Saturday, February 21, 2009

California: The land of narcissism

For decades, California has epitomized America's economic strengths: technological excellence, artistic creativity, agricultural fecundity and an intrepid entrepreneurial spirit. Yet lately California has projected a grimmer vision of a politically divided, economically stagnant state. Last week its legislature cut a deal to close its $42 billion budget deficit, but its larger problems remain.

California has returned from the dead before, most recently in the mid-1990s. But the odds that the Golden State can reinvent itself again seem long. The buffoonish current governor and a legislature divided between hysterical greens, public-employee lackeys and Neanderthal Republicans have turned the state into a fiscal laughingstock. Meanwhile, more of its middle class migrates out while a large and undereducated underclass (much of it Latino) faces dim prospects. It sometimes seems the people running the state have little feel for the very things that constitute its essence—and could allow California to reinvent itself, and the American future, once again.

The facts at hand are pretty dreary. California entered the recession early last year, according to the Forecast Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and is expected to lag behind the nation well into 2011. Unemployment stands at roughly 10 percent, ahead only of Rust Belt basket cases like Michigan and East Coast calamity Rhode Island. Not surprisingly, people are fleeing this mounting disaster. Net outmigration has been growing every year since about 2003 and should reach well over 200,000 by 2011. This outflow would be far greater, notes demographer Wendell Cox, if not for the fact that many residents can't sell their homes and are essentially held prisoner by their mortgages...

For those of us on the left coast this is a pretty good read. I could and do quibble with some of the author's points. I happen to think the Governor is one of the few rational people in Sacramento (though he has an ego that is bigger than the state). But broadly speaking I think he nails it on the head.

Read it all here.


Chris Jones said...

I agree that this author pretty much hits the mark.

My family's roots in California go back five generations (my grandfather got his start as a wine grower in the Central Valley), but we moved East about ten years ago. It's hard to pin down exactly what made us want to leave, but the "narcissism" this author talks about is pretty close to the heart of it. I lived most of my life in the center of that narcissism, the Bay Area. I grew up in Marin County (the birthplace of "gentry liberalism") and lived for twenty years in Oakland. But along about the mid-90s, we just couldn't take it any more.

Where we live now -- New England -- is just as liberal politically as the Bay Area (as something of a paleo-conservative, I'm just as out of place either way). But the people here aren't constantly congratulating themselves on how enlightened they are, nor looking down their noses at the rubes and hicks in flyover country. They manage to be liberal while still being down-to-earth and not taking themselves too seriously.

I have my quibbles with the article, too. I don't know enough about how Schwarzenegger has performed as governor to have an opinion, but calling him a "buffoon" because he used to be an actor and has a funny accent reminds me of how people used to mock Ronald Reagan. And he proved that being an actor didn't disqualify someone from being a great statesman.

Also the author doesn't have anything good to say about Jerry Brown, whom I have always liked (oddly enough, given my conservatism). By all accounts Brown was pretty successful as mayor of Oakland. And if the writer wanted to talk about political buffoons, he could do no better than to mention Brown's successor in Oakland, the execrable Ron Dellums.

DavidD said...

The Gubinator isn't a baffoon. But I do think that ego is his kryptonite. He made some modest proposals a few years back that might have mitigated this disaster, but California was not interested (at the height of the housing boom everyone thought they could have anything). When he was to publicly humiliated, he essentially switched parties.

I think the article is wrong about the recovery in the 1990s. It's my belief that the turn around wasn't because of the fundamentals, it was a result of the dot-com fiasco and the subsequently even more unrealistic housing boom. We are a state of real estate agents and venture capitalists, and if it isn't booming, it's bust.

Californians want to be the best at what they do and let everything else be done by someone else. People I know out here would rather work 60-70 hour weeks and pay someone else to raise their kids.

We're just reaping what we sowed.