The Golden State Is Crumbling


The recent announcement that California's unemployment again nudged up to 12 percent—second worst in the nation behind its evil twin, Nevada—should have come as a surprise but frankly did not. From the beginning of the recession, the Golden State has been stuck bringing up a humbled nation's rear and seems mired in that less-than-illustrious position.

What has happened to my adopted home state of over last decade is a tragedy, both for Californians and for America. For most of the past century, California has been "golden" not only in name but in every kind of superlative—a global leader in agriculture, energy, entertainment, technology, and most important of all, human aspiration.

In its modern origins California was paean to progress in the best sense of the word. In 1872, the second president of the University of California, Daniel Coit Gilman, said science was "the mother of California." Today, California may worship at the altar of science, but increasingly in the most regressive, hysterical, and reactionary way.

California's dominant ruling class—consisting of public-employee unions, green jihadis, and Democratic machine politicians—has no real use for science as Gilman saw it: as a way to create prosperity for its citizens. Instead, the prevailing credo of the state has been how to do everything possible to return to its pre-settlement condition, with little regard for what that means to the average Californian.

Nowhere was California's old technological ethos more pronounced than in agriculture, where great Californians such as William Mulholland, creator of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, and Pat Brown, who forged the state water project, created the greatest water-delivery system since the Roman Empire. Their effort brought water from the ice-bound Sierra Nevada mountains down to the state's dry but fertile valleys and to the great desert metropolis of Southern California. Now, largely at the behest of greens, California agriculture is being systematically cut down by regulation. In an attempt to protect a small fish called the Delta smelt, upward of 200,000 acres of prime farmland have been idled, according to the state's Department of Conservation. Even in the current "wet" cycle, California's agricultural industry, which exports roughly $14 billion annually, is slowly being decimated. Unemployment in some Central Valley towns tops 30 percent, and in cases even 40 percent.

And now, notes my friend, Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue, green regulators are imposing new groundwater regulations that may force the shutdown of production even in areas like his that have their own ample water supplies.

Salinas was the home town of John Steinbeck, author of The Grapes of Wrath and great chronicler of Depression-era California. Today for many in hardscrabble, majority-Latino Salinas, home to 150,000 people, The Grapes of Wrath is less lyrical than real. "California," notes Donohue, a lifelong Democrat, "remains intent on job destruction and continued hyper-regulation."

California's pain is not restricted to farming towns. The state's regulatory vigilantes have erected a labyrinth of rules that increasingly makes doing almost anything that might contribute to increased carbon emissions—manufacturing, conventional energy, home construction—extraordinarily onerous. Not surprisingly, the state has not gained middle-skilled jobs (those requiring two years of college or more) for a decade, while the nation boosted them by 5 percent and archrival Texas by a stunning 16 percent over the same time period.

There is little chance that the jobs lost in these fields will ever be recovered under the current regime. As decent blue-collar and midlevel jobs disappear, California has gone from a rate of inequality about the national average in 1970, to among the most unequal in terms of income. The supposed solution to this—Gov. Jerry Brown's promise of 500,000 "green jobs"—is being shown for what it really is, the kind of fantasy you tell young children so they will go to sleep.

Many Californians who aren't slumbering are moving out of the state—and not only the pathetic remains of the old Reaganite majority. According to the most recent census, those leaving the state include old boomers, middle-aged families, and increasingly, many Latinos as well. Outmigration rates from places like Los Angeles and the Bay Area now rival those of such cities as Detroit. In the last decade, California’s population grew only 10 percent, about the national average, largely due to immigrants and their offspring. Population increases in the Bay Area were less than half that rate, while the City of Los Angeles gained fewer new residents—less than 100,000—than in any decade since the turn of the last century!

Increasingly, California no longer beckons ambitious newcomers, except for a handful of the most affluent, best educated, and well connected. Through the 1980s and even through the late '90s, the aspirational classes came to California. Now they head to other, more opportunity-friendly places like Austin, Houston, Dallas, Raleigh-Durham, even former “dust bowl” burghs like Des Moines, Omaha, and Oklahoma City. Meanwhile, Golden California, particularly its expensive, ultragreen coast, gets older and older. Marin County, the onetime home of the Grateful Dead and countless former hippies, is now one of the grayest urban counties in the country, with a median age of 44.

Of course, the self-described "progressive" mafia that runs California will point to Silicon Valley and its impressive array of startups. But for the most part, firms like Google, Twitter, and Facebook employ only a small cadre of highly educated workers. Overall, during the past decade the state's high-tech employment fell by almost 4 percent, while Texas's science-based employment grew by a healthy 11 percent. The sad reality is that turning T-shirt-wearing kids like Mark Zuckerberg into multibillionaires doesn't do much to reduce unemployment, which even in San Jose—the largely blue-collar "capital" of Silicon Valley—now hovers around 10 percent.

Magazine cover stories and movies cannot obscure the fact that entrepreneurial growth—the state’s most critical economic asset—has now stalled. In fact, according to a study by Economic Modeling Specialists Inc., last year the Golden State ranked 50th among the states in creating new businesses.

California remains rich in promise, home to spectacular scenery; a great Pacific location; leading firms like Apple and Disney; and a still-impressive residue of talented, diverse, entrepreneurial, and ingenious people. But the state will never return until the success of the current crop of puerile billionaires can be extended to enrich the wider citizenry. Until the current regime is toppled, California's decline—in moral as well as economic terms—will continue, to the consternation of those of us who embraced it as our home for so many years.

This piece originally appeared at The Daily Beast.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and is a distinguished presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University, and an adjunct fellow of the Legatum Institute in London. He is author of The City: A Global History. His newest book is The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050, released in February, 2010.

Photo by wstera2.

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crumbling golden state

I read the whole article, and no where did I read any mention about the role massive unending 3rd world immigration , both legal and illegal, has played in the destruction of california.
The authors refusal to admit the connection in his article is the elephant in the room, and just as big a factor in the destruction of the golden state than any that he mentioned in his aerticle.
Multiculturalism, our new national religion, has a cost, one of them is the destruction of the social cohesion of a community, another, is a population that is now less educated than nearly all states in the country, and a lack of civic pride and involvement. Combine that with ethnic tribal politics and you have an unworkable and ungovernable state.
There is no way we can adress the problem if journalists are either too terrified or too politically correct to discuss it.

Destruction of agriculture?

Mr. Kotkin,

California's got a lot of self-created problems, no doubt, but it's hard to take seriously yet another claim that "California agriculture is being systematically cut down by regulation" when just last week the 2010 crop tally came in --- and ag sales set a record.

Perhaps there's an economic nuance that can square your claim with the statistics, but it seems a stubborn fact to just ignore.

The US dollar lost 15% of

The US dollar lost 15% of its value this year. Ag sales in CA increased by 8%. You figure it out. It's not nuance. It's hard reality.

California lives

The "paean to progress" that made California a global leader in "human aspiration" was based on economic progress, clogged highways and inflated housing values, all based on the rape of its land and huge debt.

Those days are gone, but still, as you write, "California remains rich in promise, home to spectacular scenery; a great Pacific location; leading firms like Apple and Disney; and a still-impressive residue of talented, diverse, entrepreneurial, and ingenious people."

I've recently spent a wonderful three weeks hiking in the Southern Cascades, up around Shasta. Hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail, at nearly every turn one is treated with another view of mighty Mount Shasta -- a visual wonder. California is blessed with many such geoographic treats. California's diverse open-minded population can no longer enjoy endless economic growth, but that was never a sustainable idea anyhow, nor one consistent with proper ecology.

So what's wrong pussycat?

Whats wrong?

The central government STILL clings to the idea of better individual living through government intrusion. Sacramento STILL believes there s not a single local problem they cant micromanage better......except the state budget, of course.

You Get What You Vote For

It is sad but California votes for it. Now they leave California and move to other states and vote for liberals who continue the policies of California.

I live in Colorado which use to be a red state. Now it is purple to blue. The Denver Post had an article about people moving into Colorado and the 3 states that had the most people moving to Colorado ....three states run by liberals - California, Michigan and Illinois.

The liberal party is the party of destruction. Look at all the destruction under Obama. Destruction of the greatest health care system. Destruction of the oil and gas industry. Destruction of jobs due to Obama rationed and redistributed health care. Check out jobs created the month before the legislatidn became law and the months after..the decline in jobs created is stunning.

But people continue to vote for it PROUDLY and then run away from the results. It is really sick and sad to watch.

But Al likes it...

It can't be that bad in California if billionaire scamster Al Gore bought an $8.75M 6,500 sq. ft. Montecito seacoast mansion complete with pools, spas and fountains so he can be near fellow greens Oprah Winfrey, Michael Douglas and Jerry Brown.

I'm sure Al brings all kinds of jobs with him: groundskeeping, personal servants, limo drivers, private jet pilots, secret service agents, PowerPoint experts, pool cleaners, accountants, investment advisers, marriage counselors, chakra releasers, dating services, alimony lawyers, international green conference coordinators for places like Bali and other armpits where they hold green conferences, television magnates for Current, anger management experts for both Al and Keith....

California leavin'

My dad moved our family in 1973 from Long Island, New York to Orange County, California to the "planned" community of Mission Viejo. Back then it really was the golden destination. Everything beckoned -- quality of life, schools, jobs. Now in my 40s, I'm looking to move back to New York, completely reversing my dad's long-ago decision. For many, this may seem like a lateral move, but I don't care. I'd rather be in New York with its comparable high taxes but at least with a Democratic governor who seems be to be able to break with policies that don't work. California is beyond a basket case with a legislature that is completely and irrevocably broken and with an overwhelming electorate that couldn't find its way out of a paper bag. Taxes, illegal immigration, "green" legislation...the list goes on. Many of my friends call the high cost of living (figuratively and literally) the "Sunshine Tax." Well, I'm ready for the gray days of fall and winter on the east coast, if it means getting out of California.

Leaving California

You left out the growing welfare establishment, the crime, (even in my Central Valley tough town murders used to be rare). I know lots of professionals, teachers, sales and management people who would be gone in a heartbeat if they weren't upside down. Most of them work in the private sector, make 6 figures and pay substantial taxes. If they go .....

A few years ago I attended a

A few years ago I attended a gold mining conference. The people who attend these conferences are probably the least risk adverse investors you are ever going to encounter; investing in junior gold mining companies. I couldn't help but notice during the presentations how there was considerable expoloration and development activity going on in Nevada; but none at all right next door in California. I thought this strange, given California's history and so I asked why. I was informed that the regulatory environment in California was too hostile so no one would look there.

So people who were willing to build mines in places like Eretria, Central African Republic, Venesuela and Communist China wouldn't even consider looking in California.

When you are considered more hostile to business than Hugo Chaves's Venesuela that's pretty impressive.