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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”.

Listen to the interview on Spotify

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Progressives Have Ruined California

The very idea of a recall vote seemed absurd at first in California, this bluest of US states. Yet Californians’ surprisingly strong support for the removal of Democratic governor Gavin Newsom has resulted in precisely that, with the vote scheduled for 14 September. This reflects a stunning rejection of modern progressivism in a state thought to epitomise its promise.

Some, like the University of California’s Laura Tyson and former Newsom adviser Lenny Mendonca, may see California as creating ‘the way forward’ for a more enlightened ‘market capitalism’, but that reality is hard to see on the ground. Even before the pandemic, California already had the highest poverty rate and the widest gap between middle and upper-middle income earners of any state in the US. It now suffers from the second-highest unemployment rate in the US after Nevada.

Today, class drives Californian politics, and Newsom is peculiarly ill-suited to deal with it. He is financed by what the Los Angeles Times describes as ‘a coterie of San Francisco’s wealthiest families’. Newsom’s backers have aided his business ventures and helped him live in luxury – first in his native Marin, where he just sold his estate for over $6million, and now in Sacramento.

California’s well-connected rich are predictably rallying to Newsom’s side. At least 19 billionaires, mainly from the tech sector, have contributed to his extraordinarily well-funded recall campaign, which is outspending the opposition by roughly nine to one.

There is little hiding the elitism that Newsom epitomises. In the midst of a severe lockdown, he was caught violating his own pandemic orders at the ultra-expensive, ultra-chic French Laundry restaurant in Napa.

Newsom insists California is ‘doing pretty damn well’, citing record profits in Silicon Valley from both the major tech firms and a host of IPOs. He seems to be unaware that California’s middle- and working-class incomes have been heading downwards for a decade, while only the top five per cent of taxpayers have done well. As one progressive Democratic activist put it in Salon, the recall reflects a rebellion against ‘corporate-friendly elitism and tone-deaf egotism at the top of the California Democratic Party’.

Much of this can be traced back to regulatory policies tied to climate change (along with high taxes). These policies have driven out major companies – in energy, home construction, manufacturing and civil engineering – that traditionally employed middle-skilled workers. Instead, job growth has been concentrated in generally low-pay sectors, like hospitality. Over the past decade, 80 per cent of Californian jobs, notes one academic, have paid under the median wage. Half of these paid less than $40,000.

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 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.

Fully Oligarchic Luxury Socialism

What happens in California matters well beyond its borders. The Golden State’s cultural and technological influence on America, and the world, now could provide the nation’s next political template.

What California is creating can be best described as oligarchic socialism, a form of collectivism that combines hierarchy with “equity,” regulation with oligopoly, and progressive intentions with feudal results. Read more

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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The Looming Democrat Civil War

The Democratic Party has always been a loose confederation of outsiders — poor farmers, union members, populists, European immigrants and southern segregationists. As the actor Will Rogers said in 1924: “I am not a member of any organised political party. I am a Democrat.” Yet despite being unwieldy, it was often effective, and usually beat the more homogeneous country-club-led Republicans.

Today, the Democratic Party seems more united, still glowing in the aftermath of the defeat of Trump. But that is just an illusion: Joe Biden’s first hundred days in office are almost up — and the internal conflicts of his party are bound to surface soon.

These divisions are not petty, or merely personal, but based on demands from a number of incompatible constituencies and ideologies. Take the Democrats’s newest supporters: America’s tech oligarchs, Wall Street financiers and urban real estate speculators. They may act “woke” on issues surrounding gender, race and the environment. But such “virtue signalling” is no substitute for the drastic policies pushed by the party’s Left: the confiscation of vast wealth, the break-up of monopolies and the introduction of ever-higher taxes. Big business, after all, is the clear winner in the status quo that the Left, with good reason, despises.

But the impending Democratic civil war is more than, as some conservatives see it, a two-dimensional conflict between “the establishment and the radicals”. Largely ignored in this narrative is the most unappreciated, least articulate yet arguably the largest Democrat-voting bloc: middle and working-class moderates who make up roughly 50% of the party. These voters may often favour populist economics, but remain threatened by the cultural, economic and environmental policies pushed by the other two factions.

All of which leaves Biden in an unenviable position: if he seeks to placate both the corporate woke and the activist Left, the Democrats could sever their last connections with the vast majority of the country, and allow the GOP, even in the wake of the Trump disaster, to recover political momentum.

For what it’s worth, Biden has often been associated with this largely neglected group of what might be called FDR Democrats. His reputation as a moderate “reasonable guy” helped secure the votes of older Democrats, Independents and African-Americans in the recent election. In the primaries, it gave him an edge over both the radical Sanders, whose program frightened many older voters, and the candidates of the corporate elite, notably the well-financed former Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg. These voters may be fading in the numbers, but still constitute up to 44% of the total electorate, easily the largest identifiable class constituency.

Certainly, parts of Biden’s program — expanding health coverage as well as investments in basic infrastructure and manufacturing — could appeal to these voters, who are now generally supportive of an activist government. But Biden has also backed measures on cultural and environmental issues that are unlikely to win over the traditional working and middle classes. For example, fracking bans, already endorsed by Vice President Harris, could, according to the US Chamber of Commerce, cost 14 million jobs, far more than the eight million lost in the Great Recession.

Belying his regular guy image, Biden has also expressed support for programmes that would force suburban areas to densify. It is likely few suburbanites, the majority of all Americans, would welcome federal overseers deciding how their communities should be changed. Meanwhile, attempts to force residents out of their cars and into transit, something they were abandoning well before Covid, seems quixotic as well as politically stupid. The President’s Transportation Secretary has even suggested a tax on “vehicle miles” travelled, a measure almost calculated to alienate middle and working-class families outside a few dense urban cores.

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

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.

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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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

Triumph of the Oligarchs

A new class of overlords are making their bid for world domination.

The Coronavirus has trammeled the prospects of most Americans, particularly low-income workers. But for one small group, the pandemic has proved something like manna from heaven. Already ascendant beforehand, the tech oligarchy—a relatively small number of companies, venture, and private equity funds—are riding the current crisis to unprecedented dominion over our ever-weakening Republic. Read more