Democratic Presidential Debate, Biden and Sanders

Oligarchy and Pestilence

It’s January 21, 2021 and President Biden’s first full day in the White House. Surrounded by cheering key Democratic Party constituencies and financial backers, the new president proclaims a “climate emergency” – something proposed in the primaries by Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee and Bernie Sanders – placing essentially the entire economy under Washington’s control.

“I have ordered immediately the end of all new fracking and coastal energy exploration,” the new president tells the teleprompter. “Our entire economic system will be reshaped to reduce carbon emissions. The war on climate change is a war we must win.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, such an approach might have seemed far-fetched, particularly coming from a supposedly moderate political figure. But the mass shutdowns we now experience – likely necessary in a pandemic – could provide a model for imposing harsh actions to curb carbon emissions that activists consider as great or greater threats than the virus itself.

Unlike in the COVID-19 pandemic, the pain will be felt not so much on Main Street shops but more on vast industries such as aerospace, fossil fuel energy, the production of gasoline-powered automobiles and suburban home-building. This is no science fiction fantasy. These are industries designated as targets in the Green New Deal and more or less embraced in its broad strokes by virtually all leading national Democrats, including Joe Biden.

When he takes office – or some other more sentient figure like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo – the new president will inherit a governmental apparatus committed to the expansion of its own power. It will enjoy the support of Wall Street grandees and high-tech oligarchs seeking both social status and easy profits from an “energy transition.” Unless carefully controlled and monitored, the response to the current pandemic could end up leaving us with a system more akin to China’s authoritarian order, dominated by a narrow class of Mandarins and billionaires.

Already some environmentalists view the policies used to battle the virus, and the unprecedented course of actions, as a “test run” for what they believe will be necessary to save humanity. As in the Middle Ages, theology will play a central role in pushing an autocratic “solution.” In their oddly pious way, some environmentalists view the pandemic, like climate change, as a kind of “comeuppance” for the evil impact of humans on Earth. Nature is “sending us a message,” suggests UN’s environment chief, Inger Andersen referring to the virus, a view unsurprisingly embraced by zealots like The Guardian’s George Monbiot.

Recreating the Conditions for Autocracy

Throughout history, crises – like the COVID-19 pandemic – have been ideal opportunities for expanding centralized control of life, ostensibly for our own good. We are already seeing the potential rise of a new police state and in some countries, such as France, a rising incidence of informers, conspiracy theories, and even vigilantism.

Propaganda, relentless and clever, is critical for creating any kind of police state. The green movement and supporters of unlimited authoritarian steps to address the pandemic can now rely on the mainstream media’s often hysterical and innumerate reporting to provide political leaders with a rationale for uber-control.

Read the rest of the piece at RealClear Energy.

Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute — formerly the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His last book was The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us (Agate, 2017). His next book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class, is now available to preorder. You can follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Photo credit: screenshot from ABC Democratic Debate WMUR Segment video posted by Monica Hernandez via Vimeo.