Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Seeing the West as Worse. By Joel Kotkin.

Seeing the West as worse. By Joel Kotkin. Orange County Register, December 27, 2015.


“Hey-hey, ho-ho, Western culture’s got to go.”

– Slogan from 1988 Stanford University protest led by Jesse Jackson.

In the aftermath of San Bernardino and Paris massacres, our cognitive leaders – from President Obama on down – have warned Americans not to engage in what Hillary Clinton has described as “a clash of civilizations.” But you can’t have a real clash when one side – ours – seems compelled to demean its traditions and values.

Leaders in America and Europe don’t want to confront Islamic fundamentalism, or other nasty manifestations of post-Western thinking, because they increasingly no longer believe in our own core values. At the same time, devoted to the climate issue, they are squandering our new energy revolution by attempting to “decarbonize,” essentially leaving the field and the financial windfall to our friends in Riyadh, Moscow, Tehran and Raqqa.

Western ethos deconstructed

As the great 15th century Arab historian Ibn Khaldun observed, societies that get rich also tend to get soft, both in the physical sense and in the head. Over the past two centuries, Western societies, propelled by the twin forces of technology and capitalist “animal spirits,” have created a diffusion of wealth unprecedented in world history. A massive middle class emerged, and the working class received valuable protections, not only in Europe and America, but throughout parts of the world, notably East Asia, which adopted at least some of the Western ethos.

The current massive movement of people from the Middle East, Africa and Asia to Western countries suggests the enduring appeal of this model. After all, people from developing countries aren’t risking their lives to move to North Korea, Russia or China. The West remains a powerful beacon in the “clash of civilizations.”

Yet a portion of these newcomers ultimately reject our culture and, in some cases, seek to liquidate it. They do this in countries where multiculturalism urges immigrants to register as “victims,” and not indulge in Western culture, as did most previous immigrant waves. After all, why assimilate into a culture that much of the cultural elite believes to be evil?

Perhaps the biggest disconnect may involve young immigrants and their offspring, particularly students. Rather than be integrated in some ways into society, they are able, and even encouraged, not to learn about “Western civilization,” which is all but gone from campuses, with barely 2 percent retaining this requirement.

The dominant ideology on college campus – “cultural relativism” – leaves little room for anything other than a nasty take on Western history and culture. Many students, whether of immigrant parentage or descendants of the Mayflower, have only vague appreciation or knowledge of Western civilization, making them highly vulnerable to such pleading. They often go through college now with only the vaguest notion of our history, the writings of the American founders, the philosophy of the Enlightenment, our vast cultural heritage or the fundamental principles of Christianity or, if you will, Judeo-Christianity.

This extends beyond religion to the very basics – like respect for the First Amendment – that underpin our social order. Two in five millennials, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, believe the government “should be able to prevent people from saying ... statements that are offensive to minority groups.” A third of millennials opined that government should prevent speech “offensive to your religion or beliefs.”

The media and much of the nonprofit world share this perspective. For all the talk about Rupert Murdoch – the aging last remnant of contrarian journalism – and the Koch brothers, the cultural wars have been entirely won by the far larger, better-funded and protected progressive media and nonprofit establishment. In virtually every part of the West, more traditional values, from the primacy of the family to religion and belief in the efficacy of market capitalism, are being undermined, with increasingly disastrous results.

Psychological deindustrialization

Over a decade ago, the British historian Martin Weiner proffered his theory of “psychological deindustrialization” to explain the decline of the British capitalist class. In Weiner’s estimation, the great 19th century industrial expansion of that remarkable island nation lost its momentum as the scions of the capitalist class lost their taste for manufacturing, preferring the comforts of country estates, the clubby world of London and high-minded charity.

In the West today, the children of the rich, and often the rich themselves, embrace causes, notably climate change alarmism, that work against the whole ethos of progress and mass affluence. Now many of these people – notably in Silicon Valley, Wall Street, Hollywood and other centers of absurd wealth – are determined to “save” the planet by regulating and taxing the middle class back to the 19th century. That this effort is led by groups like the Rockefeller brothers, who owe their fortunes to black gold, is ironic, to say the least.

In this intellectual climate, it is no shock that at the recent Paris climate conference, Western capitalism was blamed entirely for climate change. This has sparked the demand for “climate reparations” without a thought that, over the past two decades, this same capitalism has helped a billion people out of poverty, mostly in the developing world.

The blame-the-West-first trend extends well beyond environmental concerns. Disbelief in the system of democratic give and take to address climate change reflects views on a whole set of issues, from feminism and gender to race. No surprise that draconian proposals to address the climate “crisis” often see little need to deal with Congress, legal due process, even free speech.

So, rather than address how to improve the environment without eviscerating our own middle class, we expend enormous energy on peripheral issues like transgender rights, often exaggerated claims surrounding “a war on women,” and whether the lives of African Americans matter more. A writer in a recent article in the New York Times, cogitating on racial privilege, opined, “For me, whiteness is not an identity but a moral problem.”

Such attitudes have been around a long time. It’s been almost a half century since the late Susan Sontag opined that the “white race is the cancer of human history,” for everything from eradicating “autonomous civilizations” and upsetting “the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself.” But in 1966, when these views were first expressed, they were in a minority, even on campuses. Today, they have evolved into holy writ.

As such views have become mainstream, it’s not surprising that there is little interest, at least in the culture’s higher circles, in protecting the Western heritage, even when under direct assault. One painful example is the pathetic nonresponse to the gradual genocide being carried out in the Middle East against Christians. Threatened with the abolition of the West’s dominant religion does not seem to motivate mainstream Christians often more worried about the evils of Islamophobia and climate change than mass killings of their own co-religionists.

Long-term implications

A society that no longer believes in its core beliefs cannot prevail against rivals who, although less wealthy and far less technologically advanced, embrace their core ideals. A West that rejects (and sometimes is unaware of) its own heritage cannot overcome those who, for religious or national reasons, have a powerful belief in theirs.

Some people in Western countries are reacting to this abandonment of culture and heritage. Unfortunately, many of them are attracted to demagogues like Donald Trump or Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front whose anti-immigrant xenophobia now has potent analogues in countries from the eastern frontier of Poland, Slovakia and Hungry to seeming secure reaches of Scandinavia. Given the cultural dominance of the relativist Left and the post-Christian nature of the culture, none of these movements will likely do more than make noise and inspire “tut-tuts” among the intelligentsia.

Ultimately, we can only confront the challenge from authoritarian forces – whether in the Middle East, China or Russia – when we once again embrace our cultural values as important and worthy of protection. Our opponents – and that’s what they are – may be fundamentally weaker than us, but can count on the advantage of belief in their destiny. To save ours, Western culture needs to stay, not be put away.

The New Masters of the Universe. By Joel Kotkin.

The New Masters of the Universe. By Joel Kotkin. Spiked, December 2015. Also at


From Silicon Valley, a new elite is coming.

Every age produces its own brand of oligarchs – feudal lords, banking gnomes, captains of industry. Our age has its own incipient ruling class, the tech oligarchs.

The ascendency of these new hegemons is barely complete, and could conceivably be slowed or even reversed. But the tidal wave of new wealth, and even greater influence, will not be easily turned back. Six of the world’s 20 richest people are from tech or related industries like media and entertainment. In America, the media-tech sector in 2014 accounted for five of the top wealthiest people. Not surprisingly, most self-made billionaires are either quite old (the Koch Brothers, the Waltons, Warren Buffett) or got rich the traditional way: they inherited it. In contrast, virtually all self-made billionaires under 40 are techies.

The making of a new ruling class

With their massive, and early, accumulated wealth, the tech oligarchs will dominate us long after the inheritors have financed the last art museum or endowed the newest hospital. Two decades from now, many tech oligarchs will still be young enough to be counting their billions and thinking up new ways to “disrupt” our lives – for our own good, of course.

This tech elite differs from the founding generation of Silicon Valley. The early leaders – Bob Packard, Bob Noyce, Andrew Grove, Jerry Sanders – tended to be centrist and pragmatic. After all, the early Valley was heavily subsidised by the military and NASA, and produced industrial products that faced enormous competition. They also managed vast organisations with large numbers of ordinary employees. Like other industrialists, they were concerned with low-cost power and water, reasonable labour regulation and the health of the overall manufacturing economy.

This changed when a combination of keen Asian competition and Californian regulation gradually shifted the chip and computer manufacturers out of Silicon Valley, which has lost roughly 80,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000. The new Valley is predominately post-industrial. For example, only 30 of about 16,000 production workers for the iPod are based in the US.

As Silicon Valley became software valley, tech firms no longer needed large numbers of semi-skilled workers and the network of small subcontractors to keep the industrial machine going. Those services, if needed, could be performed in India, China, Utah, Texas or North Carolina. “The job creation has changed,” notes long-time San Jose economic development official Leslie Parks. “We used to be the whole food chain and create all sorts of middle-class jobs. Now, increasingly, we don’t design the future – we just think about it. That makes some people rich, but not many.”

What has made “the sovereigns of cyberspace,” to quote author Rebecca MacKinnon, so wealthy is precisely what made John D Rockefeller so rich: control of markets. Google, for example, accounts for over 60 per cent of search, while, alongside Apple, it control almost 90 per cent of the operating systems for smartphones. Similarly, over half of American and Canadian computer users use Facebook, making it easily the world’s dominant social-media site.

More important still, the tech oligarchs control portions of their companies that would make most oilmen or auto executives fantastically rich. Indeed, owners of only one energy-related firm, Koch Industries, have made it into the top 10 of the Forbes 400. The CEO and chairman of Exxon-Mobil, America’s largest oil company, Rex Tillerson, controls 0.04 per cent of Exxon stock, while Google’s Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt control roughly two thirds of the company’s voting stock. Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg also control outsized shares of their firms.

These firms are now so rich that they resemble countries. Besides General Electric, a classic conglomerate, Apple, Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle and Google often have more dollars on hand than the US government. And their influence can be felt in every office, home and phone through intrusive software that provides a trove of personal data that would make the old KGB turn from red to green with envy. As Google’s Eric Schmidt put it: “We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”

The politics of the intangible class

The liberation from the constraints of the tangible economy has inflamed the ambitions of the oligarchs. “Politics for me is the most obvious area [to be disrupted by the web],” suggests former Facebook president Sean Parker. The success with which social media assisted President Obama’s re-election effort offers clear support to Parker’s assertion.

In allying with Obama, tech is moving in the opposite direction to much of the business community, particularly small business, which Gallup finds a hotbed of anti-Obama sentiment. Other traditional industries like oil and gas have also turned overwhelmingly to the right, as Obama has targeted them for their role in climate change. In 1990, energy firms gave out almost as much to Democrats as Republicans; in 2014 they gave over three times as much to the GOP.

In contrast, the oligarchs, as they have become ever richer, are clearly moving leftwards. In 2000, the communications and electronics sector was basically even in its donations; by 2012, it was better than two to one Democratic. Microsoft, Apple and Google – not to mention entertainment companies – all overwhelmingly lean to the Democrats with their donations.

The transformer and the disrupters

There seems a natural affinity between President Obama, who sees himself as a force for transformation, and the tech oligarchs, who love “disruption.” Each shares a high estimate of their basic intelligence and foresight; it is an alliance of those who feel they should own and shape the future.

“We need to run the experiment, to show what a society run by Silicon Valley looks like,” venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya recently argued. This effort could appeal to a public that tends to regard the tech firms as better than more mundane businesses or the government. Indeed, when Steve Jobs, a 0.000001 per center worth $7 billion, and rugged capitalist of the classic type, passed away, protesters openly mourned his demise.

One critical PR advantage the tech firms enjoy is that most, with a notable exception of Amazon, don’t mistreat blue-collar workers, or unions, since they have few of either. This gets them a free pass from social-justice warriors unavailable to traditional firms. Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford mostly exploited workers in Pittsburgh or Detroit, and paid a price; the exploitation of the oligarchs takes place far away in Chengdu, Guangzhou or India.

This alliance with the Democrats will not fade after Obama leaves office. Obama has enlisted several tech giants – including venture capitalist John Doerr, LinkedIn billionaire Reid Hoffman and Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla – to help plan out his no doubt lavish and highly political retirement. Many former Obama aides have gone to work for tech firms. Uber, for example, uses Obama campaign manager David Plouffe to lead its PR team, while other former officials have descended to other tech firms such as AirBnB, Google, Twitter and Amazon.

What is the ideology of Silicon Valley?

Silicon Valley may be progressive in its social or environmental positions, but it has little interest in class politics, an issue being pushed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries. “They don’t like [Bernie] Sanders at all,” notes San Francisco-based researcher Greg Ferenstein, who has been polling internet company founders for an upcoming book. Sanders’ emphasis on income redistribution, protecing union privileges and pensions hardly reflects the views of the tech elite. “He’s an egalitarian liberal,” Ferenstein explains, “these people are tech liberals. Equality is a non-issue in Silicon Valley.”

What are “tech liberals”? Ferenstein provides a picture of an unconscious elitism that runs through their worldview. Although their industry is overwhelmingly based in the San Francisco Peninsula’s suburban sprawl, the internet oligarchs, he claims, want “everyone” to move to the urban centre, something not remotely practical for most middle- and working-class families. They also advocate for strict environmental laws and ever higher energy prices, which don’t threaten their lifestyles, but are often devastating to those below them.

Yet there is a danger that the issue of inequality could eventually affect the tech industry’s PR. Unlike the earlier products, such as computers or semiconductors, the products the tech industry now develop have provided little of value to the rest of society, whether in terms of jobs (outside of the Bay Area) or boosting productivity. The social-media industry has made the likes of Mark Zuckerberg fantastically wealthy, but it’s difficult to maintain it has improved living conditions for most Americans.

At the same time, well-financed Valley “disruption” can be seen as a threat to many businesses and individuals. These already include groups such as cab drivers, owners and workers at small hotels, realtors and travel agents, and newspaper scribblers, all of whom are being driven out of the middle class. The much-needed “sharing economy” often offers these workers part-time employment without much in the way of benefits.

Even in the tech industry itself, American workers find themselves increasingly replaced by imported foreign workers. Oligarchs such as Mark Zuckerberg are anxious to expand H1B and other “guest-worker programmes” that bring in low-cost indentured tech workers to the Valley, as well as to IT departments across corporate America.

Of course, this hardly makes the tech oligarchs unique – after all, capitalists have always sought out the cheapest source of labour, and understandably so. But it does mean that, in oligarchic America, where even getting a degree in computer science and software does not guarantee a bright future, the hip, PR-friendly “don’t be evil” appearance of tech companies may soon be looking a little less cool.

Techies on the green team

Perhaps nothing separates the oligarchy from the rest of business than its support for Obama’s climate-change policies. Many industries see these policies as a direct threat to their very existence, but this means little to moguls, who can shift their energy needs to cheaper locales, such as the Pacific Northwest or the South. In California, such policies have less an impact on the temperate coast than in the less glamorous interior. As one recent study found, the summer electrical bills in rich, liberal and temperate Marin come to $250 monthly, while in impoverished, hotter Madera, the average is twice as high.

Not that there’s anything cynical about the tech oligarchy’s commitment to green policies. It is entirely sincere – the oligarchs really do believe, as do many liberal, Democratic types, that they are fighting the good fight. But that doesn’t mitigate the effects of their worldview.

Still, the oligarch’s energy politics are not entirely based on the greater good. For Silicon Valley and Wall Street supporters, there are also some business opportunities in the assault on fossil fuels. Cash-rich firms like Google and Apple, and many high-tech financiers and venture capitalists, have invested in subsidised green energy firms. Some, like Elon Musk, exist largely as creatures of subsidies. Neither Solar City nor Tesla would be so attractive, or might not even exist, without generous handouts.

The brave new world of the oligarchs

If we want to get some idea how an oligarch-dominated economy works, take a look at my adopted home state – of over 40 years – of California, the home of the most powerful oligarchs. The Golden State sees itself as the “brains” of the tech culture and proof of the bountiful ingenuity of “the creative class.”

Yet behind the media glitz, California is increasingly a bifurcated state, divided between a glamorous software- and media-based economy concentrated in certain coastal areas, and a declining, and increasingly impoverished, interior. Overall, nearly a quarter of Californians live in poverty, the highest percentage of any state, including Mississippi, and, according to a recent United Way study, close to one in three people are barely able to pay their bills.

So how do the oligarchs make this work politically? One way is simply to make alliances – through contributions and media support – with politicians who are most hurt by California’s regulatory vice. This strategy is evident in the odd coupling of San Francisco hedge-fund billionaire, Tom Steyer, the biggest funder of climate-change hysteria, and his Latino sidekick, California Senator Kevin de Leon, who represents impoverished East Los Angeles.

The new political configuration works in classic medieval fashion, with the rich providing the necessities for the poor, without providing them opportunity for upward mobility or the chance, God forbid, to buy a house in the outer suburbs. With the fading of California’s once powerful industrial economy – Los Angeles has lost much of its manufacturing base over the past decade – its working classes now must be mollified by symbolic measures, such as energy rebates, subsidised housing and the ever illusive chimera of “green jobs.”

This “upstairs-downstairs” California coalition could presage the country’s political future. Perhaps it’s best to think of it as a form of high-tech feudalism, in which the upper classes run the show, but bestow goodies on the struggling masses. This alliance will allow the present tech oligarchs to thrive without facing a populist challenge that could interfere with their profits and expansion into other markets.

In the oligarchic era, the bottom line is an increasing concentration of power in ever fewer hands. Romantic notions that the high-tech era would be marked by a surge of small, independent companies are belied by the market domination of a few firms and their expansion into ever more business areas. Companies like Google begin to morph into conglomerates, or American versions of Japan’s keiretsu, with interests in such businesses as health, media and autonomous vehicles.

Similar keiretsu are forming around companies such as Apple, Amazon and Facebook, which now can buy their way into what were once seen as unrelated markets. This is married to increased media power, which will allow them to set the agenda in coming decades. This is being accomplished both through the purchase of old media – the most important being the purchase by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos of the venerable Washington Post – or by new sites controlled by firms like Yahoo, the No 1 news site in the US, with 110 million monthly viewers, or Google’s news site with 65,000,000 users.

The intrusion of tech firms into media is likely to become even more pervasive as the millennial generation grows up and the older cohorts begin to die off. Among those over 50, only 15 per cent, according to a Pew report, get their news over the internet; among those under 30, the number rises to 65 per cent.

Ultimately the ambitions of the oligarchs are boundless. Firms like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, and Elon Musk’s Space X, seek to lead the world in space exploration. If NASA continues to retreat from many areas of space exploration, it is likely that, in the future, the heavens may end up belonging to the oligarchs as well.

When historians write the history of this age, their attention likely will focus on the rise of these oligarchies. They already control California, with its unparalleled creative and technical prowess, as well as the dominant cultural power centre in the English-speaking world. Tomorrow the new oligarchs will be looking to consolidate their power in Washington. And the day after that, maybe the world and galaxy as well.

Elites and Media Really Hate Donald Trump’s Voters. By Michael Walsh.

Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, December 21, 2015. Getty Images.

Elites and media really hate Donald Trump’s voters. By Michael Walsh. New York Post, December 26, 2015.


To hear the patronizing wise men of the Republican Party tell it, anyone who would vote for Donald Trump for president must be deranged. “Trumpkins,” they call them, mental midgets and xenophobic troglodytes who’ve crawled out from their survivalist caves in order to destroy the Beltway Establishment.

How their resentful attitude galls the crack cadres of campaign consultants who brought conservatives halfhearted standard-bearers like John McCain and Mitt Romney to do sham battle against Barack Obama in 2008 and ’12, then return to the safety of the US Senate and a beachfront mansion in La Jolla.

The peasants are revolting!

And all on behalf of a bloviating billionaire whose conservatism and party loyalty are suspect.

Now, after months of whistling past the graveyard of Trump’s seemingly inexorable rise and assuring themselves that his candidacy will collapse as voters come to their senses, a CNN poll released Wednesday showing Trump now lapping the field has the GOP establishment in full meltdown mode. The survey shows Trump with nearly 40% of the primary vote, trailed by Ted Cruz at 18%, Ben Carson and Marco Rubio tied at 10%, and the also-rans (including great GOP hope Jeb Bush) limping along far behind.

Their panic was best articulated last week in The Daily Beast by GOP consultant Rick Wilson, who wrote that Trump supporters “put the entire conservative movement at risk of being hijacked and destroyed by a bellowing billionaire with poor impulse control and a profoundly superficial understanding of the world ... walking, talking comments sections of the fever swamp sites.

Some might take that as a backhanded compliment. Can the GOP really be so out of touch with the legions of out-of-work Americans — many of whom don’t show up in the “official” unemployment rate because they’ve given up looking for work in the Obama economy? With the returning military vets frustrated with lawyer-driven, politically correct rules of engagement that have tied their hands in a fight against a mortal enemy? With those who, in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino massacres by Muslims, reasonably fear an influx of culturally alien “refugees” and “migrants” from the Middle East?

With those who fear for their own families’ futures and the future of the country as founded?

In other words, has the junior wing of the Permanent Bipartisan Fusion Party, ably embodied by Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, forsaken even token opposition to the “progressive” ethos? Can it be true that everybody’s fondest wish for Campaign ’16 is the dynastic-restoration battle of Clinton vs. Bush?

Jeb Bush seems to think so, suggesting recently that he might rethink the pledge he signed vowing to support the eventual Republican nominee. To which The Donald characteristically responded: Who cares? “He is a low-energy person, and he does not represent strength, power and stamina, which are qualities our country desperately needs.”

Others have suggested, half in jest, that should Trump win the nomination, the GOP might have to go third party — against its own nominee.

Even lame-duck Obama has waded in, cheekily blaming “economic stresses” and flatlining wages for Trump’s groundswell. “Particularly, blue-collar men have had a lot of trouble in this new economy, where they are no longer getting the same bargain that they got when they were going to a factory and able to support their families on a single paycheck ... Somebody like Mr. Trump is taking advantage of that.

Remember when Obama apologized for saying that voters who disagreed with him “cling to guns or religion”? Yeah, guess he wasn’t really sorry.

Objections to Trump include that he has no clue that politics is, as the saying goes, the art of the possible. That his reality-show candidacy — as a recent Quinnipiac poll purportedly found — would be an “embarrassment” to half the country. That the “short-fingered vulgarian” — as the old Spy magazine famously dubbed him — is neither a real Republican nor a real conservative.

To which his supporters, to whom he is an anger-directed guided missile heading straight for Washington, retort: So what? The irrepressible Trump is already ignoring his rivals and gleefully taking the fight to the presumptive (if she doesn’t get indicted) Democrat nominee, noted prevaricator Hillary Clinton.

In the movie business, there’s something called the “cheer moment,” when the long-suffering hero finally decks his tormentor with a satisfying right cross. What the Beltway Republicans fail to understand is that their conservative base — which gave them stunning congressional victories in 2010 and 2014 and has nothing to show for it — has been longing for precisely that moment since Reagan crushed Mondale 49-1 in 1984.

The Trumpkins are sick of winning and having nothing to show for it, and their vengeance will be terrible. Maybe the Establishment should stop belittling them and listen instead.