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The Battle Between the Two Americas

In recent history, the United States has arguably never been so divided — but not in the way you might think. Yes, the country has been split by the culture wars, with their polarising focus on race and gender. But behind the scenes, another conflict has been brewing; shaped by the economics of class, it has created two Americas increasingly in conflict.

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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

A Middle Class Rebellion Against Progressives is Gaining Steam

A specter is haunting America, a great revolt that threatens to dwarf the noxious rebellion led by Trump. The echoes of a another potentially larger pushback can already be heard in progressive America. But it’s not towards socialism, as many suggest. It’s the opposite: a new middle-class rebellion against the excesses of the Left.

This new middle-class rebellion isn’t rejecting everything that progressives stand for; the Left’s critique of neo-liberal excess is resonating, as is the need for improved access to health care. But the current focus on “systemic racism,” coupled with a newfound and heavily enforced cultural conformism and the obsessive focus on a never-ending litany of impending “climate emergencies” are less likely to pass muster with most of the middle class, no matter how popular they are with the media, academics, and others in the progressive corner.

And this new middle-class rebellion is being bolstered by a wide-ranging intellectual rebellion by traditional liberals against the Left’s dogmatism and intolerance. Indeed, what we’re about to see has the potential to reprise the great shift among old liberals that had them embracing Reagan in reaction to the Left’s excesses of that generation.

In a way, this should not be surprising. After all, the progressive base is limited: According to a survey conducted by the non-partisan group More in Common, progressives constitute barely eight percent of the electorate. The report also found that fully 80 percent of all Americans believe that “political correctness is a problem,” including large majorities of millennials and racial minorities.

Party line journalists may see President Biden as the new champion of the middle class, but every time he adopts central tenets of the new Left, he undermines his pitch. And this happens not infrequently: The Biden Administration has adopted elements of the “anti-racist” agenda, for example, by explicitly favoring Black farmers for subsidies, rather than focusing on all farmers in need. Race issues may be popular on college campuses and in the human relations departments of giant corporations like Lockheed and Amazon, but a recent Yale study found that language based on inclusivity around class was far more popular than one focused largely on race, even with progressive voters.

This is not the message coming out of the Biden administration, which has put a premium on diversity hiring and “equity,” despite the fact that racial quotas, in hiring or in college admissions, are unpopular with three out of four Americans, including African-Americans and Hispanics; 65% of Hispanics, 62% of black Americans and 58% of Asians oppose affirmative action in college admissions.

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.

Homepage photo credit: Hollywata via Flickr under CC 2.0 License

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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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.

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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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.

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

Look to Orange County for How to Turn California Purple

For decades, Orange County was a reliable incubator of conservative politics, and, in the era of Nixon, Goldwater and Reagan, a fairly powerful force in the state and on the national level. More recently, the area has been widely seen as tilting blue, particularly during the Trump era, with the media celebrating the end of “the Orange Curtain” in the 2018 midterm elections and its metamorphosis into another addition to our state’s progressive political culture. Read more