December 9, 2019

JOEL KOTKIN: The Middle Class Rebellion.

We usually associate rebellions with the rise of the desperate. But increasingly we are seeing large protests in comparatively wealthy countries that are led not by working class sans-culottes or starving peasants, but what was once the stable middle class.

Perhaps the best example today may be Hong Kong, where largely middle-class students and office workers are challenging the world’s most powerful autocracy, one that, by the way sees itself as the tribune of the “workers and peasants.” Although the protests are seen largely as based on issues of personal freedom and democracy, it also reflects a wider, deeper and more pervasive malaise in a city with a per capita income of $60,000, almost four times the national average and three time that of Beijing or Shanghai.

Whether in Europe, East Asia or the Americas, this new middle-class rebellion may be seen as what one Marxist publication called “a strike against the rising cost of living.”

Although the leftists identify this more with protests against things like subway fare hikes, in the latest uprising the key has been those things, notably energy and housing prices, which threaten to “proletarianize” the living standards of the not long ago decently comfortable.

Much of this rise in costs derives from virtue-signaling green policies adopted by the gentry, at the expense of the middle class:

Such policies have proven exceedingly unpopular among much of the middle orders, who have launched a devastating and occasionally violent gilets jaune rebellion. President Emmanuel Macron’s energy price rise may be popular in the salons of the Paris elite, but not so much among the vast majority, notably the 90 percent of regional residents who work outside the central district, as well as large swaths of smaller cities and towns of La France Périphérique.

Other rebellions against the urban climate agenda have spread to normally more placid places like Norway and the Netherlands. Steady energy price rises from green policies, as well as boosts in subway fares, have resulted in major protests around Chile’s capital Santiago, with 20 deaths and 1,200 injured.

Of course, no rational person would like to see similar violence spread or would oppose sensible environmental policy that does not target the middle orders. But it will continue worsen as long as policy makers, and the private sector, ignore the basic needs and aspirations of the majority population. If not, this rebellion will spread beyond places like Paris, Santiago and Hong Kong, with political consequences that will be difficult to predict but could be profound.

The green religion demands sacrifice, mostly from the lower orders.

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