The new global class war

Western elites' climate obsession is impoverishing the world's poorest.

Joel Kotkin

Joel Kotkin

Topics Politics Science & Tech World

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In The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels warned that the ‘spectre’ of class war loomed over a rapidly industrialising capitalist world. Today, the neoliberal world is increasingly haunted by a similar spectre, this time of a global class conflict.

This conflict was evident at the recently completed COP27 gabfest-turned-guiltfest. Having exhausted their apocalyptic pronouncements, the assembled woke corporations, bureaucrats and obscenely financed nonprofits have now been compelled to offer reparations to poorer countries for their carbon sins. They call it ‘climate justice’.

Climate reparations may appeal to the perennially virtuous elites of the EU, the UK and, most of all, the US. But not so much to the middle and working classes, who will suffer the consequences in terms of higher taxes and the loss of decent jobs in industries like logistics, manufacturing and energy during what could turn brutal in any coming downturn. The US alone has pledged up to $1 billion to mostly corrupt Third World countries. But it is unlikely to be popular among hoi polloi. Moreover, much of this ‘blood money’ will simply line the pockets of kleptocrats at the helm of many countries. And so far, oddly, nothing is being demanded of China, the world’s preeminent and growing emitter of greenhouse gases.

For their part, the middle and working classes in the developed world may not be experts on geopolitics. But they likely know a scam when they see one, particularly given they will be the ones paying for it.

As is now clear, voters in ‘rich’ countries will put protecting themselves and their families over assuaging the consciences of the upper echelons. We can see this in many countries. In the recent US Midterms, the GOP may have messed up tactically, but it still won the popular congressional vote by a surprising margin. If the increasingly marginal Donald Trump and his idiot enablers in places like Pennsylvania had not ruined the ‘red wave’, we would likely be looking at strong Republican control of both houses.

Remarkably, the Republicans even made advances in cities and among Hispanics, Asians and African Americans, while maintaining a near two-thirds edge among white working-class voters. This is not the old right, based on religious or market fundamentalism. Many of these new Republicans used to be Democrats, and a large segment consists of small-business owners. They clearly are turned off by the incessant anti-family identity politics of the left, but they are also worried about the economy, and the rise in rent and food prices. Some 60 per cent of Americans are now living paycheck to paycheck.

On paper, the left should be in a position to benefit from the looming recession. But for now, it has abandoned the essential economics of traditional social democracy. Climate change may be a fixation among the chosen of global capitalism and their massive nonprofits, but it remains a marginal issue among the voting public. As Gallup notes, most people are far more concerned about inflation, crime and immigration.

This new class conflict is redefining politics across the West, and it may become more intense with the onset of winter. We can also see its emergence in Europe, where Italy and Sweden have shifted to the right, as well as in Poland, where 80 per cent of the population favours nuclear power. Even in France, President Emmanuel Macron is now favouring the reopening of nuclear power plants and is trying to crack down on immigration. He increasingly sounds more like Marine Le Pen than his left-wing challenger, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

In much of Europe, the right is not the fascist movement that the mainstream media imagines. Most right-wing parties are not even that illiberal. They support, as commentator Dominic Green suggests, the policies of Europe’s old ‘centre right’, committed to constitutional norms and the maintenance of the welfare state. Similarly, in prosperous East Asia, notably in South Korea, and Japan, the trend is towards conservative nationalism.

In the developing world, the picture looks very different, but still expresses a similar disenchantment with globalist cant. Developing nations are fed up of being harangued by Hollywood stars and the heirs of the Kennedys or the Gettys, who are all desperate to prevent their access to fossil fuels. Realising that Western capital is not really going to bail them out, left-wing populists have taken almost complete control in countries across Latin America.

In nations in Africa and the Middle East, authoritarianism and state power are on the rise. Like their working- and middle-class counterparts in the West, these struggling regimes are widely sceptical of the West’s green austerity, even if they are more than willing to take ‘reparations’. They are also sceptical about the promise that ‘green energy’ will be cheaper – indeed, it is in the most green-centric places, like Germany and California, where energy prices are highest.

The neoliberal elites could be miscalculating on a grand scale. The brighter bulbs in the developing world do not want alms and permanent second-class status, but dollars to build their economies. They may pocket the blood money and then turn to other countries – notably China – to build nuclear, gas and even coal plants. They want to sell their resources to places that do not have bureaucratic nonprofits telling them what they can and cannot trade or consume.

This is simply self-interest at work. When climate-conscious Western governments, increasingly woke corporations and nonprofits try to restrict access to fossil fuels, they are also blocking the path to prosperity for the world’s poorest nations. At a time when electricity has become less available in the developing world for the first time in decades, fossil-fuel expansion is critical to reducing poverty in many African and other developing nations. Particularly as Europeans are now tapping out the remaining sources of natural gas, while telling the Third World to stick to emissions targets.

This political shift reflects the essence of climate scientist Roger Pielke Jr’s ‘iron law of climate policy’. When the choice is between abstract principles and expanding their economies, developing nations will choose the latter. Providing energy and feeding the population will always take priority over reducing emissions.

This also explains the widespread reluctance of these countries – including democracies like Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and most importantly India – to join the West’s crusade against the brutal Russian actions in Ukraine. For them, Russia isn’t seen as a major problem. It is also a major exporter of both energy and food to many of these countries.

The developing world has other things to worry about than jeremiads from the White House, patronising mega-billionaires or Greta Thunberg. The people of Africa and in other developing nations are essentially a global proletariat. Indeed, 50 of these nations are already about to default on their debt, according to the United Nations.

Although they may be pulling from different ends, the global South and the non-elites of the West have much in common. They are both challenging the putative global ruling class. Together, they may plunge the neoliberal order into a well-deserved existential crisis, and it couldn’t happen to a more deserving group of people. Down at Highgate Cemetery, Karl Marx may be having a wry smile.

Joel Kotkin is a spiked columnist, the presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Urban Reform Institute. His latest book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, is out now. Follow him on Twitter: @joelkotkin

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics Science & Tech World


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