The Magazine

California Dreaming

The Golden State is looking increasingly leaden.

Mar 17, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 26 • By MARK PULLIAM
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Joel Kotkin points out that “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.” For example, although California (like Texas) sits atop substantial oil reserves, environmentalists have managed to severely restrict drilling in the interior and offshore. In the name of “green energy,” utilities are required to provide a third of their total electricity from costly “renewable” sources (such as solar and wind generation) by 2020, which drives up already-high residential and commercial rates. “Carbon neutrality” edicts for all new development will cost California an estimated 1.1 million jobs over the next decade. 

Trial lawyers are another rent-seeking special interest group. The American Tort Reform Association regularly names California as one of the nation’s “judicial hellholes,” based in large part on abusive class action litigation involving minor violations of arcane consumer and/or employment regulations. Class members receive coupons or pennies, but the lawyers who bring the class action receive millions. Heather Mac Donald describes how multiculturalism and political correctness have debased California’s once-peerless system of higher education, and how zealous advocates for the homeless threaten to turn the state’s urban centers into unruly colonies of beggars, vagrants, and druggies.

Governor Rick Perry heralds his state as the “Texas Model,” but mainly it stands as an example of what California used to be. Businesses are relocating to Texas—voting with their feet—in order to escape the destructive consequences of the Beholden State. Can California be saved? The unprecedented demographic changes caused by massive illegal immigration—with little or no assimilation—must be taken into account. California simply is not the same state it was a generation ago: A large and growing percentage of the state’s population is unskilled, uneducated, and not fluent in English.  

But the greatest challenge to California’s recovery lies in indifference and apathy on the part of voters. And in the face of powerful special interests, it will take considerable resolve to fix what’s broken. Much of California’s middle class—the constituency that passed Proposition 13, limiting property taxation, in 1978—has fled elsewhere. Increasingly, California is populated by liberal elites, service workers, activists, and public employees—all of whom tend to vote Democratic. The business community is in disarray. California might well become a Detroit-by-the-sea, a tragic symbol of greatness in decline and decay.

Whether or not California can be turned around, its road to ruin provides what Steven Malanga calls “a cautionary tale to the rest of the country, where the same process is happening in slower motion.” Other states failing to heed these warnings do so at their peril.   

Mark Pulliam, a former Californian, is a writer in Austin, Texas.