Rescuing American Prosperity: A Conversation with Joel Kotkin

with Joel Kotkin

This latest podcast is with Joel Kotkin, America’s Demographer-in-Chief, on his recently released book, The New Class Conflict. Kotkin and I discuss his grave warning of an American future that no longer contains the promises of democratic capitalism. Two groups, in Kotkin’s telling, have converged and share a vision of America that is unconcerned with economic growth, shared prosperity, and the need to rein in state power. The book’s opening argues that this class of tech entrepreneurs and the “Clerisy” pose a fundamental challenge to America’s self-understanding as a nation of economic mobility:

In the coming decades, the greatest existential threat facing America lies with the rise of a new class order that leaves diminished prospects for the vast majority. In this emergent society, wealth and power are concentrated in ever fewer hands and threaten to erode much of the traditional appeal of America, its institutions, and sense of promise.

Instead, Kotkin argues that class divisions promise to harden underneath the influence of a newly-minted ruling class who, unlike its predecessors, is relatively unconcerned with upward prosperity and middle class abundance. The middle class is a diminishing category and those who compose its ranks are increasingly anxious about their future. Kotkin’s term for this disposition is the “Proleterianization of the Middle Class.” One massive barrier they face, according to Kotkin, is the indifference of the “Valley of the Oligarchs,” or that group of tech investors and moguls, software engineers, and other information technology denizens of Silicon Valley and Seattle who are increasingly able to shape the flow of information and media in America. These digital mavens are the new elites. However, said oligarchs don’t depend on a large middle class workforce to buy their products, nor do they create one with their labor needs. Their business incentives are unlike those that led the production and manufacturing kings of another period to promote a broad-based capitalism of mass employment, mass production and consumption. After all, affording a smartphone isn’t that difficult, but owning a new Ford required a good job.

So they show little concern with ensuring that needs like energy, housing, education, and other costs remain affordable for most Americans. The past conditions for upward prosperity that even many progressives once favored don’t register their approval. Instead, they find progressive solutions superior because they purportedly promote a clean-environment and lessen inequality through redistribution.

This brings us to another key aspect of the ruling class which Kotkin labels the Clerisy, or those academics, members of the administrative state, journalists, and related symbol-manipulators who believe they hold an authoritative role to proclaim the true ideals that will guide America’s future. While not directly aligned with the Valley Oligarchs, the two groups share basic goals of clean energy, diversity, sustainable growth, highly-dense urban planning, and the gnostic belief that science can authoritatively answer political questions. It follows that there are sheep and goats on every issue, and the Clerisy per scientific knowledge knows the difference. Together, this ruling class, Kotkin argues, poses a unique challenge to the American Dream.

Reader Discussion

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on September 03, 2014 at 17:38:08 pm

Very interesting. Good to hear from an old-fashioned liberal. But I don't understand why Mr. Kotkin doesn't understand that families are being destroyed by the sexual revolution, of which Julia is the cherry on top. He can't walk away from Julia, and embrace companionate marriage defined without reference to the best interests of children, except tactically. Which may be what he's doing. But men who make political and economic choices as fathers, married to the mother of their own biological children, are getting scarce on the ground, to advocate for the interests of families as does Mr. Kotkin.

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on September 11, 2014 at 16:36:07 pm

The fact is that in today's day and age there are only two classes of people in America. The first class is the Economic Class that gains there wealth through hands off trading and entrepreneur activities with little or no government interference in the market. The second class is the Political Class that lives off of the fruits of the labor of the Economic Class. Whether its the crony capitalist "rich" or the "middle class" government employees,academics,intellectuals and contractors or the "poor" most of which,but not all, who are irresponsible with their lives or are too lazy to get out of bed in the morning and go to work. In the end there has been a great transfer of wealth over the last several years. That transfer of wealth has not been from the poor to the rich because the poor have no wealth.That is why they,the poor,are poor. The transfer of wealth has been between the middle class and rich in the Economic Class to the poor,middle class and crony rich in the Political Class. In essence there are those that work for a living and those who either vote or lobby for a living. The number of Americans in the Political Class now outnumber and thus out vote those in the Economic Class. This transfer of wealth is the end result of Cultural Marxism and creeping socialism that has run riot in America over the last 100 years. The final result will be the last nail in the coffin of the American Republic and a new age of feudalism and collectivism in America with the fascists and leftists in charge and the majority of the productive Americans in the Economic Class nothing but feudal tax serfs. A pity.

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libertarian jerry
on October 24, 2014 at 15:09:56 pm

I could not have said that better.

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Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.