Purple Politics: Is California Moving to the Center?


You don't have to be a genius, or a conservative, to recognize that California's experiment with ultra-progressive politics has gone terribly wrong. Although much of the country has suffered during the recession, California's decline has been particularly precipitous--and may have important political consequences.

Outside Michigan, California now suffers the highest rate of unemployment of all the major states, with a post-World War II record of 12.2%. This statistic does not really touch the depth of the pain being felt, particularly among the middle and working classes, many of whom have become discouraged and are no longer counted in the job market.  read more »

California Golden Dreams


California may yet be a civilization that is too young to have produced its Thucydides or Edward Gibbon, but if it has, the leading candidate would be Kevin Starr. His eight-part “Dream” series on the evolution of the Golden State stands alone as the basic comprehensive work on California. Nothing else comes remotely close.  read more »

Hard Times In The High Desert


The High Desert region north and east of Los Angeles sits 3,000 feet above sea level. A rough, often starkly beautiful region of scrubby trees, wide vistas and brooding brown mountains, the region seems like a perfect setting for an old Western shoot 'em up.

Today, it's the stage for a different kind of battle, one that involves a struggle over preserving the American dream. For years, the towns of the High Desert--places like Victorville, Adelanto, Hesperia, Barstow and Apple Valley--have lured thousands of working- and middle-class Californians looking for affordable homes.  read more »

High Cost of Living Leaves Some States Uncompetitive


Late this spring, when voters in California emphatically rejected tax increases to close the state budget gap, they sent a clear message to state policymakers. They were tired of California’s high taxes, which according to the non-partisan Tax Foundation, consumed 10.5 percent of state per capita income last year. This compared with a national average of 9.7 percent, making California the sixth most heavily taxed state in the nation.

But if Californians were tired of paying an additional 0.8 percent of their income in state and local taxes, what would they make of research by economists at the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis that estimated that the cost of living in California, based on 2006 data, was a whopping 29.1 percent above the national average?  read more »

Local Agriculture: How To Feed The Hungry

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The search for ways to feed the hungry is as old as recorded history. Can an issue this long-standing and complex be adequately addressed on small, local level? A unique California program is trying, with surprising success.  read more »


California Disease: Oregon at Risk of Economic Malady


California has been exporting people to Oregon for many years, even amid the recession in both states.

Indeed, the 2005 American Community Survey report shows that California-to-Oregon migration was 56,379 in 2005, the sixth-largest interstate flow in the United States. The 2000 census showed a five-year flow of 138,836 people, the eighth-largest over that time period. Until two years ago, Oregon was managing to absorb this population with mixed results, but generally as part of an expanding and diversifying economy. But that pattern has ended, at least for now.  read more »

Salinas Dispatch: A Silver Lining in the Golden State


From a distance, a crisis often takes on ideological colorings. This is true in California, where the ongoing fiscal meltdown has devolved into a struggle between anti-tax conservatives and free-spending green leftist liberals.

Yet more nuances surface when you approach a crisis from the context of a specific place. Over the past two years my North Dakota-based consulting partner, Delore Zimmerman, and I have been working in Salinas, a farm community of 150,000, 10 miles inland from the Monterey coast and an hour's drive south of San Jose.  read more »

The Next Global Financial Crisis: Public Debt


The cloud of the global financial meltdown has not even cleared, yet another crisis of massive proportions looms on the horizon: global sovereign (public) debt.

This crisis, like so many others, has its root in the free flow of credit from the preceding economic boom years. The market prices of assets were rising steadily. Rising valuations, especially where they were based on improving revenues from robust economic activity, led to rising income streams for governments. This encouraged governments to borrow more, perhaps often to expand services – and the bureaucracy required to offer services – although sometimes to improve infrastructure.  read more »

Enviro-wimps: L.A.'s Big Green Groups Get Comfy, Leaving the Street Fighting to the Little Guys


So far, 2009 has not been a banner year for greens in Los Angeles. As the area's mainstream enviros buddy up with self-described green politicians and deep-pocketed land speculators and unions who have seemingly joined the “sustainability” cause, an odd thing is happening: Environmentalists are turning into servants for more powerful, politically-connected masters.  read more »

Who Killed California's Economy?


Right now California's economy is moribund, and the prospects for a quick turnaround are not good. Unable to pay its bills, the state is issuing IOUs; its once strong credit rating has collapsed. The state that once boasted the seventh-largest gross domestic product in the world is looking less like a celebrated global innovator and more like a fiscal basket case along the lines of Argentina or Latvia.

It took some amazing incompetence to toss this best-endowed of places down into the dustbin of history. Yet conventional wisdom views the crisis largely as a legacy of Proposition 13, which in effect capped only taxes.

This lets too many malefactors off the hook. I covered the Proposition 13 campaign for the Washington Post and examined its aftermath up close. It passed because California was running huge surpluses at the time, even as soaring property taxes were driving people from their homes.  read more »