Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The New Class Conflict

by Joel Kotkin
Telos Press     2014
215 pages     Nonfiction

Thell, my husband, heard Joel Kotkin speak at a community development meeting a few months ago, and he purchased Kotkin's newest book, The New Class Conflict, for us to read for our morning reading time. You must know this about Thell; he loves statistics, and he only reads nonfiction. He felt totally justified on both counts with this book. 

Kotkin is a professor and an authority on global, economic, political, and social trends, and the trends he outlines in The New Class Conflict don't look good for those of us who consider ourselves middle class Americans. He describes a new class order that leaves many of us concerned about our own welfare and the welfare of our children. He says that in the past the concept of upward mobility was not only possible but was a normal aspiration. "In contrast to the norms of the past, most Americans do not feel that their children will do better than themselves. In 2013, a majority of Americans expected life to get worse by 2050, almost three times as many as those who thought things would get better."

He names the class divisions he sees emerging in American society using feudal terminology, including oligarchy—the wealthiest people in the country; the clerisy—the influential people in the country, including the media, government workers, and academics, the yeomanry—those who work and strive (this used to be the middle class) and the serfs (the service class). The lack of home ownership is, to Kotkin, the beginning of the disintegration of the middle class as they are forced into smaller spaces in large cities. Home ownership has always been the keystone of the middle class, and he worries that the middle class is being completely hollowed out.  At first look, this is a very pessimistic analysis of life in the United States.

 The reviewer in the USA Today says: "Kotkin is not as pessimistic as this summary suggests. He thinks that America has a vast latent capacity to adapt, and to change the rules democratically, as we've done in the past. But, he says, 'the most fundamental challenge facing the U.S. is the growing disenfranchisement of the middle and working class from the benefits of economic activity.'" He concludes that the middle class (what he calls the yeomanry) needs to have power returned to it. This may be at the expense of the uppermost strata of American society, who currently are those groups who are doing fine.

The issue is very complex, and Kotkin's analysis is also complex. Sometimes Thell and I had to read things over several times before it made sense to us. One of the hindrances to our totally comprehending what he was conveying is that he names all his sources within the text. Sometimes this will be the names of several sources per paragraph. We found that detail of the document quite confusing, although we acknowledge that he is comprehensive in his sources.

As parents of several millennials, the issues Kotkin presents related to their share of the American dream is quite disturbing. Yet, we know that what he is saying is true. For some of our children, home ownership is beyond their reach. Yet their sensibilities are middle class, and we continue to want the best for them. Kotkin offers very little in the way of advice; his job is to appraise the population of the dangers present in the current state of our American social order. We found his analysis quite disturbing.

The review in the USA Today.
Joel Kotkin's website.

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