The Great Divide

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.

28 comments… add one
  • jan Link

    Isn’t “balance” really a universal remedy for most ills? The problem with our ultra polarized country today is that when one party achieves power it literally tramples the ideals of the other half.

    Today it’s the progressive’s theater in play — like it or lump it!


    Isn’t it better when everyone’s needs are at least taken into consideration?

  • Guarneri Link

    I take exception to what I consider a gross generalization by Mr Kotkin. That said, I arrive at your conclusion.

    Personally, and many I have known or know in my career, don’t neatly fit into Kotkins description. I spent 6 years working in the armpit of the nation, East Chicago, IN Ina steelmaking shop no less. Hot, cold. Smokey, loud, dangerous. Icky. And since getting into the private equity business here is a sampling of the locations of businesses purchased; none looked out over San Francisco Bay: Youngstown, OH, Cleveland, OH, Springfield, OH, Austin, TX, El Paso, TX, Ft Worth, TX (heh, lots of TX and OH) Ocala, FL, Franklin, MA, Phoenix, AZ, (not Scottsdale) rural, SC,Omaha, NE etc etc. The best location was Santa Barbara; of course there was one in the Central Valley. You get the picture. And there are lots of private equity firms with a similar profile.

    If we want to have a manufacturing base we are going to have to allow for icky factories in icky locations making icky byproducts. You don’t make steel on Madison Avenue and store the waste in Iron Mountain. Kotkin is correct in that looking down our noses at the people, activities and locations of the manufacturing base (and Dave in noting that you don’t subsidize non-icky activities) is a sure way to destructively unbalance an economy, and create conflict.

    I’d ask anyone, who really is more guilty of that mindset and advocating policies that feed it, our “progressive” friends, or those not located in about 6-8 major metropolitan an areas? Here’s a hint. There is a certain infrequent commenter here who loves to remind us of the wonders of California while writing books and sitting overlooking The Bay…………and heaping scorn on the residents of TN, AL or AK. We made a fortune on investments in Hot Springs, AK and Florence, AL. And the people who worked there bought cars, took vacations and put their kids through school. No, they didn’t vacation in France like our author friend, but I know who I more closely identify with.

  • TastyBits Link

    The other dirty, dangerous, polluting byproduct of manufacturing is Joe Sixpack.

    He cannot speak grammatically or stylistically correct. He drives gas guzzlers and does not care about the environment. He does not think his dog is one of the family, and he treats him as such. (dog tied up in yard, no surgery, no cemetery plot) He itches his balls. More importantly, he has balls.

    He is an impediment to the Progressive medieval mindset.

  • steve Link

    So much nonsense here I don’t know where to begin. I have baled a bit of straw in my life, but there are so many straw men here it is probably more straw than i have ever seen. So lets just go after a few.

    First, you don’t see people heaping scorn on Joe sixpack, another way of saying Southerner or working class guy, because of what he does for a living. Because of how they treat their dogs (in fact, please come visit with me in coal country and a lot of Joe’s do treat their dogs like family). They do heap scorn on them because they think gays should die. Oops, that is so 1980’s of me. Now, they just don’t want them to get married, get served in restaurants or serve in the military. Because they think the answer to gun violence is to give everyone guns. Because, based upon their religious beliefs, they think women should be homemakers. (Just ask my brother and his wife.) So, I don’t read OTB every day, but if you find any examples of people making fun of folks because they are plumbers, electricians or work in a factory, I would be surprised. This would actually be pretty easy to confirm. You could actually ask Michael or one of the weirdos at OTB what they think of factory workers, restaurant workers or construction guys, but it won’t happen. You guys will much prefer to live with your straw men.

    Next, yes, there is often a separation in cultures between the rich and not rich. Guess what? This doesn’t happen just in California. The born into wealth and became doctors (they needed something to do) who are devout libertarians I know aren’t hanging out with any poor folks. They do get invited to Trump money raising events. They show me the pictures and, well maybe there is a laundry worker there somewhere and they missed them in the pictures, but I doubt it. The reality is that we are becoming, have become, a 2 tiered society. A lot of that is because of our preferred policies. That would include our tax policy, our regulatory policies and our culture. Yes, we subsidize education, but yes, we have the wealthy sending their kids to $15,000 SAT/college prep camps.

    Finally, manufacturing did not go overseas because some progressives though tit was icky. That is just bizarre. It went overseas because profits were higher. All of those call centers going overseas? Just a bunch of people sitting in offices? No pollution. Not icky. Went overseas of the same reason. Labor is cheaper. They went to benefit shareholders and, mostly, executives in the companies. Notice who has been getting wealthier because those industries went overseas. Some mysterious progressives? Hell no. The wealthy getting wealthier. Why is it that money is considered an incentive when we talk about taxes, but when it comes to profits it doesn’t matter? Nope, we don’t care about profits one tiny bit. It was the icky factor and we had to keep 200 people in Silicon Valley happy by getting rid of manufacturing in Tennessee. LOL.

    Last of all, I am writing this in our soup kitchen and have to go work, should I point out that all of those icky factory workers were, for the most part, solid Democrats, i.e. liberals? That the people sending them overseas, and making the money, were, for the most part, solid conservatives?


  • PD Shaw Link

    Nice stereotyping, steve.

    You are the one that causally supports eliminating 50 pipeline jobs (or whatever number). Is that because you think they would go to gay-hating, gun-toting sexists?

  • steve:

    You might try reconciling your narrative with the Obama Administration’s attitude towards coal, something they have explicitly opposed for environmental reasons. Manufacturing takes energy, more concentrated, reliable energy than can be produced by solar or wind power.

    The U. S. used to lead the world in rare earths production. We lost our lead to the Chinese not because wages were too high here but because environmental regulations raised the costs of production too high.

  • ... Link

    Now, they just don’t want them to get married, get served in restaurants or serve in the military. Because they think the answer to gun violence is to give everyone guns.

    yeah, not catering an event is exactly like not serving someone in a restaurant without getting confirmation that they’re straight.

    And the liberal mindset that taking guns away from people like my friends (none of whom have records) will stop some gang-banging shithead from popping a cap in some other gang-banger’s children is so entirely rational.

    But do carry on. After you spoke of whole towns in Central Florida refusing to serve black people in 1989, I’ve known you were completely dishonest, so this doesn’t really surprise. I’ll skip the rest of the comment.

  • TastyBits Link


    I must have missed all the Progressives in the poor and low income neighborhoods. I am guessing they are in disguise at the monster truck races, NASCAR events, Comic-Con, and wrestling events.

    Give it a break. I have gone over the financial industry’s symbiotic relationship with the progressive environmental (including humans) issues. Most of the people involved are too stupid to understand they are being used.

    The progressive lifestyle cannot be sustained on hope and positive feelings. It takes real people creating real goods by adding real value to raw materials, and for every non-real good created, that wasted energy and raw material needs to be replaced by the actual workers.

    The professor teaching Women’s Studies adds no value to the economy. He/she is worthless. Their salary and overhead must be made up by somebody somewhere creating additional goods to cover this wastrel. Multiply this by all the other progressive nonsense, and it begins to add up.

    The millennials are getting a dose of reality, and there is no safe space that can save them. The poor and lower income white people are easy to dismiss. Newsflash: The poor and lower income black people are not much different, but they will not be so easy to The Black Lives Matter crowd is not going away anytime soon.

    If I understand correctly, it is not that you dislike Joe Sixpack, you just dislike everything about him, and if he is willing to recant, you would welcome him with open arms. Otherwise, he will be burned at the stake.

    Progressivism: The medieval religion that refuses to acknowledge it is a religion.

  • Don’t think of the divide as a partisan one. It’s not Democrats vs. Republicans.

    Look up “Washington consensus”. There is a consensus among political and economic elites that favors what I’ve characterized as the Worthy sectors and pushes the Unworthy sectors off-shore.

    Return to what I wrote. Our education policy implicitly ignores at least 40% of the people—the people who simply can’t do college level work. The student loan program that’s been grafted onto our education policy favors bankers at the expense of everybody else (Bernie Sanders has got this part right—it’s the solutions he proposes I find problematic). That 40% of the people might be miners or farmers or factory workers but they’re not going to be doctors, lawyers, accountants, or even computer programmers. It’s a bipartisan policy, supported both by Republicans and Democrats. Our energy policy is one that favors Worthy sectors and hurts Unworthy ones.

    Then there are the direct subsidies paid to the education, healthcare, etc. sectors.

    Indeed, our education policy might be ignoring a lot more than 40% of the people. It only takes into account those who already have high school diplomas. That excludes about half of those who weren’t born here.

  • PD Shaw Link

    Local paper had another story this week about a vocational program being dropped. I’ve read numerous similar articles across Illinois, and in each a teacher or administrator directly or implicitly pointing to: (1) the bi-partisan no-child-left behind law crowding out funding, and (2) political leaders talking-down non-college occupational paths.

  • Guarneri Link

    It’s not the most pleasant visual, TB, but he “scratches” his balls. Just sayin…… 😉

  • Guarneri Link

    “It’s not Democrats vs. Republicans.”

    I think that’s fair, but it would still claim that there is, if not partisan, a deep philosophical divide, about the role of, as you put it, Worthy and Unworthy economic endeavors.

    Last time I looked we had an overall growth problem, and an acute manufacturing sector problem. For the life of me I don’t understand why we continue to weight down sectors, from training through regulations.

  • Guarneri Link

    “Last of all, I am writing this in our soup kitchen and have to go work, should I point out that all of those icky factory workers were, for the most part, solid Democrats, i.e. liberals? That the people sending them overseas, and making the money, were, for the most part, solid conservatives?”

    Reagan democrats, steve. The guy you love to hate.

  • Guarneri Link

    “The U. S. used to lead the world in rare earths production. We lost our lead to the Chinese not because wages were too high here but because environmental regulations raised the costs of production too high.”

    A perfect example of a superior technology for myriad applications driven out by regulation. And in delicious irony, two applications are in wind mills and high speed train brakes. Heh.

  • TastyBits Link


    I am tired of men who do not want to be men. You need to have a pair to be able to scratch. There are a lot of women with bigger balls than these 21st Century men.

    Progressives like to pretend that they hate the sin but love the sinner, but they stone the sinner. They are no different than the Christians who make the same claim. If it were true, you would try to help the sinner not destroy him/her.

    Like I said, Progressivism is a medieval religion.

  • steve Link

    Too swamped with work, but thought I would pass on this “stereotyping” . Cruz is still polling significant numbers, and this is what people are saying at the conferences he attends.

    After interviewing both Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal at his “National Religious Liberties Conference” this morning, radical right-wing pastor Kevin Swanson returned to the stage to discuss the issue of how Christians are to live in an increasingly debased and secular society.

    During his remarks, Swanson reiterated his view that both the Old and New Testament require the death penalty for the crime of homosexuality, as well as his position that any Christian who attends a gay wedding can only do so in order to hold up a sign informing the couple that they ought to be put to death.

    He drove home his point with a passionate declaration that if he ever found out that his own sons was gay and that son invited him to his wedding, he would show up covered in “sackcloth and ashes” and then smear himself in cow manure as he sat on the steps of the church and wailed lamentations.

    “There are families, we’re talking Christian families, pastors’ families, elders’ families from good, godly churches,” Swanson said, “whose sons are rebelling, hanging out with homosexuals and getting married and the parents are invited. What would you do if that was the case? Here is what I would do: sackcloth and ashes at the entrance to the church and I’d sit in cow manure and I’d spread it all over my body. That is what I would do and I’m not kidding, I’m not laughing.”

    “I’m grieving, I’m mourning, I’m pointing out the problem,” Swanson screamed as he went off about people trying to “carve happy faces on the sores” of a society that is utterly “messed up.”


  • TastyBits Link


    … Cruz is still polling significant numbers …

    This is absolutely false. It has never been true, and it has never even been close to being true. This displays the mental gymnastics progressives perform to arrive at their preferred conclusions.

    You have a Christian pastor who has no idea of what Jesus was trying to teach him. I am stunned. He hates gay people. I am stunned. I am sure he has a long list of people he hates, and I am sure I would be just as stunned. I have no doubt he preaches to “love the sinner but hate the sin” before stoning the sinner.

    As long as he and others do not physically touch anybody’s person or property and as long as they do not deny their Civil Rights (more than just racial), they can hate whomever they like, and they can try to recruit as many haters as possible.

    I know that upsets progressives. I realize that without a “save space” you all feel threatened. Tough. Grow up, and grow a pair.

    For those who doubt me when I say that good little progressives will call black people the most vile racial epitaphs when they actually live around them, take note of what they do when they cannot get their way on college campuses. On campus, they can safely express their hate, but in an urban environment, they have more sense than to express their hatred towards the black people they live amongst.

    Enjoy the nonsense while you can. We have passed Peak Progressivism. Everybody is tired of your antics – poor and low income blacks, liberals, and the other usual suspects. (Liberals are not Progressives. They believe in more freedom not less.)

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