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The Roots of California’s Tattered Economy Were Planted Long Before the Coronavirus Arrived

California is in far worse shape economically than the great majority of other states also struggling through the pandemic. COVID-19 may be the primary cause of our current distress, but the evolving structure of our economy has exacerbated this calamity. The worst part is our state leaders should have known this all along. Read more

Democratic Civil War

The three heads of the Democrat Hydra will soon start biting at each other.

Donald Trump may still sit in the White House, but America seems increasingly submissive to the rule of the Democrats. The Party now enjoys predominant influence over mainstream media, rising influence among wealthy elites, a stranglehold over education and entertainment industries, and the domination of the burgeoning non-profit world. Remarkably the self-styled “party of the people” now accommodates the big Wall Street firms and tech oligarchies alongside the progressive, neo-socialist, activist base and an ever-diminishing remnant of traditional working-class voters.

This powerful coalition is also a fundamentally unstable one—a three-headed hydra whose heads, particularly after Trump leaves, will soon be biting each other furiously. One faction, the corporatist elite, genuflects and even profits from the progressive mantra on climate, gender, and race. Some, like former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, are so committed to gentry progressivism that he recently suggested those who don’t get with the program could “face a firing squad.” Others, like the Marxists and rioters of BLM, seek a total social revolution and increasingly speak of ending “racial capitalism.”

Many on the Right, having learned nothing since Reagan, simple-mindedly identify each of these two dominant groups as “liberal.” A more accurate assessment would be “corporatist” and “socialist.” Largely left:  the constituency that once drove the Democratic Party—middle-of-the-road voters, many of them in unions, who constitute roughly half of party members. Only 15% of Democrats consider themselves “very liberal.” Along with older African-American voters, these suburban voters, also mostly older, were critical to nominating the lackluster former vice president. They could very well get him into the White House itself.

The Corporatists

The tech oligarchs and their Wall Street allies were clear winners of the Democratic primaries. The so-called “party of the people,” Biden and other Democrats now can count the wealthiest individuals on the planet among its ranks, including former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskowitz, Zynga’s Mark Pincus, Steve Jobs’s widow Lauren, as well as media moguls Michael Bloomberg and Barry Diller.

This pattern, already notable in 2016, can also be seen in 41 of the 50 wealthiest Congressional districts that Democrats now represent. It is now wealthy donors who dominate the party, not the grassroots youth movement agitated by Sanders. This point bears repeating over and over again. This is particularly true in the key battle for the Senate, where most Republicans find themselves overwhelmed by a torrent of oligarchic wealth.

Some oligarchs, such as Jeff Bezos with his mouthpiece the Washington Post, are following along not out of enthusiasm, but at least partially out of naked fear of socialists like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. But it’s doubtful even an unhinged San Francisco billionaire like Costolo has much interest in having his wealth and market power disrupted by radicals, who feel, justifiably in my mind, the largely unrestrained oligarchs, and their Wall Street allies, devour far too much of the nation’s wealth and should have much of their property confiscated by the state. After all, both Sanders and his acolyte Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez believe that billionaires “should not exist.”

Read the rest of this piece at American Mind.


Joel Kotkin is the author of the just-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

Image credit: SilviaP_Design via Wikimedia, in Public Domain.

Americans Won’t Live in the Pod

“No Bourgeois, No Democracy”
Barrington Moore

Protecting and fighting for the middle class regularly dominates rhetoric on the Right and Left. Yet activists on both sides now often seek to undermine single-family home ownership, the linchpin of middle-class aspiration.

The current drive to outlaw single-family zoning—the one protection homeowners possess against unwanted development—has notched bans in the City of Minneapolis and the state of Oregon, with California not far behind. Advocates have tapped an odd alliance of progressives and libertarians. Essentially, it marries two inflexible ideologies, in principle diametrically opposed, but neither of which see housing as a critical element of family and community. In its stead, the Left seeks to place the state in charge, while libertarians bow instinctively to any de-regulatory step they see as increasing “freedom and choice.”

Although couched in noble sentiments, both approaches are fundamentally hostile to both middle- and working-class aspirations. Without a home, the new generation—including minorities—will face a “formidable challenge” in boosting their worth. Property remains key to financial security: Homes today account for roughly two-thirds of the wealth of middle-income Americans while home owners have a median net worth more than 40 times that of renters, according to the Census Bureau. Equally important, a shift from home ownership would also weaken the basis of democracy. Since ancient times, republican institutions have rested on the firmament of dispersed property ownership.

An Odd Time for More Density

The push for ever-greater density and against suburban home ownership could not come at a less propitious time. Even before the pandemic, big cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago were losing population. Since 2010, despite all the talk of a massive “return to the city,” suburbs and exurbs account for about 90% of all metropolitan-area growth. Millennials, often seen as an urban generation, have fueled population growth in the suburbs since 2010.

Millennials have had a hard time buying homes—among post-college millennials (25-34), ownership has dropped from 45.4% in 2000 to 37.0% in 2016, a drop of 18% according to Census Bureau data—but three-quarters want single-family detached houses, according a 2019 report on home buyer preferences by the National Association of Homebuilders. A 2018 Apartment List survey found that 80% of millennials dream of home ownership. Among those under 35 who do buy homes, four-fifths choose single-family detached houses.

This shift has been greatly accelerated by the pandemic, and could gain even more momentum from the rising crime and disorder in many of our core cities. Pew reports roughly one in four Americans either moved on account of COVID-19 or knew someone who did so, with the largest percentages for young people under 30. Since 2018, according to Gallup, the percentage of Americans saying they want to live in cities dropped 55%, down to barely 13%. Rather than the much-ballyhooed “back to the city” movement, we are entering what Zillow describes as “a great reshuffling” to suburbs, smaller cities, and less expensive states. Even non-metro areas, for the first time in over a decade, are beginning to gain population.

The rise of online work is likely to accelerate the trend. Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom projects we will see telecommuting increase from 5% of the workforce before the pandemic to something closer to 20%. More important still, most people now working from home express a preference—some 60% according to Gallup—to do so for the foreseeable future. Even when offices opened early this summer in New York, real estate brokers report, most workers refused to return. And now developers, like KB Homes, are adding home offices to their newest offerings.

These trends will be reinforced by shifts in job markets. A new survey by the Site Selectors guild suggests that only 10% of companies are looking to expand in large cities, one sixth as many as choose suburbs, and a third of those who favor rural areas. Meanwhile major office and residential complexes are being downsized, cancelled, or hit with major price reductions in cities from Chicago and New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Read the rest of this essay on the American Mind.


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: Taxiarchos228 via Wikimedia under CC 3.0 License.

Green Policies Won’t Keep California Truckin’

No state advertises its green credentials more than California. That these policies often hurt the economy, driving up housing costs and narrowing opportunities for working-class people while not even doing much for the environment, has not discouraged the state’s environmental overlords. Read more

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.

Read more

How the Virus is Pushing America Toward a Better Future

The peak globalization bubble has finally burst and America has a chance to reinvent itself and realign how things work here with the best parts of our national identity.

Pessimism is the mood of the day, with 80 percent of Americans saying the country is generally out of control. Even before civil unrest and pestilence, most Americans believed our country was in decline, Pew reported, with a shrinking middle class, increased indebtedness and growing polarization.

It’s a dark hour, but the United States has a way of coming back, after struggling with itself, stronger than ever. As it did in World War II and the Cold War, America retains enormous sokojikara, or “reserve power,” as Japan political scientist Fuji Kamiya described it decades ago. 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

From the Right: Summer reading for political junkies

By: George J. Marlin
On: The Island Now

For some years, I have been recommending new political books readers might choose to crack open during their summer vacations. This year, however, I am taking a slightly different approach because many interesting books slated for publication in the spring have been put off due to the coronavirus pandemic.

So, for political junkies, I recommend not only recent publications, but several books published decades ago that I took down from my library shelves and reread while confined to my home. (The out-of-print books can be purchased at abebooks.com.)

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The Green Civil War

Like many contemporary social movements—#metoo, Black Lives Matter, the Women’s March—the environmental lobby has tended to create an atmosphere of unanimity. In its struggle to win public and elite opinion, it has frequently evoked “science” as something settled and immutable, warning that those who dissent are either self-serving or seriously deranged.

Yet in recent months, there has been growing criticism about the current green orthodoxy, including from people long associated with environmental causes. Read more