Joel Kotkin – Author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class
Welcome to the end of democracy
A rising tide of money and administrative power defines the rising autocracy
January 3, 2022 | 11:45 am
FROM THE MAGAZINE
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.
This promises to create a new crop of mega-billionaires like Elon Musk, today the world’s richest man. 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. Nice work if you can get it.
For the middle and working classes, however, the Great Reset may prove somewhat less promising — if not disastrous. For most people, notes Eric Heymann, a senior economist at Deutsche Bank Research, the rapid ‘green’ transition will mean ‘a noticeable loss of welfare and jobs.’ 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. …
Meanwhile, large tech firms and financial giants — even those sceptical about climate change zealotry — see the prospect of record profits and valuations in ‘disruption.’ The pandemic accelerated the white-collar shift to remote work, and the broader demand for automated solutions skyrocketed. A future less reliant on human labor elevates the tech oligarchs to the highest perch on what Lenin called ‘the commanding heights’ of the economy.
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,
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.
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. …
The fusion of government with large oligopolistic companies, and the technologically-enhanced collection of private information, allow the new autocracies to monitor our lives in ways that Mao, Stalin or Hitler would have envied. A rising tide of money and administrative power defines the rising autocracy. If we as citizens, whatever our political orientation, are not vigilant, our democracy will become an increasingly hollow vessel.