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.