Joel Kotkin: Serfing the Planet: Green policies will accelerate the immiseration of the global working and middle class. That’s not an unintended consequence, that’s by design.
With climate, as with many other issues, the upper classes are inflicting their own preferences on working- and middle-class people. As nonprofits, oligarchs and bureaucrats plot out the future, small business owners and the middle class, as one entrepreneur put it, are ‘not at the table – or even in the room’. This is the very class – what I refer to as the yeomanry – that has driven much of the West’s economic progress and nurtured self-government. Democracy was born when both Athens and later Rome included small property owners in governance. Democracy died when these small owners lost power to what Aristotle labelled the ‘oligarchia’.
After the autocratic Middle Ages, both human progress and self-rule came back as the middle classes began to rise – first in Italy but then more profoundly, and more pervasively, in the Netherlands and the British Isles, before spreading to North America and Oceania, where there was no true hereditary aristocracy. Students of classical experience, such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Adams, all considered the over-concentration of property in a few hands as a basic threat to republican institutions, an insight shared by such intellects as Edmund Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville and Adam Smith (1). . . .
The lockdowns may seem tragic to operators on Main Street, but some greens see them as providing the basis for a bureaucratically controlled future where credentialed mandarins determine the minutiae of daily life. This includes policies designed to change how people live. Already climate-oriented policies have underpinned efforts to block affordable homes being built on the periphery and force ever more density on urban areas. This has had the effect of raising prices, resulting in declines in homeownership, particularly among the young, notably in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and Australia.
In the UK, the government’s Climate Change Committee is putting forward proposals that would make it impossible to sell single-family homes – including those built mere decades ago – that do not meet stringent energy standards. Such a regulation could escalate an already massive affordability problem. Similarly, California progressives, some developers and their media boosters seek a world in which single-family owners morph into permanent apartment renters. President Biden’s administration seems to be determined to push this across the US.
As in the Middle Ages, property is becoming ever more concentrated. Property ownership in Europe rests increasingly in fewer hands. In Britain, where land prices have risen dramatically over the past decade, less than one per cent of the population owns half of all the land. Even in the United States, a country that never experienced feudalism, property ownership now increasingly depends on inheritance. The offspring of property-owning parents are far better situated to own a house eventually (often with parental help) and enter what one writer calls ‘the funnel of privilege’. In America, those in Generation Z are three times as likely as Boomers to count on inheritance for their retirement. Among the youngest cohort, those aged 18-22, over 60 per cent see inheritance as their primary source of sustenance as they age.
This feudalisation of ownership may soon get worse. Enjoying record profits, some large banks like Britain’s Lloyds bank are working to gobble up an emerging market in distressed properties, apartments and even single-family homes. This trend is already pronounced and growing in the US, led by firms like BlackRock. In the first quarter of 2021, investors accounted for roughly one out of every seven homes bought, a marked increase from previous years. Analysts predict that soon most middle-class people will be ‘priced out’ of ownership in a ‘rentership society’, where homes, furniture and other necessities are turned into rental products offering endless cashflow to the oligarchs.
All this fits what the Davos crowd calls the ‘great reset’, a top-down effort at refashioning capitalism and daily life along green lines.
“Green” is just the excuse. It’s all about The Revolt Against the Masses:
The best short credo of liberalism came from the pen of the once canonical left-wing literary historian Vernon Parrington in the late 1920s. “Rid society of the dictatorship of the middle class,” Parrington insisted, referring to both democracy and capitalism, “and the artist and the scientist will erect in America a civilization that may become, what civilization was in earlier days, a thing to be respected.” Alienated from middle-class American life, liberalism drew on an idealized image of “organic” pre-modern folkways and rhapsodized about a future harmony that would reestablish the proper hierarchy of virtue in a post-bourgeois, post-democratic world.
And now they’re making a move. Kotkin concludes: “The only way we can change this situation is for ordinary people to challenge elite policies – as has already happened, albeit chaotically, in France and several other countries. Even as we confront climate challenges, we must not allow green politics to become yet another nail in the coffin of the once great yeomanry.”
Fight the power. Stick it to the man.