The Californian Nightmare

Back when I lived there I remember seeing bumper stickers that read “US Out of El Salvador.” Just for kicks I made one up that read “US Out of California.” I’m not sure what my point was or even if I had one, but I’m wondering if now might be a good time to consider one that reads “California Out of the US.”

I love California. I love its land, or rather the land that isn’t infested with strip malls and condos. Before Bono became an egomaniac U2 spent time in Joshua Tree and,  inspired by its beauty and serenity, wrote the band’s best album. I’ve camped there too and felt a deep appreciation of the high desert – and without psychedelics no less. The waves of its beaches have calmed my restless young spirit and lulled me to sleep countless times, and the scenic beauty of Yosemite is beyond my skill to communicate properly except to mention that there is a reason Ansel Adams photographed the place so well.

I love the California dream. I love the idea of waking up in the Midwest one day, packing everything into the car and heading west, knowing that odds are 2 to 1 that the road will eventually run out in the Golden State. I love the idea that it doesn’t care where you are from, that as long as you have the talent and are willing to work hard, you can make it there. Or so it used to be.

I don’t love the reality of California. Overpriced homes sitting empty in tracts that spread concrete and stucco like a rash over valleys and mesas. Entire strip malls with “For Lease” signs in all the windows, as if San Clemente really needed another nail salon or dry cleaners. The feeling that unless one is young, super-rich or both you’ll never fit in and be accepted there.

Then there is the economic and political vacuum the state has been in for the past decade. Taxes soar along with the cost of living as jobs evaporate. A state that once prided itself on its self-sufficiency and can-do spirit has become a socialist paradise where everyone is a victim except the middle class, which isn’t rich enough to protect its wealth from the predatory state government. Joel Kotkin details the state’s growing nightmare in his piece The Golden State is Crumbling:

There is little chance that the jobs lost in these fields will ever be recovered under the current regime. As decent blue-collar and midlevel jobs disappear, California has gone from a rate of inequality about the national average in 1970, to among the most unequal in terms of income. The supposed solution to this—Gov. Jerry Brown’s promise of 500,000 “green jobs”—is being shown for what it really is, the kind of fantasy you tell young children so they will go to sleep.

It should come as no surprise to those of us who are suspicious of socialism in all its forms that the country’s most socialist state is now one of the most unequal in terms of income. Cuba, China, the former Soviet Union all have a thin layer of wealthy elite spouting Leninist and Maoist platitudes while the vast majority slaves away in poverty. That’s what happens when the smart money either co-opts the revolutionaries to maintain its wealth or flees abroad, leaving the reviled term “Bourgeoisie” to fall upon middle-class shoulders. The weight eventually crushes them until they are just as poor as everyone else that isn’t part of the elite. In that respect the Californian small businessman of today fighting losing battles against tax authorities and environmental regulation is no different from the kulaks shot by Stalin or the farmers starved by Mao.

I suppose Jerry Brown and his supporters will eventually learn what Mao’s successors have – that socialism is good in theory but capitalism pays the bills. But by then it will probably too late, and honestly, I don’t want to save the California voter’s butt for choosing as governor the same guy that wrecked the economy 35 years ago (although in fairness the Republicans didn’t offer much resistance – probably because they’ve fled the state.) To paraphrase my late mother-in-law, they chose this path. No one forced Californians to vote for Brown, create a defacto single-party state or accept over-regulation. They could have taken to the streets the same way they did in the 1970’s with Prop 13, creating a Tea Party-type revolt and driving out the taxation and regulation addicts in Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco and LA. But the Tea Party is weakest in California, the state that needs it the most – probably because the majority of Californians are either happy with the status quo or don’t understand that their actions have consequences.

Either way I don’t want them bailed out. Let them fend for themselves and if they can’t, perhaps we can sell California to the Chinese in exchange for wiping out our debt. Then California can become a Chinese province. Who knows, maybe Tom Friedman will be so happy that he’ll move there and write for Xinhua. We’ll just have to relocate a few Navy and Marine Corps bases (or perhaps leave them as sovereign US territories along the lines of Guantanamo after Castro took over Cuba). We can even make DC or Puerto Rico a state so that we don’t have to redo the flag.

Seriously though, I’d like to see California become a place worth going, a place where one doesn’t exist to serve the state or the environmental cause du jour. But elections have consequences and those consequences are falling fast upon the shoulders of Californians. They have it within their power to fix the mess they’ve put themselves in but will only do it if the Federal government doesn’t come to their rescue – and it won’t as long as Republicans control at least one part of the government.

People once traveled to California for a new start. Californians should stay put and do the same.

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  1. Steven:

    I read your bio before commenting, so I’d know “who you were” (snapshot), and think your site is great, btw.

    California, and other states that have been committing slow economic suicide should NOT be bailed out. If you subsidize something, you get more of it : in this case, bad economic planning.

    I am a constitutional-libertarian-conservative type, and, IMO, California, R.I., and other states have done this to themselves. Not only did they tax to much, regulate to much, over-promise WAY to much, and play the PC class warfare card way to much – but they never figured in the simple fact: if you keep treating people badly, they’ll simply pull up stakes and move on down the road.

    Those that stay, stay out of necessity, out of a desire for the generous social benefits, stay because of the amnesty cities, or stay because they truly love CA, come what may. But many entrepreneurs simply left. They could not compete with others who were doing things in other states far more cheaply due to lack of reglations, taxes, and the nanny-gov’t ideas that seem prevalent in CA.

    I used to regard California as “the left coast”, until I realized that there are a lot of conservative and / or libertarian folks who live there – but who just get out voted and can’t get much done. I’ve deployed (I’m military) with some folks loaned to us from the Calif. Army National Guard, and they were as professional and hard working as anyone else who I met in the sandbox.

    Bailing out CA is not an option. They are not “to big to fail”, they are “too entrenched to change”, and frankly I am sick to death of everyone who didn’t do fiscal planning in life having their hand out to me (with the government’s support of force) ‘asking’ for more ‘help’.

    It reminds me of a buddy of mine who decided to do some charity work for his church. He wanted to help deliver Christmas Dinners for needy families through his church. Now, he did want to see what “needy” meant also – it was a two-fold mission.

    As he told it, he went from home to home, delivering a full Christmas meal, with all the trimmings, large enough to feed all of the reported occupants of the home.

    When he showed up he saw a few things that made him decide to never do it again:
    1) Most people had over stated the number of occupants – often a family of 5 said 8 or 10 and planned to invite over friends, family, or just keep the left overs. That’s not NEED, that’s want.

    2) Most homes he went to had XBoxes, Flat Panel TVs, often had multiple computers, internet, cable TV, were decently to nicely furnished, and most people each had a cell phone – besides there being a home phone.

    3) Most Americans feel that being poor or needy means something quite different than other places in the world. I know, I’ve been to those places. They had 3-8 pairs of shoes for each occupant, 2-4 coats per occupant, nice clothes (multiple sets), and no one looked like they were starving. I mean, America seems to be the only place on Earth where “poor” people can be morbidly obese.

    4) Many homes he saw, as he put the food into the refrigerator, had beer and liquor (often being consumed while they were there) in their cold boxes. On more than a few occasions when they arrived they could smell freshly smoked weed, and Pete (my buddy) was offered said weed on two different occasions.

    5) Being a canny codger (ok, he’s only early 50’s) he struck up conversations commiserating on how little the gov’t assistance checks really didn’t cover the bills – and he, by this route, found out that, yes, many of these “poor” people were indeed on public assistance programs, and was offered advice on how to get more from the many many programs out there. “Free Money”

    Pete came away from that experience deciding he’d help out people on an individual basis, and never give blindly to a group again.


    How is this relevant? California and other “gimmie gimmie” states have this same attitude. The $100-1500 a month each person gets from various agencies is “theirs” and “they deserve it”, and, sure they own nice stuf [x], [y], and [z], but to them that’s also fair for them to “have their diginity” and necessary stuff. Meanwhile, sorry, but back at Camp Reality, no, really it’s not. That’s MY money you’re spending on beer, weed, XBoxes and games, new coats, extra pair of shoes, cell phones and what-nots.

    So, let California wake up to bankruptcy with the full economic hang-over the state deserves. It’s the only cure that’ll work. If you keep giving a “magic pill” to an alcoholic or a drug addict that takes away their hang-over, and keep funding their binges, trying to reason with them about how this is making the family poor and it’s “not fair” will never be the remedy for their addiction.

    And they need detox like yesterday.


  2. Scott Kirwin:

    Excellent points, Steven. I’ve had similar experience regarding poverty having lived and traveled in Tanzania. Poverty here is nothing like that you’ll see in Magambo, a village of 30,000 on Lake Tanganyika. If a kid had a single pair of shoes he was considered well-off by the standards of his peers.

  3. Steven:


    Thanks for replying. Besides the war zone areas I’ve been in – I’ve also seen the type of poverty you speak of in Indonesia, my wife’s home country. My wife’s family is quite affluent, but is many areas people are living in real, honest to God poverty.

    For instance, her family has 2 full time live in maids. They pay their maids, $50 and $80 a month for 12 hours of work a day, 350 days a year. Yes, you read that right: for the total monthly salary cost of $130 they have 2 live in maids. Now, to be clear, there is a social / cultural contract implied in this – in that they provide the maids a place to live, food, toiletries, and take care of them if they get sick. Let’s call it a grand total of $250-300 a month for two full time staff, available to them 24 hours a day, who are expected to work at least 12 hours a day.

    Now, lol, to be honest, when I first went to visit, I, being an independent person, military by training, and not silver spoon’d by how I was raised, I was a bit uncomfortable asking a person to get me a lemonade while I sat on my butt, and the fridge was 15 feet away.

    Also – being a typical American I was shocked, shocked I say, to find out about their “low wages”, and felt that maybe these women were being exploited. How ignorant I was. How typically American was my view.

    War (yes, that’s her name – pronounced Waaar) is the head maid, and has been with the family for 6 or 7 years. Back in her home village she had a husband and kids – but once she settled in she now has no intention of leaving. She goes home once or twice a year, mostly just to see her kids – as her husband is a Muslim, and treats her …. Well, not so good. My wife, being from Indonesia thinks our country’s preoccupation with Political Correctness is idiotic. She was a Christian Minority in her country, and she is very wary of Islam, and has seen first hand the reality of how women are treated.

    War doesn’t WANT to go home. She only sees here kids once or twice a year, she’s paid $80 a MONTH, and you’d have to PRY her away from my wife’s parent’s home.

    How is this relevant? In War’s village home, she has rough hewn floors, no electricity, no air conditioning, heat is from a dung stove, protection from mosquitoes is netting that is old and patched (if you HAVE it), her work is done without any convenience appliances we take for granted, and her water is carried, pail by pail from a river a mile away. That water is untreated, and must then be boiled, pot by pot, use by use. Showers? Hah. A car? Yea, right. A freaking MOPED? Some people have them – but they are a luxury or used for the family business.

    So – when Americans use class warfare propaganda to vilify “the rich”, like they are faceless, souless, heartless, selfish skinflints, instead of real people, with real lives and real families, who have acquired their wealth through entirely legal means – well, I’ve seen what real poverty is, and those that whine about “the rich should pay their fair share” (while paying essentially nil in income taxes after rebates) so that that welfare / nanny state can roll on down the tracks …. Brother, I’m not buying it.

    Like you Scott, I’ve seen real poverty, and seen how “my wife’s poor exploited maid” is deliriously happy to live in air conditioned comfort for $80 a month, and grateful to have a job.

    California and other states created a dependent group of sheeple for their own power base and voting blocs – and now they are reaping the long term harvest of creating a whole class of people who FEEL entitled to all sorts of benefits. It’s unsustainable, and no freaking way we should bail those idiots out.

    ****Again – they are not “too big to fail” – they are “too entrenched change”.

    Well, they beat up on “the evil corporations” so much that Joe E. Vil, corporation owner has left town, and take his evil corporation with him (or her), and now they are left with those that have their hands out and have come to feel entitled to, and fully expect, the benefits to keep rolling it.

    Nope – sorry – not my problem. I’ve saved 20% of my monthly paycheck (since I turned 32), and plan on making my own way upon retirement. AND I’m in the military – but not counting on that retirement due to our country’s pension debt crisis (and a lot of us are talking about that). I cannot afford, on top of that, to further subsidize someone else’s (nor a state’s) bad fiscal decisions. I just can’t. And even if I were STUPID enough to do so, and believe that would solve the problem …. I’m betting dollars to donuts the money I’d have taken from me would be so poorly spent, that they’d come back to me later asking for me to “pay my fair share”.

    Um, no.


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  10. SKF:

    Do me a favor. Do not bail us out. No. I and others are willing to ride out this rusty machine until it goes clanking to the ground. But really, the frustrating thing is that even though it is clanking and throwing out fumes, people will still continue to clamber on.

    I’m a 3rd generation Californian—a rare breed who remembers the land before the big tracts of housing became analogous to some kind of fungi that grew in the sun. I also remember cities before redevelopment departments came in to put us in in the grip of a decades long self perpetuating scam. Actually, Jerry Brown is trying to rid ourselves of this boondoggle. But the biggest problem is everyone wanted a “lifestyle”rather than a life predicated on hard work and earning what you get. And I have to say: Arnold gave it a try. But what was that all about? He never made it past all the infighting between the tea partyers, old GOP, and Democrats, which in the rabble produced decade after decade of not investing in schools, but letting prisons be the #1 crop growing in California. That, along with beige stucco home. It goes back to my premise: everyone just wants an easy life. Even if it means letting unions run the show—from teachers unions to prison guard unions. It’s so much easier for pundits and politicians to fight than it is to open a business, hire employees, and make it run well.
    My congressman, my senators. Have they ever had real jobs. I mean job jobs that ran a profit? Oh, I forget. It’s impolite to point this out.
    I agree. Californians like me should stay here, and work this thing out. There is no point in going to some other state and expecting it to be ….just like California. (As so many have done to Oregon and Washington and parts of New Mexico. Santa Fe? Call it Newport Beach East). However, I do have a request. Anyone not from here—would they just leave and quit trying to make this like some kind of Hollywood version of Nirvana?

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