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Winners and Losers: The Global Economy After COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the world economy in ways that will be debated by pundits and future historians for decades to come. Yet, as hard as it is to predict a disrupted future accurately, the pandemic (not to mention its probable successors) looks likely to produce clear economic winners and losers. The top digital companies—Amazon, Apple, Tencent, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Ant, Netflix, and Hulu—have thrived during quarantines and the ongoing dispersion of work. These are the most obvious winners in what leftist author Naomi Klein has called a “Screen New Deal” that seeks to create a “permanent and profitable no-touch future.” Since 2019, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google have added over two-and-a-half trillion dollars to their combined valuation, and all enjoyed record breaking profits in 2020.

But it’s not just the tech oligarchs who have benefited from the pandemic disruption. Companies that keep the basic economy functioning—firms dealing in logistics, for example, or critical metals or food processing—have become, if anything, even more important. With the shipping supply chain disrupted due to the pandemic, logistics giant Maersk is set to increase its inland-based operation with the acquisition of the Swiss-based broker KGH Customs Services. The company reported its best quarter ever in the first quarter of 2021, launching a $5 billion share buyback scheme. And although the developing world has been hit hard by declines in tourism and investment, mining giants such as Glencore are investing billions to challenge China’s market dominance in rare earth minerals. The global market for cobalt is expected to double by 2025 and has launched a new “scramble for Africa,” which is also raising moral questions about whether or not the green oligarch’s love of the planet outweighs human rights abuses such as the practice of child labor in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Even some high street businesses which have taken major hits are finding new niches. Many small businesses may never return to pre-COVID levels, as people have become used to the convenience of online purchases. Nevertheless, some are finding new uses for redundant malls, and have discovered new ways to reach more customers using social media and technology. Lower property prices are also opening up potential opportunities for entrepreneurs in pricey places such as Manhattan, San Francisco, or London. Pestilence re-shapes economies.

In his 2017 book The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire, historian Kyle Harper argues that plague, as well as climate change, undermined the Roman empire, creating conditions that boosted the barbarian warlords who would later become the Medieval aristocracy. The lethal plagues of the Middle Ages likewise disrupted the great Mongol empire, at the time the largest in history, and in conjunction with cooling temperatures, undermined the stability of the great Silk Road and ended the Pax Mongolica. This opened the door to the Age of Exploration and Europe’s maritime conquest of the world. Within Medieval Europe, the Black Death killed as much as 40 percent of the population, but also precipitated the rise of the Third Estate, and in some places raised wages for scarce labor. “People were fewer,” noted historian Barbara Tuchman, “but they ate better. The pandemic also led to greater emphasis on long-distance navigation.”

During the current crisis, disintermediation has been the primary driver of the post-pandemic economy. The novel coronavirus forced businesses to adapt quickly to new circumstances, and as with all economic crises, created winners and losers. The lockdowns accelerated the use of digital technology for work, retail, and entertainment. This has not only helped the big firms but also produced a whole crop of new startups, many of which address the shift to online work. The tech oligarchies now face competition from decentralized networks based on blockchain technology which is less vulnerable to domination by giant firms with algorithms that are designed to eliminate the incentive structures that lead to central node control and promote monopolistic behavior. Domains such as Lokinet, Ethereum, Odysee, and Urbit seek to give users ownership of their own data. Even Google’s near-monopoly of web browser supremacy is set to be challenged by data-privacy-conscious alternatives such as DuckDuckGo, which has seen a 62 percent growth in search results in 2020. Users are clearly becoming more conscious of privacy and data ownership.

Read the rest of this piece at Quillette.


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.

Homepage photo: Steve Jurvetson, via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

Feudal Future Podcast – Power & Responsibility: Tech’s Control

On this episode of Feudal Future, hosts Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky are joined by venture capitalist Andrew Romans about the power tech wields today and their responsibility in society.

Feudal Future Podcast – The War on Space

On this episode of Feudal Future, hosts Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky are joined by geopolitical analyst, Brandon J. Weichert author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower, to discuss a real life version of Star Wars.

The Rise of Corporate–State Tyranny

In explaining his shift away from Maoist economics, Deng Xiao Ping, chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, described his market-oriented changes as “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Today, American businesses, as well as the media and academic establishments that serve them, increasingly embrace what can best be described as “Chinese capitalism with American characteristics.”

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Feudal Future Podcast — Biden’s Tax Plan

On this episode of Feudal Future, hosts Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky are joined by Hank Adler, Associate Professor of Accounting for Chapman University, and Steven Malanga, City Journal’s senior editor, to discuss Biden’s new tax plan.

Who Will Control the 21st Century? Whoever Controls Space

It’s impossible to predict the future. But one thing you can be sure of: few things will be more important to the lives of our children than who wins the emerging, epoch-defining struggle for control of space.

This is a battle just beginning over who will control the communication satellites so central to our economy, as well as the vast resources of other planets. But ultimately, the new space battle represents a war over opportunities for colonization, for an increasingly resource-stretched and crowded earth.

This may sound like apocalyptic sci-fi. But space is already becoming big business, and it’s certain to get much bigger. Boosted by a huge surge of investment, space-industry global revenues are up more than twofold since the early 2000s, from $175 billion in 2005 to almost $424 billion in 2019. By 2040, Morgan Stanley projects annual global space-industry revenues to reach $1.2 trillion.

Today the big money—$271 billion of it—is in communications satellites and launch services. Soon enough, there may be a market for things like space tourism, manufacturing in space and even, eventually, the old dream of colonization.

But in the long run, the key struggle will be over military applications, and, perhaps even more critical, control of valuable resources. The monetary potential in mining key resources like lithium, cobalt and gold has been estimated to be as high as 27 quintillion dollars.

But the space war is not just about money. It’s also about power. And America faces a challenge on the galactic front from China, Russia, the European Union, Japan, and even Israel. And as Brandon Weichert notes in his book Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower, America’s claim to being the world’s superpower rests to a large degree on winning the space front.

Right now, military advantage clearly remains a prime motivator. Control of satellites is crucial to any future conflict, as militaries depend on satellite communications for both surveillance and battlefield operations. The winner of future “star wars” will be those who can control access to space.

Unfortunately for the U.S., China is very aware of this. Ye Penjiang, the head of its moon program, views space from an imperial perspective, comparing it to the islands China is occupying or creating in the South Seas. Penjiang has gone so far as to suggest that China’s “descendants” would never forgive them for giving up this new realm.

So it’s not surprising that Chinese young people now dream of being astronauts, like Americans in the 1960s, while most of our young people seem more interested in becoming social media influencers, more like Justin Bieber than Buzz Aldrin as Weichert archly put it.

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 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.

Marshall Toplansky is a clinical assistant professor of management science at the Argyros School of Business and Economics at Chapman University. He is a research fellow at the university’s Hoag Center for Real Estate and Finance and at the Center for Demographics and Policy.

Homepage photo credit: SpaceX, via Flickr used under CC 2.0 License.

Feudal Future Podcast — The Future of Africa’s Middle Class

In this episode of the Feudal Future Podcast, hosts Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky talk with Bheki Mahlobo, specialist in African economics, about the future of Africa’s middle class.

Feudal Future Podcast — Examining China’s Urban Growth, with Austin Williams

In this episode of the Feudal Future Podcast, hosts Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky talk with Austin Williams about the differences in urban growth between the West and China.

Why Trump’s America Will Live On

Like many, if not most Americans, I am somewhat relieved to see the petulant, nasty and sometimes clearly unhinged Donald Trump leave the White House. Yet for all his antics and vitriol, Trump has left a legacy that will be difficult to ignore and, given the dispensation of his opponents, could shape the future for the next decade.

Trump’s 2016 victory may be best considered a necessary colonic to a constipated political economy. He challenged in ways not seen for a generation the comfortable establishmentarian politics of both parties. Most critical of all, Trump, the scion of a property mogul, has re-established, along with his odd socialist doppelganger, Bernie Sanders, the relevance of class in American politics.

Trump may soon be out of power, but many of his views on international trade, media, economics and immigration will continue to influence politics for the next decade. We might see the end of President Trump, but the forces and attitudes he has unleashed likely will remain with us for decades to come.

Bye, bye kumbaya

Trump’s challenge to the establishmentarian worldview will resonate, even after the election. His willingness to stand up to China’s trade policies violated the interests of the corporate elite, tech, Hollywood and the mainstream media, all of whom almost without exception backed his opponent. Now Trump’s nationalist approach certainly will be toned down by the ‘liberal internationalists’ Biden is putting in place to run foreign affairs.

To be sure, China should welcome the ascension of Biden, if for no other reason than his commitment to the Paris accords which force costly changes on Western economies while giving the world’s biggest carbon emitter a free ride till 2030. Along with more ‘open trade’, Biden could prove an unwitting accomplice in China’s great ambition to replace the West, and notably America, as the heart of global civilisation.

Yet the era of global kumbaya, ended by Trump, is not likely to return. It has become painfully obvious that ‘free trade’, as carried out by our own companies, benefited the already affluent at the expense of most people. As the liberal New Statesman has put it succinctly, ‘the era of peak globalisation is over’. The pandemic has shattered the global village, weakening both economic and political ties between countries, including within the European Union. When Trump lambasts free trade and China, he may alienate much of the corporate elite, but his message appeals to people and communities that lost, according to one labour-backed group, 3.4 million jobs between 1979 and 2017 to the Middle Kingdom.

To win politically, as former Democratic senator Evan Bayh suggests, may mean following Trump’s aggressively ‘America first’ line. If Biden hews to the establishment party line, he will face an emerging alliance between populists in both parties – Bernie Sanders and Joshua Hawley, for example. Some prominent Democrats like New York governor Andrew Cuomo joined Trump in denouncing our ruinous dependence on Chinese medical supplies and there’s growing bipartisan concern about dependence on Beijing for high-tech gear. Given the challenge posed by China, diplomats under Biden could seek not a restoration of the old globalism, but a de facto ‘united front’ with Europe, Australia, Canada, India, Japan and other east Asian countries against China.

The great transformation of the Democratic Party

The Democrats seem likely to give Republicans and Trump the opportunity to represent a large portion of the American middle and working classes. Today’s Democrats increasingly resemble a Stalinoid version old Republicans, who won with support from the upper class, notably on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley, as well as law and professional-service firms. This year Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, raised record sums from the corporate elite, notably the tech oligarchs and their Wall Street allies. Among financial firms, communications companies and lawyers, Biden outraised Trump by five to one or more. We will see this in play again in the upcoming cataclysmic battle to win the Georgia Senate seats, which started with a big Silicon Valley fundraiser for the Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

The oligarchal cast of the putative ‘party of the people’ exposes it to populists left and right. Biden’s natural tendency may be, like Barack Obama, to wink and nod as Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google acquire or crush competitors, continuing the erosion in anti-trust enforcement, occurring under both parties. But two thirds of the public want to break up the tech oligarchy that increasingly dominates the economy, the capital markets and information. The tech giants now account for nearly 40 per cent of the value of the Standard and Poor index, a level of concentration unprecedented in modern history.

For these oligopolies, the pandemic shift to online, covering everything from finance and retail to gaming, has provided an unprecedented boom. Tech is no longer the dynamic and entrepreneurial industry of legend. Rather, it has morphed into a system of conglomerate control more akin to the pre-war German cartels, Japanese keiretsu or Korean chaebol. As with trade, attempts to wink and nod at the oligarchs could stir a conflict with both big-city progressives, like Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren and some members of the House, along with several conservatives from the more rural interior.

The media’s big failure

In his usually intemperate manner, Trump accused the mainstream media of open bias and of being, in another unfortunate phrase, ‘enemies of the people’. Yet in the run-up to 2016, and beyond, there has been an odd symbiotic relationship between the two, with Trump, and hatred for him, fueling media profits and providing massive amounts of free publicity.

In some ways the media have unwittingly undermined themselves as they worked overtime to eject Trump. Since the election, even respected papers like the New York Times (where I once had a monthly column) increasingly resembled a woke version of Pravda. Indeed, the elite media is increasingly engulfed by progressive ‘groupthink’ with ‘moral clarity’ as defined by the woke, replacing a commitment to free speech.

Read the rest of this piece at spiked.

Joel Kotkin is the author of the recently released book 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 — formerly the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin

Homepage photo credit: Mike Anthony via Wikimedia under CC 4.0 License.

The Real Winners

Progressive ideologues often like to evoke the idea that they speak “truth to power,” but this year it’s their leaders who are consolidating their clout. Although Democrats did far worse on the whole than expected, control of the White House assures greater influence for those already occupying what Lenin referred to as “the commanding heights” of both society and economy. Read more