The great Joel Kotkin, peerless observer and chronicler of the nation’s urban and municipal woes, takes on the Golden State and wonders: what the hell happened to what was once the nation’s greatest state. The answer will not surprise you:
California has long been a destination for those seeking a better place to live. For most of its history, the state enacted sensible policies that created one of the wealthiest and most innovative economies in human history. California realized the American dream but better, fostering a huge middle class that, for the most part, owned their homes, sent their kids to public schools, and found meaningful work connected to the state’s amazingly diverse, innovative economy.
Recently, though, the dream has been evaporating. Between 2003 and 2007, California state and local government spending grew 31 percent, even as the state’s population grew just 5 percent. The overall tax burden as a percentage of state income, once middling among the states, has risen to the sixth-highest in the nation, says the Tax Foundation. Since 1990, according to an analysis by California Lutheran University, the state’s share of overall U.S. employment has dropped a remarkable 10 percent…
What went so wrong? The answer lies in a change in the nature of progressive politics in California. During the second half of the twentieth century, the state shifted from an older progressivism, which emphasized infrastructure investment and business growth, to a newer version, which views the private sector much the way the Huns viewed a city–as something to be sacked and plundered. The result is two separate California realities: a lucrative one for the wealthy and for government workers, who are largely insulated from economic decline; and a grim one for the private-sector middle and working classes, who are fleeing the state.
Please read the whole thing to understand not just how California, which is currently being devoured alive by the public-pension monster known as CalPERS— the California Public Employee Retirement System — but the rest of the country is facing an eternal bottomless pit of “obligations” to our “public servants.”
Another villain: the green movement —
Historically, California did an enviable job in traditional approaches to conservation–protecting its coastline, preserving water and air resources, and turning large tracts of land into state parks. But much like the public-sector unions, California’s environmental movement has become so powerful that it feels free to push its agenda without regard for collateral damage done to the state’s economy and people. With productive industry in decline and the business community in disarray, even the harshest regulatory policies often meet little resistance in Sacramento.
In the Central Valley, for instance, regulations designed to save certain fish species have required 450,000 acres to go fallow. Unemployment is at 17 percent across the Valley; in some towns, like Mendota, it’s higher than 40 percent. Rick Wartzman, director of the Peter Drucker Institute, has described the vast agricultural region around Fresno as “California’s Detroit,” an area where workers and businesspeople “are fast becoming a more endangered species than Chinook salmon or delta smelt.” The fact that governments dominated by “progressives” are impoverishing whole regions isn’t merely an irony; it’s an abomination.
It’s not just an abomination: it’s a deliberate abomination, part of the suicide cult that is the modern Left.
Under the new progressives, it’s always hoi polloi who need to lower their expectations. More than four out of five Californians favor single-family homes, for example, but progressive thinkers like Robert Cruickshank, writing in California Progress Report, want to replace “the late 20th century suburban model of the California Dream” with “an urban, sustainable model that is backed by a strong public sector.” Of course, this new urban model will apply not to the wealthy progressives who own spacious homes in the suburbs but to the next generation, largely Latino and Asian. Robert Eyler, chair of the economics department at Sonoma State University, points out that wealthy aging yuppies in Sonoma County have little interest in reviving growth in the local economy, where office vacancy rates are close to those in Detroit. Instead, they favor policies, such as “smart growth” and an insistence on “renewable” energy sources, that would make the area look like a gated community–a green one, naturally.
Read the whole thing and weep — not just for California, but for your future.