In a recent special edition of City Journal, Californian Michael Shellenberger – who I’ve quoted here before – had quite a treatise on the state of California and how best to fix it. A couple of excerpts, with my comments, follow.
Now the state has become America’s shadow self. True, it is more prosperous than ever, surpassing Germany last year to become the world’s fourth-largest economy. But Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, and smaller cities are today overrun by homeless encampments, which European researchers more accurately describe as “open drug scenes.” Crime has become so rampant that many have simply stopped reporting it, with nearly half of San Franciscans telling pollsters that they were a victim of theft in the last five years and a shocking one-quarter saying that they had been assaulted or threatened with assault.
This is, of course, news to precisely no one who has been conscious the last decade or so. I’ve often related how my Old Man would talk about visiting San Francisco not long after VJ-Day in 1945, and his impressions on what a beautiful, prosperous city it was, and how bemused and disappointed he was when he lived long enough to see the rot really take hold. And the rot has some easily identifiable sources:
These pathologies are just the most visible manifestations of a deeper rot. Less than half of California’s public school students are proficient in reading, and just one-third are proficient in math (with a stunning 9 percent of African-Americans and 12 percent of Latinos in L.A. public schools proficient in eighth-grade math). Education achievement declined precipitously in California in 2021, as the state kept children studying at home well after kids in other states had returned to the classroom. Californians pay the most income tax, gasoline tax, and sales tax in the United States, yet suffer from electricity blackouts and abysmal public services. Residential electricity prices grew three times faster in 2021 than they did in the rest of the United States. And the state government, dependent on income taxes, faces a projected $23 billion budget deficit that will only grow if the nation’s economy enters a recession. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given these trends, California’s population stopped expanding in 2014 and has slightly declined since, resulting in the loss of a congressional seat after the 2020 Census.
All of these things – every damn one of them – can be laid at the feet of California’s Democrat party politicians. They have managed to twiddle the election system in the once and former Golden State to ensure them a super-majority; every bit of policy in California was put in place by them. There is no escaping this conclusion: The Democrats screwed this state up, and now they are going to have to fucking own it.
Here’s my concern, and it’s where I part ways with Shellenberger: Can California be saved? Color me skeptical. Shellenberger writes:
It is thus understandable why so many have given up on California and treat it simply as an example of what not to do. But change in the U.S. often starts in California and moves east. And neither party has set forth a compelling alternative to the California model. Anti-woke liberals and conservatives alike who have chosen to stay in California should take the opportunity to build a new political movement based on a clear-eyed assessment of the situation, an expansive vision, and first principles. A political coalition that differentiated itself from the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, while retaining support from moderate Democrats, could command immense political support by focusing on two issues alone—homelessness and schools. Add public order, nuclear energy, water desalination, and sensible housing policies, and such a movement could be of generational importance.
While the author is right to point out that neither party (in California, at least) has set out a comprehensive reform program, I would counter that as long as California’s jungle primary system guarantees one-party rule of that state, the California GOP has very little reason to bother. As I pointed out earlier, the Dems have a solid supermajority, as long as the jungle primary system is in place they will likely continue to hold that supermajority, and as long as activists can cash in on all of the many and varied “crises” in this state – homelessness, crime, education, rolling brownouts and so forth – the legislature has no compelling reason to change anything.
Of course, Herb Stein’s law applies here: What can’t continue, won’t continue. But the “fix” isn’t going to be neat, clean or easy. It’s going to be messy, likely violent at times, and it may end up with California going through quite a catharsis before any semblance of sanity is restored. I may be wrong on that – I hope I am – but I’m afraid I’m not.