Friday, July 2, 2021

Can We Flee a Californicated America?

Michael Anton rose to fame as “Anonymous” during the 2016 election campaign. Now, writing for a fine publication called The American Conservative, he takes a stab at a question that has attracted the attention of several other serious thinkers.

The question: What the fuck is going on in California?

Victor Davis Hanson has been opining on the question. So has Joel Kotkin. As for yours truly, I am barely cognizant of the facts on the ground. Thus, I rely on the wit and wisdom of these thinkers.

Kotkin believes that California is reverting to feudal form. It has hollowed out its middle class, driven them from their jobs and their homes, and now contains a class of grandees who lord it over everyone else-- not just in California-- and a peasant class of South American immigrants who live to serve their lords

For his part Hanson has compared his state to Mexico, with good reason. After all, the state resembles nothing if not the South American countries where a small group of very wealthy people are in charge of everything, while everyone else works as wage slaves for them.

At the least, these thinkers all seem to agree that California is not showing us the way toward the future. Its current configuration represents a regression to a less effective, less efficient, less just social structure. But, as Anton argues, California can only do this because it is leeching parasitically off of the rest of America.

Anton sees it thusly:

... California has become a parasite. Its social structure resembles something out of the ancient world—though not the Greek part. More like what we know of various despotic empires, such as Egypt or Persia, in which the vast, vast majority toil to support, in spectacular luxury, a very few.

Addressing the pretentious claim that California is like a nation unto itself, Anton argues effectively that it is not a nation at all. 

But in reality, California is in no respect a “nation”: a united people with a common lineage, language, and history. To the contrary, it has been deliberately “diversified” in order become as little like a nation as possible. 

To the extent that it has any common culture at all, it is in opposition to the rest of the United States, especially the Red parts. When Newsom and other Golden State Babbitts describe California as a “nation-state,” all they really mean is “big” and “rich.”

Not only that, California’s oligarchs do not want to have very much to do with the rest of the American nation. They are neither patriotic nor nationalistic. They consider themselves internationalists, as in Davos man:

First, California oligarchs want to distance themselves from the notion that they are part of, or own allegiance to, any country at all. They are above such petty concerns, beyond—and in many ways more powerful than—the nation-state.

Second, they want to distance themselves from all that is held by elite and world opinion to be bad about America: racism, sexism, Bible-thumping, guns, and so on. Third, they wish to evoke California not as an American state but as an idea: the Golden State, paradise, the future. 

Needless to say, as you know well, California burdens the population with taxes, the better to hand out goodies to the lower classes. The oligarchs do not care about taxes, because they have so much money that a few million here and there doesn’t mean anything. They are, as I have occasionally argued, paying for protection:

The implicit deal, which I’ve called the “San Francisco Compromise,” is that, first, the left does nothing that directly threatens oligarchic wealth or power. It can tax and spend all it wants, so long as those taxes are easily bearable—and, to the extent possible, legally avoidable—by California’s grandees. And so long as the other policies that increase oligarchic wealth are never questioned, so that at the end of the day it almost doesn’t matter what California tax rates are; whatever they are, the rulers can afford them. The lefties also agree to use their considerable rhetorical power to whitewash and lionize the oligarchs.

But, the tech oligarchs tend markedly to support every leftist cause. Apparently, they think of these as sop for the masses, a way to keep them agitated against bogeymen like QAnon and the Proud Boys, all the while exercising monopoly control over the marketplace of ideas:

For their part, the oligarchs take their cues from leftists on matters of passionate conviction that don’t directly threaten said wealth or power and spend some of their lucre on lefty institutions and make-work jobs.

Call it subsidized poverty. For migrants from south of the border it is far better than the misery they left behind. 

California may be geographically a paradise and politically a utopia (at least aspirationally), but if so, it bestows its benefits very selectively and exclusively. Which is the fundamental reason why so many oligarchs still live there and even move there. On the flipside, subsidized poverty in California is heaven compared to southern Mexico or Central America. As bad as California’s crime, infrastructure, and dysfunction are by historic American standards, they’re all still orders of magnitude better than prevailing conditions down south.

And, for my part, I am intrigued by Anton’s notion that ideas, not people, rule in California. Those who think big ideas, or who imagine themselves to be philosopher kings, the tech oligarchs have succeeded in shutting the former president of the United States out of Twitter and Facebook. Do you need a better picture of raw despotic power? It is a place where pervasive groupthink is the order of the day. Dissident opinions are not tolerated.

California’s real rulers are then Stanford, the Los Angeles Times, and Facebook. Modern California is partly oligarchic in the precise sense that a rich few have outsize power—consider Big Tech silencing Trump ad unno tratto. It is theocratic in a looser sense, in that ideas rule more than people, unless we wish to say that the priestly class which formulates the ideas actually rules. 

No one really knows who’s in charge, and those who are never own up. In a sense, no one is in charge: the doctrine is in charge. Ruling class functionaries, from tech CEOs down to lifestyle bloggers, are told what to believe in the seminary (the universities, and now even the primary and secondary schools) they all attend together. Once out, they all play their assigned role, a few of which are extraordinarily remunerative, most not, but all working toward the same end.

As for the grandees who rule the Apple empire, Anton makes the salient point, namely that Apply does not manufacture in America and does not pay taxes in America.

Apple is based in Cupertino but does most of its manufacturing in China and until recently paid its taxes in Ireland. But even the Emerald Isle’s notoriously low corporate tax rates—Apple’s effective rate in 2014 was 0.005 percent—got to be too much and the company moved its legendary pile of cash, which it refuses to return to investors in dividends, to the Isle of Jersey, which levies no taxes at all. Sacramento not only doesn’t try to stop that; it defers to Cupertino on every matter of importance. Who is the real sovereign?

Naturally the mass migration of immigrants has turned the state blue. The new arrivals tend to be poor and stupid, thus, belonging to the Democratic base. And they are living better in California than they had in their countries of origin, so what is the problem?

The resulting mass arrivals tipped the political balance of the state irretrievably, causing a snowball effect. More immigration makes the state Bluer—and the Bluer it gets, the more pro-immigration, legal and illegal, it gets, culminating in California’s declaring itself a “sanctuary state” with policies that effectively exempt illegal aliens from the law.

But, the philosopher kings of Silicon Valley are multicultural. They oppose assimilation and patriotism. You cannot be loyal to the nation and also take your marching orders from Facebook and Twitter:

Second is woke anti-assimilationism, the demonization of the “melting pot” and its replacement with the “salad bowl” or (to borrow from David Dinkins) the “gorgeous mosaic.”

Assimilation stopped being encouraged, much less insisted upon, and instead came (and remains) under furious assault.

Anton takes another run at describing life in California:

California can be a very traditional society for the very wealthy, who can and do wall themselves off from the dysfunction they cause, live in gated communities, and send their kids to private schools. Such families, of course, also all employ Hispanic help—gardeners, maids, cooks, nannies—and so have both pecuniary and conscience-salving reasons to advocate for illegal immigration: doing so is a public show of noblesse oblige that helps legitimize their privilege. 

Where Kotkin called California an incipient feudal state, Anton adds that it has become a parasite on America:

This is what I mean when I say California has become a parasite. Its social structure resembles something out of the ancient world—though not the Greek part. More like what we know of various despotic empires, such as Egypt or Persia, in which the vast, vast majority toil to support, in spectacular luxury, a very few.

But the infrastructure is crumbling; the state is too incompetent, too ideological, and too broke to fix any of it. Despite its apparent wealth, California in fact has the highest poverty rate in the nation. And when it comes time to spend all that money the state sucks up in tax revenue, its “progressive” pols always insist on committing it to utopian fantasies rather than nuts-and-bolts necessities. As historian and native Californian Victor Davis Hanson lamented of his birthplace and home, “societies in decline fixate on impossible postmodern dreams as a way of disguising their inability to address premodern problems.”

The highest poverty rate in the nation. Think about that for a minute. Anton adds the intriguing suggestion that confiscatory taxes serve a more devious purpose-- they push the middle class out of the state. 

The oligarchy constantly maneuvers to make the state ever more expensive (taxes, regulation, environmental codes, building restrictions, endless chances for someone—anyone—to say “no” to anything). This is to protect their pieces of paradise, surely, but one wonders if it is not also deliberate harassment against a class it despises. Anyway, that class continues to dwindle and, I suspect, in a generation or less will fully and finally be gone. We shall see how well California works when they are.

One might say that California has become more diverse. It has become more socially incoherent and anarchic. After all, it has homeless encampments dotting the beachscape. Of course, the very rich adeptly shield themselves from the chaos surrounding them.

At any rate, the more diverse California gets, the less socially cohesive, and the more trust plummets. Dysfunction of all kinds is vastly higher than it was only a few decades and even years ago. The half-life of those old virtues lingers on, but dwindling, and keeps the state running to an extent that its present rulers do not understand or appreciate.

Taking a cue from Kotkin, Anton calls California a feudal state. But, he adds that the state is a parasite, sustained by American power, not just power in the world, but power as in, energy.

Environmentalists make it impossible to produce energy in the state, so they are obliged to buy it from states that are far less green:

In a whole host of ways that Californians do not acknowledge, their feudal way of life is backstopped by American power. In some respects, literally. Despite being among the nation’s largest energy-producing states, and despite that mild climate to keep down utility bills (homes in large swaths of Northern California don’t even have air conditioning), the state is a net importer of electricity. As the green mandates pile up, that out-of-state share will only rise. Californians look the other way at importing dirty kilowatts from flyover states, even as their congressional delegation works tirelessly to make those watts harder and more expensive to generate.

And, Anton suggests that other states should not welcome those middle class citizens who are fleeing California. They have, after all, been brainwashed to think the way their philosopher kings want them to think. And they are more likely to want to turn their new states into California than to admit the error of their ways.

As disgruntled former Golden Staters fan out across the country like Blue locusts, eager to consume pristine crops, it’s fair to ask whether other states should welcome any of them. They have the nasty habit of pushing, in their new homes, the very policies that spurred them to flee their old one. I recommend, to any rightwing billionaire reading this who wants to preserve the character of his Red state, giant billboards with one word: “JESUS.” Garlic to vampires.

Strangely, California is the Democratic Party’s role model for America. Of course, if something happens to American technological pre-eminence-- think of rapidly growing China-- the California dream will go up in smoke.

For the last 30 years, at least, California has ridden a tech tailwind that has underwritten the state’s spending orgy and crazed utopianism. California has literally bet the entire existence of its “new regime” on that wind continuing. Will it? If and when the oligarchy subsumes the United States as a whole, is a new high-paying, high-profit, high-margin economic sector waiting in the wings to carry aloft the entire country?

Yet Californication is what the broader left wants for America. Joe Biden himself has said so. The rest of us don’t have the luxury of fleeing a Californicated America. Where are we supposed to go?


Sam L. said...

"The highest poverty rate in the nation." In "The Golden State", which is now the "Fool's gold State". I lived there four years in the early '80s. Smoggy. My son was born there.

"Environmentalists make it impossible to produce energy in the state, so they re obliged to buy it from states that are far less green:" Those states are not likely to cut a sweetheart deal with California. I will be sooooo not bummed for California. Why am I thinking of the phrase, "cutting off your nose to spite your face"?

The "Golden State" is becoming "the Dross State".

Anonymous said...

Only Google, Apple, Samsung & GGA.'s H.C.C. knows..

Traffick lights.

jmod46 said...

California Democrats learned something from earlier Democrat officeholders. Shape the electorate to your liking:

We call this strategy—increasing the relative size of one’s political base through distortionary, wealth-reducing policies—the Curley effect. But it is hardly unique to Curley. Other American mayors, but also politicians around the world, have pursued policies that encouraged emigration of their political enemies, raising poverty but gaining political advantage. In his 24 years as mayor, Detroit’s Coleman Young drove white residents and businesses out of the city. ‘‘Under Young, Detroit has become not merely an American city that happens to have a black majority, but a black metropolis, the first major Third World city in the United States. The trappings are all there—showcase projects, black-fisted symbols, an external enemy, and the cult of personality’’(Chafets, 1991:177). Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe abused white farmers after his country’s independence, openly encouraging their emigration even at a huge cost to the economy.

kebie said...

Me and my family escaped San Diego suburbs on March 27th, 2020 at the height of the covid lockdown. We're not locusts. We're the part of once used to be ultra conservative SoCal area. I was lucky/skilled enough to win a job within my company in Western NC. I voted for Dem Bugaboo Madison Cawthorne for my Rep in 2020. I think alot of the escapees are like me, can't take it and move to red areas where they will fit in and thrive.

370H55V said...

After the uprising of the 17th of June
The Secretary of the Writers' Union
Had leaflets distributed on the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could only win it back
By increased work quotas. Would it not in that case be simpler
for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

--"Die Losung" (The Solution), Bertold Brecht, 1953