The California state song, never heard except for perhaps at the funerals of former governors, speaks much
of the enchanting beauty of the great state. The chorus lovingly decribes, "Where the snow crowned Golden Sierras/Keep their watch o'er the valleys bloom,/It is there I would be in our land by the sea,/Every breeze bearing rich perfume./It is here nature gives of her rarest. It is Home Sweet Home to me,/And I know when I die I shall breathe my last sigh/For my sunny California." And for generations this was true for many people-- including many of the brightest, most creative, and most innovative people that this country was host to. Titans of aerospace and technology, farming and winemaking, art and literature, music and cinema, architecture and education-- all called the land of honey, fruit, and wine their home. From the wonders of the Mulholland Aqueduct bringing water down to dry Los Angeles to the Golden Gate Bridge gleaming proudly in the bay, from farms that supply this country with its fruit and wine to pastures that bring us milk and cheese, the diverse and ingenious leaders of the California economy were long the envy of the world. People flocked to the rich landscape, the plenty jobs, and the chance to become rich or famous. They viewed it as the incubator for their dreams and aspirations.
Now, though, things have changed
, and the Golden State is looking more and more dull. For the first time in decades, California did not gain a new congressional district, and the number of people leaving the state for other states rather than moving to California actually increased this past decade. They are moving to Texas, Nevada, Arizona, and Colorado, seeking cheaper climates and less competition for jobs. My mother and stepfather are excellent examples of this; frustrated with California, unable to afford living expenses, and struggling to keep hold of decent-paying jobs, they migrated to Ohio a few years ago. Today they have no intention of ever going back to California, and usually deride the state and caution anyone with fancies of going there not to.
Oppressed by taxes and burdened by regulations, businesses in California are fleeing elsewhere-- last year, it ranked 50th among the states in creating new businesses. I had the opportunity to participate in a round table briefing with the CEO of Carls Jr./Hardees, Andrew Puzder, a few months ago. He was discussing this very problem, and said that Rick Perry had personally called him and asked him to move to Texas, waving incentives in front of him. The headquarters of the highly successful fast food chain are indeed moving
, with its jobs and taxes and 300 new restaurants. Additionally, the restaurant chain is expanding---in Asia. "It is easier to build a restaurant in Shangai than it is in California," lamented the business leader.
As unemployment climbs higher and higher, and as business continues to flee at an alarming rate, the Golden State will spiral downward into a dustbowl-like abyss. Even Hollywood has to lobby
for special dispensations to continue to do business in the state-- evidence that, as Puzder mentioned, businesses don't actively want to leave their homes. It isn't like a CEO comes in, cackles, rubs his hands together, and figures out how he's going to put his neighbors out of a job. They are being forced out by this burden. The main exception to this for now is Silicon Valley, but as Amazon's recent spat with California
may evidence, the tech industry is not as permanently tethered to the Golden State as one might think. At the end of the day, they, too, are businessmen. And, as it stands right now, only the famous in Hollywood and the billionaires in the Bay Area are capable of affording the state-- the middle class seems firmly content to resettle to business-, job-, and home-friendly Texas, Arizona, and Colorado. Magazines, polls, websites, and common sense direct many college graduates to those states as well--there are jobs and affordable homes-a-plenty in Texas. Until California rids itself of this hostile climate, the gleam will not return to the Golden State.
However, a recent poll
shows a glimmer of hope. The vast majority of Californians believe that the country is heading in the wrong direction and, normally not known for being spendthrifts, reject a stimulus approach and think that the government needs to tackle the deficit. The Californians agree that government needs to cut back a bit. But, of course, the parties disagree on the best way to get there-- Republicans want to cut, cut, and cut spending, while Democrats want to rollback some tax cuts, have targeted cuts in spending, and boost funding in education to get skilled workers. Nonetheless, the language is one of restraining government. Keynes is dying in California. While the poll also indicates that both sides want their representatives to entrench themselves and not compromise, this will be overcome at the ballot box next year. The opportunity is ripe to jumpstart a conversation in the state that is home to more than one in ten Americans; that is home to some of the most innovative, diverse, and industrious of us. For a century it has stood as the playground of so-called "progressive" politics; if the opportunity to play ball now is missed, it may be some time before it comes again-- and by that point it may be pointless playing.
It can glisten again one day. It will just take hard work and, as obstinate as the poll indicates people are, some compromise here and there. Measured tax increases on certain sectors, substantial spending cuts in various programs, deregulation of most business areas, and decentralizing certain things from Sacramento to the county and city governments would go a long way-- even enough to agree to boosts in some educational programs. It is a good opportunity to at least try pull the state a little bit away from the precipice-- it can be a good start. It's time to start talking about how California's best days could yet be ahead of it, if only these things were done. They could make that gold gleam again, perhaps even brighter than before.