Inside the plot against the middle class
Ever get the sense that the middle class is downwardly mobile, being pressed to the floor and squeezed to the limit? It’s not happening by accident. Someone is doing the squeezing: a new class of entertainment and tech plutocrats, cheered on and abetted by a priesthood of media, government and academic elites.
Joel Kotkin’s “The New Class Conflict” (Telos Press Publishing) paints a dire picture of the undeclared war on the middle class. What he calls the Oligarchy (Silicon Valley and Hollywood) and the Clerisy (the media, bureaucrats, universities and nonprofits) enrich themselves and gratify their own strange obsessions at the expense of the middle class.
This New Class, for instance, venerates the city and despises suburbia. They think you should feel the same way — and in innumerable magazine and newspaper pieces, they twist facts to make it sound as if America loves living in apartments and taking trains to work.
Though New York and a few other cities have seen population growth over the last 20 years, the real surges are out there, where the space is.
In 2012, nine of the 10 fastest growing metropolitan regions were in the Sun Belt, mainly in the Southwest. In 2013, lightly regulated Houston saw more housing starts than the entire state of California, writes Kotkin.
So, suburbanites are punished. In California, where the New Class reigns supreme, the middle class is being garroted by environmental and anti-sprawl strictures. Those who wish to live in houses are pushed farther and farther from their jobs, spending more and more on commuting and energy costs. Proposals being debated now would, for instance, allow only 3 percent more housing by 2035 in the exurban part of the Bay Area.
That will, of course, drive up the cost of housing within the approved development belt. Which is fine for the plutocracy that already owns property there.
War on the suburbs
Other California cities are pushing through policies that would radically restrict the construction of detached single-family homes, requiring a density of 20 homes per acre in many cases.
In the past 40 years, median home prices have more than doubled relative to household income in California. In Orange County, a biomedical engineer earning well over $100,000 may not be able to afford a house, writes Kotkin.
It isn’t surprising that the state grows ever more top- and bottom-heavy. With 12 percent of the nation’s population, California is home to about a third of its welfare recipients, while its 111 billionaires hold a collective $485 billion in wealth. The middle class is now an actual minority in the state.
Meanwhile, subsidies continue to flow to the cities: Sprawling San Diego is reserving most of its transportation spending not for its roads and highways but for a foolish mass-transit system that is expected to increase ridership only from 2 percent to 4 percent of travelers. California is, nevertheless, suing the city to get it to spend even more of its state funding on mass transit.
Simple revulsion at ordinary American values and aspirations drove the initial elite snobbery toward the suburbs, which dates at least as far back as 1921. That’s when sociologist Lewis Mumford derided the “dissolute landscape” of “a no-man’s land that was neither town nor country.”New Yorkers fleeing to Queens, Long Island and Staten Island built houses that were “blossoming hideously” at midcentury, in the words of historian Robert Caro.
Anti-suburban snobbery is now dressed up in a green cloak. “What is causing global warming is the lifestyle of the American middle class,” declared developer Andrés Duany. Moving people back to urban cores would be a “climate change antibiotic,” said influential architect Peter Calthorpe.
The New Class hasn’t noticed that America, even as we “sprawl,” has steadily reduced greenhouse-gas emissions, which have come down nearly every year since 2005 and now stand at 1994 levels.
Carbon tax attacks
The disaster fantasies of the Oligarchs and the Clerisy continue to obsess them. That would be fine if they weren’t trying to stick the middle class us with the bill.
Last week, Hollywood oligarch Leonardo DiCaprio headlined a march for climate change, which in turn was cheered on by the media, the federal government and nonprofits.
As if to illustrate Kotkin’s points about the close coordination of the elite groups he describes, take a pathetically low-rated Showtime show dedicated to climate alarmism, called “Years of Living Dangerously.”
It was produced in part by tech billionaires such as Paul Allen and Eric Schmidt’s wife, Wendy, and hosted by celebrity “correspondents” such as Harrison Ford and Jessica Alba, was promoted with an appearance by President Obama, who sat down with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman to call for a carbon tax.
Got all that? Government, media, Hollywood and tech: Check, check, check, check. They’re marshalling all of their powers to scare you into compliance.
The opinions of middle-class Americans are irrelevant to the workings of climate-alarmist machine: By and large, we don’t care about climate change. In a March Gallup poll, climate change came second to last in a list of Americans’ chief worries, well behind issues that the elites shrug off (drug use, the deficit, crime and illegal immigration).
Yet it’s the middle class tax whose taxes subsidize the greeniacs, and it’s they who suffer in the event of any new anticarbon legislation. Such strictures are designed to drive up the price of energy. Filling your gas tank and heating your home eats up a high percentage of your income, but these costs mean nothing to the oligarchy.
A recent carbon-tax law in Australia, exactly the kind of thing Obama was calling for, was billed as “urgent action to stop climate change.”
It came to be understood, more accurately, as a tax on everything. And it would have virtually zero influence on global warming. Australians, when they figured out how the Clerisy had tricked them, booted the government responsible and repealed the tax.
Higher education is increasingly unaffordable, and many of the same forces are at work.
The government, with the media Clerisy cheering its efforts, offers cheap loans to “help the middle class.” Those subsidies are in effect a tax that everyone pays in order to aid the next generation of elites. The extra money siphoned out of your wallet gets filtered through the government and into the pockets of the government-promoting universities, whose costs are shooting up because they keep fattening their payrolls.
Over the last 40 years, university bureaucracy has more than tripled in population — to some 750,000 administrators, who now outnumber professors on campus. All told, the universities employ 1.7 million people, most of them licking their lips at the prospect of indoctrinating 20 million students.
President Obama let the mask slip when he offered to cap payments on, and ultimately forgive, student loans when the graduate becomes a paid-up, fully vested member of the Clerisy — spending 10 years in a government or nonprofit job.
Yep, the regulators will happily pass along the costs of your tuition to the taxpaying suckers — as long as you join their cult and keep the cycle going. It’s as if the Vatican spared no expense to educate the next generation of cardinals, then simply decreed that the general public pick up the tab.
Kotkin wonders whether there is a link between the business model of today’s oligarchs and their obvious disdain for the middle class. Previous business titans — the Fords, Carnegies and Rockefellers — not only employed lots of middle-class workers but they needed the overall economy to grow to produce more and more consumers for their products.
Google, on the other hand, which is worth more than seven times as much as GM, employs one-fifth as many people, and few of those workers can be described as middle class. Google doesn’t add to a thriving middle class, nor does it much care if one is out there: Like most tech companies, it mainly sells eyeballs. It has no cause to worry about growing the base of people who can afford major items like new cars.
Where the old industrial-age titans had a pious glint in their eyes as they talked up the holy pursuit of American growth, today’s oligarchs murmur about “sustainability.” As in sustaining their elite status.
Elitists know best
Just last week, an archbishop of the Clerisy urged middle-class America to get over their fears and submit to their natural rulers.
‘WE NEED TO GET OVER THE CHILDISH NOTION THAT WE DON’T NEED A RESPONSIBLE LEADERSHIP CLASS, THAT POWER CAN BE WIELDED DIRECTLY BY THE PEOPLE.
– David Brooks
New York Times columnist David Brooks noted that Congress hasn’t passed much legislation lately. The assumption he didn’t even need to state is that regulatory growth is, to the Clerisy, an axiomatically good thing, like economic growth was once held to be.
Brooks thinks we need to solve this alleged “leadership crisis” and get back to churning out more laws with lots of input from people like him — Brooks is among those clerics who has secret off-the-record chats with President Obama.
You may think the relationship between a journalist and a politician should be like the one between a dog and a lamppost, but Brooks’ understanding is that the relationship should be more like the one between one dog and another dog’s butt.
Wrote Brooks, “We need to get over the childish notion that we don’t need a responsible leadership class, that power can be wielded directly by the people. America was governed best when it was governed by a porous, self-conscious and responsible elite.”
Don’t bother calling Brooks an elitist. He just called himself one.
The crisis is exactly the opposite of the one the Clerisy detects: The middle are feeling left out of the decisions. Home Depot shoppers and Subaru wagon drivers don’t have revolutions, but that doesn’t mean they’re not angry.
“Almost every institution of power,” notes Kotkin, “from government and large corporations to banks and Wall Street, suffers the lowest public esteem ever recorded.”
Many tech moguls, Hollywood and government figures (Al Gore is all three) profit handsomely (as Gore does) by reeling in public subsidies for the green firms in which they invest. But some members of the Clerisy aren’t wealthy. Their primary interest, wrote historian Karl Polanyi, is in safeguarding their social assets and their status. This means steering American life in the direction they choose.
When Samuel Coleridge first used the term in 1830, he said the clerisy were the bearers of the highest ideals of society. Their mission was to transmit them to the less enlightened orders.
What if the rest of us don’t necessarily agree with all those ideals? What if we don’t want to be enlightened? What if what we really care about is our jobs and our paychecks?
Reply the Clerisy and the Oligarchy: Shut up and listen to your betters.