Joel Kotkin is a demographer, journalist, author, and executive editor of NewGeography.com. In his second appearance on the Power Hungry Podcast, Kotkin discusses his recent article for Quillette, “The New Great Game,” how China and Russia are allying against the West, why America needs “a new nationalism” to counter this alliance, how California’s administrative state is crushing the poor and the middle class, Michael Shellenberger’s gubernatorial bid, energy, housing, and why despite his many concerns, he remains bullish on the future of the United States.
Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, everyone. Welcome to the power hungry Podcast. I'm Robert Bryce. On this podcast we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. And I'm pleased to welcome. As for his second appearance on the power hungry podcast, my friend Joel Kotkin, Joe, welcome to the power hungry podcast.
Joel Kotkin 0:19
My pleasure. So Joe, you
Robert Bryce 0:21
know, you've been on before and so you know that guests introduce themselves. You've got a long CV and written a whole bunch of books, but you have 45 seconds, 60 seconds to introduce yourself, please get to
Joel Kotkin 0:34
it. I'm a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University. I'm executive director of the Euston base, urban Reform Institute. And I've written 10 books the most, the latest one is the coming of Neo feudalism, which is unfortunately, becoming true faster than I ever imagined.
Robert Bryce 0:56
Well, okay, then good. And you've also written something I just was looking at. You also wrote a I guess a shorter piece called The Rise of corporate state tyranny, which I want to talk about as well because I use the word fascism in there quite a fair amount. And it's one word that I shy away from, but nevertheless, we can well
Joel Kotkin 1:12
I can discuss I one of my, one of my big influences was a class I took on the Italian fascism, because when you study Italian fascism, you get it. Without this sort of hit Larian racist that aspect, which only came very late and in the Italian case,
Robert Bryce 1:32
okay, so but we're getting ahead of ourselves. So what I want to talk about today is your your essay that you wrote with Hugo Krueger. In quillette. It was published March 9, it's called the new great game. So we've been doing a number of podcasts lately that are focused on Ukraine and Russia. And I thought this essay was quite good. And that you you really went to the heart of what you were thinking about the issues around how this Russian invasion of Ukraine is going to reshape geopolitics. So you said that this, that you're making the connection between the the great game of the 19th century, which pitted Britain and Russia over resources, but you're saying now, you said the players have changed, today's great game sets the stage for a new conflict, the duopoly of Russia and China with their associated allies like Iran and Venezuela, against America and the Democratic west. So jump in from there, if you don't mind, tell, explain how you think this is going to result this, this murderous and just unbelievably sad invasion of Ukraine, by Putin and his, his his military? How is this resetting global politics?
Joel Kotkin 2:41
Well, I think it's several things. One, of course, you now have, for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a alternative system to the US and it's sort of, if you will, neoliberal ideology, and that is the, what I call the duopoly which is now very clear, between China and Russia, which is almost, you know, when you think it is very congruent, the, the Russians have some good technology in the space and military, but they also have enormous natural resources. China has technological resources, but it also isn't the manufacturing center of the world. And, and it desperately needs, what Russia has, whether it's weed or whether it's oil. These are things that that this duopoly works on. And so what you're essentially now have is the beginnings of a system where, for instance, you will be able to pay for things in one, you will not have to use US dollars, that changes the game in a big way. I mean, I got to believe that we're fundamentally headed into a world in which these are autocracies, which are autocracies have been on the rise in one form or another for at least a decade. And now they've really gained a sort of a critical mass. Again, most of this is China. Russia is kind of the outer control sidekick. Yeah.
Robert Bryce 4:09
So you don't so you know, the US there was made of the Jake Sullivan from the Biden administration meeting with his counterpart in, I guess it was in in Rome, I think, last week talking about China and Russia. Is it futile to think that the US or that China is going to somehow rebuke Russia at this point, given where China's heavy reliance on the Russians for oil and gas and other commodities that you were talking about?
Joel Kotkin 4:36
No, I don't see any reason why they would, as long as the US is systematically destroying its own economy and as allowing that the Chinese with coal powered processes to drive our companies out and let's face it, the corporate world is a big corporate here to not only did they buy the idea that you didn't have to be self sufficient in any essential thing, but also they they now on with the ESG standards of the the investment banks, you can't even invest in oil and gas. I worry it's coming very difficult. I mean, oil and gas in in the United States is well on its way to becoming tobacco, you know, except that we sort of need oil and gas and we'd probably be better off without tobacco. And, and at the same time, this is going to affect everything it's going to affect our manufacturing is going to affect agriculture. Agriculture is another industry in America that I think is is in in in great danger right now. High energy prices are a problem.
Robert Bryce 5:48
For fertilizer prices are putting a crimp in production, people aren't buying or they can't if they can find it. I mean, these are all these are all together. Well, let me follow up on the ESG issue because you make a point of that in in your piece and quillette. Again, it's called the new great game. It was you co authored it with Hugo Krueger came out March 9. But you made a good point here that it's one that I still find just stupefying you said that this you know, the US now is looking to the global market for more oil, and as forced by the Biden administration to beg autocracy autocracies, in Saudi Arabia, and UAE, and even Venezuela to bail out America's angry motorist. This is the part that to me is just truly incredible that the US would go to the narco Maduro controlling Venezuela, and to the Iranians to Hezbollah. Right was responsible for the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1982, the largest loss of marine life of US Marines in a single day since Iwo Jima. And we're going back to these characters to ask him to produce more oil, because we're not pretty. I mean, it's just, I haven't written anything about this. But I've been scratching my head so much. I'm losing my hair here about what what is going on.
Joel Kotkin 6:58
While we were we've seen this in California, you know, to understand if you want the Biden administration, you have to understand California, because, you know, I mean, basically, it's a kind of brainless administration, and whatever ideas that are going to be there, they're going to be very much the ideas were in California. So in California, where we have some of the richest oil fields and gas fields in the country. We're Newsom is Governor Newsom is essentially just basically told them, You guys are dead, we're going to kill you, you won't exist. Meanwhile, we're importing oil from Saudi Arabia, and we were importing it from from Russia. So my sense of it is, is what the greens really want to do is not so much reduce emissions, because you know, those emissions just happen somewhere else. It's the fundamentally destroyed the energy industry, as a economic and political player in America. That's really what it's all about. It, you know, and
Robert Bryce 7:55
why and explore that for me, because I get the similar sense. I mean, this idea of, you know, decarbonisation, and we're gonna electrify everything and we won't need any oil and gas. We're gonna electrify all transportation. What's the endgame there? Because I think you're onto something in that regard, because this has been a decade's long campaign and now with the Biden administration in power, and you mentioned, California will, Kamala Harris is from Berkeley, she's second in command. But why why do they want Why do these activist groups who want to destroy the oil and gas industry?
Joel Kotkin 8:26
Well, I think there are a lot of things I think they've been they've been demonizing them forever. The the oil and gas industry, which, by the way, used to support moderate Democrats, including Bill Clinton has, has, you know, sort of an interactive process, you keep attacking them, they, they think they're only friends or on the right. So the left hates them. They're the only potential source of of opposition of big corporate opposition to the current regime. I mean, what I think they're trying to do here in California, because I've seen it is if you destroy manufacturing, and you destroy the the energy industry, you just you destroy agriculture, those inputs into the political process are been wiped out. And so all you're left with are sort of the the Clerici and the and the tech oligarchy, and they get to do whatever they want. And they don't fundamentally I
Robert Bryce 9:20
just wanted to clarity I use that word a lot. And we talked about it the last time you were on the on the podcast, what do you mean by Clerici? Please,
Joel Kotkin 9:27
academia, media, Cultural Providers, you know, they play the role in modern society that the the church played during the Middle Ages. What What can you say? What can't you say? What's thought, you know, what are the the the limits of inquiry? What are the the assumptions that everyone puts to back in medieval times, it was assumed God existed, and when bad things happen, it was being paid. What you're being paid back for sin. That's today. What we have It is, everything is is related to climate change. And when bad things happen, it's it's clearly a verdict of nature, who has become the new divinity. And so we see a very similar sort of process. And we see
Robert Bryce 10:16
and because we and because we're living to well, we have sinned and we're gonna pay exactly this is that this is the parallel between the kind of biblical view of sin and falling from grace in the garden and that now, we've messed up and we're gonna pay for it right. And
Joel Kotkin 10:32
the people who are most active of this are people who won't be affected by this at all. These are the wealthiest people in the country, I mean, that the environmental movement from the beginning has been a movement of the upper classes now, not that everything the environmentalist want isn't important. I think there is a lot that's important. But this is a group that is insulated from things, you know, does it really affect a, a trust Farion environmentalists in in, in the Silicon Valley, or San Francisco? Does it really affect them? If the price of gas is $20 a gallon? Hey, they don't destroy
Unknown Speaker 11:12
Joel Kotkin 11:13
it doesn't matter. Look, and this electrification, you know, think about the class implications here. I just got a report sent me which basically, it's from the state, they said, but 80% increase in electricity generation, we're going to have to have the electrify Well, we're never going to get 80% We're, we're reducing our capacity, as you well know. So I think the end game is that cars will exist largely for the upper classes as they did in the 19, even to the 1920s. Um, and that most of the rest of us will be stuck with Uber's or, you know, waiting for the bus or something like that. I look at Tesla's if you go to when, when I, when I go to prosperous parts of Orange County, I see lots of customers, right. When I go to working class Hispanic Tucson, I don't see any. So you know, so basically, it's an agenda, which is really almost inevitably going to widen the class divides.
Robert Bryce 12:22
When we've talked about that before. And it's something that I you know, as you know, I've published on this before and including my piece in The Wall Street Journal a few days ago about this class divide in California over energy, but let's jump back to the to your quillette piece because I think you make some other points here and it's about ESG. And there's similar themes here that you've been writing about for some time about that, in fact, this push for the environmental social governance push the decarbonisation push, you make a point in in your piece and Colette you and Hugo Krueger that this is you said, like Russia, China can thank the ESG movement for all of this, that firms like BlackRock and ces developments meet their net zero obsessions. So it it rhymes to with what I see happening in Europe and what other guests John Constable Binney Pizer, have talked about on the podcast that Europe's unilateral energy disarmament is that what the US is doing now in the face of all with the FERC ruling on natural gas pipelines with ESG? It seems like they you're you're saying the California model is what the Biden administration wants, but the California model follow the European model how, how similar Do you see all of this?
Joel Kotkin 13:36
Well, and what I find interesting is if the Europeans at least have the the common sense to say, well, maybe we ought to change, and our attitude
Robert Bryce 13:46
and the Californians don't
Joel Kotkin 13:48
know, because they, you know, weirdly enough, I just think that we have a situation now where the where what we're doing is by it's not so much the energy removal, which is obviously a problem is if if you're going to allow China a free ride to at least 2030 on emissions, which is what they basically have, right? That means that you have to compete, you know, with with somebody who is whose costs are lower than yours, and whose and whose ability to produce products at a lower price is much greater. So, you know, essentially, it's like China's playing a fantastic game of the old Mohammed Ali ropa dope. You know, we keep swinging at them. They keep backing off. And then at the end of the day, by 2030, most of Europe in the United States will be primarily places for Chinese people to spend their vacations. I mean, that's, that's sort of where we're headed. We're headed into into being a are like the UK, UK doesn't produce much of anything anymore, except for moving V's give us some media and finance. Right? Well, what is that? What does go to the north of England? And tell me how good that is? Just like if you go to the Midwest, or even if you go to parts of Europe, like Lille and you know, we're essentially the elites have abandoned the industrial economy almost completely. And they've left these communities in terrible shape. I don't know what's what's so enlightened about that policy. I'm, it's sort of escapes me.
Robert Bryce 15:30
Well, so but let me let me push back a little bit, because I've talked to Mark Nelson made this point on the podcast a few weeks ago, that and I think it makes some sense. Now, of course, European that gas prices have come down, they were at 70, the front month price price was over $70. Today, it's something like, today's may 25, march 21. It's about $30. So 6x, almost 7x what it is here in the US. But isn't it possible that this upset with the Russian invasion of Ukraine with Europe behind the eight ball and not able to get cheap hydrocarbons, that we see a reindustrialization. And this is one of your other themes in your writing, that we see a reindustrialization of the US a lot of foreign capital coming into the US because we still have low cost energy, isn't that a possibility as well, that would be a counter narrative to what your you know, because, yeah, I would note, no one's ever gonna accuse you of being an optimist, you can. If there is a possibility of some jobs, some bright a something positive coming out of this, that, in fact, the US for all of its faults might actually be the destination for a lot of industry, because they can't make it in Europe. Well, I
Joel Kotkin 16:39
look, I think that's true. And of course, there's a lot of it that's now being done in China that can be done here. I mean, there's no huge technological barrier that makes it impossible. Right? You know, if we had a ruling class that was that favored the United States and cared about its own citizens, I would say yes, I mean, it makes complete and total sense, to reindustrialize. And to say, on energy, my position, which I've said in California is, okay. If we're, if, if we're, instead of buying oil from Saudi Arabia, let's stop buying oil from anyone. And let's see how your BMW does next week. Um, you know, to me, the hypocrisy of essentially saying that, that you can buy, you can buy oil from somebody else, but not from us. You can buy a product made with with coal and other dirty fuels, but you can't, but you're going to penalize places where the environmental controls are much greater. You're just creating this, this situation where Western countries the the more environmentally conscious and, and and, and less authoritarian countries are putting themselves at a tremendous disadvantage. I think what we need and I wrote about this recently for Claremont, is we need a kind of new nationalism. I mean, what would Teddy Roosevelt be doing right now? Right, Teddy Roosevelt is trying to shut down natural gas production and and going on on a bended knee to Maduro? I don't think so. Um, and I think that that's what we're missing. I mean, and I'm coming from the perspective of, you know, whether it's a Harry Truman, it doesn't have to be a Ronald Reagan, it doesn't, certainly doesn't have to be Donald Trump.
Robert Bryce 18:35
Right? Well, if you made that, and you made that point in this in I don't know if it was, you write a lot, Joel and I were trying to remember whether that's your American mind, piece or in the quillette piece, but you said that oh, here it is. It's at the end of your quillette piece. You said sadly, it's difficult to identify Western leaders who might provide the liberal democratic world with some backbone. There is no one who resembles Churchill, Roosevelt, Truman or even Reagan. And meanwhile, Biden. My question is, I definitely agree with I'd love you mentioned Teddy Roosevelt, you know, go into the narco Maduro, on bended knee, trying to get the Venezuelans to produce more oil when PenaVega the national oil company has essentially been been looted. I mean, it's it doesn't exist, they don't you know, the country has fallen apart completely. So the idea they're going to ramp up any kind of oil production in the near term is is nuts. But my question is this way, can the US recover? When we have what is clearly a leadership vacuum in this country? I mean, I say it with no relish, but Biden, I don't think he knows what day it is. And the you know, how do we create and I know where you're going with this, this new nationalism? How do we create that with this with this leadership vacuum here in the US, what are the what are going to be the rallying points that are going to unite the left and the right on this?
Joel Kotkin 19:54
You know, it's a good question. I'm not sure I have the answer. Um, you know, there aren't a lot of of good candidates, you think in the Democratic Party? I mean, obviously, Joe Manchin is not is not going to be the Democratic nominee for anything outside of West Virginia. Um, there's, you know,
Robert Bryce 20:12
either ways the most even though he's arguably the most powerful politician in America, you're saying that he wouldn't, because that's an issue. I never really thought about ranch and running for president. But I mean, he, he is a moderate, and he's but he's from a small state. Right. And
Joel Kotkin 20:28
Clinton was from the small state too, and yet, you know,
Robert Bryce 20:32
he did okay. Excuse me. And he did, okay. He did very
Joel Kotkin 20:35
well. And But Clinton was a, you know, Clinton was a figure who had his figure in both the progressive world, but also in the traditional democratic world. And coming from Arkansas. He knew that, you know, you just can't push the kind of agenda that Biden's pushing, I don't understand why Biden, of all things. Not only that, he went to the left eye on the economics, I could understand some of it. But why he felt that he had to embrace the the green New Deal and, you know, sort of this this bizarre Net Zero stuff. You know, I'm not saying you don't want to get there eventually. But, you know, if if, if the United States gets to netzero, in 2055, instead of 2035. You know, well, you know, what would be you know, what would be the the results of that, on the climate since almost all the new emissions are coming not from us enough from the Europeans, but from the Chinese, and to some extent the Indians. Right. You know, so I think that I, you know, I look around, I mean, I do see some Republicans like Ben Sasse, who might be a reasonable candidate. The problem is so many of the Republican aspirants are trying to be Junior Donald Trump's and right. We got Biden because of Trump, that and that's what people don't understand. A human being would have beaten Biden, right. But a but a toxic figure, like Trump was the only one who can lose. And he's the only one who could lose to whatever person the Democrats put up in 2024. Right.
Robert Bryce 22:16
Well, so but but you're just back to this idea about what would be that more centrist platform, but it would have to be a pro energy platform, it would have to be a platform that says, climate is a concern. And this is my phrasing, climate is a concern. It's not the only concern right now, in particular, after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. I mean, even if Putin said, oh, sorry, you know, we'll go back home and you know, no, you know, everything's okay. It's going to be a long time before Russia gets integrated back into the global economy. So meanwhile, we've got this big hole in the hydrocarbon sector for both coal for coal, oil and natural gas used to be coming from Russia. But I mean, is that potential and get to the question here, is that potential? Oh, what is it the coalition around working people and the middle class and that inevitably evolves around energy and low cost energy instead of this? Insane, you know, all renewable, no nuclear push that that is that a possible winning strategy, strategy? pronuclear, pro hydrocarbon pro America pro industrial policy,
Joel Kotkin 23:20
all the poll data, I've seen shows, but 80% of Americans would back that agenda.
Robert Bryce 23:26
Oh, right. Yeah. You cited that in a recent yeah, that's, you know, and yet, we don't hear all we hear from the Biden administration is that we hate oil companies. Oh, we're gonna do we're gonna tax them now, because they're making too much money. I mean, it just seems like there's is I've used this line before, but you know, Biden, and then they're crowded lots of tactics, but no strategy
Joel Kotkin 23:44
about well, there are two things that that are happening. One is on a class basis, which is we've discussed, which is these policies are ruinous not just the people who work in oil fields, but people work in manufacturing, people trying to heat their homes, cool their homes. All those people are here. So it's that, but there's also a somewhat parallel geography. You're basically saying the whole middle of the country, we don't care what happens to you. What, what one of these days somebody is going to think about the fact that when we force everyone to go electric, the number of jobs we're going to lose in the Midwest, because essentially, you're you're you have a computer assembled in China, and a battery made in China, put into a into a metal frame.
Robert Bryce 24:34
As you make that point in quillette, are one of the American mind piece that battery in China now produces four times as many batteries as the US,
Joel Kotkin 24:42
right? And the Chinese are playing a brilliant game. They're they're using fossil fuels, to supercharge their economy and stay very competitive. And they're developing what they believe will be the subsequent which will be largely nuclear. And, and we'll probably have, you know, some wind some solar and they're not going to they're not going to get rid of all their oil and gas, you know,
Robert Bryce 25:09
they just announced they just announced an increase to 300 million tons per year of cold of cold mining. So they're going to aiming to be independent in coal consumption as well.
Joel Kotkin 25:19
So, you know, so basically, what's happening is we're being played, and our leaders, corporate and political are part of it. And now with the corporate people like Tim Cook, and, and and the ESG people, at least I can, all right, they're making a lot of money. And this arrangement works fine for them.
Robert Bryce 25:41
So because all of Apple's supply chains are in China, right,
Joel Kotkin 25:44
exactly. And moving the supply chain out of China would probably be very difficult for them. Um, the ESG. Guys, they're trying to find where is there a large market of people who are in the middle class, and where is it grown in the last 50 years, China is the key place. I what I think is happening is they are empowered by this arrangement. But the average American is much worse off. And this is exactly by the way, what we see in California, which is, we have created the wealthy, the greatest rise of wealth, and numbers of billionaires ever seen it, probably anywhere in the world, maybe China is the only place I could think would compete with it. And at the same time, we have the highest poverty rate in the country. And we have the we have the the highest overcrowding rate. I mean, you can go through the whole litany. And, and the bottom line is, again, I keep saying California on energy. And one of the things is the test case, is the you know, this is why you can't you're how often do you read in the New York Times about the California's poverty? Or the fact that California has the highest unemployment rate in the country? Unbelievable? How can you screw up the best piece of real estate on the planet? It's an amazing accomplishment. I mean, no offense to my Texan friends, but California is infinitely nicer than Texas, naturally speaking, the climate is much, much better. And up until recently, we were the most creative economy, probably anywhere in the world, and we're systematically destroying it. And what's left is a society in which a small group of people who can drive a $50,000 Tesla with no problem
Robert Bryce 27:43
and essentially driving the H O V line for viewing so yeah,
Joel Kotkin 27:47
and I mean, because now I think the the lowest end Tesla's 50,000.
Robert Bryce 27:51
Right? I mean, about you can buy a Benz for that easily by a Benz for that, right.
Joel Kotkin 27:56
So, so what I see is, is this, this growing divide, and nobody is addressing it. And frankly, the only people who are really talking about it at all, are not necessarily the most savory people, you know, some of the Trump Easter Republicans, at least talk about this. But you know, the Libertarians are as bad as the progressives when it comes to these issues, you know, progressive libertarians, anything that makes money is good no matter what, no matter how its distributed. And, and the progressives live in a complete fantasy land, where you know, solar panels can can you know, power the entire economy, no matter
Robert Bryce 28:37
that they're made with slave labor in China, let's ignore that for the moment right to adult I mean,
Joel Kotkin 28:44
apostasy here is so staggering. And, you know, it's um, it reminds me of, of early 20th century UK, Martin wiener wrote a very good book where he talks about the psychological deindustrialization of Great Britain, that the British elite stopped caring about manufacturing, stop caring about actual competing with other countries, and just wanted to do the arts and finance and, you know, stay at the very high level, they'll get their, their their hands dirty. And that's what we have now. But it
Robert Bryce 29:18
doesn't work, but it doesn't work for the middle class. So no, well, let's jump back to California because you also rate you wrote a very good piece about California called tarnishing the Golden State. And you there were some numbers in here. And I've written some about poverty in California as well, although I live in Texas, but it's to me California is just so interesting, because I think you're right. I think it is the the the the state that has mimicked the European model the most closely, right they over invested in renewables under invested in hydrocarbons, shut down their baseload power plants and relied on imports just like the Europeans did with Russian gas, but you Talk about the the all these problems in California with minorities leaving you said in this new report that you did for Chapman University, he said my co authors and I found that African American and Latino Californians real earnings, ranked between 48 and 50th among the states, and here's the one that just is shocking. Blacks in California earn roughly the same or slightly less than do their counterparts in Mississippi. I mean, I read that and I think, well, wait a minute. Here. This is a staggering finding that Mississippi is viewed as the backwater well wait a minute, you compare it on real earning power, real purchasing power, they're on par. I mean, this is a recruit incredible finding. And this is about how I mean, how much of this here's the question how much of this is just revolved around high energy and housing and California,
Joel Kotkin 30:50
energy and housing, you got it right there. That's it. That's where, and then there are lots of other unintended consequences. Housing is very expensive. So and the state has decided that people don't want single family houses, even though the vast majority of people do. So if you want a single family house, this is particularly true for minorities, they have to move to the outer reaches, right? They can have a job in Oakland. Like I remember, actually, last time I was up in Berkeley, the guy picking me up at the airport, but you know, lived 45 minutes to an hour away from from Oakland,
Robert Bryce 31:29
right? I may have to move inland they that the housing prices are based, Jennifer Hernandez, our mutual friend, who we both quite admire, has done some analysis on that, that the cost of housing drops for every mile, you get further away from the beach, right? The further you are from the water, the cheaper the housing. So that means if you want to own a house, you got to live a long way inland, and commute. But then they're getting hit with gasoline prices of over $6 A gallon now, right? I mean, these are in another part of the regressive pie in California. But it's
Joel Kotkin 31:59
just imagine being a construction worker living in Riverside, you have to use your F 150. Because that's where your tools are, and all that you're probably going to be spending Oh, my wife just filled up the car, it was $80. I assume an F 150 would cost you more be bigger than that, you know, then a much smaller car. So you're you're talking about somebody who's maybe a working class person making 1000 a week that's doing pretty well. Yeah. Or maybe 2000 a week, but they're now going to be spending two $300 a week on on gasoline.
Robert Bryce 32:40
Yeah, and it's a mobility tax. That was one of the things that, you know, I've talked about this before. But mobility, social mobility depends on actual personal mobility, right? You got to move around, if you're you got to go where the work is. And yet by pricing out, or by taxing that physical mobility, you tax, or cramp their social mobility, is that the way
Joel Kotkin 33:03
to put it? Yeah, and then the environmental effects are worse, because then you're, you've got all these supercomputers, the Bay Area is has so many supercomputers out people who are driving an hour or two each way.
Robert Bryce 33:17
Which enormous amount of I mean, monogamous amount of lost time in the car, right? And opportunity cost as well no,
Joel Kotkin 33:25
and expend unexpended high hydrocarbons at the same time. Right? I mean, we have we have this this insane policy here, where we're forcing density in cities like Los Angeles, and the above all, take transit, well, they don't take transit, we've spent 20 $25 billion on a train system, and there are a few people riding it now. Then we're riding the bus system in 1990. In percentage wise, so. So I mean, what you're what you're seeing is sort of ideas, ideas, or ideological ideas that don't actually work in, in, in the real world. But you know, when I hear somebody say to me, solar and wind power is much cheaper now, and so we can build more of it, and therefore it would be, it would be cheaper. Why should Why is every country with the highest energy costs a country that has adopted this policy? Right? Is there some reason why, you know, the consumer doesn't care how much of the energy came from a nuclear power plant or a windmill or assault that they carry? What is the cost of electricity, right? So what So what I think we're going to end up with is we're gonna have an all electric grid that's going to be incredibly expensive. And we're going to go back towards the middle ages towards things like having a house or having an adequate energy supply or reliable energy will become the the the the province of the rich, and the middle class will no longer get it. Robert Gordon is Great book on the, on the American economy, he makes this point, we were democratizing capitalism to an incredible extent in this country, so that the average person had a standard of living that was higher than any time in history. And now we're regressing, and we're doing it on purpose. And that is unconscionable in my mind.
Robert Bryce 35:24
And regressing on purpose, because by policies that make energy more expensive,
Joel Kotkin 35:29
will make energy more expensive. And we'll see the same thing with water here in California, which is always a big issue, right? You'll see it on on things like, you know, the the the, you know, labor regulation, you'll see it in in lots of different ways in which we will make the entrepreneurial economy more difficult and make manufacturing more difficult eventually. I mean, I could see the day, you know, in 2030, when, you know, basically people will essentially get their stuff to Arizona as fast as they possibly can. I also think, by the way, that our energy policy on the poor, it's something that we've talked about in the past, is driving people to Euston and Tampa, and, and, and, and, you know, Norfolk and
Robert Bryce 36:21
right, so to sort of put it more bluntly, I guess, or succinctly, then it's this administrative state that's just strangling the strangling the economy.
Joel Kotkin 36:29
Right. And the administrative state is in full bloom here in California, um, in some other states also, but here, it's, it's, it's very intense. And, and what Biden is doing is he's bringing that regulatory state and the same ideology into Washington. My sense of it is that when the Democrats I think will likely get clobbered in November, um, you know, unless, you know, somehow Joe Biden goes with a sixth gun and shoots Putin and the Kremlin, but I
Robert Bryce 37:01
don't think we can, we can hope that that will happen, but never.
Joel Kotkin 37:07
But But what I think will happen is, then there will be a call for an administrative state, which is what say, I think democracy in this country is in serious trouble. We, we elect a new dictator, every four years is what we're what's happening. Ouch. You know, when
Robert Bryce 37:23
we were to start, let me stop you there for just a second because I, we've talked about some of these things. But I think one of the let me first ask you about California. So now we've talked about Russia and China and the great game and this alliance, which is fundamentally really about energy and raw materials, right, with Russia being the provider, a lot of those in China doing the manufacturing. And there's parts of this that rhyme with what you see in California. But let me ask more specifically. So we have a mutual friend Michael Shellenberger is running for governor handicap that racing for governor in California. What do you think happens there?
Joel Kotkin 37:58
Newsom wins? I don't think I mean, I like Mike, and I'll vote for him. But I don't, you know, and he's a liberal Democrat. He's not a conservative at all. Right. But but you know, what,
Robert Bryce 38:12
it sounds he sounds like a conservative though, because what's changed his? Well, I mean, I, when I've heard him speak, I haven't talked to him in quite some time. But there's a religious element to what he's talking about, and it kind of a call to a call to serve, there's something very inspiring, and I you know, I have great respect for him, but I'm just Kenny raise the money. I mean, he's going to be 10s of millions 10s of millions of dollars to make a credible showing no, the problem
Joel Kotkin 38:38
is what we'll end up with is is a Republican, who will get 30 35% of the vote, and, you know, and do some will get 60% can do it. I think that's, you know, probably what we're gonna see, he may have an absolute majority in the first round. I mean, that's entirely possible. I mean, the problem that Shallenberger faces the same problem that someone like me, who, whose only political affiliation in my life has been democratic. I became an independent five years ago. But, you know, the bottom line is if you're a dissenting Democrats, you are set into into the digital Gulag they they have, how much voice does Mike Shellenberger have in among Democrats and in the mainstream media? I would say close to none.
Robert Bryce 39:29
I mean, the digital Gulag
Joel Kotkin 39:31
I mean, they never hurt me. Like, you know, what happens is people like me or Mike or Mike Lynn, I mean, there's a bunch of us that he be you know, Andrew Sullivan, I mean, you know, him even though Bill Maher, you know, what happens is you break from the poverty line. You're, you're in the cornfield, you you no longer exist. I mean, look, I had I had the experience In one of the progressive magazines did a special on Neo feudalism never mentioned my book? I'm saying that I know I have the best selling book ever written on Neo feudalism. It's not even close. Right? You know, and it's not, I'm too old to give a shit to tell you the truth. I mean, I, you know, people are what they are. But what it shows you is that if a young person, like a relatively young person like Mike, or, you know, somebody like Mike Lind, or our people, Andrew Solomon, these are Glenn Greenwald, right, these people who are coming further from the left the me in in many cases, but if you dispute the the orthodoxy, you you're probably better off being a right wing Republican. Because the worst thing is somebody who's an apostate in their view, right? You know, it what I always say to my, you know, when I'm working on stuff, I said, I almost always attacked from the left, like Jennifer Hernandez does, yeah, you say, your standards are better quality of life for the average person, isn't that what the Democratic Party was supposed to be about?
Robert Bryce 41:11
Right, up and be in favor of the poor and the working class? And and yet they've been, as you've said, you know, become the party of the, I mean, is it fair to call them oligarchs now in the United States that these the, the, the, I mean, it smacks of Russia, right, the term oligarch, but in terms of wealth, and in terms of removal from the everyday working class, it sure seems to be appropriate. And,
Joel Kotkin 41:34
and the ability to control every industry. So one of the things I also has happened is, I think the oligarchs See, in the energy transition, another opportunity for them to, you know, essentially invest in something that's going to be subsidizing, you know, guarantee a profit. You know, and the certainly the investment banks, I mean, look, there's a reason why Elon Musk is the richest man in the world today. It doesn't come because Tesla is selling so many cars. You know, they're selling a lot of cars, but they're, you know, there's no way he should be, you know, that Tesla should be valued more than Toyota.
Robert Bryce 42:12
I mean, the reason he's, and the reason he is, is because,
Joel Kotkin 42:15
because the government has said that, you know, they said, We're all going to go all electric, and he's the the leading innovator in the electric car business.
Robert Bryce 42:25
So by he's, he's, uh, he's been the most successful at rent seeking.
Joel Kotkin 42:29
Right? I mean, look, I have more admiration for him than most of those guys. Because he actually makes things right. But, but but I think the reality is that that, you know, people are are playing the game they're playing the, you know, they're learning. The other great game is the is taking advantage of the regulatory changes,
Robert Bryce 42:49
right, using and using the administrative state to bolster your position.
Joel Kotkin 42:54
Right. I mean, like, the most of these bills would never pass Congress. Right?
Robert Bryce 42:59
Because they because they know that that will write that Democrats and Republicans alike, no, don't vote for a gasoline tax. But if you do this other thing over here that doesn't require a full on vote, and then it's, so let's let me talk about this. So we talked about California as this test case, and as talent California as the kind of the the leading example of what you know, this experiment and that you've said, Biden, the Biden administration wants to take a National Match and make this national policy, but in many of the pieces you've written recently, including the piece of in the American mind, and well, it's actually I found this in your in your recent monograph, the rise of corporate state tyranny. You talk about nationalism, and you talk about a new kind of nationalism. So what does that look like? Because it's going to require, in some ways, emulating what China has done with industrial policy. So how does that work? And how does it not become the kind of fascism because you've used that term as well, that you loathe, right? How does it How does America become much more like Japan, a country that embraces industrial policy with a purpose without it becoming corrupted?
Joel Kotkin 44:10
Well, I mean, everything will get corrupted at one point or another. Okay, fair enough. But, but, but I do think that a nationalism, look, we had nationalism, we won World War Two in the Cold War with nationalism, I mean, in many senses, it was a sense of, if you will, national purpose, right. It doesn't have to be a surveillance state, whether it's run by the oligarchs or run by the Chinese, it could be alright, we have as our goal for instance, that we are going to be self sufficient in these fields, medical devices being one of them. We saw this during the the the pandemic, right, you couldn't get masks, you know, even now they mail out test kits made in China or made in Korea. What What? What the hell are they thinking? The capacity to, to? You could make masks It's not rocket science. Let's make masks. Right. You know, if the if the government said, Our priority is to source materials and nurture industry that goes back that's not an American that goes back to Alexander Hamilton. You know,
Robert Bryce 45:15
but it's but it's a concerted effort at reshoring, I guess would be is that the most succinct way to put it in a concerted effort for reshoring? But then that's going to require government subsidy, right? I mean, it's going to require a stronger hand of government in picking winners. And I'm not I'm not doubting what you're saying, here. I'm just trying to envision what this looks like in the various sectors,
Joel Kotkin 45:35
Well, you certainly can do a lot of industrial support that goes to everybody. So you're not necessarily picking winners and losers, you can build the infrastructure, I can tell you, where we're really screwed up, is on the education side. One of the things that that executives say to me is, yeah, I would love to build this in, you know, Ohio. But but, you know, it's very difficult to get the skilled workers now Ohio is doing a great job beginning to address that. But in California, you know, what, you know, try to find the 25 year old machinist in California in New York, I think you'd not do very well with that. We don't have a labor force. From the top to the bottom that's focused on production, we could we could shift those priorities. So I think there are many areas where you could do this without having, you know, sort of a heavy, heavy handed industrial policy. But what you can say is, look, here's one of the things Mike Lind, and I've written about, which is, if China's not going to allow us into their market, why should we allow them in into ours? If if they say you can't export x, because we're developing it here, then say, okay, you develop it there, just don't send it back to the US, right? We have seen this for almost 4050 years. And the reality is, the ruling class in this country doesn't give a damn, because it doesn't affect them is their biggest upset with GE was that that he might have affected some of their investments, particularly on the tech side with his with his crackdowns. So So I mean, I, the problem is, we have to essentially replace the current ruling class, or at least, put them in their place. And that ruling class extends from the oligarchy, to Wall Street, to the upper echelons of the bureaucracy. And that's who runs the country. And their interests in the interests of the average middle class American are not the same.
Robert Bryce 47:45
So if I'm going to channel you, then and I'm making the perfect political candidate here, then it's going to be someone who's a populist, who's going to talk about the poor in the middle class, the working class, China, Russia, and do it in a way that says, We need to rethink all of how we're thinking we need to rethink all segments of our society, but particularly in education and industry. Is that Is it in education, Industry and Energy? Right, that those are the things we need to refocus here, because we're getting our butts kicked. And I think that that's clearly the case. And we you mentioned in one of your articles about rare earth elements, which is something that I've been paying attention to, for a long time, trying to control something like 92% of all of the high strength magnet production in the world. And yet, you know, we're just assuming, oh, well, they're going to be our friends. And we're going to all of our wind turbines and electric vehicles are going to run on those magnets, which Don't be so sure,
Joel Kotkin 48:41
or the they'll run on them at a very high cost or right, and the Chinese client will come first. I mean, we have to recognize that the neoliberal world which which produced some wonderful things, and spread wealth around the world, in a way, never before seen, so I mean, these are positive, positive things, very positive things.
Robert Bryce 49:06
And just to be clear, but when you're talking about neoliberal world, you're talking about much greater embrace of human human rights. So free
Joel Kotkin 49:15
trade, free trade, open investment, pretty much mass immigration, all those things that in many ways have worked for a long time, you know, in history, it takes a long time for us to recognize what's going on around us. And you know, it's my my, my late Japanese Sensei said, the hardest thing is to unlearn the secret of your past success. And the open liberal regime worked brilliantly. worked brilliantly, I would say probably as late as 2000. And you know, there were problems all along, but it was still pretty well working. Since then it's not working well, but you have a generation of people who have grown up clock, you know, sort of insulated from the negative effects question
Robert Bryce 50:10
so well, so what's the next step? Then? What do we need to do now? Joel, I mean, I appoint you and say, Look, we need to change course. And we've talked about reforming education, Industry and Energy are running on those issues as key elements of a of a reimagined America to rebuild the working class and industrial base in America. How do you sell that? What's the what's the what are the key ways you make that and you get 51% or 52% of the?
Joel Kotkin 50:39
Well, one of the things you're not Donald Trump, and you and you make it clear that your vision of America and its working middle class is a very diverse, multiracial middle class, you're not gonna you're not going to blame immigrants. For every problem that happens. You can, you might want to control the borders. And I think the vast majority of people, particularly Hispanics actually favor this. Yeah, but but I think you need somebody who can cast America, as I think it really is, potentially, which is the most amazing experiment, we have never had a world power. That was a diverse country. I mean, England, at the time of its of its greatness, unless you want to include the Irish as as diverse. You know, England, in a tight was overwhelmingly white country, obviously, Germany was an overwhelmingly white country, Russia, still, you know, politically now is an overwhelmingly right, White country, China, and Japan have never had lots and lots warm numbers of immigrants, we have the possibility here of creating a world power that that that can really be a an alternative to what the Chinese vision is. And it has to be said in a positive way. It's, you know, I think, frankly, I think that candidate may probably be best if if that candidate was was Hispanic, because I think that's where the opportunity is, and a Democrat, or could be a Republican,
Robert Bryce 52:18
but it but it will. So if I'm reading this back to you, sir, that it would be this idea of promoting. What rhymes with me when you talk about this. Joel has this idea, and I've talked about it that GK Chesterton said the US is the only country ever founded on a creed. Right. Right. And that, that, that this strength of America, yeah, there are a lot of things, you know, we don't know, enemies at our borders, you know, we have a lot of natural resources. But it's the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. So that so if I were going to read back to you, so it would be a maybe a female Hispanic, who's will ready to stand up and said, We want a diverse secular democracy in which we put the Constitution front and center because this is the bedrock, but, but we're failing the poor in the middle class, and I aim to change it.
Joel Kotkin 53:02
And that's exactly what we need. You know, the closest we've had to a politician with those gifts in recent history is Clinton. Yeah.
Robert Bryce 53:08
Because he spoke because he was from he was, he wasn't high born, right. He was born to a single mom, and you know, not in a trailer park. But he was from a hotsprings. Or, you know, in Arkansas, I wasn't born rich. So he had an affinity for the working class that I think, well, we could say that I guess it would be unfair to Obama to say put it differently, or, you know, maybe Joe Biden, but it's a different qualitative kind of thing, it seems.
Joel Kotkin 53:31
And also Biden has been out of any contact with any anybody in the working class, it seems to me except for labor union representatives. I mean, I, you know, you don't get the sense that that that Biden has, you know, this, this whole idea of Uncle Joe and all that. I think that's not not playing well,
Robert Bryce 53:54
because he's been in politics too long. He's really, really his whole life. There's been really,
Joel Kotkin 53:59
yeah. And he's not, you know, he didn't have, you know, the Clinton building or the Obama ability to communicate. But I think there's going to be the, you know, I'm just finishing a piece now where I'm, I'm sketching out what's going to happen after 2022 in the Democratic Party, because the smart guys in the party, you know, carnival and route to Sherif, they know what the problem is, you know, Lane kaymar, Bill polston. They all know what the problem is. The problem is, has the Democratic Party gone so far, in this progressive direction, that there'll be no way of pushing it back, because But what bothers me? Why does a John tester for Montana, support the vote for a green New Deal, given the nature of the economy of a state, a guy who's supposed to be a populist? Right? I mean, this you know, Sherrod Brown, representing working class, Ohio. I think we underestimate the enormous financial and social power of the of the progressive elite. And their ability to determine what what is acceptable and what is not. And,
Robert Bryce 55:16
and that climate has to Trump all these other issues that that this is the most important issue. But you mentioned Roy to share. He had a great piece about that. What is it climate catastrophism is a loser and you brought me pointed me to that one. Well, so now, Joe, we've been talking for almost an hour and I don't want to keep you I know you've got a plane to catch here pretty soon. Reminder, a station break here I'm talking to my my friend, Joel Kotkin. He's the executive editor of new geography, you can find that at New geography.com. He's also a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University, author of eight books, including, most recently the rise of Neo feudalism. You talk about what you're working on now. So you know, we're both journalism, journalists, I've never had a real job and just been a reporter my whole life. You're crazy productive. I mean, I, you know, I work hard, but I, you know, I'm doing a lot of stuff. How many articles are you producing a week? And how do you do it? I mean, you're not a man, you're a machine? Well, give me this. Give me the Give me. Give me the give me the secret sauce here?
Joel Kotkin 56:13
Well, the secret sauce for one thing is not traveling. Traveling makes it much more difficult. And, and and then, you know, what it is, is I have a really big historical background, so I can always sort of pull out of that. Things that that would, that would work. Yeah. Okay. But it's also, you know, I'm from the different Iran, I'm from the newspaper days, but when I was a young newspaper reporter, you did two pieces a week, if you didn't do two pieces of the week, you know, you you got chewed out right. Now, Well, today's journal I try,
Robert Bryce 56:51
I try and do about a piece a week, but I'd sometimes but you're right, the travel, I just, it's very hard for me to think and write when I'm on the road, just, it's difficult.
Joel Kotkin 57:00
And also the i Fortunately, I have the ability to essentially write pieces of my head, you know, so that before I'm writing, I know what I'm, I pretty much know, because I've been gathering the data all along. And also, I'm very fortunate to have some great collaborators, you know, who, when I don't know something they know, they know better than me, Wendell Cox or Hugo Krueger, you know, the whole bunch of them that that I've worked on, on, get Marshall to plantscape, you know, different things. So, so I think that the key is being willing to say what you think and have enough outlets, so you know, that you you'll find the market for it.
Robert Bryce 57:44
And what I find lately too, is I have to write the headline, I've got to Yes, have to know the headline first in some cases before I can write the piece because otherwise I don't have a hook. And you know, it's just, you know, fortunately, our generation could be my generation. I'm older than you.
Joel Kotkin 58:02
The, you know, we we had skills that that are almost gone now. And when I tell people that when I went when I was working for The Washington Post, and we are uncovering the Chowchilla school bus thing, which was this, where they buried a school bus full of kids. And I was I was I got a call in the morning, you're going to Chowchilla wherever that is, I get in the car, I drive up there. And, you know, I had to dictate 40 inch story off the top of my head. Wow, I was looking at my notes, that skill is gone. I don't think there's anybody under the age of 70. Who can do that?
Robert Bryce 58:47
Well, I'm 61 You're not that much older than I am.
Joel Kotkin 58:50
I'm 69. Okay, well.
Robert Bryce 58:52
Okay. So, Joe, thanks. You've been great. A great guest had just two more questions. You know, I always asked these. So you're standing or you're sitting in front of a bunch of books over there. What are you reading? Now? What's on your bookshelf or on the top of your desk? What books are you reading these days?
Joel Kotkin 59:06
Well, I'm reading Kyle Harper's new book on pestilence, which is really quite good. And also
Robert Bryce 59:12
position lens, what to explain what that means.
Joel Kotkin 59:15
Basically, Harper wrote a fantastic book called The fate of Rome, in which you'll find this this is worth you're looking at it, he basically traced the true crime of the Roman Empire to things, pestilence, that, you know, which during the period of Marcus Aurelius is really really and and climate change.
Robert Bryce 59:36
Hmm. So RATS, RATS and temperature,
Joel Kotkin 59:39
right. I mean, basically, he said that it became harder and harder to to produce the foodstuffs. Migration migrations were driven by climate change because of climate change in certain places gotten dry. I mean, there's a whole thing that his follow up book is basically making the point that we are probably living in an age of pestilence is that we're gonna mess the title petulant. No, I, I have the book downstairs. But anyway, it's Carl Harper. Okay. And then I'm listening to author Herman's book on the Vikings on the Viking heart about the Scandinavians in America, which is, you know, what's about Scandinavia in general. But towards the end, he gets into Scandinavians and America since in a week, I'm going to Minneapolis. I think I might read this. So. So I just I read widely, I also read a lot of fiction. And I also read a lot of science fiction. Hmm. And particularly, although the American science fiction is come pretty crappy, but the Chinese Science Fiction is really good. Okay, and it's one of the few places where you really get to see what Chinese people think the future is going to be like, and I'm telling you, it's not pretty. And it's not pretty for the Chinese either.
Robert Bryce 1:00:59
Well, that's one thing we didn't talk about was Chinese demographics. But maybe we'll save that for another day. Because
Joel Kotkin 1:01:04
one of the books I have in my students read is called an excess male. And it's by Maggie Shin, and she writes about how in the future China is so worried about shortages of, of children, that women are now allowed to be polygamous, not men, but women. Wow.
Robert Bryce 1:01:26
And this is all part of the one child one child policy now here years later, that they're realizing they face this demographic,
Joel Kotkin 1:01:32
but But the biggest problem is that people in China don't have kids. The same reason they don't have them in Korea and Japan, and and Singapore and Taiwan, the government policy isn't going to get somebody to go have a baby, when they're, they're living in a one bedroom apartment, and working 80 hours a week.
Robert Bryce 1:01:51
Right. But there's nowhere for the no swing set for the kids. So last question, Joel. So I, Joe, can I it's only a joke that you're you're not the most optimistic person I know. But I also appreciate your clarity and your your your honesty on how you're reporting on these issues. But what gives you hope, what makes you optimistic?
Joel Kotkin 1:02:12
A couple things about actually several things. One, I think the US history has been that we've always been able to respond, we respond too late. But we usually respond. So there's that I mean, we've we have, as long as the Constitution is in, in in place, the corrective mechanism is there. So that's one thing. Second thing is, I am very positive about the impact of immigration, there are bad parts about it. But Hispanic, Asian, African immigration, I think it's transforming the society, bringing good values into this country, great work ethic. I mean, when when we see each other in Euston, I'll give you a pretty good guess that your cab driver will be either from Ghana or Nigeria. But you
Robert Bryce 1:03:03
could or Somalia that was the case in Nashville a week and a half ago,
Joel Kotkin 1:03:07
and will probably be in Minneapolis will probably be some from Somalia. So the way the immigrants are there if we don't indoctrinate them to hate the country, which drives me crazy. So I think that and then the last thing with the Generation Z, I'm finding that my students, although they're still liberal, a much more open minded, much less likely to want to censor things. And more receptive to whether it's on climate or gender or race, to look at things in three dimensions. So those are three areas of of optimism, that I feel, changing attitudes among the very young, the the impact of immigration, and the fact that the country fundamentally has has a extremely valuable political infrastructure that prevents us from going too far. I mean, thank God, that you have a system where whether it's a Joe Biden or a Donald Trump, they can be restrained, right? Why? By the other parts of the government. That's something that Vladimir Putin or she'd don't have to worry about. And I'm glad that they do have to worry about it.
Robert Bryce 1:04:31
So you did mention and I'm going to be on a panel that you helped organize with Charles Blaine, the urban Reform Institute in Houston, it's going to be at the hotel Zaza in Houston at starting at eight or 830 on April 1, so if any of you are inclined are in Houston, then by all means, stop by you can get more info on that. Is it urban reform? institute.org. Yes. Okay. Urban Institute urban reform. institute.org. Well, Joel, it's been a great pleasure talking to you again, again, you can look up Joel. He's at New geography.com He has a great new essay in quillette with Hugo Krueger that came out March 9 called the new great game and he has another one that came out just recently. I think it was in City Journal called tarnishing the Golden State. Joel, always happy to talk to you. Thanks for coming on the power hungry podcast again. My pleasure. Thanks. And thanks to all of you in podcast land. Tune in for the next episode of the power hungry podcast until then, see ya.