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An Unholy Alliance Between Big Tech and Woke is Destroying the Middle Class

By: Steven Edginton

On: The Telegraph

“An unholy alliance between big tech and woke is destroying the middle class”.

With wealth inequality soaring and the power of the elites growing, is society returning to the feudal era? The demographer and geographer Joel Kotkin joins Steven Edginton to discuss his theory of “neo-feudalism”.

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Serfing the Planet

Like its global predecessors, the COP26 Glasgow conference will usher in a new wave of apocalyptic warnings about climate change. It will also likely prove no more successful, in terms of actually addressing the issue, than its predecessors, particularly as China, India and other developing countries ramp up their emissions.

Nevertheless, none of this will force the climate activists to reconsider how the current strategies against global warming could break the backs of the already beleaguered working and middle class. (For British readers, I use the phrase ‘middle class’ here in the American – less bourgeois – sense.) The climate chorus of celebrities, oligarchs and royals may feel virtuous, but for most people the future could prove to be propertyless proletarianisation. Many of those in Glasgow at the moment pray at the altar of ‘de-growth’. They want to limit the consumption of the working and middle classes, undermine their jobs, raise their energy bills, and inhibit their ability to buy property or travel.

These policies are fine with ‘woke’ corporatists like BlackRock, who see enormous profits in the regulated shift in energy, even as they seek to expand their business with the world’s dominant polluter, China. What’s missing is any focus on how to cut emissions without causing high inflation, raising energy prices and destroying the middle class. So far, more palatable options, like increasing remote work, geothermal energy, natural gas, nuclear power and varied new technologies, have not managed to get on to the agenda.

With climate, as with many other issues, the upper classes are inflicting their own preferences on working- and middle-class people. As nonprofits, oligarchs and bureaucrats plot out the future, small business owners and the middle class, as one entrepreneur put it, are ‘not at the table – or even in the room’. This is the very class – what I refer to as the yeomanry – that has driven much of the West’s economic progress and nurtured self-government. Democracy was born when both Athens and later Rome included small property owners in governance. Democracy died when these small owners lost power to what Aristotle labelled the ‘oligarchia’.

After the autocratic Middle Ages, both human progress and self-rule came back as the middle classes began to rise – first in Italy but then more profoundly, and more pervasively, in the Netherlands and the British Isles, before spreading to North America and Oceania, where there was no true hereditary aristocracy. Students of classical experience, such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Adams, all considered the over-concentration of property in a few hands as a basic threat to republican institutions, an insight shared by such intellects as Edmund Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville and Adam Smith.

After the brutalities of the early Industrial Revolution, and two world wars, the middle class thrived not just in America, but also in Britain, Australia, Canada and increasingly in East Asia. But by the 1970s we began what has become an inexorable march towards an ever more feudalistic structure. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has noted that, across the 36 wealthier countries, the uber-wealthy have taken an ever greater share of national GDP in recent decades, while the middle class ‘looks increasingly like a boat in rocky waters’.

These patterns are clearly evident in the United States, where wealth gains have been especially concentrated among the top 0.1 per cent. The share of national wealth held by those below the top 10 per cent has fallen since the 1980s by 12 percentage points, the same proportion that the top 0.1 per cent have gained. Today, roughly half of all Americans earn less than $35,000 annually, living essentially pay cheque to pay cheque.

Even with their robust social-welfare provisions, over two thirds of European Union countries, including Sweden, have experienced declining social mobility. Germany is significantly less equal than its EU peers, with richer households controlling a bigger share of assets than in most other Western European states. The bottom 40 per cent of German adults hold almost no assets at all; barely 45 per cent of Germans own homes. Even in theoretically socialist China the top one per cent of the population hold about one third of the country’s wealth. Meanwhile, the prospects for the Chinese middle class are fading, particularly in light of the recent debt and housing crisis.

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.

Photo: Paul Farmer, via Geograph.org.uk, CC 2.0 License.

Joel Kotkin talks about the middle class rebellion against progressives, with Jamil Jivani

Host: Jamil Jivani
On: Jamil Jivani Show on Omny

Joel Kotkin talks with Jamil about the middle class rebellion against progressives that’s gaining steam.

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A Middle Class Rebellion Against Progressives is Gaining Steam

How Los Angeles Descended Into Neo-Feudalism and How to Fix It

For most of the last century, Los Angeles loomed as the next great American city, a burgeoning paradise riding the shift of world power west. It seemed posed to leave New York and London in the dust, the engines of growth inexorable. There was the city’s dominance of the entertainment and aerospace industries, which incited migration from both the rest of the country and abroad, and all this promise was symbolized by a spread of suburban single-family houses that seemed to embody the ideal American dreamscape.

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Joel Kotkin talks about what happened to social democracy, with Amanda Vanstone

Host: Amanda Vanstone
On: Counterpoint

What happened to social democracy? Joel Kotkin reminds us that it was born of the radical Left in Marx’s own time, social democrats worked, sometimes with remarkable success, to improve the living standards of working people by accommodating the virtues of capitalism. Now, he says that in its place, we find a kind of progressivism that focuses on gender, sexual preference, race, and climate change. He takes us through the history of social democracy to today’s progressives and says that arguably the single greatest distinction between social democracy and the new progressivism lies in the word ‘agency’. The original social democrats sought to enhance their economic power by mobilizing grassroots support. In contrast, today’s Left tends to favour rule by experts. They have a preference for censorship and the political repression of uncooperative political tendencies. How did this happen and why?

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Joel Kotkin Virtual Salon, on the Topic of Neo-Feudalism

Host: Virtual Salon
On: Fieldstead and Company

Fieldstead opened its 2021 salon series with Joel Kotkin, described by the New York Times as “America’s uber-geographer.” Joel is an internationally-recognized authority on global, economic, political, and social trends. His work over the past decade has focused on inequality and class mobility as well as how regions can address these pressing issues. Joel discusses his research findings from his recent book, The Coming Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class.

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Joel Kotkin on Menzies Research Centre: Medieval Mindset

Host: Nick Cater
On: The Watercooler Podcast by Menzies Research Centre (Soundcloud)

Joel Kotkin warns that traditional middle class aspirations and values such as family, nationhood and home ownership are under threat from a new class of oligarchs.

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What Happened to Social Democracy?

In a world that seems to be divided between neoliberal orthodoxy and identitarian dogmas, it is possible to miss the waning presence of traditional social democracy. Born of the radical Left in Marx’s own time, social democrats worked, sometimes with remarkable success, to improve the living standards of working people by accommodating the virtues of capitalism. Today, that kind of social democracy—learned at home from my immigrant grandparents and from the late Michael Harrington, one time head of the American Socialist Party—is all but dead. This tradition was, in retrospect, perhaps too optimistic about the efficacy of government. Nevertheless, it sincerely sought to improve popular conditions and respected the wisdom of ordinary people.

In its place, we now find a kind of progressivism that focuses on gender, sexual preference, race, and climate change. Abandoned by traditional Left parties, some voters have drifted into nativist—and sometimes openly racist—opposition while more have simply become alienated from major institutions and pessimistic about the future.

The revolution in class relations

Social democracy was a product of the inequities of the industrial era and the consequent solidarity that flourished among working people. This often resulted in greater justice for racial minorities. The German Social Democrat Eduard Bernstein developed an “evolutionary” ideology based on gradualism, practical results, and a commitment to democratic norms. Observing late-19th century Britain, where unions were accepted even in business circles, Bernstein noticed that working conditions, contrary to Marxist dogma, were steadily improving. He believed that the proletariat was evolving from an oppressed underclass into a more upwardly mobile group, whose goal was to find “an appropriate status in industrial society.” For their efforts, Social Democrats were denounced as “social fascists” by Stalin, and Antifa’s predecessors—the German Antifaschistische Aktion—spent at least as much time fighting them as fighting the Nazis. A fatal error.

After the Second World War, however, social democrats enjoyed considerable success while the remarkable productivity of the private sector helped transform the once-forlorn proletariat into something more bourgeois in aspiration. A study covering the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the United States shows that all three saw a rapid decline in the concentration of wealth until the 1970s. Their program focused on physical needs such as boosting access to electricity and improving public health and education.

Never before had so much prosperity and relative economic security been so widely enjoyed. By the 1960s, the American labor movement could boast of “developing a whole new middle class,” said Walter Reuther, president of the United Auto Workers. Industrial laborers could afford to buy homes, send their kids to college, and live the kind of life only the affluent had previously enjoyed. Western Europe benefited from the same process—economic growth helped finance a welfare state that provided greater security and improved the prospects of most families; the rapid growth of export industries, in particular, was an integral part of the original Swedish social model of increasing wages without inflation.

Starting in the 1970s, such things as foreign competition, mass immigration from developing countries, automation, and the growing financialization of economic power undermined this progress. In the United States, data from the Census Bureau show that the share of national income going to the middle 60 percent of households has fallen to a record low since the 1970s. Wealth gains in recent decades have gone overwhelmingly to the top one percent of households, and especially to the top 0.5 percent. Social mobility has declined in over two-thirds of European Union countries, including Sweden. Across the 36 wealthier countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the richest citizens have taken an ever-greater share of national GDP while the middle class has shrunk. Much of the global middle class is heavily in debt—mainly because of high housing costs—and “looks increasingly like a boat in rocky waters,” suggests the OECD.

Parties repositioning

One might assume that this concentration of wealth would energize traditional working class parties—Labour in Britain and Australia, the Liberals in Canada, the Democrats in the US—but they shifted their focus away from blue-collar and lower-middle-class workers. Instead, leftwing parties are increasingly peopled by, and cultivated support from, the well-educated professional class—now an estimated 15 percent of the US work force—along with the corporate elites and academic clerisy. These classes have done well over the past few decades, while the traditional lower-middle and working classes have languished.

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.

Photo credit: Nicolas Nieves-Quiroz via Unsplash under CC0 1.0 License.

The Death of the American City

When my grandparents migrated to New York from Russia over a century ago, they found a city that was hardly paradise, but one that provided a pathway towards a better life. Life was tough, crowded and always a paycheck from poverty. My relatives were poor, but so was everyone; eventually, they all bought houses or apartments, and entered the middle class. As for crime in their native Brownsville, the home of Murder, Incorporated and other villainous enterprises, it rarely impacted “civilians”; my mother would tell me how a young girl could still walk across Prospect Park without fear of assault.

Today’s urban promise is, however, vastly different — not only in New York, but San Francisco and Los Angeles, London and Paris. No longer cities of aspiration, they are increasingly defined by an almost feudal hierarchy: the rich live well, protected by private security and served by local coffee shops and trendy clubs.

Meanwhile, the working class struggles to pay rent, possesses no demonstrable path to a better life and, as a result, often migrates elsewhere. Crime rates are spiking and homelessness, once an exception, is increasingly widespread. Those very streets once said to be “paved with gold” are now are filled with discarded needles, excrement and graffiti.

Indeed, what we are now witnessing is the decline of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s description of the city as “a luxury product”. Today, that sense of “luxury” has all but vanished, with modern urban economies promoting class divisions rather than upward mobility. Amid all the hoopla about urban revival, the truth is that entrenched urban poverty in the US — places where 30% or more of the population live below the poverty line — actually grew in the first decade of the new millennium, from 1,100 to 3,100 neighbourhoods.

Even the New York Times admits that, in the past decade, cities have gone from “engines of growth and opportunity” to places where class relations are increasing fixed, with only the upper end of the income spectrum doing well. Gotham’s one percent earns a third of the entire city’s personal income. That’s almost twice the proportion for the rest of the country. But such class disparity is becoming the norm; in the tech haven of San Francisco, which has the worst levels of inequality in California, the top 5% of households earn an average of $808,105 annually, compared with $16,184 for the lowest 20%.

Predictably, those at the bottom of this new feudal structure suffer the most; today, the old saying that “the city air makes one free” all too often means freedom to be poor, to experience endemic homelessness, collapsing public infrastructure and rising crime.

And that was before Covid hit. Already many poor urban residents subsisted on transfer payments or worked in service industries. They were paid, usually poorly, to clean now-empty offices or work in restaurants and hotels. The lockdowns, whether justified or overwrought, have since pummelled these low-income workers; roughly 40% of Americans earning under $40,000 a year lost their jobs last March.

Unlike workers who occupy “the commanding heights” of finance, tech, marketing, and media , these people did not have the option of working from their kitchen tables or moving to suburban locations or smaller cities. Nor could they count on education systems to work their magic; most schools in American inner-city districts, in contrast to many suburbs and smaller cities, remained closed.

All of which meant America’s urban districts were ripe for civil unrest when George Floyd died last May, and these festering conditions exploded into the worst national rioting in decades. Parts of many cities went up in flames, the damage of which was obscured by mainstream media’s mantra of “mostly peaceful protests”. The constant rioting and demonstrations in Portland, once seen as a paragon of new urbanist-led revival, has all but destroyed its downtown, which is now largely bereft of pedestrians.

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.

Photo credit: Christopher Michel via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

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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