By Joel Kotkin
Barack Obama has always wanted to be a transformational president, and in this, at least, he has been true to his word. The question is what kind of America is being created, and what future does it offer the next generation.
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 sharp contrast to the Bill Clinton White House, which accepted limits on government largesse, the newly emboldened progressives, citing inequality, are calling for more wealth transfers to the poorer parts of society, often eschewing the notion that the recipients work to actually improve their lives. The ever-expanding regulatory state has powerful backing in the media, on campuses and among some corporations. There is even a role model: to become like Europe.
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.
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. (my emphasis)
READ all of Joel Kotkin’s comments from The Orange County Register here .
Joel Kotkin is the R.C. Hobbs Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University in Orange and the executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism.
His most recent book is “The New Class Conflict” (Telos Publishing: 2014).