George Will writes: Intellectually undemanding progressives, excited by the likes of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) — advocate of the downtrodden and the Export-Import Bank — have at last noticed something obvious: Big government, which has become gargantuan in response to progressives’ promptings, serves the strong. It is responsive to factions sufficiently sophisticated and moneyed to understand and manipulate its complexity.
Hence Democrats, the principal creators of this complexity, receive more than 70 percent of lawyers’ political contributions. Yet progressives, refusing to see this defect — big government captured by big interests — as systemic, want to make government an ever-more-muscular engine of regulation and redistribution. Were progressives serious about what used to preoccupy America’s Left — entrenched elites, crony capitalism, and other impediments to upward mobility — they would study “The New Class Conflict“, by Joel Kotkin, a lifelong Democrat.
The American majority that believes life will be worse for the next few decades — more than double the number who believe things will be better — senses that 95 percent of income gains from 2009 to 2012 went to the wealthiest 1 percent.
“The fortunes of those Kotkin calls ‘the new Oligarchs’ are based ‘primarily on the sale of essentially ephemeral goods: media, advertising and entertainment.'”
This, Kotkin believes, reflects the “growing alliance between the ultra-wealthy and the instruments of state power.” In 2012, Barack Obama carried eight of America’s ten wealthiest counties.
“In 2013…Houston had more housing starts than all of California.”
In the 1880s, Kotkin says, Cornelius Vanderbilt’s railroad revenues were larger than the federal government’s revenues. That was the old economy. This is the new: In 2013, the combined ad revenues of all American newspapers were smaller than Google’s; so were magazines’ revenues. In 2013, Google’s market capitalization was six times GM’s, but Google had one-fifth as many employees. The fortunes of those Kotkin calls “the new Oligarchs” are based “primarily on the sale of essentially ephemeral goods: media, advertising and entertainment.”
“Since 1945, government employment has grown more than twice as fast as America’s population. The Founders worried about government being captured by factions; they did not foresee government becoming society’s most rapacious and overbearing faction.”
He calls another ascendant group the Clerisy, which is based in academia (where there are now many more administrators and staffers than full-time instructors), media, the nonprofit sector, and, especially, government: Since 1945, government employment has grown more than twice as fast as America’s population. The Founders worried about government being captured by factions; they did not foresee government becoming society’s most rapacious and overbearing faction. Read the rest of this entry »
Joel Kotkin writes: You are a political party, and you want to secure the electoral majority. But what happens, as is occurring to the Democrats, when the damned electorate that just won’t live the way—in dense cities and apartments—that you have deemed is best for them?
This gap between party ideology and demographic reality has led to a disconnect that not only devastated the Democrats this year, but could hurt them in the decades to come. University of Washington demographer Richard Morrill notes that the vast majority of the 153 million Americans who live in metropolitan areas with populations of more than 500,000 live in the lower-density suburban places Democrats think they should not. Only 60 million live in core cities.
Despite these realities, the Democratic Party under Barack Obama has increasingly allied itself with its relatively small core urban base. Simply put, the party cannot win—certainly not in off-year elections—if it doesn’t score well with suburbanites. Indeed, Democrats, as they retreat to their coastal redoubts, have become ever more aggressively anti-suburban, particularly in deep blue states such as California. “To minimize sprawl” has become a bedrock catchphrase of the core political ideology.
As will become even more obvious in the lame duck years, the political obsessions of the Obama Democrats largely mirror those of the cities: climate change, gay marriage, feminism, amnesty for the undocumented, and racial redress. These may sometimes be worthy causes, but they don’t address basic issues that effect suburbanites, such as stagnant middle class wages, poor roads, high housing prices, or underperforming schools. None of these concerns elicit much passion among the party’s true believers. Read the rest of this entry »
For the New York Post, Kyle Smith writes: Ever get the sense that the middle class is downwardly mobile, being pressed to the floor and squeezed to the limit? It’s not happening by accident. Someone is doing the squeezing: a new class of entertainment and tech plutocrats, cheered on and abetted by a priesthood of media, government and academic elites.
“Almost every institution of power, from government and large corporations to banks and Wall Street, suffers the lowest public esteem ever recorded.”
Joel Kotkin’s “The New Class Conflict” (Telos Press Publishing) paints a dire picture of the undeclared war on the middle class. What he calls the Oligarchy (Silicon Valley and Hollywood) and the Clerisy (the media, bureaucrats, universities and nonprofits) enrich themselves and gratify their own strange obsessions at the expense of the middle class.
This New Class, for instance, venerates the city and despises suburbia. They think you should feel the same way — and in innumerable magazine and newspaper pieces, they twist facts to make it sound as if America loves living in apartments and taking trains to work.
Though New York and a few other cities have seen population growth over the last 20 years, the real surges are out there, where the space is.
In 2012, nine of the 10 fastest growing metropolitan regions were in the Sun Belt, mainly in the Southwest. In 2013, lightly regulated Houston saw more housing starts than the entire state of California, writes Kotkin.
“With 12 percent of the nation’s population, California is home to about a third of its welfare recipients, while its 111 billionaires hold a collective $485 billion in wealth. The middle class is now an actual minority in the state.”
So, suburbanites are punished. In California, where the New Class reigns supreme, the middle class is being garroted by environmental and anti-sprawl strictures. Those who wish to live in houses are pushed farther and farther from their jobs, spending more and more on commuting and energy costs. Proposals being debated now would, for instance, allow only 3 percent more housing by 2035 in the exurban part of the Bay Area. Read the rest of this entry »
We’ve heard a lot of election-year class warfare talk, from makers vs. takers to the 1% vs. the 99%. But Joel Kotkin‘s important new book, The New Class Conflict, suggests that America’s real class problems are deeper, and more damaging, than election rhetoric. Traditionally, America has been thought of as a place of great mobility — one where anyone can conceivably grow up to be president, regardless of background.
“Clerisy” class does the bidding of tech oligarchs to detriment of the middle class.
This has never been entirely true, of course. Most of our presidents have come from reasonably well-off backgrounds, and even Barack Obama, a barrier-breaker in some ways, came from an affluent background and enjoyed an expensive private-school upbringing. But the problem Kotkin describes goes beyond shots at the White House.
In a nutshell, Kotkin sees California, once again, in its role as an indicator of where the nation is headed. And it’s not an attractive destination.
Once a state where the middle class reigned supreme, the apotheosis of the American Dream, California now has the wealth distribution — and, in some disturbing ways, the political underpinnings — of a Third World country. In Silicon Valley, a group of super-wealthy tech oligarchs live lives of almost unimaginable wealth, while only a few miles away, illegal immigrants live in squalor.
The oligarchs feel free, and even entitled, to choose the direction of society in the name of a greater good, but somehow their policies seem mostly to make the oligarchs richer and more powerful. Read the rest of this entry »
Thanks to their cozy relationship with the Obama administration, a new class of super-wealthy oligarchs keeps getting more powerful while the country’s middle class shrinks.
Despite this administration’s occasional rhetorical flourishes against oligarchy, we have seen a rapid concentration of wealth and depressed conditions for the middle class under Obama. The stimulus, with its emphasis on public sector jobs, did little for Main Street. And under the banner of environmentalism, green cronyism has helped fatten the bank accounts of investment bankers and tech moguls at great public expense.
A Glimpse into the Political Future: Jonathan Chait’s Advance Apologia for the Democrats’ Defeat in NovemberPosted: April 15, 2014
Fred Siegel writes: Jonathan Chait has written a thoughtful, if debatable, 6,000-word article on race in the Obama years that has stirred a good deal of discussion. It can be read as an advance apologia for the Democrats’ defeat in the 2014 elections. Chait’s thesis, as he sums it up in an online surrebuttal, is that “American politics in the age of Obama has become balkanized not along racial lines, but by how people think about race.” In other words, Chait argues, “the Obama era has produced a cleavage along ideological rather than racial lines,” so that neither black conservatives who support the Tea Party nor the far more numerous white liberals who nod in agreement with Al Sharpton’s preachings on MSNBC are as anomalous as partisans assert. “Liberals,” Chait writes, “dwell in a world of paranoia of a white racism that has seeped out of American history in the Obama years and lurks everywhere, mostly undetectable.” Similarly, he goes on, “Conservatives dwell in a paranoia of their own, in which racism is used as a cudgel to delegitimize their core beliefs. And the horrible thing is that both of these forms of paranoia are right.”
“Parts of the public, not necessarily on the right, have caught on to Obama’s double game, in which his administration has been rhetorically egalitarian and operationally elitist.”
One can commend Chait for his evenhandedness—which has stirred a hornet’s nest of opposition from liberals—without accepting the equivalence he draws between these two views. But the real problem with his essay comes when he steps out of the realm of ideology and into the world of practical outcomes. Six years into the Obama presidency, Americans have ample grounds, independent of race, to dislike him.
[Check out Fred Siegel‘s book: The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class at Amazon]
Joel Kotkin reports: Perhaps no urban legend has played as long and loudly as the notion that “empty nesters” are abandoning their dull lives in the suburbs for the excitement of inner city living. This meme has been most recently celebrated in the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.
Both stories, citing research by the real estate brokerage Redfin, maintained that over the last decade a net 1 million boomers (born born between 1945 and 1964) have moved into the city core from the surrounding area. “Aging boomers,” the Post gushed, now “opt for the city life.” It’s enough to warm the cockles of a downtown real-estate speculator’s heart, and perhaps nudge some subsidies from city officials anxious to secure their downtown dreams.
But there’s a problem here: a look at Census data shows the story is based on flawed analysis, something that the Journal subsequently acknowledged. Indeed, our number-crunching shows that rather than flocking into cities, there were roughly a million fewer boomers in 2010 within a five-mile radius of the centers of the nation’s 51 largest metro areas compared to a decade earlier. Read the rest of this entry »
Joel Kotkin and Ali Modarres
It’s hip, it’s entertaining—but where are the families?
What is a city for? Ever since cities first emerged thousands of years ago, they have been places where families could congregate and flourish. The family hearth formed the core of the ancient Greek and Roman city, observed the nineteenth-century French historian Fustel de Coulanges. Family was likewise the foundation of the great ancient cities of China and the Middle East. As for modern European cities, the historian Philippe Ariès argued that the contemporary “concept of the family” itself originated in the urbanizing northern Europe shown in Rembrandt’s paintings of bourgeois life. Another historian, Simon Schama, described the seventeenth-century Dutch city as “the Republic of Children.” European immigrants carried the institution of the family-oriented city across the Atlantic to America. In the American city until the 1950s, urbanist Sam Bass Warner observed, the “basic custom” was “commitment to familialism.”
But more recently, we have embarked on an experiment to rid our cities of children. In the 1960s, sociologist Herbert Gans identified a growing chasm between family-oriented suburbanites and people who favored city life—“the rich, the poor, the non-white as well as the unmarried and childless middle class.” Families abandoned cities for the suburbs, driven away by policies that failed to keep streets safe, allowed decent schools to decline, and made living spaces unaffordable. Even the partial rebirth of American cities since then hasn’t been enough to lure families back. The much-ballyhooed and self-celebrating “creative class”—a demographic group that includes not only single professionals but also well-heeled childless couples, empty nesters, and college students—occupies much of the urban space once filled by families. Increasingly, our great American cities, from New York and Chicago to Los Angeles and Seattle, are evolving into playgrounds for the rich, traps for the poor, and way stations for the ambitious young en route eventually to less congested places. The middle-class family has been pushed to the margins, breaking dramatically with urban history. The development raises at least two important questions: Are cities without children sustainable? And are they desirable?