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October 10, 2009

California: Fading Lodestar

Donald Pitttenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I'll be off to California at the end of the month, looking for signs of damage.

Trouble is, the best way to spot economic and social damage is to examine reliable statistical time-series and comparisons. When I lived in upstate New York in the early 70s, we knew the Utica area was lagging behind a state already showing signs of economic decline. Yet when visiting the city, I saw a number of stores and new fast-food joints that seemed to be doing just fine.

This suggests that California will probably appear pretty much as it has in recent years, the most striking negative visual marker along Interstate 5 being the emptiness of the reservoir behind Shasta Dam.

When I was young, California was The Place To Be -- if you weren't totally into national politics (Washington, DC) or culture and mass media (New York City). In high school I idly considering going on to attend the Art Center School, then located in Los Angeles, or UCLA. Later on, I made unsuccessful stabs at getting a job in the Bay Area.

I was not alone.

Aside from gold rushes -- which are lousy indicators of long-term desirability of an area (think Klondike) -- America's fascination with California as a place to live and emulate began around 1900, picked up steam in the 1920s and 30s, and went full-blast during World War 2 and after.

One of my minor hobbies is assigning dates when places start going to hell. In California's case, I say it was around 1960, just as it was about to overtake New York as the country's most populous state. After that, the Sixties literally and figuratively kicked in, with California bearing the brunt. By 1990 I lost my desire to live there. (Well, if I had gobs of money, I can think of a few places such as Carmel and Santa Barbara that I might find tolerable.)

The movie and television industries remain and no doubt influence the country with California sensibility. Nevertheless, by almost any standard, the state has indeed gone to hell -- aside from its climate, of course. And I suspect that most Americans have come to understand that.

Does this mean that California is no longer the bellwether for the nation? That California trends will fizzle a few miles beyond its borders? I hope so. But it's still too soon to tell. Some worry that California's political/governmental dysfunction is a preview of this country's fate under one-party dominance of the Left. Still, political and economic actions often create reactions, and it might take five or more years to determine if such reactions have truly taken hold.



posted by Donald at October 10, 2009


As an Oregonian I've always been uneasy with California's nearness. Consequently, it has been disheartening watching Portland turn into the Bay Area north, which is to say a sort of fuck wit central.

Keep Portland weird is the pathetic battle cry on too many bumper stickers, that and the "People's Republic of Portland" shirt slogans and bumper stickers that have become a source of pride for those that sport them.

Frankly, many of that ruined state's daffier ideas are entrenched here and so are working to position us in that same region of fiscal ruin and adolescent smugness. Difficult to reply to California topics as the state is the national cloaca of bankrupt liberal passion. Who really wants to dip his mind in it?

Posted by: Larry on October 10, 2009 9:08 PM

California may have some severe budget woes and was the epicenter of the real estate bust, but it still has tremendous advantages on its side. It's the unchallenged center of the American - and world - high technology industry, the same for the entertainment industry, and is also the leading agricultural state, just to name a few things.

Posted by: Peter on October 10, 2009 11:33 PM

"if I had gobs of money..": yes, we reckon that London would be a bearable place to live if we were helicopter-rich.

Posted by: dearieme on October 11, 2009 5:53 AM

I'm a native Californian born in '57. 30 years ago, I thought anyone who would not want to live here was nuts. Now, I think anyone who would move here is...nuts.

That is not to say it hasn't still got its pleasant features. The weather here in coastal OC is terrific, and down here in the flatlands, all we really have to worry about is the occasional large earthquake. But those happen only once every 20 years or so, and your odds of being killed in one are pretty low. I wouldn't want to be under a freeway overpass or in a tall building when "the big one" hits though; I don't care what they tell us about how safe 60 story buildings are. Simple common sense says you don't build those things in seismically active areas.

What's really sent California down the tubes, in no particular order is (a) public employee unions, (b) the end of the Cold War and the disappearance of good aerospace and defense-related jobs, (c) an increasingly hostile business climate and the taxes that go along with that, and (d) large scale, mostly out of control immigration from Mexico and Central America. Simply put, you can't import a 3rd world population into a 1st world state, and expect it to keep working as smoothly as before. The necessary levels of human and social capital just aren't there.

Being a pessimistic sort, I think the chances are excellent that California will become the first "failed state" within our republic.

Posted by: Sgt. Joe Friday on October 11, 2009 3:36 PM

California can perform one last service for the country as it goes under, teaching a lesson about what not to do. States lacking a death wish should not:

Worship youth, power, physical attractiveness, and Mammon instead of God.

Imagine that an ever-growing population is a good thing.

Elect legislators who tax and tax, spend and spend. Assume that wealth just is and not something that has to be created.

View every form of rebellion against traditional standards as cool.

Replace the indigenous population with Third World peasants and continue to support open borders.

Posted by: Rick Darby on October 11, 2009 5:33 PM

I was just there a month ago, but over on the eastern side of the Sierras. For me, this is now the best part of California. It seems almost old fashioned with its wide open spaces and sparse population. You can get a good idea of what California was like back before WW2 by visiting the Owens Valley. My wife and I lived in the Bay Area in the eighties and enjoyed it, even though the business climate for small companies like ours was getting nastier by the hour. But we saw the changes coming and left in '91. I visit friends there every five or so years, but it is increasingly difficult because of the traffic, and therefore we tend to avoid the Bay Area, and when we want to go wilderness hiking, we fly to Reno or Las Vegas and drive to the Owens Valley, thereby avoiding the coastal and central valley areas. I think California's attractiveness reached its apogee during the Reagan years. Since the dot com bust, I have not felt the visceral desire to be there. I really missed California for many years after I left. But not now. Visits are brief and we try to stay out of the traffic. Even the beloved wine country is very congested now. California is a victim of its own success, along with its progressive hubris. There are some things that money cannot solve. I am nostalgic for the eighties, but not sure if that is the sigh of my lost youth, or the desire for the state as it was back then. Maybe both.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on October 11, 2009 5:56 PM

One thing I noticed a few years ago.

Some cities have achieved a universal or general cultural significance. The three that I recognized were London, Paris, and New York, These were the only cities I knew of which had streets and neighborhoods that were world-famous; that had local place names which held widely understood meaning. For instance, there used to be a bar in Chicago called "Pigalle" - a reference to the red-light district of Paris.

But I think Los Angeles reached that mythic level by the 1980s. There was a 1985 movie called Gotcha!, about an American teenager sucked into a spy intrigue in Berlin. To get clear, he hitches a ride with a local rock band on their way to a gig in Hamburg. They help him because he's from Los Angeles, where there are streets like... Sepulveda Boulevard!

This of course has been an effect of the location of culture industries in these cities.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on October 11, 2009 6:20 PM

California may have some severe budget woes and was the epicenter of the real estate bust, but it still has tremendous advantages on its side. It's the unchallenged center of the American - and world - high technology industry, the same for the entertainment industry, and is also the leading agricultural state, just to name a few things.

How's that working out?

Let me know when you move, moron.

Posted by: Mouthbreather on October 11, 2009 7:54 PM

Now, now ... we in California still plan to be starting trends.

Posted by: Erika Awakening on October 12, 2009 3:06 AM

California will continue to be important as long as Starfleet Headquarters continues to be based in San Francisco.


Posted by: bryan on October 12, 2009 11:53 AM

The turning point for California was June 6, 1978. That was the day Proposition 13 passed, a law that appealed to the teenager-of-all-ages in the electorate.

What I mean by that is, teenagers-of-all-ages think their parents are lying when they tell them that when they grow up, they'll have to pay for things like rent and/or a mortgage, and groceries, and transportation. Teenagers-of-all-ages believe adults have a magical money tree somewhere out in back, and could the parents please lend them a few bucks?

In the same way, teenagers-of-all-ages believe the tax rate should be zero. They all firmly believe there's a money tree out in the back somewhere that'll pay for fire, and police, and universities, and libraries, and sewers, and freeways, and public transportation, and all the rest.

Also, being teenagers, they don't see how they could get any possible benefit from spending money on someone other than themselves.

California may well be the preview of the rest of the country. Because it seems teenagers-of-all-ages now infest the entire country. (Eyman in Washington state and Norquist in DC immediately come to mind.)

Posted by: Laszlo Toth, Jr. on October 24, 2009 12:57 AM

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