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October 11, 2013

Our Neo-Feudalist, Neo-Medieval Age and the Death of the Middle Class

Last week, Joel Kotkin wrote in the Daily Beast about California's embrace of a new feudal order, with rigidly defined socioeconomic classes.

As late as the 80s, California was democratic in a fundamental sense, a place for outsiders and, increasingly, immigrants—roughly 60 percent of the population was considered middle class. Now, instead of a land of opportunity, California has become increasingly feudal. According to recent census estimates, the state suffers some of the highest levels of inequality in the country. By some estimates, the state’s level of inequality compares with that of such global models as the Dominican Republic, Gambia, and the Republic of the Congo.

At the same time, the Golden State now suffers the highest level of poverty in the country—23.5 percent compared to 16 percent nationally—worse than long-term hard luck cases like Mississippi. It is also now home to roughly one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients, almost three times its proportion of the nation’s population.

Like medieval serfs, increasing numbers of Californians are downwardly mobile, and doing worse than their parents: native born Latinos actually have shorter lifespans than their parents, according to one recent report. Nor are things expected to get better any time soon. According to a recent Hoover Institution survey, most Californians expect their incomes to stagnate in the coming six months, a sense widely shared among the young, whites, Latinos, females, and the less educated.

...
As in medieval times, land ownership, particularly along the coast, has become increasingly difficult for those not in the upper class. In 2012, four California markets—San Jose, San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles—ranked as the most unaffordable relative to income in the nation. The impact of these prices falls particularly on the poor. According to the Center for Housing Policy and National Housing Conference, 39 percent of working households in the Los Angeles metropolitan area spend more than half their income on housing, as do 35 percent in the San Francisco metro area—both higher than 31 percent in the New York area and well above the national rate of 24 percent. This is likely to get much worse given that California median housing prices rose 31 percent in the year ending May 2013. In the Bay Area the increase was an amazing 43 percent.

It's a long column, and pretty depressing, but worth a read.

Matthew Continetti now picks up that idea (though Continetti often writes of the New Castes) and discusses the self-satisfied media-political elite.


Looking for a distraction from the government shutdown and debt ceiling debate? I urge you to read Vanity Fair’s latest advertisement for “The New Establishment,” a list of “50 Titans Disrupting Media, Technology, and Culture,” the century-old magazine’s annual mash-note to the rich and powerful and self-satisfied. These disrupters innovate technologies, set the trends, define the limits of acceptable conversation in culture and politics and society, and pour money into the network of liberal foundations and Democratic campaigns around which our world is increasingly organized. They are the winners in the cognitive lottery that is the New Economy, the men and women creating and shaping, by accident and by design, the “New Feudalism” described so well by Joel Kotkin in The Daily Beast. It’s good to know their names.

The members of Vanity Fair’s new establishment include Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Jack Dorsey, Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer, Cory Booker and Megan Ellison. These are the bold-faced celebrities you spot on other lists of power players, in the lush photos of parties and galas and tributes and premieres that appear in the front of the book of glossy magazines, and on the cover of our national newsweekly. They share a certain demographic profile. They are people of pallor, all but eight of them are men, they are clustered in Manhattan, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, and Seattle, they work in technology, media, and politics, they are fantastically rich, and it is safe to assume that all but two of them share the attitudes and sensibilities, the mental luggage and politically correct language, the burnished resumes and can-do attitude of the caste.

One of the more remarkable things about this collection of do-gooders, overachievers, and symbolic analysts is their consistent inability to apply to themselves the skepticism and criticism they shower so heavily on Republicans and conservatives, on the rich who make their fortunes from resource extraction, manufacture, and investment. Not long ago a social critic such as C. Wright Mills could write pitilessly and accurately about The Power Elite, about the WASP establishment he saw lurking behind militarism and inequity. Few were exempt from his gaze. Our social critics today, however, prefer only to focus on a minority of a minority: the wealthy and influential whose policy and ideological objectives happen to be the very opposite of their own.

Put a banker or an industrialist or—dare I say it—a Republican in front of the men and women who edit Vanity Fair, and they will approach their subject with the utmost incredulity and commitment to ferreting out the worst possible facts. But the Hollywood tycoon or Internet billionaire or green-energy hawker or “engaged” actor whose politics exist in the temperate zone of bourgeois liberalism, whose public pronouncements are reliably “down the middle” and “moderate,” whose bold stands on the issues include such courageous positions as support for abortion-on-demand, affirmative action, amnesty, gun control, free trade, diversity, globalization, alternative energy, public transit, and government “investments” in education and infrastructure—his place in the establishment is not only noted but celebrated, applauded, held as an example to the people.

The news that a group associated with Charles and David Koch had contributed to another group that advocates for shutting down parts of the government to protest Obamacare has seized the political press and its allies in the Democratic Party as earth-shattering, revelatory. Meanwhile the imperious outgoing mayor of New York City can flood Colorado with outside money to support gun control, can cut a million dollar check to help his Democratic pal Cory Booker in New Jersey, can announce his intention to spend some $400 million in 2013 to make the world conform to his prejudices, and Time magazine slaps him on its cover, writes the headline “Bloomberg Unbound,” and writes in bold type: “He’s remade New York. Next up, the world.”

Does the world get a vote?

As the Church Lady often observed: "You like yourself a lot, don't you?"

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posted by Ace at 01:41 PM

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