What COVID Hath Wrought

Glenn Ellmers’s analysis of COVID and Trump represents a classic, and effective, account of the situation from the perspective of declining liberty and adherence to traditional values. But though it is important and necessary to hold onto our highest ideals, I would like to emphasize what is actually taking place on the ground and its likely long-term implication.

Statistics show that COVID accelerated economic, demographic, and geographic trends which were already existent, but rarely acknowledged. These trends include large-scale migration to the south, the west, and the suburbs. COVID also, as Ellmers suggests, sharpened the conflict between many Americans and the ruling “expert” class, who, unlike most Americans, actually flourished under COVID.

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There’s One Simple Trick for Making America’s Post-Pandemic Cities Great Again

America’s great cities are coming back, albeit slowly, from the shock of the pandemic, and its divisive aftermath. But don’t expect them to fully recover their former status any time soon.

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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 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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Texas Is The Future

In 1946, the American author John Gunther described Houston as “mostly ugly and barren, without a single good restaurant and hotels with cockroaches”. The only reasons to live in the city, he claimed, were financial; it was a place “where few people think about anything but money”.

This view was widespread at the time, and has lingered well into the 21st century. Forget Houston. New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles are the cities most frequently associated with the urban American dream.

Fast forward to today, however, and a new urban renaissance is taking shape — and this time, it’s in the heart of Texas. Never before in American history have two metros in one state — Houston and Dallas-Ft. Worth — been in the nation’s five largest. So much for its cockroaches; at its current rate of growth, Houston could replace Chicago as the nation’s third largest municipality by 2030.

What’s driving this Texan resurgence? Traditionally, American cities such as Detroit, Cleveland, and St. Louis all tried to copy the model set by New York and, to a lesser extent, Chicago, with high-rise offices crowded into central business districts. But Texas urbanism is different. They may wear cowboy boots, drive pickup trucks, and attend rodeos, but Texans have created a new model of American urbanity rooted in the demands of the consumer market — an idea deeply offensive to many planners and retro-urbanists.

Some observers lament the fact that the vast majority of Texas’s metropolitan growth — nearly 100% — has taken place in the suburbs and exurbs. But this has its benefits, not least the fact that its cities haven’t been turned into rabbit warrens that only provide high living standards to the rich. Over the past decade, Texas has built three times as much housing as California. This has allowed its cities, despite massive demographic and economic growth, to keep housing prices significantly lower than in coastal Californian cities such as San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego and Los Angeles.

But while affordability has been the secret sauce for Texan cities, its urbanism also thrives by embracing the realities of the marketplace. Over the past decade, Austin and Dallas have created jobs two to three times faster than New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago. And this growth is not all at the low end of the job market, as some like the New York Times’s Paul Krugman suggest. Over the past five years, for instance, Austin has displaced San Francisco as the fastest growing tech market. Indeed, Austin is now arguably the strongest rival to Silicon Valley, home to the headquarters of Tesla, and Oracle, as well as Apple’s engineering division and Meta’s latest expansion, 33 floors downtown.

But the most significant expansion has been in professional and business services, the core of the new urban economy. Over the past five years, Austin and Dallas-Ft. Worth have created more than twice as many new business service jobs as San Jose; all four big Texas cities have grown this sector many times the rate of New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago. The Dallas metroplex is now home to 24 Fortune 500 company headquarters, trailing only New York and Chicago by a small number; 40 years ago, the region had fewer than five.

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: from PxHere under CC 0.0 Public Domain.

The Metaverse Isn’t Real Yet But It’s Already Really Lucrative

In a society that seems addicted to the “new, new thing,” it is easy to pass off talk about the “metaverse” as classic techie hype. It’s not that or, at least, it’s about to be and is already becoming much more than just that.

There’s a reason that tech oligarchs are betting their futures on this technology to extend the internet into a permanent virtual reality, one with the potential to consume everything in its path and remake societies. Mark Zuckerberg may be a menace but he is willing to ignore critics and seize the future. In renaming Facebook as Meta, he absorbed a $200 billion loss in market value for the company and a $30 billion drop in his own net worth.

He’s hardly alone in being willing to take the risk. Rony Abovitz, a confidant of Zuckerberg , received more than $2.5 billion in funding from a diverse list of venture and private equity investors, including Alibaba and Google, for his previous virtual reality venture, Magic Leap. Former Disney CEO Robert Iger is also taking the plunge, taking a seat on the board of Los Angeles-based Genies, which has raised $100 million in venture funding to create avatars for celebrities on the Metaverse as well for the sale of virtual “goods.” Disney itself has a senior VP dedicated to its metaverse strategy, a former CTO at the entertainment giant with “a history of enabling transformation… Especially when it comes to bridging the physical and digital worlds.”

Abovitz compares the current discovery of what he calls “inner space”—a blending of “neuroscience, imagination, consciousness, physics, and adventure”—to the space pioneers of the Mercury program. Matthew Ball, the CEO of Venture Capital firm Epyllion, told Bloomberg that he anticipates the metaverse economy producing $10 to $30 trillion in 15 years.

The idea of a “metaverse” began in 2003 with Second Life, a game and marketplace that former Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale envisioned as a limitless, immersive “green field” where avatars interacted with other avatars, creating buildings and communities together and building a virtual economy. In practice, it seemed (and still seems) cartoonish and artificial, a “place” where people buy and sell virtual goods and virtual real estate with little consumer protection. That said, as of this writing, over 900,000 people still “play” Second Life, which was acquired by an investment group led by Randy Waterfield and Brad Oberwager.

As to the cartoonish and artificial feel, including in Zuckerberg’s introduction of Meta’s metaverse, of these worlds, that’s something that can change quickly with technological progress, whose breakneck pace was further accelerated by the online impact of the pandemic, allowing for major advancements in vividity, or the “real-seemingness” of these virtual environments. Two technologies in particular, sensory field computing and artificial intelligence, can help make users feel like what they are experiencing is real. Sensory Field Computing refers to the way in which computers translate the five senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell) into digital reality. The intended effect, explains virtual reality pioneer Charlie Fink, who teaches at Chapman’s Dodge Film School, is to create an “internet that you are inside of looking out at” rather than observing from a screen.

The invention of virtual reality goggles like Oculus, later acquired by Facebook (now Meta), was one big step forward for the sight and sound elements, albeit an insufficient one. But, according to Abovitz, founder of Mako Surgical, Magic Leap, and now Sun and Thunder, we are moving toward what he calls Neurologically True Reality, where all five senses can be represented so vividly that one’s neurons cannot tell the difference between physical reality and digital reality. He believes that this technology offers the potential to help severely traumatized people, such as those suffering from PTSD, recover by “rewiring” their brains to adapt to a different, non-traumatic reality. The sufferer can replace their old, disruptive world with a completely new view and context to lead a more normal life.

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 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: Marco Verch via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

The Coming Bloodbath of the Democrats

The depression-era comedian Will Rogers once famously said he did not belong to an organised political party because he was a Democrat. Yet today the traditional factiousness of the Democratic coalition has been engulfed by an almost Stalinist attitude that brooks no dissent on its most treasured policies – even though these do not resonate well with the bulk of the electorate.

To recover, Democrats need to find a way back to their historic base of working-class and minority voters, who now seem to be heading to the GOP. Franklin D Roosevelt’s alliance between big cities, small towns, labour unions and farmers was often awkward, but it still achieved remarkable success in restoring US confidence and winning the war. In contrast, President Biden’s boneheaded embrace of a progressive agenda that is widely detested across most of the population may prove to be one of the greatest political blunders of recent American history.

Given the probability of a significant loss in this November’s Midterms, we should expect – and hope for – a full-scale brawl over the party’s trajectory. There needs to be something equivalent to the New Democrats who, under Bill Clinton, revived the party after the devastating defeats of George McGovern and Michael Dukakis in the 1970s and 80s by moving the party to the centre and connecting it to the country’s diverse regions. ‘Too many Americans’, wrote New Democrats Bill Galston and Elaine Kamarck in 1989, ‘have come to see the party as inattentive to their economic interests, indifferent if not hostile to their moral sentiments, and ineffective in defence of their national security’.

This time around, the rhetorical knives are already coming out to counter the Democrats’ seemingly inexorable shift to the left. Much of the emerging argument centres around the most unappreciated and largest voting bloc – working- and middle-class Americans.

Many of these voters may be receptive to the traditional, economic-centred social-democratic message of the Democrats. But they are less enthused about the priorities of the now dominant progressives – especially the loudest and most pervasive among them, namely, the climate-change activists. Backed by the media and numerous celebrities, and funded generously by tech and Wall Street oligarchs, they have asserted their dominance since the very beginning of the Biden administration, and appear to have further solidified their control over energy policy, even in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its numerous after-effects.

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.

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

The Limits of Libertarianism

Over the past half-century, libertarians have played a critical role in the ever-growing war against governmental nonsense. If you want to read the best critiques of wasteful transit policy, sports stadia, government pensions or cancel culture, you can find it among liberty-minded outlets like Reason magazine, the Cato Institute and numerous free-market think tanks. They have provided a strong and necessary voice for free-market capitalism at a time when it faces serious challenges, notably from China and other state-directed systems.

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You Can’t Fix Housing with New Houses. We Need New Cities

Housing is rapidly becoming the key economic issue facing America’s beleaguered middle class. Even as interest rates rise, rents are on a wild binge, up near 20 percent in the past year or more in some cities. Meanwhile, home prices have hit a high and appear to be climbing further still. Higher prices are emerging even in what have long been relative bargain communities in the southeast, as refugees from the high-priced Northeast pour in with their greater resources.

The property gold rush has been made more problematic by the growing role of professional, well-funded investors and speculators, to whom the housing market is more attractive than a sometimes unsteady stock market. Read more

Webinar: The Case for Suburbia

When: March 8, 2022 at 12PM (CT)
Where: Join on Zoom

The seeming success of compact cities and the supposed dangers of sprawl to the climate have led to pushback against sprawling, car-dominated cities. Join us as we discuss the environmental case for suburbia.

Webinar: The Case for Suburbia