No one has done a better job of analyzing California’s decline than Professor Joel Kotkin. No one has done better at showing how the blue state model of governance has failed in California.
And yet, Kotkin admits in the Wall Street Journal today that he voted for the current governor, Jerry Brown. He adds that he is a “Truman Democrat,” meaning, I surmise, that he is now on the road to recovery.
This political season has brought us a number of phony “wars.” Today, Kotkin analyzes a real and often overlooked war, one he calls: “the progressive war on the middle class.”
It begins with what Gov. Brown and his “green cadre” call their: “’smart growth’ plans to cram the proletariat into high-density housing.”
Kotkin is rightly outraged to see the rich and fortunate living very high while wanting everyone else in the state to live in substandard “workers’ housing.
As an aside, we should add that this has been tried before. The German architectural movement called the Bauhaus did design workers’ housing after the war. Tom Wolfe told the story masterfully in his book, From Bauhaus to Our House.
Wolfe explained that it did not work out very well. The experiment in aesthetic socialism ended with the destruction of many of the more famous projects. Modernist architecture brought out the worst in everyone who lived there. No one felt at home, and eventually everyone moved out.
California’s progressive war against the middle class does not stop with housing policy. It extends to an effort to green the state. Kotkin notes with regret that Jerry Brown actually believes all the “green stuff.”
Allysia Finley summarizes Kotkin’s views:
Housing is merely one front of what he calls the "progressive war on the middle class." Another is the cap-and-trade law AB32, which will raise the cost of energy and drive out manufacturing jobs without making even a dent in global carbon emissions. Then there are the renewable portfolio standards, which mandate that a third of the state's energy come from renewable sources like wind and the sun by 2020. California's electricity prices are already 50% higher than the national average.
Oh, and don't forget the $100 billion bullet train. Mr. Kotkin calls the runaway-cost train "classic California." "Where [Brown] with the state going bankrupt is even thinking about an expenditure like this is beyond comprehension. When the schools are falling apart, when the roads are falling apart, the bridges are unsafe, the state economy is in free fall. We're still doing much worse than the rest of the country, we've got this growing permanent welfare class, and high-speed rail is going to solve this?"
High speed rail makes some cultural sense; unfortunately it does not make economic sense. Apparently, Californians feel inferior to the Europeans who have networks of high speed rail. They are suffering from Europe envy.
Government policies have driven up the cost of living in California to the point where the middle class is being forced to flee.
A worker in Wichita might not consider those earning $250,000 a year middle class, but "if you're a guy working for a Silicon Valley company and you're married and you're thinking about having your first kid, and your family makes 250-k a year, you can't buy a closet in the Bay Area," Mr. Kotkin says. "But for 250-k a year, you can live pretty damn well in Salt Lake City. And you might be able to send your kids to public schools and own a three-bedroom, four-bath house."
According to Mr. Kotkin, these upwardly mobile families are fleeing in droves. As a result, California is turning into a two-and-a-half-class society. On top are the "entrenched incumbents" who inherited their wealth or came to California early and made their money. Then there's a shrunken middle class of public employees and, miles below, a permanent welfare class. As it stands today, about 40% of Californians don't pay any income tax and a quarter are on Medicaid.
Even high-tech is beginning to move out.
Finley summarizes Kotkin:
Take Salt Lake City. "Almost all of the major tech companies have moved stuff to Salt Lake City." That includes Twitter, Adobe, eBay and Oracle.
Then there's Texas, which is on a mission to steal California's tech hegemony. Apple just announced that it's building a $304 million campus and adding 3,600 jobs in Austin. Facebook established operations there last year, and eBay plans to add 1,000 new jobs there too.
As progressive policies drive out moderate and conservative members of the middle class, California's politics become even more left-wing. It's a classic case of natural selection, and increasingly the only ones fit to survive in California are the very rich and those who rely on government spending. In a nutshell, "the state is run for the very rich, the very poor, and the public employees."
Of course, no one is going to shed a tear for California. Its citizens are getting what they voted for. Being responsible for your own decisions is central to democratic governance.
And yet, considering how big California is and how poorly its finances are being managed, how long will it be before the nation is called on to bail it out?
When casting a vote in a national election one does well to ask which candidate is more likely to answer the call.