This original and provocative book should stimulate fresh thinking -- and produce vigorous dissent. In essence, Kotkin argues that an alliance between superwealthy elites in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street and what he calls the “clerisy” of upper-middle-class professionals is driving the American middle class proper to the brink. The middle class, Kotkin argues, depends on things such as cheap energy, heavy industry, land-use rules that favor single-family housing, regional-planning policies that reduce the cost of homeownership, and more effective border control to protect lower-skilled workers from wage competition. Those policies are anathema to climate change activists, conservationists, and “new urbanists” (who see a revival of dense urban cores as good social and environmental policy). Kotkin foresees bitter political conflict between populists and environmentalists, and if The New Class Conflict is even partly right, interesting times lie ahead. Populism has always been one of the driving forces in U.S. politics, but as Kotkin reminds us, neither the liberal left nor the Tea Party right fully captures populist aspirations.
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