Foreign Threats Demand a Muscular Domestic Response

With our natural resources, our productive capacity, and the genius of our people for mass production we will…outstrip the Axis powers in munitions of war.
Franklin Roosevelt, Message to Congress, Jun 10, 1941

War, or the threat of war, should awaken nations from their dogmatic quarrels. So too should concentrated economic threats and assaults on our political system from unfriendly powers. It is not so much a matter of good global intentions but the embrace of hard-headed national interests, not only in the realm of energy and manufacturing, that will be key in responding to the autocratic challenge.

In the end, it’s only the nation state—in alliance with other similarly minded states—that can stand up to the threats now coming from our primary adversaries, China, and Russia. NATO does not build planes and failed to counter Russian threats; the UN has not exactly stamped out aggressive wars. Meanwhile the global economic hegemons have backed policies on energy and manufacturing that have made our autocratic enemies, and their allies like Iran, stronger.

Fortunately, America has revived itself before, albeit often later than would have been ideal. We freed ourselves from Britain through Hamilton’s embrace of industrial development; Lincoln’s development of credit systems, the Homestead Act, and the development of industries proved critical to defeating the slave economy of the south. Massive American production was critical in defeating Nazism and, over the ensuing four decades, under both parties, the United States managed to innovate and out produce the Soviet industrial state.

To be effective at countering that vast effort, a new American nationalism must transcend Donald Trump’s often hyperbolic “America First” rhetoric. We are fighting a primarily economic war, not against ideological opponents like the USSR or Mao’s China, but against leaders strategically motivated by imperial revanchism. In countering these autocratic moves, we cannot count on the United Nations, the European Union, or the globalist grandees of Davos. The current challenge can only be met by a national response on every level—from our increasingly weakened military, to our industrial and agricultural establishment—as well as an embrace of America’s uniqueness and historic mission.

Successful nationalism lies in tapping the power of our productive economy—real products, not just digital ones—as occurred under Franklin Roosevelt and successive presidents. America’s rise to global predominance in the last century, and its creation of a vibrant middle class, had its roots, notes economic historian Robert Gordon, in great investment in physical infrastructure and production. In contrast, our current focus on digital technology and social media has resulted in a slow and diminished productivity and growing social inequality. This has been made worse as by what one analyst describes as “the transformation of disruptive tech companies into rent seeking monopolies.”

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.

Photo credit: Nikolas Zane, via Flickr, under CC 2.0 License.

Tarnishing the Golden State

No state advertises its egalitarian bona fides more than California. Governor Gavin Newsom brags that his state is “the envy of the world,” a place that is “not going to abandon our poor people.” In his inauguration speech, he claimed that “unlike the Washington plutocracy, California isn’t satisfied serving a powerful few on one side of the velvet rope. The California Dream is for all.” Yet even as Newsom and his progressive allies have backed Black Lives Matter and enacted a racialized “ethnic studies” curriculum in public schools, reality tells a less positive story. The Golden State’s racial minorities are far from thriving. Increasingly, they’re seeking fortunes elsewhere—often to redder, less “enlightened” states.

The minorities leaving California are not running away from beautiful weather or scenery but toward an opportunity horizon that no longer seems achievable in the Golden State. In a new report for Chapman University, my coauthors and I found that African-American and Latino Californians’ real earnings ranked between 48th and 50th among the states. Blacks in California earn roughly the same, or slightly less, than do their counterparts in Mississippi. The state has the nation’s worst cost-adjusted poverty rate and the third-highest Gini Inequality index (behind New York and Louisiana). According to the United Way of California, over 30 percent of California residents lack sufficient income to cover basic living costs even after accounting for public-assistance programs; this includes half of Latino and 40 percent of black residents.

It was different once. Ever since the nineteenth-century Gold Rush, people from around the world rushed to California to seek their fortunes, giving the state a diverse population of whites, Asians, Latinos, and blacks. Deeply afraid of an “Asian invasion” into what newcomers called Gold Mountain, incumbent Californians limited the rights of Chinese, Japanese, and other migrants from the East and backed racially oriented bans originating from Washington, D.C. that lifted only in the early 1950s. The Asian population has risen since. Until 1990, Asians were not systematically enumerated in the decennial census but were instead combined with Pacific Islanders; this larger grouping increased from 2.0 percent to 9.6 percent of the state’s population, according to Census Bureau research. The state’s Asian population increased from 10.9 percent in 2000 to 15.1 percent in 2020.

Immigrants also entered from Mexico, at first to escape the chaos of that country’s brutal 1910–1920 revolution. Controls on Mexican migration tended to follow economic conditions, but a liberalization of immigration laws in 1965, and a mass amnesty in 1986, assured that Latinos would be the Golden State’s largest group. Census Bureau research indicates that California’s Hispanic population rose from 6.0 percent in 1940 to 13.7 percent in 1970 and 32.4 percent in 2000. A figure of 37.6 percent was reached in 2010, rising to 39.4 percent in 2020.

Finally, African-Americans started coming to the state in the 1920s and 1930s, with their numbers increasing during World War II. Lured by good jobs in the state’s burgeoning aircraft, automobile, and construction economies, blacks may have faced some discrimination, but far less than they did elsewhere. In L.A., wrote Ralph Bunche, blacks were “eating high up” off the hog. As late as 1940, less than 2 percent of the population was black—a number that more than doubled by 1950 and reached a peak of 7.7 percent in 1980. Since 2000, however, California’s black population has dropped from 6.7 percent to 5.4 percent.

Today, the California opportunity structure is no longer so promising. Once seen as a mecca of sorts for blacks, L.A. now ranks toward the bottom of the Urban Reform Institute’s Upward Mobility Index, which measures such factors as income, housing affordability, unemployment, educational attainment, and homeownership. San Francisco does poorly by the same metrics. The best American cities for upward mobility today are not Los Angeles or San Francisco but Atlanta; Phoenix; Virginia Beach and Richmond, Virginia; and Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

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 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: City Journal.

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This is less a growth in “bedroom suburbs,” supplying workers to the urban core, but one that serves multiple employment centers and commercial development. The latest edition of Commuting in America estimates that almost 70 percent of metropolitan-area workers now live and work in the suburbs; trips within suburbs or suburb-to-suburb commutes constitute more than double the commutes with a central business district as the final destination.

The urban fringe is where the American dream is now being re­discovered. But these fringes remain widely disdained in academia, media, and the planning community. This was most evident during the financial crisis when there were widespread media accounts suggesting, among other things, that the exurbs would become “the next slums,” the equivalent of “roadkill” doomed by changing economics and demo­graphics. The New York Times even suggested how to carve up the suburban carcass, with some envisioning that suburban three-car garages would be “subdivided into rental units with street front cafés, shops and other local businesses,” while abandoned pools would become skateboard parks. Yet this is exactly what did not happen.

The Exurban Revolution

In the new In the new Urban Reform Institute report, we identified the fifty high­est‑growth large counties in terms of net domestic migration from 2015 to 2019. These areas grew their population at 7.5 times the rate of the country’s other 3,100 counties during this period and gained 1.8 million net domestic migrants. Out of the fifty, all but seven are located in combined statistical areas (CSAs) of more than 500,000 residents. And each of these outer counties are within or close to a two-hour commute time of a central core county. Key areas include Atlanta, Dallas–Fort Worth, and Orlando.

The key demographic headed to these places is young people in prime family formation years. From 2015 to 2019, these counties saw an increase in twenty-five- to thirty-four-year-olds of 12.8 percent, almost four times the 3.4 percent growth rate in the other counties. The high­est‑growth counties also have a far higher rate of school-age children (five- to fourteen-year-olds) per household than the rest of the nation—0.66 compared to 0.43 for the other counties. The highest growth counties have 3.5 times as many school-age children per household as, for example, Manhattan and San Francisco and 75 percent more school-age children per household than other counties in the United States.

This migration is not a repeat of the “white flight” that drove peripheral growth a half century ago. To be sure, during the great mass suburbanization of the mid-twentieth century, many communities—Levittown and Lakewood are well-known examples—excluded ethnic minorities, providing planners and “smart growth” advocates a rationale to claim that single-family neighborhoods are inherently racist ever since. This assertion is seriously out of date, however. Over the past decade, non-Hispanic whites accounted for less than 4 percent of growth in suburbs and exurbs, while Latinos accounted for nearly half, with Asians, African Americans, mixed race, and other groups making up the balance.

These areas tend to be particularly attractive to well-educated immi­grants. The wildly popular Woodlands planned community near Houston is roughly 30 percent Hispanic, African American, and Asian. In Irvine, California, arguably the most successful planned development, a majority of the population is nonwhite and over 40 percent Asian. In the Tres Lagos development in McAllen, Texas, three-quarters of all buyers are middle-class Hispanics, notes developer Nick Rhodes, for houses that average under $200,000. “We have a young population that is looking for larger homes and safety,” suggests the twenty-seven-year-old Rhodes. “These are people who cannot afford Irving or even Dallas but want parks and good schools.”

Read the rest of this piece at American Affairs Journal.

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: Ken Lund via Flickr CC 2.0 License.

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