Let’s start at the beginning, Joel. In your new book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class, do you literally fear that liberal capitalism will lose out against economic “feudalism”? And please put that word feudalism in a modern context for our readers.
The parallels are striking. In the long centuries after the feudal period – let’s say from AD 1200 – there was a slow but gradual increase in upward mobility and the growing power of the middle class. In the 20thth In the 19th century this progress was extended to the working class. Despite its many crises, liberal capitalism offered a better lifestyle and higher expectations not only to the Americans, but also to the Europeans, Japanese, East Asians, including China, Canada, Australia and even some developing countries.
This progress came to a standstill in the West in the 1970s when prosperity was concentrated in fewer hands and income growth almost ended for the vast majority. Instead, we see the rise of two classes that run parallel to the feudal structure. One is the oligarchy, especially in Silicon Valley, and the other is a modern version of the clergy; one repeats the military aristocracy that rose after the end of the Roman Empire; the other the powerful priesthood of the Catholic Church. In the meantime, the middle class, which I refer to as the owner, has declined, while the ranks of the new serfs – essentially those who have no hope of ownership or entry into the middle class – have grown.
This is the essence of neo-feudalism.
They raise the alarm about the fate that awaits the “global” middle class, but the epicenter of the book is in California. They disagree with the prevailing view recently expressed by progressive writers Peter Leyden and Ruy Teixeira: “California is the future of American politics.” Apparently you no longer believe that there is something to celebrate.
I lived in California for almost half a century. When I came here it was the land of opportunity. Sure, there was poverty, but there was also a lot of upward mobility. People came here to make their lives better. California is now suffering from large-scale emigration of the middle and working class and the highest cost-adjusted poverty rate of all states. As James Galbraith and others have found, inequality is about as steep as anywhere.
Our once dynamic policy is frozen. California’s thriving bipartisan system turned into a single-party state dominated by tech oligarchs, civil servants, and green activists. The state’s Republican Party, which once stood over the nation, has withered into a small Trumpist cult with perhaps 40% support.
In those halcyon days, futurists exclaimed, “I saw the future and it works!” You spoke about California, a state that has managed to combine social tolerance with dynamic technological innovation. But when I read your book, I was reminded that the line originally belonged to Lincoln Steffens and that he was talking about the Soviet Union in 1919.
How fitting. Progressives often behave like Walter Duranty, the New York Times reporter, who flickered essentially for Stalin during the great famine. They don’t want to hear anything bad about California because it’s their role model. How often are Gavin Newsom or Kamala Harris, both former San Francisco officials, blamed for the city’s disorder and mass homelessness? How often do reporters notice that despite the ruinously expensive environmental policy, the state has not even done an above-average job of reducing greenhouse gases while cynically sending more of its production out of the state? We may be asked to use electric vehicles, but it is becoming increasingly clear that they will be built elsewhere as Tesla has just announced that the new expansion will take place outside of Austin. The same applies to SpaceX, which has been relocated from Southern California to Texas and Florida. Imagine what these plants could have done for South LA or Fresno!
If we had a republican governor, the knives would be out of the progressively dominated media. Regardless of the party in power, economic injustice persists even when people with the “right” ideology chair it. The hypocrisy is only more obvious now.
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Carl M. Cannon is the head of the Washington RealClearPolitics office. Reach him on Twitter @ CarlCannon.
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