Welcome to the end of democracy

Welcome to the end of democracy. By Joel Kotkin.

Don’t expect a crudely effective dictatorship out of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: we may remain, as we are now, nominally democratic, but be ruled by a technocratic class empowered by greater powers of surveillance than those enjoyed by even the nosiest of dictatorships. …

In avowedly socialist China, the top one per cent of the population holds about one-third of the country’s wealth … In Great 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. … Australia historically has enjoyed high rates of homeownership, but the rate among twenty-five to thirty-four year-olds dropped from more than 60 per cent in 1981 to only 45 per cent in 2016. …

Morgan Stanley predicts that the US will soon become primarily a ‘rentership society’ where Wall Street firms seek to turn homes, furniture and other necessities into rental products. …

The old middle class struggles to compete with online platforms. Amazon is able to coerce small businesses to give up their data. As big-box stores have done for decades, Amazon uses its bargaining power to minimise supply-chain issues by leasing its own ships and using its considerable leverage to secure items that smaller companies cannot get.

Property is seeing a similar consolidation. As middle-class prosperity falters in Britain, cash-rich banks seek to gobble up the emerging market in distressed properties, apartments and even single-family homes. Meanwhile, the grand houses of central London are restored to Victorian opulence by absentee Russian, Chinese and Arab investors. …

Getting rich from PC “science” with government subsidies:

Climate-change policies could nurture the new autocracy for a generation. As tech oligarchs and the financial establishment implement the Davos notion of a Great Reset, they will force a quick end to fossil fuels. There are huge opportunities for massive investment by super-rich companies and speculators in the ‘green economy,’ all made possible with tax breaks, loans and guaranteed sales to governmental units. …

In the era of super-subsidies, a wannabe electric-vehicle maker like Rivian, which has negligible sales and consistent losses, can be valued higher than General Motors, which sells almost seven million cars and has $122 billion (£90 billion) in revenues each year. In Green Capitalism, the British Marxist James Heartfield labels this ‘austerity socialism’: reaping governmental edicts as opposed to actually producing real goods. …

The conscious policy of degrowth as a means of forcibly reducing greenhouse gas emissions will require getting most people out of their cars, and forcing them to travel far less and to live in tiny apartments. Enforcement will be necessarily intrusive as well. Planners in the UK and elsewhere are pushing for family ‘carbon budgets.’ Add surveillance technology and we end up with something akin to China’s ‘social credit’ system, in which your right to free movement is subject to government approval. …

Downward mobility is the new normal:

According to researchers at the Equality of Opportunity Project, about 90 per cent of those born in 1940 grew up to earn higher incomes than their parents. The same is true for only 50 per cent of those born in the 1980s. A recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis warns that millennials are in danger of becoming a ‘lost generation’ in terms of wealth accumulation. To make matters worse, over half of all young people, in a survey of ten countries, think the world is doomed by climate change. …

How will the downwardly mobile react to the prospect of permanent rental serfdom and, ultimately, total dependence on the state? A recent Edelman survey reveals that increasing numbers no longer trust institutions or believe hard work pays off. In a world dominated by a few institutions, today’s precariat of gig and short-contract workers, and those who have dropped out of the workforce entirely, could become an economically less useful version of Marx’s proletariat: a permanent underclass requiring aggressive, quasi-military policing. …

Competition is erased for the super-rich PC crowd:

I have covered Silicon Valley for forty-five years. Today, it is less the hypercompetitive, free-spirited place I knew, and more like the early twentieth-century trusts. Mike Malone, who has chronicled Silicon Valley as deeply as anyone, sees it losing much of its ethos. The new masters of tech, he suggests, have shifted from ‘blue-collar kids to the children of privilege,’ and moved away from the production ethos that once made the Valley so inspiring and egalitarian. An intensely competitive industry has become enamoured with the allure of ‘the sure thing’ backed by massive capital and sometimes by government. Competition is no longer a spur to creativity: competitors are simply bought out.

The bureaucrats, academics, etc who service the rich:

Wealth cannot rule on its own. Autocracy needs a proselytising class who can justify the rulers and salve the distressed souls of the lower orders. In medieval times, the Catholic Church served this role, essentially justifying the feudal order as the expression of divine will. Today’s version, a sort of clerisy or intelligentsia, is mostly not religious and consists of people from the upper bureaucracy, academia, and the culture and media industries.

The pandemic has been a boon to this class too. The emergency allowed governments to grant them unprecedented executive and administrative powers not just in centralised France but even in usually semi-sensible Great Britain and Australia. For some, the lockdowns served as a ‘test run’ for necessary measures to realise their preferred climate-change policies. In the new schema, the real class enemy is not the excesses of the ultra-rich, or even wasteful spending by government: it’s the consumption patterns of the masses.

Democracy is superfluous — and even dangerous — to the new ruling class:

H.G. Wells dreamed of a ‘new republic’ run by a virtuous few. Our digital elites are anointing themselves, and being anointed by their fellow elites in business and media. Well-educated managers of major companies and the credentialed clerisy are naturally drawn to the idea of a society ruled by professional experts with ‘enlightened’ values — that is, by people much like themselves.

To confront what they see as an existential crisis, much of the media supports the creation of a global technocracy. ‘Democracy is the planet’s biggest enemy,’ asserted an article in Foreign Policy, an establishmentarian journal, in 2019. This hostility to democracy as an obstacle to top-down ‘progress’ is dovetailing with another source of anti-democratic distrust. People around the world, particularly the young, no longer embrace the basic notion of self-government. A majority of young Americans now favour large-scale government intervention in the economy; about a third call themselves socialists.

The leaders of woke capitalism have signed onto a pledge to defund fossil fuels in the great quest for Net Zero. This is not, as the wacko right and the wacko left might think, a conscious conspiracy. Instead, it is propelled by tech firms’ natural desire for profits derived from replacing the carbon-spewing analog world wherever possible, and the irresistible lure for investors and corporations of a huge, subsidised and government-financed market.

Most tech and finance executives are not ideologues. Nor are they, despite appearances, sociopaths. Yet they feel justified in censoring and even demonetising not just Donald Trump or the New York Post or Bari Weiss, but also the credentialed experts whose views diverge from the accepted line for staffers at Google, Facebook and Twitter, organisations where woke instruction is increasingly imposed. (These companies’ location in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Puget Sound region, two of the most lopsidedly progressive areas in the country, is also a factor.) Many firms espouse woke ideas, says Jim Wunderman, president of the Bay Area Council, because they are ‘afraid of their own employees.’ ….

We are increasingly ruled by a perfect marriage of class convenience, with more power for the clerisy and ever-greater economic opportunities for the oligarchy — all with the added benefit of encouraging them to feel good about themselves. Even as they push austerity on the masses, they live like medieval lords, indulging in lavish weddings and building estates reminiscent of the Habsburgs’. Jeff Bezos just spent $100 million (£80 million) on a Hawaiian retreat. Bill Gates’s daughter just enjoyed a $2 million (£1.5 million) wedding. John Kerry, president Biden’s chief climate scold and beneficiary of an heiress’s fortune, travels on a private jet that use thirty times the energy of the average American vehicle.

That’s fine. The anointed purchase ‘environmental offsets’: a green version of indulgences. This may make them feel better about their vast wealth and excesses, just as it did for the murderous and corrupt aristocrats of old. …

What next?

What is the end game for the oligarchs and their clerical allies? Upward mobility for the masses is out of the question. …

Global trust in institutions, most notably the media and Big Tech, has fallen to a low ebb, and economic and geopolitical insecurity are on the rise. We are trying to impose a green economy that we don’t have the technology or even the electricity to power. This will force some countries to return to coal — China has stepped up its use of coal-powered stations — and others to leave part of their populations to shiver.

As blue-collar and many white-collar jobs are eliminated by automation, the oligarchs and their allies in the clerisy want to impose a Universal Basic Income, to keep the peasants from suffering too much and possibly rebelling. We have already seen pushback from the right and left in both Europe and America. Many people do not want to accept a life of subsidised dependency, made bearable by the digital equivalent of Rome’s bread and circuses.

The time could be shorter than we think. The tech oligarchs are creating something similar to what Aldous Huxley called in Brave New World Revisited a ‘scientific caste system.’ There is ‘no good reason,’ Huxley wrote in 1958, that ‘a thoroughly scientific dictatorship should ever be overthrown.’ It will condition its subjects from the womb so that they ‘grow up to love their servitude’ and ‘never dream of revolution.’ It will maintain a strict social order and provide enough diversion through drugs, sex and videos to keep their artificially narrowed minds occupied and sated.

Seems worryingly accurate. What are you going to do about it?

hat-tip Dave N.