Barack Obama has been a transformational president. So says Joel Kotkin, and he is undoubtedly correct. Obama has been working to turn America into a European-style social democracy, a place where economic opportunity and growth have been sacrificed to liberal and radical social policies.
In such a Nanny state, competition is bad because some groups consistently do better at it. Thus social justice must take control of the competitive marketplace. Economic progress is bad because it produces too many greenhouse gasses and offends Mother Nature. And, no one should be able to choose freely where to live or with whom to socialize because such choices are inherently discriminatory.
President Obama’s great accomplishment, arguably, has been to spur the evolution of a society that formerly rested on individual and familial aspiration, and turn it into a more regulated and centralized regime focused on broader social and environmental concerns. This tendency has been made much stronger as the number of Americans, according to Gallup, who feel there is “plenty of opportunity ahead” has dropped precipitously – from 80 percent in 1997 to barely 52 percent today.
The shift away from the entrepreneurial model can also be seen in the constriction of loans to the small-business sector. Rates of business start-ups have fallen well below historical levels, and, for young people in particular, have hit the lowest levels in a quarter century. At the same time, the welfare state has expanded dramatically, to the point that nearly half of all Americans now get payments from the federal government.
In Obama’s America it is increasingly difficult to start a new business. Opportunity barely exists any more. Yet, social welfare money transfers, accompanied by higher taxes, are alive and well and flourishing.
It reminds you of the situation in France. And we know that, thanks to French socialism, the most ambitious and best educated young Frenchmen and Frenchwomen are now living and working in … London. Excessive government interventions in the economy has cost the nation a generation of the best and brightest young people.
According Kotkin, today’s progressive politics rest on three pillars: sexual liberation; environmentalism; racial justice.
It’s not merely that more and more people are having more and more sex—in fact, it appears that people are having less and less sex. And it goes beyond the issues of abortion politics, even though many of today’s Republican candidates are making statements about abortion that will guarantee that they will never win a general election.
The new sexual politics insists that marriage is always the same, no matter the gender of the participants. It wants all individuals to be open and honest about their sexual activities and their sexual preferences. And it has insisted that we all embrace Bruce Jenner’s womanhood. If he believes he’s a woman, he’s a woman. Besides, we would hurt his feelings if we dared suggest otherwise.
In Obama’s transformed America, it is more about rejecting the work ethic and reality than about embracing sensuality.
As for the politics of racial redress, we have gotten to the point, Kotkin argues, where it is not enough to have equal opportunity. We must have equal outcomes. Anywhere we find unequal outcomes we must conclude that the system is rigged against certain groups. If some groups commit disproportionately larger numbers of crimes, that can only mean that the criminal justice system is prejudiced against them. Don’t you understand-- if no one ever got arrested and tried and convicted, there would be less crime.
In his words:
The second major thrust of the reconstituted American Dream is the imposition of a regime of permanent racial redress. In contrast to assuring equal rights, the new drive is to guarantee similar results. In every aspect of life, from immigration and housing to school and work, “people of color,” which increasingly excludes Asians, will be categorized by race. This includes the call for “reparations” for African Americans and essentially open borders for undocumented immigrants.
This logic carried to extremes can be seen in the “disparate impact” rules promulgated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and now blessed by the Supreme Court. Under this concept, any town can have its zoning and planning upended if the bureaucracy, or some plaintiffs, decide the town is too white, too Asian or too affluent to meet the standards of “social justice.” This could be extended down the line to every institution, from the workplace to the university. The new approach could be accurately characterized as affirmative action on steroids.
And then there is the new environmentalism. It is less concerned with cleaning up the environment than with repealing the Industrial Revolution, free market capitalism and economic growth. Being a nature cult, it is willing to sacrifice human prosperity to an idealized version of the natural world.
But today’s climate-change-focused environmentalism increasingly opposes economic growth per se, seeing in it a threat to the planet. For some people, the solution for the planet lies in depressing living standards by such steps as ratcheting up the cost of basic necessities, from energy to housing. Environmental advocates often work in concert with those who benefit from subsidies for everything from solar energy to transit lines, but the goal remains to constrain consumption and raise prices for such basics as housing and energy.
Yet these negative impacts don’t mean much to many green activists who, notes the Guardian’s George Monbiot, see the climate struggle as a way to “redefine humanity.” The target here is the economy itself, which remains driven largely by the desire for material wealth, upward mobility and support of families. Monbiot envisions a war against what he calls the “expanders” by the rational legions of green “restrainers” who will seek to curb their foes’ economic activities.
The celebration of economic stagnation is accepted openly among European greens who support an agenda of “degrowth.” It is also reflected in American calls for “de-development,” a phrase employed by President Obama’s Science Adviser John Holdren. The agenda, particularly in high-income countries, seeks to limit fossil fuels, raise energy prices, stem suburban development and replace the competive capitalism system with a highly regulated economy that favors designated “green’ energy industries over others.
Many of today’s European Greens got their start in radical leftist politics. Ever since the great Marxist experiment failed, they have been seeking a way to channel their idealistic exuberance. They have chosen to continue the struggle in other arenas. Brimming with Nietzschean resentment, they are sore losers who don’t even know they are losers.
They have now embraced the environmentalist cause. It’s easier to dupe a gullible public into shutting down free enterprise in order to save it from toxins and pollutants-- or to save a smelt-- than it is to sell a discredited vision of the Workers’ Paradise.
What will come of this? Kotkin believes that the young generation, seeing its prospects shrink, will rebel against big government and sore-loser environmentalism. This may or may not be true. One must recognize that this generation has been indoctrinated to within an inch of its sanity with the basic credo of the Church of the Liberal Pieties.
Or else, one suspects that many of our best and brightest will begin to do as the French do: they will debark for greater opportunity elsewhere. While the French can easily migrate anywhere in the European Union, America’s best young people will be facing a different challenge: where to go to find what America no longer provides.