(A Book Review of The New Class Conflict by Joel Kotkin)
Democrats seeking to explain their defeat and Republicans trying to take a lesson from their good fortune need look no further than The New Class Conflict by Joel Kotkin, published this past September.
Kotkin argues that the progressive/liberal/Democrats have veered away from a concern for the economics of the average American as they embrace what he calls “gentry liberalism” — a green agenda which forsakes growth and perpetuates a new oligarchy of Silicon Valley and Wall Street.
Even as Obama rails against income inequality, Kotkin points out that 95% of the income gains of his first term went to the top 1% of the country (compared to 45% in Clinton’s and 65% in Bush-43’s tenures). Despite his rhetoric, Obama carried eight of the ten wealthiest counties in America in 2012, some by 2:1 or better.
Obsessed with climate change, the left pushes an anti-growth oligarchic agenda of regulation, taxation, and subsidy of Wall Street. Even though, as Kotkin notes, McKinsey and Co have said that sufficient greenhouse gas reduction can be achieved by new technology. McKinsey urges “no change in thermostat settings or appliance use, no downsizing of vehicles, home, or commercial space and traveling the same mileage.” They say there is no need for “a shift to denser urban housing.”
But the left pushes for these limits, Kotkin notes, for everyone but themselves.
He says that the upper classes of the past were restrained in their greed by the need to maintain a reasonably happy labor force and a willing market. But today’s oligarchs can outsource their manufacturing and make vast sums selling goods at relatively low prices to eager consumers.
The results of the 2014 election make it clear that American voters — particularly non-college whites and Latinos — have learned the lessons Kotkin teaches and are switching away from their past Democratic allegiances.
In a real sense, Kotkin’s findings presage a return to the politics of the 1970s when concerns for civil liberties led liberals to bend over backwards to protect the criminal class and, at the same time, introduced the idea that less is more and argued that the era of growth was over. When first Nixon and then Reagan pushed a law and order agenda and heralded a return of American optimism, the left derided the former as racist and the latter as naive. But voters disagreed and turned from the left and empowered conservatism.
Likewise, the left would rather call opposition to immigration racist than deal with the results of the ensuing competition for jobs and wages. Just last week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicted that amnesty would doom wages to zero growth for a decade.
Kotkin explores the alliance between what he calls the Clerisy and the silicon-wall street oligarchy. Clerisy (a merger of the old role of the cleric and the new power of the bureaucracy) are the government regulators and their academic enablers that suppress growth and extinguish expectations of upward mobility.
While no news to conservatives, Kotkin, a centrist with left leanings, legitimizes and elaborates the case that liberalism has left its moorings. It’s first chapter, in particular, is a primer to understand the political evolution we are going through.
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