Who Killed California?
We will learn over the next decade whether California can manage to avoid disaster one more time. But even if the state's years of living large finally catch up with it, there is still an escape hatch: Sensible Californians can continue to flee to places like Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Oregon, and Texas, where the respite from hostile government more than compensates for the social opprobrium that tends to meet California expatriates.
The story of California has always been a great American tale of triumph over long odds. Since its entry into the Union, in the aftermath of war and the midst of gold fever, the state has seemed an improbable colossus. But again and again, California has made its way through hours of challenge – not only surviving intact, but emerging as a model for the rest of the nation.
In the 19th century, despite immense geographic, ethnic, political, and social differences, Californians managed to form a cohesive identity, resisting numerous efforts to divide the state. They overcame the “curse of natural resources” that so long afflicted other commodity-rich states (and still afflicts some, like Alaska), laying the groundwork for a thriving and diverse economy that now dwarfs those of many developed countries. In the 20th century, through one of the greatest feats of engineering in human history, they turned the semi-arid desolation of southern California into a booming megalopolis and home to the second-largest metropolitan area in America. California ranked 20th among the states in population in 1900, but by 1963 it was first, where it has remained.
And through a series of social, political, and economic experiments, California has acted as America’s foremost laboratory of innovation, trying out ideas the country as a whole would go on to adopt. In the 1960s under Governor Pat Brown, the state offered a model of modernization, building the most advanced education and transportation infrastructures in the nation. Under Brown’s successor, Ronald Reagan, it offered a model of conservative governance that would go on to transform American politics. Hollywood has made California a crucial part of America’s cultural identity, and Silicon Valley has put it at the heart of our vision of the future. For many decades now, Americans have seen California as a harbinger of promising things to come.
Today, however, California has become a warning sign. Beset by economic disaster and political paralysis, the state is in the midst of a systemic crisis. And while the meltdown has certainly been accelerated by the recession of the past two years, its causes involve two decades of poor judgment, reckless mismanagement, and irresponsibility. How California got into this mess has a lot to teach the rest of the country; how it gets out will say a great deal about America’s prospects.
Who Killed California? | National Policy Institute