By virtue of being chosen Joe Biden’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris of California has reasonable odds of becoming president someday—and probably better odds than the average running mate, given Biden’s advanced years and sometimes shaky public presentation. That’s cause for concern, not because she represents, as some conservatives fret, the far Left but because she will promote the spread of California’s increasingly feudal political and economic order, which undermines the upward mobility that long defined the California experience.
California today boasts a fabulously rich technology elite; it’s also home to the highest poverty rate among the states, adjusted for costs, according to the U.S. Census. Under its largely one-party regime, notes liberal economist James Galbraith, California has seen inequality grow at among the fastest rates in the country. The state endures the widest gap between middle and upper incomes in the country—72 percent, compared with a national average of 57 percent. The Golden State may see itself as a standard-bearer among advanced economies, but it suffers a level of inequality worse than Mexico. According to a recent United Way study, close to one in three families in the state are barely able to pay their bills.
California’s one-party system revolves around well-organized and well-funded interests, including tech moguls, Hollywood executives, green nonprofits, and unions. These interests have all been enthusiastic Harris backers and funders, and the senator and vice presidential nominee has also won over Wall Street, which appreciates her hands-off approach to regulation.
Any claim to populism—in the sense of overturning the current order—is fanciful when it comes to Harris. Her ties to the tech sector, including major backers of her failed presidential campaign, are particularly tight. Vox reports how she has “glad-handed” the tech top rank for decades, befriending the likes of Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, venture capitalist John Doerr, former Yahoo boss Marissa Meyer, Salesforce.com founder Marc Benioff, and Lauren Powell Jobs, widow of Steve Jobs. In contrast to Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, Harris is unlikely to push antitrust enforcement or defend free speech in ways that might inconvenience her backers. Concludes the radical-Left journal Jacobin: “Tech Monopolies Like Google Have a Friend in Kamala Harris.”
Yet closeness to Silicon Valley and Hollywood does not mean that Harris’s ascent will be good for businesses outside the charmed circle of tech and media conglomerates. Harris has backed a state tax and regulatory regime that has devastated the state’s middle and working classes. Once in the White House, she would presumably push similar policies ruinous for business—particularly small businesses unable to cope with high taxes, restrictive labor laws, and ever-more draconian environmental regulation.
Harris emerged last year as an early supporter of the Green New Deal, which roughly follows California’s hard-core environmental regime. Unlike Joe Biden, she favors banning all fracking. As California attorney general, she vigorously fought to use climate change-driven laws to force Californians out of their cars and homes for the supposed pleasures of public transit and apartment living.
Harris and her green allies are unlikely to be dissuaded by a long-term implosion in transit use, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, or by declining interest in urban living, even among millennial workers. Nor are they likely to reconsider renewable-energy policies, which enjoy heavy backing from the tech industry, though these policies consistently fail to deliver affordable, reliable energy, as Californians can attest to currently.
A future Harris administration would likely impose California’s green mandates on the nation. These measures have burdened California with electricity rates that since 2011 have increased five times as rapidly as the national average. They’ve also been linked to wildfires and, seemingly every summer, rolling blackouts. The state’s purposeful closing of nuclear and gas plants, notes environmental author Michael Shellenberger, means that “the tens of billions that Californians have spent on renewables come with high human, economic, and environmental costs.”
Under its local version of a Green Regime, California produces some high-wage jobs, but five times as many are below the median wage: a remarkable 86 percent of all new California jobs pay below the median income, while almost half pay under $40,000. Particularly vulnerable to the state’s crippling energy prices has been the traditionally higher-paying industrial sector. Over the last decade, California has fallen to the bottom half of states in terms of manufacturing employment growth, last year ranking 44th, with a new job-creation rate one-third to one-quarter that of prime competitors, such as Texas, Virginia, Arizona, Nevada, and Florida.
Though making up less than one-fifth of the state’s population, the Bay Area—the base for Harris, former governor Jerry Brown, current governor Gavin Newsom, Senator Dianne Feinstein, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—dominates California politics. With a large edge in Democratic registration, the area has been a fount of green and social-justice proposals cloaked in notionally progressive idealism but devastating to the middle and working classes.
Any notion that the Bay Area exemplifies egalitarianism falls apart on quick scrutiny. As recently as the 1980s, the San Jose area boasted one of the country’s most upwardly mobile economies, but with a greatly reduced industrial presence, it has morphed into what CityLab describes as “a region of segregated innovation,” where the rich add to their gains, the middle-class shrinks, and the poor live in increasingly chronic poverty. In San Francisco, a major center of the Bay Area tech scene, inequality grew most rapidly out of the nation’s large cities in the last decade, according to the Brookings Institution. The left-leaning California Budget and Policy Center has named the city first in California for economic inequality.
Yet despite this, and San Francisco’s growing reputation as crime-ridden, filthy, and ungovernable, Harris’s key allies still see the city as a role model for urban living. They ignore the reality that the vast majority of all new growth in the past decade has taken place in suburbs, even in the environs around San Francisco, which are 75 percent suburban.
If Kamala Harris eventually ascends to the presidency, it would mark the final step in the historic transition of the Democratic Party from a venerable party of the middle and working class to one centered around the peculiar interests of the digital economy. Harris has emerged as the perfect vessel for this epochal transition. Her intersectional bona fides fit perfectly with those of the tech elite, which, long pilloried for its dearth of non-Asian minorities and apparent misogyny, has been front and center embracing the radical agenda of Black Lives Matter.
Supposed stalwarts against racism and gender bias, tech pacesetters seem less concerned by the enormous gaps in class and race in their own backyards. Gregory Ferenstein, who interviewed 147 digital company founders, says most believe that “an increasingly greater share of economic wealth will be generated by a smaller slice of very talented or original people. Everyone else will increasingly subsist on some combination of part-time entrepreneurial ’gig work’ and government aid.”
Rather than seek to democratize and boost competition within the economy, many tech leaders embrace expanding the welfare state, a position that resonates with Democratic activists. Former head of Uber Travis Kalanick, Y Combinator founder Sam Altman, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Elon Musk all favor this form of top-down socialism, where a publicly funded guaranteed annual wage helps soften the worst effects of “disruption” on an increasingly redundant workforce. In a sense, the tech mavens have embraced the old aristocratic practice of offering what Marx called a “proletarian alms bag”—not just with guaranteed wages but also with free health care, free college, and housing subsidies—to a growing property-less class. The growth of a permanently dependent citizenry violates the aspirational character of the American republic, as would become more evident if Harris attains the helm.
As California’s attorney general, Harris was criticized by reformers for putting petty miscreants, like pot smokers, in jail, even while joking about her own use, and for being too deferential to law enforcement. In the post-George Floyd era, Harris has turned hard in the other direction, with nods towards support for “defunding” the police and other policies fueling a new urban crime wave. But we can expect Harris to embrace her tough-prosecutor mode in going after political enemies; she joined lawsuits against fossil-fuel executives for voicing doubts about climate change. Under a Harris administration, we could expect further expansion of the de-platforming and censorship of those caught not “right-thinking.”
The bottom line: don’t underestimate Kamala Harris. She is a savvy political operator. She will be hailed by the compliant media as a progressive egalitarian and an ideal promoter of the American dream —but if her past performance is any guide, she will be neither.
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