Stopping California's Downward Spiral Into Progressivism Madness
Today’s California represents most everything wrong with today’s Progressivism movement. In retrospect, California’s progressive mistakes provide an incubator and testing ground to show America and prove to the world, why it’s not in the best interest of the overwhelming number of Californians and Americans.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, California was the destination for those seeking a better place to live. For most of its history, the state enacted sensible policies that created one of the wealthiest and most innovative economies in human history. California realized the American dream—but better—fostering a huge middle class that, for the most part, owned their homes, sent their kids to public schools, and found meaningful work connected to the state’s amazingly diverse, innovative economy.
In the middle of the 20th century, the leadership of Governor Pat Brown and his practical Democrats made California, the Golden State, the envy of all others. These were the sapient leaders with old school Democrats values, ideas and policies that helped create the California dream.
However, since the dawn of the 21st century, the dream has been evaporating. Between 2003 and 2007, California state and local government spending grew 31 percent, even as the state’s population grew just 5 percent. The overall tax burden as a percentage of state income, once middling among the states, has risen to the sixth-highest in the nation, says the Tax Foundation.
Since 1990, according to an analysis by California Lutheran University, the state’s share of overall U.S. employment has dropped a remarkable 10 percent. When the state economy has done well, it has usually been the result of asset inflation—first during the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s, and then during the housing boom, which was responsible for nearly half of all jobs created earlier in this decade, and big tech most recently.
Guiding the agenda of California’s Democrats are a ruling elite, small in number, but wielding incredible power. Among these elites are government union leaders, liberal billionaires from Hollywood to Silicon Valley, extreme environmentalists, and the social justice vanguard. The money and influence these elites bring to California politics cannot possibly be matched by the opposition. But all the money in the world cannot make up for the fact that their policies have made life miserable for millions of ordinary Californians.
We’ve heard all this before. Much of what Californians face are challenges confronting everyone in America. But California, the biggest state, and the bluest state, is a powerful trendsetter. California is broken, hijacked by opportunists wielding overwhelming financial and political power. How does this change?
Fixing California: The Themes That Make Anything Possible
For conservatives across America, California has become the cautionary tale for the rest of the country. Anyone who actually lives in the Golden State, and enjoys the best weather and the most beautiful, diverse scenery on earth, knows there are two sides to the story of this captivating place. Nevertheless, the story keeps getting worse.
For every essential—homes, rent, tuition, gasoline, electricity, and water—Californians pay the among the highest prices in the continental United States. Californians endure the most hostile business climate in America, and pay the highest taxes. The public schools are failing, crime is soaring, electricity is unreliable, water is rationed, and the mismanaged forests are burning like hell.
Yet all of this can be fixed. The solutions aren’t mysteries and consist of the following:
• Deregulate housing permits.
• End the disastrous “housing-first” policies and instead give the homeless safe housing in inexpensive barracks where sobriety is a condition of entry.
• Repeal Proposition 47, which downgraded property and drug crimes.
• Build reservoirs, desalination, and wastewater recycling plants.
• Build nuclear power plants and develop California’s abundant natural gas reserves.
• Recognize that the common road is the future of transportation, not the past, and widen California’s freeways and highways.
• Let the timber companies harvest more lumber in exchange for maintaining the fire roads and power line corridors.
• Implement school choice and make public schools compete with private schools on the basis of excellence.
This isn’t just about ideology. The politicians who governed California during what arguably were its greatest yesteryears were Democrats. Old-timers refer to them as the Pat Brown Democrats (not to be confused with his son Jerry Brown and his progressive Democrat constituents), leaders whose approach to politics was pragmatic and focused on serving the people.
During that heyday, homes were affordable, and freeways weren’t crowded. Public schools were good, and the University of California campuses offered the best public higher education in the country. The California Water Project, taking barely more than a decade to construct, remains the most successful feat of interbasin water transfers in the world.
The Coalition That Will Realign California
Across several areas of policy, the Democratic party, led by Gavin Newsom, has not merely alienated, but enraged millions of Californians.
The key to political realignment in California is not only to offer these groups a political agenda that incorporates solutions to all their grievances, but does so in a manner so coherent, so practical, and so promising, that a common solidarity is generated which transcends all the ways California’s ruling class has thus far divided them.
Hardcore populist support for Democrats in California comes primarily from millions of white liberals, living in inherited homes, who pay minimal property taxes and are hence immune from the consequences of an out-of-control public sector bureaucracy, along with the government employees that work in that bureaucracy.
The critical swing constituency, currently solidly in the Democratic camp, are black, Latino, and Asian voters—and the battle to turn back California’s progressive downward spiral is in the hands of these critical groups.
Article content is from the Summer 2010 City Journal article “The Golden State’s War on Itself” by Joel Kotkin and the December 2020 article “Fixing California–Part One: The Themes That Make Anything Possible” is from the California Policy Center’s Edward Ring.