Joel Kotkin’s “The New Class Conflict”

Fred Siegel’s Forward alerts me to an attitude of Kotkin in the claim that “Joel Kotkin is the anti-Mencken”. I share many of Mencken’s prejudices. Is anyone not prejudiced? I usually agree with Mencken although he does go too far sometimes, it is always fun. I will try not to let this comment prejudice me.

It has been several days since I have read this book. With a title such as this book’s you might expect a report of a conflict and not a rally for one side, but that is a scarcely realistic hope and it is not met here. I can no longer read Kotkin except as a proponent of some other sort of world than what we have. See my text at “L 1143” below. His criticism is solely in terms of what he sees in this world, accompanied with ample quotations of others. There is no contemplation of what might replace it or whether those he champions would be better off.

If you were learning about the American political landscape from this book you would assume that the Republicans were for the poor and the Democrats were for the rich.

Kotkin would appear from his book to be solely concerned with the gap between the poor and rich, not the welfare of the poor. He often sounds as if times were better in 1950 because the gap was smaller, even if the poor were much worse off.

It seems not to occur to Kotkin that the welfare of the poor depends greatly on the very technology that he seems to wish away. There is the curious isolated exception at “L 276”; see below. Perhaps a better characterization is that he wants all the benefit without all those obnoxious people who seem uniquely able to produce it.

I see no suggestions on how to improve things in the book.

I suspect that Kotkin does not not like Donald Trump, but he channels Trump’s supporters.

As I read

L 102: Kotkin quotes Beard: “All save the most wretched had aspirations”. I sense the implicit assumption that all are equally competent to climb the ladder.

L 113: Kotkin quotes Associated Press: “By 2013 a majority of Americans expected life to get worse by 2050 …”. I expect that wealth gap to increase and the lives of the poor to get much better. Is that worse? Perhaps you can see a chip on my shoulder. Even so I may agree with Kotkin that there is a problem.

L 164: By this point I grant that Kotkin’s rhetoric while dour is scarcely as acid as Mencken’s.

L 190: Kotkin dourly recounts the rise of the “tech Oligarchs” as if it were something that someone should have foreseen and prevented. I suspect that Kotkin, along with most economists, fails to count any value from Silicon Valley that is not seen in GDP.

L 196: Kotkin quotes a ‘venture capitalist’: “It’s becoming excruciatingly, obviously clear to everyone else that where value is created is no longer in New York, it’s no longer in Washington, it’s no longer in LA. It’s in San Francisco and the Bay Area”. I would go farther and say that Silicon Valley produces $2 of value for every dollar they charge and not even their outrageous cash flows measure the value that they create. That’s why it is growing so fast. Has this anything to do with Washington policy or politics?

Silicon Valley has until recently has seen Washington DC as a distant storm.

I should note that so far Kotkin blames no one explicitly, not even politics. He proceeds descriptively, but dourly.

L 216: Here Kotkin describes what I have mentioned elsewhere: “The rich don’t need the masses as much as they used to.”.

L 237: I learn here that I belong to the Clerisy. I am aligned with the new Oligarchs; I like Obama more than any of the 2016 primary candidates, but not a lot. I think I have been identified as the enemy — a good reason to read the book.

In the first chapter he describes the ‘Clersy’ in a way that describes a leaning that I adopt: I am with the enemy. In the third chapter he lists several attributes of the bad guys, that do not include me. They include few of my friends in Silicon Valley. I think that Kotkin is not in touch with my friends.

I think Kotkin is a sort of intellectual you don’t find in Silicon Valley.

L 276: Kotkin paints ‘gentry liberalism’ as young wealthy households that support mostly democrats.

Thank you. Wow. I had misjudged Kotkin.

L 348: Kotkin says that Tyler Cowen says that “average” intelligence and skills no longer suffice for social advance. That relates to my ‘competent’ comment above.

L 387: I like Kotkin’s broad view.

L 418: Kotkin praises here the possibilities, thru technology, of decentralization of the production of wealth—a highly individualistic notion. He seems to be speaking of the information economy. I agree.

L 457: Chapter 2: Valley of the Oligarchs
Kotkin does not like Silicon Valley. But in this chapter he describes what I mostly like about it.

L 534:

No, not cash, stock — liquid only in small drabs. (A few billion dollars)

L 563:

I think mostly their wealth is from appreciation of stock they own in the companies they founded and ran, not compensation.

L 587:

That indeed did happen and Americans chose largely not to take that opportunity and continued to work in the cities.

L 674:

I see “serial entrepreneurs” in this list of culprits. Isn’t this prima-face evidence that our system is working exactly as it should? Kotkin seems to grant that the yield of these companies is valuable. What’s the gripe? Is it that it is not all run from Washington DC?

I worry with Kotkin about surveillance.

L 704:

That only encourages more ‘potential competitors’.

L 717:

They have one more thing: a proven record of estimating what is possible and useful technologically.

L 1024:

science and information work better than God and King. With science and information you can actually create wealth.

L 1143: As Kotkin expands on his notion of the clerisy I often feel excluded. There is little libertarian or old liberal slant to his later category. I am anti-PC at least in its current fervor. I am against most bureaucrats. I am usually anti-union. I am pro-market and anti-business. I would like a Carbon tax and the elimination of hundreds of regulations presumably motivated by the CO2 problem. Many of my anti-clerisy attributes are broadly shared in Silicon Valley. I don’t feel estranged from Hollywood but I find it opaque.

L 1252: I feel that Kotkin is oblivious to the libertarian component of belief.

L 1343:

I don’t know what to make of this paragraph except that Kotkin wants to dictate how the philanthropic money is spent.

L 1385:

Kotkin seems to think that silicon uploads will have a different personality. I don’t see why this should be.

Kasparov writes on collaboration of man and machine to play chess.

L 1849: The last few pages are little more than descriptive words with no logic.

How can 1% of population displace the population of a whole city?

L 1907: I don’t think that Kotkin understands how one avoids poverty, (short of theft or inheritance), you have to have something that is valuable to others. Labor has become less valuable. I have seen no clue in this book about any such insight. I have ceased to expect an answer in this book.

L 2058: I think the majority of this book could be summed up in Sophie Tucker’s comment: “I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich; rich is better.”.