11.28.2009

California's Dreamin'


Having lived in California from ages 3 to 18, I have tons of family and friends there, easily my densest aggregation of loved ones outside of Philadelphia. Almost all are solidly upper-middle-class, not tottering on the brink of financial or social disaster. So you can forgive them for not conveying any panic about California’s deteriorating fiscal situation. And, doomsday scenarios notwithstanding, there’s something to be said about a place that has beautiful weather, beautiful people, and a sunny, can-do spirit.

And yet. Is California the happy frog slowly boiling to death in the pot of water? Political gerrymandering, imposing unions, and tight environmental regulations have led to a panoply of simmering challenges, from a state budget on the brink, overcrowded prisons, underfunded schools, intrastate disputes over water, and population declines to lower-cost regions. City Journal responds to Time Magazine’s rosy outlook on California (“Despite Its Woes, California's Dream Still Lives”) with its own, more guarded take (“Time is On California’s Side, but Time is Not”).

It is often said that as California goes, so goes the rest of the nation. And some of the “frog in boiling water” mindset can be seen at a national level as well: “We’re America: people will always want to live/work/play here!” I don’t subscribe to the whole “this is the end of the American hegemony,” but neither do I think we can coast from here on out and hope that our contenders will shoot themselves in the foot before they eat us for lunch.

I’ll say this about California like I think about the US as a whole: so long as people are sufficiently motivated to work hard, innovate, and be engaged, and so long as governments are properly held accountable to do what only they can do and tread lightly where they have the possibility of doing harm, I’m bullish. There is too much pent-up creativity, entrepreneurship, and freedom-loving in Californians and Americans for me to think otherwise. And yet, I see signs that the water temperature is slowly creeping up, and I am worried; and I am even more worried that the frog in the pot hasn’t yet noticed the rising temperature.

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