If the states are the laboratories for new policies, California is certainly the role model for progressive governance.
Of late, many people have extolled the California recovery. Joel Kotkin—who is not a Republican-- begs to differ:
The current surge of California triumphalism, trumpeted mostly by the ruling Democrats and their eastern media allies, seems to ignore the reality faced by residents in many parts of the state. The current surge of wealth among the coastal elites, boosted by rises in property, stock, and other assets, has staved off a much feared state bankruptcy. Yet the the state’s more intractible problems cannot be addressed if growth remains restricted to a handful of favored areas and industries. This will become increasingly clear when, as is inevitable, the current tech and property boom fades, depriving the state of the taxes paid by high income individuals.
In a brilliant article, Kotkin explains that California is fast becoming a feudal state. In its class stratification and its income inequality, California has been regressing socio-economically:
As late as the 80s, California was democratic in a fundamental sense, a place for outsiders and, increasingly, immigrants—roughly 60 percent of the population was considered middle class. Now, instead of a land of opportunity, California has become increasingly feudal. According to recent census estimates, the state suffers some of the highest levels of inequality in the country. By some estimates, the state’s level of inequality compares with that of such global models as the Dominican Republic, Gambia, and the Republic of the Congo.
At the same time, the Golden State now suffers the highest level of poverty in the country—23.5 percent compared to 16 percent nationally—worse than long-term hard luck cases like Mississippi. It is also now home to roughly one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients, almost three times its proportion of the nation’s population.
Like medieval serfs, increasing numbers of Californians are downwardly mobile, and doing worse than their parents: native born Latinos actually have shorter lifespans than their parents, according to one recent report. Nor are things expected to get better any time soon. According to a recent Hoover Institution survey, most Californians expect their incomes to stagnate in the coming six months, a sense widely shared among the young, whites, Latinos, females, and the less educated.
You are probably thinking that Silicon Valley and the high-tech industry will save the day. Yet, Kotkin notes that the enlightened oligarchs who run these businesses support all the most progressive policies. Unfortunately, those policies hamper job growth:
Silicon Valley’s wealth reflects the fortunes of a handful of companies that dominate an information economy that itself is increasingly oligopolistic. In contrast to the traditionally conservative or libertarian ethos of the entrepreneurial class, the oligarchy is increasingly allied with the nominally populist Democratic Party and its regulatory agenda. Along with the public sector, Hollywood, and their media claque, they present California as “the spiritual inspiration” for modern “progressives” across the country.
Through their embrace of and financial support for the state’s regulatory regime, the oligarchs have made job creation in non tech-businesses—manufacturing, energy, agriculture—increasingly difficult through “green energy” initiatives that are also sure to boost already high utility costs.
Compared to Texas, growth in California’s blue collar and middle-management jobs has been anemic:
California’s tech manufacturing sector has shrunk, and those employed in Silicon Valley are increasingly well-compensated programmers, engineers and marketers. There has been little growth in good-paying blue collar or even middle management jobs. Since 2001 state production of “middle skill” jobs—those that generally require two years of training after high-school—have grown roughly half as quickly as the national average and one-tenth as fast as similar jobs in arch-rival Texas.
Some areas of the state are booming. Most of the rest is functioning at Depression levels:
As Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and the wealthier suburbs in the Bay Area have enjoyed steady income growth during the current bubble, much of the state, notes economist Bill Watkins, endures Depression-like conditions, with stretches of poverty more reminiscent of a developing country than the epicenter of advanced capitalism.
Once you get outside the Bay Area, unemployment in many of the state’s largest counties—Sacramento, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, Fresno, and Oakland—soars into the double digits. Indeed, among the 20 American cities with the highest unemployment rates, a remarkable 11 are in California, led by Merced’s mind-boggling 22 percent rate.
One should keep it all in mind the next time you read a pundit extol the California economic revival.