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Podcast: Joel Kotkin Talks to Brendan O’Neill

By: Brendan O’Neill
On: spiked

Press play below to listen to the podcast, or listen on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or Spotify.

Joel Kotkin, author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, joins spiked’s editor for the latest episode of The Brendan O’Neill Show. They discuss the aristocratic arrogance of the tech oligarchs, the failure of ‘progressive’ politics and the battle to preserve liberal democracy.

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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.

If Biden Can’t Build a Better Economy, America is In Trouble

Donald Trump’s finally gone, but if Joe Biden wants his return to normalcy to be any more successful than his predecessor’s appeal to greatness, he’ll need to take on the real issues dragging red and blue America down: economic torpor, ever increasing inequality, and policies that diminish people’s prospects of making it into or maintaining their positions in the middle class. Read more

How to Bring Them Back

By: Howard Husack, Daniel Kennelly
On: City Journal

Photo Manhattan Institute

Howard Husock is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor at City Journal, and author of Who Killed Civil Society? The Rise of Big Government and Decline of Bourgeois Norms (September 2019), Philanthropy Under Fire (2013), and The Trillion-Dollar Housing Mistake: The Failure of American Housing Policy (2003). He recently spoke with Daniel Kennelly, associate editor of City Journal, about what cities can do to bring back residents and businesses after the pandemic, what to look for as the New York mayoral race heats up, and how conservative politicians might appeal to big-city voters.

What are your thoughts on New York’s prospects for the coming year?

In the near term, it’s hard to be optimistic. Even if a Covid-19 vaccine becomes widely available, there will be a hangover from the pandemic crisis. Families with school-age children have suffered under a dysfunctional Department of Education, and homelessness and lawlessness have spread. Many suburbanites who patronize the theater and restaurants have not even come into the city since March. A return to reliable city services is key to recovery. Read more

Feudalism Without A Soul

Casey Chalk reviews The Coming of Neo-Feudalism

Perhaps one of the great cons of the twenty-first century has been corporate America’s success in deceiving middle-class and lower-class Americans that corporations are on their side, while profiting from international tax havens and cheap foreign or immigrant labor that reduces American jobs and keeps money from American taxpayers. Major American businesses declare their woke credentials vis-à-vis Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and other activist causes, while they send their jobs (and even sometimes their headquarters) overseas. Companies denounce “toxic masculinity” while benefiting from foreign child labor. Read more

The Never-Ending Threat of Utopia

Robert Grant Price reviews The Coming of Neo-Feudalism

Feudal times are here again. This is a thesis Joel Kotkin hammers to a fine point in The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, a clarifying study-of-the-moment presented as sweeping history.

The idea behind the book is simple: Kotkin says the social hierarchy of the Middle Ages closely traces the lines of today. If our society continues down the current path of economic disparity and social disintegration, the feudalism we left behind will return. With force. And it will be the middle class, the benefactors of liberal capitalism, who will suffer most. Read more

The Coming Post-COVID Global Order

The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated economics in the West, but the harshest impacts may yet be felt in the developing world. After decades of improvement in poorer countries, a regression threatens that could usher in, both economically and politically, a neo-feudal future, leaving billions stranded permanently in poverty. If this threat is not addressed, these conditions could threaten not just the world economy, but prospects for democracy worldwide.

In its most recent analysis, the World Bank predicted that the global economy will shrink by 5.2 percent in 2020, with developing countries overall seeing their incomes fall for the first time in 60 years. The United Nations predicts that the pandemic recession could plunge as many as 420 million people into extreme poverty, defined as earning less than $2 a day. The disruption will be particularly notable in the poorest countries. The UN has forecast that Africa could have 30 million more people in poverty. A study by the International Growth Centre spoke of “staggering” implications with 9.1 percent of the population descending into extreme poverty as savings are drained, with two-thirds of this due to lockdown. The loss of remittances has cost developing economies billions more income.

Latin America had seen its poverty rate drop from 45 to 30 percent over the past two decades, but now nearly 45 million, according to the UN, are being plunged into destitution as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic. In Mexico alone, COVID-19 has caused at least 16 million more people to fall into extreme poverty, according to a study by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

These trends undermine the appeal of neoliberal globalization across the developing world. The pandemic has forced people to stay in their countries, and has closed off the ability to move to wealthier places. With Western countries themselves in disarray, there’s been a growing temptation to adopt authoritarian controls modeled by China, which appears to have emerged from the pandemic and economic collapse quicker than the rest of the world. The pandemic could boost China’s great ambition to replace the West, and notably America, as the heart of global civilization.

Poverty and pestilence

In the long history of pestilence and plague, French historian Fernand Braudel has noted, there was always a “separate demography for the rich.” As today, the affluent tended to eat better and were often able to escape the worst exposure to pestilence by retreating to country estates. This pattern was evident in Rome, as the city endured growing plagues in the second and third centuries. As Kyle Harper explains in The Fate of Rome, those left behind in the city often became “victims of the urban graveyard effect.”

These differing impacts were also evident in the late Middle Ages, when plague killed upwards of half Europe’s population. One 14th century observer noted that the plague “attacked especially the meaner sort and common people—far seldom the magnates.” Of course, some of the mighty also died, but far less often than hoi polloi. Whether in the towering insulae of Rome, Medieval hovels, or the tenements of the Lower East Side, the poor have suffered from economic dislocation, infection, and death far more than the affluent.

We may be entering an age that reprises Medieval patterns of mass infections. Three decades ago in The Coming Plague, Laurie Garrett identified the rise of an “urban Thirdworldization” that creates ideal conditions for new pandemics—SARS, MERS, Swine flu, and now COVID-19. These challenges will likely not end even with a vaccine or a weakening of the virus, but may resurge in a different form. Anthony Fauci, director of America’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, already sees potential new viruses incubating in China and warns that more pandemics may arise in the near future.

Read the rest of this essay on Quillete.


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.

Photo credit: Jade Scarlato via Unsplash under CC0 1.0 License.

Joel Kotkin talks with City Journal About California’s Neo-Feudal Future

By: Brian C. Anderson
On: City Journal’s 10 Blocks podcast

Joel Kotkin joins Brian Anderson to discuss California’s “increasingly feudal” political and economic order, the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown on the state’s lower- and middle-class residents, what Joe Biden’s selection of Senator Kamala Harris means for the Democratic ticket and U.S. politics, and Kotkin’s new book—The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. 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