I think that Joel Kotkin is onto something in this Daily Beast post but I think I’d phrase it a bit differently. I do think that there is a “war” underway between conflicting views of what this country should be like. I think that the conflict is a lot more complicated than between Red States and Blue States. I agree that, ultimately, the battle is about what the economy will be like.
You can see the divide in all sorts of policies from educational policy to trade policy. For the last twenty years educational policy has focused on higher education. That policy is intrinsically one that leaves 40% of the people behind. It’s simply irrelevant to that 40%. At the very outside about 60% of people have the ability to do college level work. It may be as low as 50%. Coincidentally, in the countries with the highest percentages of people with college degrees, right around 50% of people have them.
What is to become of the rest of the people? Nothing. They’re left to live their lives of, as James Thurber put it, noisy desperation in decaying inner cities or once-flourishing countrysides.
For forty years our trade policy has pushed manufacturing out of the United States, to Japan, South Korea, China, and Viet Nam where it’s safely out of sight. That hasn’t made manufacturing less dirty, dangerous, or less polluting. It’s just put it where it doesn’t spoil the view in Marin County.
On one side of the conflict are self-designated elites who think that the Worthy careers are in healthcare, education, finance, information technology, communications, and the arts and the Unworthy ones are in manufacturing, mining, energy, logging, and farming and non-elites, i.e. everybody else. Careers where you stay neat and tidy in nice clean offices. On the weekends you retreat to pristine wildernesses or beautiful seasides, unencumbered by other human beings. On the other side of the conflict are non-elites, i.e. everybody else.
Now to Kotkin’s remarks:
In this way California already shows us something of what an economy dominated by the intangible sectors might look like. Driven by the “brains” of the tech culture, the ingenuity of the “creative class,” and, most of all, by piles of cash from Wall Street, hedge funds, and venture capitalists, the tech oligarchs have shaped a new kind of post-industrial political economy.
It is really now a state of two realities, one the glamorous software and media-based economy concentrated in certain coastal areas, surrounded by a rotting, and increasingly impoverished, interior. Far from the glamour zones of San Francisco, the detritus of the fading tangible economy is shockingly evident. Overall nearly a quarter of Californians live in poverty, the highest percentage of any state. According to a recent United Way study, almost one in three Californians is barely able to pay his or her bills.
In contrast to engineers laboring in Houston or Detroit, those who work in Silicon Valley focus largely on the intangible economy based on media and software. The denizens of the various social media, and big data firms have little appreciation of the difficulties faced by those who build their products, create their energy, and grow their food. Unlike the factory or port economies of the past, those with jobs in the new “creative” economy also have little meaningful interaction with working class labor, even as they finance politicians who claim to speak for those blue collar voters.
This may explain the extraordinary gap between the economies—and the expectations—of coastal and interior California. The higher energy prices and often draconian regulations that prevented California from participating in the industrial renaissance are hardly issues to companies that keep their servers in cheap energy areas of the Southwest or Pacific Northwest and (think Apple) manufacture most if not all of their products in Asia.
My preferred solution is one of balance. Stop subsidizing the Worthy sectors. They don’t need it. Stop penalizing the Unworthy sectors or, at the very least, realize that the a pound of pollution is a pound of pollution whether it’s in the United States or China.
In the final analysis the Eloi need the Morlocks not merely economically but morally, in terms of the qualities that the Morlocks continue to possess but the Eloi have lost. They can’t survive without them. If today’s Eloi are to escape the fate that Wells’s fictional future held for them, they’ve got to moderate their own views of the ideal world to include the dirty, sweaty, dangerous work they’d prefer to put far away.