Sundown for California?


"I believe the difference between the literature of California's past and the literature to come will be the difference of expectation. There are children growing up in California today who take it as a given that the 101 North, the 405 South, and the 10 East are unavailable after two in the afternoon."

Richard Rodriguez's essay "Disappointment"

Joel Kotkin's cover story titled Sundown for California in The American magazine says: "The Golden State appears headed, if not for imminent disaster, then toward an unanticipated, maddening, and largely unnecessary mediocrity."

He marshals depressing data on slowing job growth (CA has third highest unemployment rate in the country), the collapse of the housing market (taken a drive around suburban Sacramento or Riverside recently?), and poverty rates in high-end cities like San Francisco which now lack a real middle-class. Out-migration statistics show residents are very aware of these problems: they're leaving. Read the whole thing.

Why is this decline "largely unnecessary"? In part because of years of breathtaking incompetency of State legislators in Sacramento especially on financial matters. Just in the last few days we've seen them argue over how to close this year's $11.2 billion deficit. This time the shitshow features a weak Arnold Schwarzenegger fighting Democrats so handcuffed by unions that they cannot accept rational modifications to the payroll system. As the Sacramento Bee editorialized, "California has seen epic failures of leadership before, but never over such an extended period and at such a perilous time."

This morning tech exec Jeff Nolan called for "massive civil disobedience" from Californians:

[T]he state is now saying that they will be paying their bills with IOUs come February. Taxpayers of this state should respond in kind with a massive civil disobedience campaign, let’s pay our taxes with IOUs to express our displeasure with the political leadership in Sacramento.

My question: Why aren't more Californians talking about the dire straits of our state? Why don't more citizens focus on local government?

Day-to-day, local politics and policies affect Americans as much as federal ones. Potholes, parks, schools: these are the issues of your city, county, and state government. Yet, most people follow politics only at the national level. This past election, lots of Californians flooded battleground states for Obama while ignoring pivotal issues closer to home. I know more than a few Obama volunteers who, stunned to return home to find gays stripped of rights, are wondering whether their efforts at progressive change should have been focused on their own community.

Obama and Washington D.C. will dominate the headlines the next few months. Let's not forget about working for change at the local level, especially in California. California needn't devolve into mediocrity. We still attract the best and brightest from all over the world, Silicon Valley and Hollywood are still engines of creativity, the weather still rocks, the culture / lifestyle still attracts misfits and rebels and people looking to find themselves. In other words, the ingredients that have made California the "Coast of Dreams" are still there. It's up to Californians themselves to tune in to local issues and fight to make sure this unique slice of paradise survives the next generation.

12 comments on “Sundown for California?
  • Ben, have you ever thought about going into politics/government? There’s real passion in this post (and others you’ve written about California).

  • Thought about it but for now it doesn’t interest me. I think the best way to affect change is to start companies / for-profit entrepreneurship.

    I will always enjoy reading/writing about politics and hope to financially support candidates I agree with in the future.

  • I’ve always thought California is a bit like Italy, beautiful; but ungovernable.

    Obviously, that’s a course generalization, but the governing structure of the state has rendered it subservient to a few very powerful lobbies, many of whom work within the government, who have a self-interest that goes against good governance. I don’t want to bash unions, but the fact that something like the prison guards union could be so powerful in the state is not a good sign.

  • The question isn’t if, but rather when California will collapse. The large urban areas like S.F. and L.A. dictate too much of our social policy and sap all the resources from the other productive areas of the state. Then level-headed politicians get called barbarians for talking about fiscal responsibility and cutting bureaucracy and low cost-to-benefit social programs.

    If CA does collapse in my lifetime I hope that a real discussion of separation will take place… heck there are already people that display So. Cal/Nor. Cal stickers on their vehicles.

  • Mike, I¹m not sure what you mean when you say SF and LA “sap all the
    resources from other productive areas of the state.” The Bay Area and Los
    Angeles County are huge economic drivers in California ‹ the only other area
    that’s close to as “productive” would be Central Valley agriculture, but
    that is a waning industry in America.

  • San Francisco – a liberal Mecca – without a middle class? How can that be? I thought liberalism was going to save us all?
    The sad fact is what happens in California impacts the rest of the country. Fed up liberals, take their home equity to other states, destroying the micro economy in other states, while changing the political landscape. Case in point: Colorado. We should have a 1 in 1 out policy for California. You all got yourselves into this mess, you can see fit to get yourself out without running other states.

  • I wasn’t saying they weren’t huge economic drivers. It just seems that they consume more than they produce for their communities.

  • I completely agree, Ben. As someone who intends to live in California forever, I’m really concerned and I really hope this election keeps grassroots action in people’s minds to begin to accomplish this kind of stuff. And of course, it’s everywhere that needs to start thinking on a local level. But particularly in CA, there’s so much amazing natural and human resources that should be able to grow to its highest potential.

  • >>>sap all the resources from the other productive areas of the state<<< Sorry, but if you look at the overall on a state or federal level, that's not how it works. Urban areas as a rule create more value than rural. Rural areas tend to be net users of value (and taxes) - ie more is spent per head/less is created per head, in rural areas. By definition there's little/no sizable industry in rural areas, and industry is the engine of value creation. There are no Microsofts or billionaire Bill Gateses in Minneola Tx (my home state). Even Buffett lives in Wichita KS, not in Emporia KS. Meanwhile, rural areas still have roads, electricity, phone lines, hospitals, schools, etc and most/all of those are usually subsidized in some way by state or federal taxes (paid into by the people living in more populous areas), or subsidized by corporate investment (often legally mandated because it's often not economically rational to provide services to rural areas -- post office? home phone lines? Not economically rational, but societally desirable). Agriculture is one of the rare rural industries -- and between heavily subsidized farm water (in CA) and the fed farm bills -- those are huge $$$ transfers from urban areas/taxpayers to rural areas/residents (and yes, some of that then transfers back in the form of cheaper food prices). Ditto at the federal level: the industrialized states subsidize the rural states. For every $1 that CA sends to DC, CA gets 90 cents back in federal expenditures; the more rural/less industrial states (like New Mexico) are net gainers. Hey, I like rural: I was raised in a rural part of the US. But it's simply not accurate to say that urban areas "consume more than they produce" compared to rural areas.

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