It’s even worse than you think, the normally upbeat Joel Kotkin says as he reflects on recent riots in London and elsewhere. Looking beyond the common cultural and political explanations, Kotkin sees a more fundamental problem with the way modern economies are organized:
The hardening of class divisions has been building for a generation, first in the West but increasingly in fast-developing countries such as China. The growing chasm between the classes has its roots in globalization, which has taken jobs from blue-collar and now even white-collar employees; technology, which has allowed the fleetest and richest companies and individuals to shift operations at rapid speed to any locale; and the secularization of society, which has undermined the traditional values about work and family that have underpinned grassroots capitalism from its very origins.
Diminished prospects — what many pundits praise as the “new normal” — now confront a vast proportion of the population. One indication: The expectation of earning more money next year has fallen to the lowest level in 25 years. Wages have been falling not only for non-college graduates but for those with four-year degree as well. Over 43% of non-college-educated whites complain they are downwardly mobile.Given this, it’s hard to see how class resentment in this country can do anything but grow in the years. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke claimed as early as 2007 that he was worried about growing inequality in this country, but his Wall Street and corporate-friendly policies have failed to improve the grassroots economy.
Kotkin’s vision of the future is bleak, and highlights the challenges we face going forward. As globalization and new technologies accelerate the pace of destabilizing social change, old solutions to these problems become increasingly obsolete. Nobody yet knows the way forward — least of all established intellectuals, who are mostly still in love with the paradigms of the past. A return to the blue model ideas of the 1960s is not the answer; neither is a return to the Victorian capitalism of the 1880s. The 21st century demands something new, and if history is any guide, life will be scary and hard while we blunder our way toward something new.