(This blog has been suffering its usual fate during California's spring. Neglect, that is. I've been out putting some miles on my hiking boots, thereby completing my rehab from getting the metal out of my leg. I'll try to unload a few things from the blogging queue before heading East to Virginia for vacation in a couple of weeks.)
I first noticed Joel Kotkin through bumping into links to his regular Forbes column. That led me on to the New Geography blog, where he's a frequent poster. A feed well worth following for those, like myself, looking for data and analytic points of view on location options.
For any who follow Kotkin at all, the main theses in this book - subtitled "America in 2050" will come as no surprise:
- Unlike other developed nations, America is still growing its population, and this is a good thing if we take advantage of it.
- The suburbs and exurbs are alive and well, will continue to prosper from the growing population, and are shifting from strictly bedroom communities to multi-faceted hubs in their own right.
- There is little sign of an aging population moving back to the urban cores.
- Locales that welcome development are growing and prospering, while those with regulatory land rationing stagnate.
- The American Heartland may be poised for a resurgence, due to overall population growth coupled with regulatory ossification of the coastal states.
- Race is diminishing as a factor in American life, while class and social mobility remain important.
- The biggest challenge facing America is finding work for the growing population which permits class mobility, while retaining the benefits of healthy seniors who wish to continue to work. The biggest threats to that future are centralized planning and overcommitment to foreign adventures.
If you're a believer in American exceptionalism, this is all good red meat. If you're an adherent of the 'New Urbanist" school, you'll hate it. What makes this book worth having, even if you've already ingested Kotkin's ideas elsewhere, is his exhaustive footnoting of analysis and forecasts, including both primary demographic and other data, and more accessible secondary sources. That's a luxury tough to fit into the blog post or opinion column formats, and if you're doing your own analysis, you'll almost certainly find something new in Kotkin's massive bibliography.
This also serves to highlight another valuable distinction of Kotkin: His work is largely descriptive and evidence based, grounded in both demographic fate and observable aggregate behaviors of people, rather than polls and theories. When he uses 'is' or 'will be', he's earned that formulation by observation. Contrast the futurist schools whose works are studded with 'should' and 'must', and are willing to lend their credibility to those who would use coercion to make it come out their way. (I consider it highly ironic that while 'progressives' of a century ago agitated to get the working classes out of tenements, those with the same label today seem determined to put them back there.)
Kotkin builds his theses of (sub)urbanism, ethnic blending, class, and Heartland resurgence brick by brick. In the his final chapter, titled the same as the book, he both sums up and inevitably ventures into politically-freighted territory. While he's no friend to GWB-style interventionism, and repeatedly cites the election of Obama as a positive in the decline of race consciousness, his conclusions on demographic outcomes, and what can be done to benefit from continuing American growth, are all at odds with the instincts and policies of the current administration, and the nanny-state Democrat majorities in DC and Sacramento.