Capitalism’s Triumph over Feudalism

Joel Kotkin, an urban geographer, demographer, and prolific futurist, argues in a new book that the United States is headed toward “neo-feudalism,” where individuals have a fixed position in the social hierarchy, mostly determined by heredity.

But his evidence is unconvincing.

Rather than feudalism, we are headed toward hyper-capitalism, where each person is an entrepreneur constantly selling his or her services to the highest bidder. Thus, although it’s beautifully written, pleasantly brief, and full of interesting information, Kotkin’s book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, fails to persuade.

Joel Kotkin

The dark vision of a sunny man

Want to be afraid...really afraid?

Kotkin writes,

A poll conducted by the [Victims of] Communism Memorial Foundation in 2016 found that 44% of American millennials favored socialism while 14% chose fascism or communism. By 2024 millennials will be the country’s biggest voting bloc by far.

Coming from a man whose disposition has been sunny for his entire career, and whose books and articles promote “an America where solutions trump ideology,” this nugget is not good. We have always had socialists and communists in our midst, but fascism? Really?

I don’t believe the poll. Other surveys of the young, admittedly from before the pandemic and current economic uncertainty, showed that they favor “economic moderation” while holding liberal social views.1 The poll results are surprising as well as alarming.

Here's a more typical Kotkin prognostication, from 2010:

...[I]f we look beyond the short-term hardship [of the Great Recession], there are many reasons to believe that America will remain ascendant well into the middle decades of this century... [O]ne important reason is people. From 2000 to 2050, the U.S. will add another 100 million to its population... putting the country on a growth track far faster than most other major nations in the world. And with that growth... will come a host of relative economic and social benefits.2

This 2010 quote exemplifies the sunny Kotkin I know and love, and whom I invited to speak at a conference I helped organize a few years back.3 His talk was received with great enthusiasm – although a few audience members, recalling the zero-population growth zeitgeist of their youth, were surprised to hear Kotkin tell them they should have more children.