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The Collapse of California

If one were to explore the most blessed places on earth, California, my home for a half century, would surely be up there. The state, with its salubrious climate, spectacular scenery, vast natural resources, and entrepreneurial heritage is home to the world’s fifth-largest economy and its still-dominant technological centre. It is also — as some progressives see it — the incubator of “a capitalism we can believe in”.

Perhaps channelling such hyperbole, President Biden recently suggested that he wants to “make America California again”. Yet before leaping on this particular train, he should consider whether the California model may be better seen as a cautionary tale than a roadmap to a better future in the digital age.

The on-the-ground reality — as opposed to that portrayed in the media or popular culture — is more Dickensian than utopian. Rather than the state where dreams are made, in reality California increasingly presents the prototype of a new feudalism fused oddly with a supposedly progressive model in which inequality is growing, not falling.

California now suffers the highest cost-adjusted poverty rate in the country, and the widest gap between middle and upper-middle income earners. It also has one of the nation’s highest Gini ratios, which measures the inequality of wealth distribution from the richest to poorest residents — and the disparity is growing. Incredibly, California’s level of inequality is greater than that of neighboring Mexico, and closer to Central American countries like Guatemala and Honduras than developed nations like Canada and Norway.

It is true that California’s GDP per capita is far higher than these Central American countries, but the state has slowly morphed into a low wage economy. Over the past decade, 80% of the state’s jobs have paid under the median wage — half of which are paid less than $40,000 — and most are in poorly paid personal services or hospitality jobs. Even at some of the state’s most prestigious companies like Google, many lower (and even mid-level) workers live in mobile home parks. Others sleep in their cars.

The state’s dependence on low-wage service workers has been critical in the pandemic, but it now suffers among the highest unemployment rates in the nation, outdone only by tourism-dominated states like Hawaii, Nevada and New Jersey. Los Angeles, the home of Hollywood, now has the highest unemployment rate of the nation’s top ten metropolitan areas, higher even than New York.

But that hasn’t stopped California from portraying itself as a progressive’s paradise, publicly advocating racial and social justice. The state just passed a Racial Justice Act to monitor law enforcement, endorsing reparations (although California was never a slave state) and is working to address “systemic” racism in its classrooms. This “woke” agenda was taken to a new extreme this week when the San Francisco School Board decided to rename 44 schools because they were named after people connected to racism or slavery. The district’s Arts Department, originally known as “VAPA”, also decided to re-brand because “acronyms are a symptom of white supremacy culture”.

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 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: Matthew Woitunski via Wikimedia, under CC 3.0 License.

Elite Democrats Could Destroy the Middle Class if Biden Wins in 2020

It’s been a long time since the Democrats were considered “the party of the people” and the GOP the party of the fat cats. This year Joe Biden and even more so his running mate, Kamala Harris, are raising record sums from the corporate elite, notably the tech giants and their Wall Street allies. These wealthy donors dominate the party, own much of the media, and can manipulate the social-media platforms where a growing proportion of Americans get their news.

Meanwhile, the Republicans find themselves largely castigated in the press and overwhelmed by a torrent of oligarchic wealth at the Senate and local levels. This wealthy oligarchy is not just liberal; many members also support a thorough remaking of our country. Some, like former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, are so committed to progressivism that, as he said recently, those who don’t get with the program should “face a firing squad.” Currently led by CEO Jack Dorsey, Twitter has gone so far as to block The New York Post’s account after it reported on the unsavory foreign business dealings of Biden’s son Hunter.

If these Democrats win both houses of Congress as well as the White House, things could get far worse for the already beleaguered middle class, which has been rocked by the pandemic, with an estimated 100,000 small firms going out of business. Particularly hard-hit by the recent urban unrest are inner city and minority businesses.

The other big winners have been the professional managerial class, including top levels of the federal bureaucracy, academia, and the mainstream media. These are, for the most part, people who can work from home, or, in some cases, the safety of their country houses. Meanwhile, they have achieved power at a level never before exercised outside of wartime and are as likely to surrender this control as the oligarchs are to give up their money.

If the Democrats win on Election Day, the future for the middle class could be bleak. As a lifelong Democrat, this is not easy to write, but most of the party’s initiatives — such as the Green New Deal — are directly harmful to those in the middle and working classes, who’d be forced to face increased housing and energy prices and fewer upwardly mobile jobs in industries like manufacturing.

A Democratic landslide could prove particularly devastating to owners of small businesses, particularly those in the energy, agriculture and manufacturing sectors, who were all critical to electing Donald Trump and seem likely to follow him again this year, despite the recession caused by the pandemic.

Read the rest of this piece at NYPost.


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.

Homepage photo credit: ptufts via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

California’s Woke Hypocrisy

No state wears its multicultural veneer more ostentatiously than California. The Golden State’s leaders believe that they lead a progressive paradise, ushering in what theorists Laura Tyson and Lenny Mendonca call “a new progressive era.” Others see California as deserving of nationhood; it reflects, as a New York Times columnist put it, “the shared values of our increasingly tolerant and pluralistic society.” Read more

Book Interview: Joel Kotkin Speaks on Neo-Feudalism with Financial Sense

By: Chris Sheridan
On: FS Insider

Joel Kotkin, Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Urban Reform Institute, speaks with FS Insider about his latest book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class.

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Beyond Feudalism: A Strategy to Restore California’s Middle Class

Beyond Feudalism: a Strategy to Restore California's Middle ClassIn this new report, Beyond Feudalism: A Strategy to Restore California’s Middle Class, Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky examine how California has drifted toward feudalism, and how it can restore upward mobility for middle and working-class citizens. An excerpt from the report follows below:

“We are the modern equivalent of the ancient city-states of Athens and Sparta. California has the ideas of Athens and the power of Sparta. Not only can we lead California into the future, we can show the nation and the world how to get there.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger, January 2007

California Preening: A State Of Delusion

California has always been a state where excess flourished, conscious of its trend-setting role as a world-leading innovator in technology, economics and the arts. For much of the past century, it also helped create a new model for middle and working-class upward mobility while addressing racial, gender and environmental issues well in advance of the rest of the country. Read more

The Rebellion of America’s New Underclass

Like so many before them, our recent disorders have been rooted in issues of race. But in the longer run, the underlying causes of our growing civic breakdown go beyond the brutal police killing of George Floyd. Particularly in our core cities, our dysfunction is a result of our increasingly large, and increasingly multi-racial, class of neo-serfs.

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