Summer is usually a time for light reading, and for the most part, I indulged the usual array of historical novels, science fiction as well as my passion for ancient history. But two compelling books out this year led me to more somber thoughts about the prospects for the decline and devolution of western society.
From the earliest days of the Republic, banking and finance has largely been the purview of what one historian calls the “Yankee Empire.” Based largely in New York and Boston, later on financial centers grew along the main route of Yankee migration to Chicago and San Francisco.
Yet, if you look at where financial jobs are now headed, perhaps it’s time, as the Dallas Morning News cheekily suggested recently, to substitute Y’all Street for Wall Street. Finance, increasingly conducted electronically, is no longer tethered to its traditional centers. Large global financial companies like UBS, Deutsche Bank , Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs are all committed to relocating operations to less expensive locations.
“Old in error,” writes historian Kevin Starr, “California remains an American hope.” Historically, our state has been a beacon to outsiders seeking a main chance: from gold miners and former Confederates to Midwesterners displaced by hardship, Jews seeking opportunity denied elsewhere, African Americans escaping southern apartheid, Asians fleeing communism and societal repression, Mexicans looking for a way out of poverty, counter-culture émigrés looking for a place where creation can overcome repression.
Yes, Jay Gould was a bad guy. But at least he helped build societal wealth. Not so our Silicon Valley overlords. And they have our politicians in their pockets.
In Sacramento, and much of the media, California is enjoying a “comeback” that puts a lie to the argument that regulations and high taxes actually matter. The hero of this recovery, Gov. Jerry Brown, in Bill Maher’s assessment, “took a broken state and fixed it.”
In 2009, when Rio de Janeiro was awarded the Summer Games, many saw it as a validation of Brazil’s ascension on the world stage. Yet seven years later, this estimation seems to have been a bit premature, as Rio and other Brazilian cities struggle to meet the basic needs of the Olympians.
The nomination of Hillary Clinton has been secured, but the future of the Democratic Party is far from certain. Despite the patina of unity at the end, the Democrats, like their GOP adversaries, seem divided as to their future direction. Each party is being pulled to the extremes by an increasingly unruly base which regards its own establishment as a cesspool of corruption, influence-peddling and naked opportunism.
The sad decline in race relations has focused, almost exclusively, on the age-old, and sadly growing, chasm between black and white. Yet this divide may prove far less important, particularly in this election, than the direction of the Latino community.
The information sector may have glamour and manufacturing, nostalgia appeal, but the real action in high-wage job growth in the United States is in the vast realm of professional and business services. This is not only the largest high-wage part of the economy, employing just under 20 million people at an average salary of $30 an hour, it’s also one the few high-wage sectors in which employment has expanded steadily since 2010, at more than 3% a year, adding nearly 3 million white-collar jobs.
Barack Obama came to office with a promise of “fundamentally transforming the United States.” Through what one admirer calls “a profound course correction engineered by relentless government activism,” Obama has, indeed, transformed the country and shifted it to what now passes for the Left agenda on America’s role in the world, the environment, gender issues, labor rights and untrammeled executive power over both Congress and local governments.
With a stronger economy and a growing number of women of child-bearing age, Americans should be producing offspring at a healthy clip. But the most recent data suggest that this is not happening, as the birthrate in 2015 dropped to a historic low. A new study from the University of New Hampshire suggests that these trends have resulted in 3.4 million fewer births since 2008, based on the pre-recession fertility rate, or roughly 15 percent fewer births than would have occurred at the 2007 birth rate.
An unconventional, sometimes incoherent, resistance arises to the elites who keep explaining why changes that hurt the middle class are actually for its own good.
The Great Rebellion is on and where it leads nobody knows.
Its expressions range from Brexit to the Trump phenomena and includes neo-nationalist and unconventional insurgent movement around the world. It shares no single leader, party or ideology. Its very incoherence, combined with the blindness of its elite opposition, has made it hard for the established parties across what’s left of the democratic world to contain it.
The issue of race has scarred the entirety of U.S. history. Although sometimes overshadowed by the arguably more deep-seated issue of class, the racial divide is a festering wound that decent Americans, including politicians, genuinely want to heal.
The famous shot heard “’round the world” this time came from the other side of the Atlantic, but its longtime impact could be equally profound. By voting to leave the European Union and its intrusive bureaucracy, the British people have also risen up against a regime of crony capitalism that has encumbered and perverted democracy across the entire Western world.
The implications, of course, are greatest for Britain and Europe, but they will affect politics here in North America. The Brexit raises to first priority the more general debate about the trajectory of global capitalism which, for all its many accomplishments, has grown to resemble, in its haughtiness and inbreeding, the very statist despotisms that it was supposed to overturn.
The campaign to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union, widely known as “Brexit,” is potentially on the verge of a huge victory Thursday despite overwhelming opposition in the media and among the corporate and political establishment. The outcome matters not just as an expression of arcane British insularity, but as evidence of a growing rebellion against the ever greater consolidation and concentration of power now occurring across all of Europe, as well as here in the United States.