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« Facts from The Economist | Main | Whither The NYTimes Book Review Section? »

February 04, 2004

California Nightmare?


You might find interesting a story in the L.A. Times about the relationships between California’s demographic crisis, California’s financial crisis, and California’s infrastructure crisis. The demographic crisis, which is the driver here, is the likely doubling of California's population (to roughly 60 million inhabitants) by 2040, a process driven chiefly by immigration. Called “Infinite Ingress” and written by Lee Green, the story examines the likely future of the ever-swelling Golden State and comes up rather on the pessimistic side. (You can read it, with registration, here.) A short sample:

The state has "a spending crisis," Schwarzenegger said in this month's State of the State message. But the state also has an evolving crisis of shifting demographics as immigration expands the underclass, which pays a lesser share of the tax burden. The Southern California Assn. of Governments' 2003 State of the Region Report found that the region's position "is slipping in nearly every performance category related to socio-economic well-being, including income and educational attainment. Among 17 major metropolitan areas nationwide, the region ranks 16th or worse in ... attainment of high school degrees, per capita income, persons in poverty, and children in poverty."

Researchers at the Rand Corp. think tank spotted these troubling trends in 1997 after studying 30 years of economic and immigration data. Rand's review concluded that "the large-scale of immigration flows, bigger families, and the concentration of low-income, low-tax-paying immigrants making heavy use of public services are straining state and local budgets."

The story goes beyond the strictly financial, however; it also discusses the overall inability of California’s governing classes to come to grips with the problems affecting the state, which include an overburdened infrastructure and environmental degradation.

There is more at stake here than mere comfort and convenience. Apply enough stress to any biological system and eventually it falters. Or as Brown puts it: "The economy is inside an environment—the environment is not inside an economy. Which is to say, the laws of nature will ultimately prevail over the laws of economics."

But if the people entrusted to lead the state are not having this discussion, if they're not grappling with these issues, then who is? That's a fine thing to think about the next time you're stuck in traffic. Which should be soon.

And remember...trends that start in California have a way of showing up nationwide.



posted by Friedrich at February 4, 2004


California's nightmare is more of an underclass problem than a population or immigration problem. An expanding population, whether through procreation or immigration, need not translate into a burgeoning criminal underclass. Neither does it follow that the poor and uneducated classes must necessarily become a social menace.

No, the problem is that our programs and laws, which reflect our degenerating cultural norms, tolerate and encourage behavior that should not be tolerated or encouraged. Until *that* changes, the growth of the underclass will continue unabated, with or without immigration.

Posted by: Jeff Culbreath on February 4, 2004 2:50 PM

Wow, it's a real zeitgeist landmark when the LATimes starts taking note of such things. I enjoyed this passage especially:

"Come to California," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger urged the world more than once in his State of the State address this month. But most residents are not happy about this trend. In a 2001 statewide poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, half of the respondents said they considered the previous decade's population growth a "bad thing." More than four of five said that continued growth would make the state a less desirable place to live.

And this one too:

Demographic studies after the 2000 census revealed that from 1990 to 2000, immigrants and their children accounted not for just some, or even most, of California's growth. They accounted for virtually all of it. Of the increase of 4.2 million people during those 10 years, the net gain generated by the native population was just 90,000, fewer than attend each year's Rose Bowl game.
Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 4, 2004 4:04 PM

In does mean changes in state law. Changes in housing and construction regulations, changes to industrial and business law. Look forward to liberalization in tax law, construction codes, and zoning regulations.

The older parts of cities will be substantially rebuilt; this time with multi-unit housing and the like.

Southern California is going to look a lot like the Kobe Plain in Japan.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on February 4, 2004 6:16 PM

Trends in California do tend to show up nationwide. But is this a trend?

It doesn't sound like one to me. After all, most Southern states have had an enormous underclass for decades now, and they don't seem to be collapsing under the strain.

Maybe California can take a few lessons from Mississippi. Then again, considering the condition of Northern California, I'd say it already has ...

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on February 4, 2004 6:44 PM

I miss Marc Reisner, who always wrote smart things about big-picture (really, really big) California issues.

Posted by: Tyler Green on February 6, 2004 10:55 AM

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