Kotkin: So, California is looking kind of feudal these days, huh?
posted at 5:01 pm on October 6, 2013 by Erika Johnsen
One of the great banes of egalitarian society to which progressive populists unfailingly point is the horrendous and lamentable specter of income inequality — except that their explanations of the phenomenon as evidence of the pernicious and ill-begotten rich growing richer at the expense of the middle class do not quite present an accurate diagnosis of the problem. The current economic and employment plight of “the middle class” is a go-to of President Obama’s in speech after speech after speech, and yet measures of income inequality have only grown increasingly worse during the five years of his tenure.
Perhaps, to more thoroughly explain the situation, we can look at a slightly more contained example of liberal policies working in precisely the way they are intended in one of our fifty laboratories of democracy, without all of that pesky and spiteful Republican “obstruction” standing in the way. I’m referring, of course, to that sunny bastion of liberalism, California, and it just so happens that Joel Kotkin has an in-depth piece about the economic conditions in California over at the Daily Beast… detailing its growing rates of poverty, inequality, downward mobility, and elite-driven economy that, he argues, are bringing it dangerously close to model of medievalism:
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.
And sure, California can boast of plenty of wealth within its borders — especially if you happen to have a job in Hollywood or Silicon Valley.
The state’s digital oligarchy, surely without intention, is increasingly driving the state’s lurch towards feudalism. Silicon Valley’s wealth reflects the fortunes of a handful of companies that dominate an information economy that itself is increasingly oligopolistic. In contrast to the traditionally conservative or libertarian ethos of the entrepreneurial class, the oligarchy is increasingly allied with the nominally populist Democratic Party and its regulatory agenda. Along with the public sector, Hollywood, and their media claque, they present California as “the spiritual inspiration” for modern “progressives” across the country.
Through their embrace of and financial support for the state’s regulatory regime, the oligarchs have made job creation in non tech-businesses—manufacturing, energy, agriculture—increasingly difficult through “green energy” initiatives that are also sure to boost already high utility costs. One critic, state Democratic Senator Roderick Wright from heavily minority Inglewood, compares the state’s regulatory regime to the “vig” or high interest charged by the Mafia, calling it a major reason for disinvestment in many industries.
Read on for a lot of dismaying (and yet not very surprising) information, including Kotkin’s illustrative definitions of California’s new socioeconomic classes: The Oligarchs, the Clerisy, the New Serfs, and the Yeomanry. It ain’t pretty, and with California’s current Democratic supermajority ruling the roost, I can’t say I’m hoping for Californians’ prospects to improve any time soon.
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