Almost 70 percent of Americans told pollsters last year that the next generation will be worse off than their parents. And it’s not just the masses. Young people across the country are pessimistic as well: Most people 15 to 24 also think life will be worse for them than for their parents.

They aren’t wrong. The share of American adults who live in middle-income households has decreased from 61 percent in 1971 to 51 percent in 2019, and the pandemic appears to have accelerated this pattern, hitting low-income workers hardest while the recovery helped them least.

Meanwhile, those at the top are raking it in. CEO compensation reached record levels this year, investment bankers on Wall Street enjoyed record bonuses and the giant tech firms now boast a market capitalization greater than the bloated federal budget.

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: Elvert Barnes via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

When the Arc of History Bends Back Toward the Dark Ages

The notion that “the arc of history” favors humanity extends across the political spectrum from George W. Bush to Barack Obama. Yet rather than facing the dawn of a progressive future, we may be entering “the great regression,” a period where the world becomes more hierarchical and feudal, less prosperous, and much less free.

A decade or two ago, optimism was buttressed by the economic boom that followed the end of the Second World War and was further extended by the collapse of Communism. This “end of history” moment seemed to be the dawn of a future that was more like Star Trek, with advanced technologies used to deliver universal prosperity under a regime of enlightened rulers. Instead, today’s new world order is a springtime for dictators, revanchist ideologies, and the pitiless global struggle for supremacy.

In place of the broad-based prosperity enjoyed by Europe, Australia, and North America that gave birth to capitalism and modern democracy, those regions have become more feudalistic, hierarchical, and profoundly unequal. The middle class, which was critical in destroying feudalism and ushering in the prosperity of the modern world, has lost ground to a small aristocracy of financiers, as corporate and tech hegemons have increased their power over the global economy.

Once-dynamic Western societies are now stagnating as they did in feudal times. Median incomes have stayed flat while the populations of post-industrial societies are growing slowly or not at all—a problem exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The mid-20th-century liberal “golden age” has receded under the rising tide of autocracy. Indeed, according to a recent study by Sweden’s University of Gothenburg, nearly 70% of the world’s population lives under some kind of autocracy, including illiberal electoral regimes, up from 50% in 2011. Belief in democracy is also declining, most disturbingly among young people who are intimately acquainted with the shortcomings of Western liberal democracies but have no historical memory of what life was like under previous autocracies.

Although the united Western response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine offers some hope of a revived liberal alliance, the most likely solutions to the crisis will come from deals struck between monarchs fighting over turf and prestige. While no one is expecting the UN bureaucracy to broker a solution, dictators like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan have a vital role to play. At the moment, global oil shortages have already empowered autocrats in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Venezuela. Soon Iran’s mullahs, saved by Europe and the United States, will see their own windfall as Western nations purposely surrender their capacity to generate energy on their own.

The United States’ failure to prevent Russia’s strategic dominance of Europe’s energy sector or China’s relentless drive for global preeminence is not a predetermined fact of history—rather, it reflects choices made by our ruling establishment. Rather than seek, as in the past, to boost the United States’ productive power with investment in manufacturing and energy, corporate and political elites in the United States have comprehensively demonized and dismantled precisely those industries in the name of a green ideology that Joel Garreau calls “the religion of choice for urban atheists.” It is no coincidence that the very industries that tend to spread wealth to ordinary workers, enrich owners, and support an independent middle class are portrayed as being full of deplorables and contributing to the climate apocalypse. Like the early Christians, today’s climate activists employ religion to strangle dissent and control opinion.

Read the rest of this piece at The Scroll.


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.

The Most Dangerous Class

Twenty-first-century America may be dominated by oligarchic elites, but arguably the biggest threat to our economic and political system might be located further down the food chain. This most dangerous class comes from the growing number of underemployed, overeducated people. They’re what has been described in Britain as the lumpenintelligensia: alienated, angry, and potentially agents of our social and political deconstruction.

This is far more than an angry mob shouting in keystrokes, but the proto-proletariat of a feudalizing post-industrial society. Overall, notes one recent study, over the past 20 years we have created twice as many bachelor’s degrees as jobs to employ them. Instead of finding riches in the “new economy,” many end up in lower-paying, noncredentialed jobs. They then compete with working-class kids, often products of similarly dysfunctional high schools; an estimated one-third of American working-age males are now outside the labor force, suffering high rates of incarceration, as well as drug, alcohol, and other health issues.

Although they are not subject to the same pressures of the working class, the fate of those attending college and even graduating is far from bright. This is the most-anxious generation in recent history, and for good reason. Today more than 40 percent are working in jobs that don’t require their degree, according to a recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Another study notes that most may never ascend to the kinds of jobs that graduates have historically enjoyed.

This is a global phenomenon. Over a quarter of Chinese graduates are unemployed, and the number is increasing.

In India, one in three graduates up to the age of 29 is unemployed, according to a Labour Ministry report released last November, almost three times the country’s overall unemployment rate. A recent U.N. analysis also suggested that this huge bulge of underemployed educated people could undermine the country’s stability in the years ahead.

As Greta Thunberg and her legions remind us, young, discontented people have tended to push toward the extremes. In Latin America, underemployed graduates have long been a source of disruption. Today roughly half of all Latin American college students don’t graduate, and many never really see a payback for their time in college.

A similar pattern of disruption drove the Arab Spring. There, as well as in the Balkans, unemployed and underemployed college graduates have been a major disruptive force. In Africa, where youth unemployment is also high and the numbers are growing fastest, college graduates who compose barely 7 percent of the total workforce also labor in low-end jobs.

Read the rest of this piece at National Review.


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.

Next California Migration: Video

By: USC Sol Price School of Public Policy

California poses many challenges for the middle- and working-class. As a result, there is a significant migration of people, jobs, and opportunities— both within and outside the state. Who is leaving California, and who is no longer seeking to move to the golden state? Are there incentives for job creation and how can the state remain competitive?

Dr. Jorge De la Roca, Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky tackle these questions and more. This expert panel offers an overview of current demographic trends in California, followed by a discussion around future implications for the state and possible solutions to reinvigorate the California dream. The event concluded with audience Q&A.

Watch the full event:

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