by Timothy Lane
I have long seen modern liberal elites as forming an aristocracy with a number of medieval characteristics. For example, the anti-consumerism that forms the heart of modern enviro-zealotry can be compared to medieval sumptuary laws, which enabled the aristocracy to differentiate themselves from even the richest merchants. As far back as the Yonkers scattered-site housing case (which I read about in National Review about 30 years ago), I saw wealthy liberals imposing unpleasant conditions on those who lacked their wealth and influence – but escaping those unpleasantries themselves in their privileged circumstances. (For example, when the judge in the Yonkers case was challenged to put some scattered-site housing in his elite gated community, he pointed out that the lack of adequate public transportation made that inappropriate.) We can see this in education policy, in the criminal justice system, and in a variety of economic restrictions.
But it can be taken further, and Joel Kotkin has done so in an October 5 article in The Daily Beast on California’s new feudalism. He takes Victor Davis Hanson’s observations about the California bifurcation into wealthy coastal districts and an increasingly poor interior, and provides a great bit more detail. For example, income inequality in liberal California (where Republicans have had no significant influence for some time, and none at all now) is at the banana republic level. A large portion of the world’s billionaires live there, mostly around Silicon Valley (but no doubt some in Hollywood), yet the state also has a 23.5% poor population (compared to 15% in perennially last-place Mississippi) and fully a third of the nation’s food stamp recipients.
A state once famous for its education now ranks at the bottom (again displacing places like Mississippi), even in fields like science. The state includes a remarkable 11 cities with devastatingly high unemployment (in one case approaching Detroit levels). In short, if many people in California have very good lives, most do not (at least as far as economic statistics indicate, anyway).
Kotkin points out that the Silicon Valley and Hollywood elites are unusual in that they support far-left economic (and especially environmental) policies. Just as the medieval aristocrats saw value only in land, so the modern liberal aristocrats see value only in the information business. Production of goods (including food, fuel, and airplanes, all of which used to be major industries in California) interests them not at all, nor do they care what happens to those producers. Yet even their own fields are highly concentrated in their benefits. The Silicon Valley billionaires mostly rely on cheap labor (often foreign) for what physical goods they do produce.
Kotkin divides the population into 4 general groups. The Oligarchy is the super-rich of Silicon Valley and Hollywood, mostly leftist in politics. The Clerisy is a combination of government workers, educators (or at least those who pretend to educate), and the entertainment and information media. Their purpose (which in fact was always the basic goal of Fabian socialism, as Philip Crane pointed out decades ago in The Democrat’s Dilemma) is to control information, so that only their viewpoint will be allowed to appear in any mass setting. The New Serfs are the welfare-dependent poor, who accept what they can get from the Oligarchs and others – but in return, everything they “think, do, and say” (as they sang in the song, In the Year 2525) – and even more important, vote – is determined by the Clerisy. Finally, there is the Yeomanry – those who work to make the state work, but no longer receive the sort of awards they used to.
Needless to say, the Democrats have a very powerful position. The New Serfs and Clerisy provide the numbers (and to some extent control information to the Yeomanry, partially neutralizing their influence), while the Oligarchs supply them with the money to maintain control. Can the Yeomanry liberate themselves and find enough New Serfs who would prefer a better life to overthrow the neo-feudal elite? So far, the prognosis is poor. And meanwhile, much the same thing is happening in other areas dominated by liberalism, such as New York, although maybe not yet to the same degree (except in Detroit). I have long been pessimistic about the future of America, though as long as there is any hope at all I don’t intend to give up. • (1333 views)