How Big Government Is Killing California

When you've lost the entrepreneurs, free-spirits, and dreamers, you've lost the Golden State.

The new USC study pointing to a much-slower population growth rate in California has been greeted by demographers and urban planners as good news, in that it supposedly gives our state’s leaders a little breathing room to plan better for the future. The rate of growth has slowed to about 1 percent a year, the result of fewer immigrants coming here and so many Californians heading to other states.

“The cooling pace means the state, city and county governments and other entities will have more time to prepare for a bigger population than they did in years past, allowing for more effective planning,” according to the Los Angeles Times, paraphrasing the study’s authors. “That could ensure that new roads and parks, for example, are put in areas where they are most needed and where growth is likely to be sustained, they said.”

That’s an absurdly optimistic spin. California’s elected officials have been doing as little planning as possible, unless one counts planning to spend tens of billions of dollars the state doesn’t have on a high-speed rail line that will partially replicate what the airlines already do now. Our leaders are battling new water-storage facilities and punishing farmers with absurd water restrictions. They impose roadblocks toward building new highway systems and land-use regulations make it nearly impossible to build the homes and businesses necessary to meet the needs of a growing population. One can hardly call that planning.

The state is still growing, but this decline in the rate of growth is symbolic news: The California Dream is over. People don’t want to come here even though this is, with little question, the most beautiful state in the union. Americans -- even those who like to mock our state -- ought to think about what this means.

California has always been a magnet -- a land that has called people from across the country and the world. It’s a place that was known for its entrepreneurial spirit and open culture. But it has been turned into a regulatory and tax nightmare, a place where those who already have their money can live in their coastal palaces and enjoy the splendor of the landscapes, but where it’s unnecessarily difficult to move one’s way up the economic ladder. The USC study doesn’t reveal anything new as much as it confirms trends already apparent.

Four million more people have left California for other states than have come here from other states in the past two decades, according to demographer Joel Kotkin. The population growth has been coming mainly from immigrants and births from people already living here, but now the USC study shows that immigrants are going elsewhere. A cynic might say that California’s liberal elites have ended the state’s contentious battles over illegal immigration by destroying opportunities here.

Kotkin, an old-time liberal, sees troubling trends. “Basically, if you don’t own a piece of Facebook or Google and you haven’t robbed a bank and don't have rich parents, then your chances of being able to buy a house or raise a family in the Bay Area or in most of coastal California is pretty weak,” he said in a recent Wall Street Journal interview. “The new regime wants to destroy the essential reason why people move to California in order to protect their own lifestyles.” He says the state is run for the benefit of the very rich, the very poor, and public employees.

This is not a healthy society. And the demographic changes point to an aging population. Far from reducing the burdens on the state government, this will increase them. State officials are not building to meet future needs, but they have been squandering future dollars on excessive pay and pension packages for public employees. Look for a coming battle between services for lower-income Californians and retirement benefits for the most powerful special interest group in the state, public employees.

There’s no chance the state’s most serious fiscal issues will be solved or even addressed soon. Earlier this month, Democratic Assembly leaders announced that they have no time to deal with the governor’s modest pension reform plan. They do have time to deal with hundreds of other bills, most of which range from the silly to the crazy. What’s the chance they will handle any of the other issues restricting California’s economy?

Gov. Jerry Brown points to economic growth in Silicon Valley as evidence of the success of his policies, but that area is an anomaly. The rest of the state is struggling. The anti-business, anti-growth policies pursued by Brown’s party will not make the situation better. People fleeing California are small business owners, young families, and tax-producers. They also tend to be more Republican, which means that as the exodus grows, so too grow the state’s tax and political problems. There will be fewer taxpayers and less political competition. 

California’s leaders want a slower-growing population. Many Californians, even more conservative ones, will be happy that there will be fewer people and less development. But it’s disturbing that California’s official policy has been to punish people who want to pursue their dreams here. The state’s draconian land-use policies involve limiting growth, thus inflating the cost of property near the coast and pushing less-affluent people inland and to other states.

“What I find reprehensible beyond belief is that the people pushing [high-density housing] themselves live in single-family homes and often drive very fancy cars, but want everyone else to live like my grandmother did in Brownsville in Brooklyn in the 1920s,” Kotkin added, pointing to the “smart-growth” policies that dominate development decisions across California.

California remains a beautiful place, but it no longer is the destination for entrepreneurs, free-spirits, and dreamers. These are the fruits of modern-day progressive policies. This should be the cause of much sadness.

Steven Greenhut is vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    I first read the Kotkin article when Roger Ebert posted it on his Facebook page. And while Ebert refrained from judgment, his typically liberal followers were quick to
    1. attack Gotkin as a right-wing extremist writing for the plutocratic Wall Street Journal
    2. Gloat about how they, as liberals, are driving out all the undesirables and conservatives, leaving more for them
    3. Call for higher taxes to pay for their socialist lifestyle

  • Brutus||

    LALALALALALA....WE CAN'T HEAR YOU!!!

  • Pro Libertate||

    California expects to use its large voter base to con the federal government into bailing it out. It's that simple. And that simple-minded.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    I suspect as much. "Soooo, you thought you'd get away with some of your wealth by leaving California, eh? Guess again!"

  • juris imprudent||

    I see you've met the Franchise Tax Board - the place people too evil and/or stupid to work for the IRS end up.

  • Aresen||

    The problem with that strategy is that CA is already deep in Team Blue's pocket, so it cannot effectively threaten to defect to Team Red.

    Thus, Team Blue only has to make minimal effort to please CA when it holds power and Team Red has no interest in doing so during its time in office.

  • Pro Libertate||

    The other problem is the rest of the country doesn't give a fuck and would be horribly offended if California were bailed out.

    These facts have no bearing on what Californians believe.

  • steve walsh||

    Indeed, the Federal Government can only be conned into bailing out CA if the Senators and Representatives from the other 49 States agree/vote to do so. Queue: CA, Too Big To Fail caterwaul...

  • BarryD||

    There are some other extremely beautiful states, too. Remaining Californians typically don't know that.

    California is in some ways more a set of beliefs, than a place. Like a religion, challenges to these beliefs are met with condemnation, not interest. So like a religion, people who don't drink the Kool-Aid, end up leaving.

  • Richard||

    My resume is posted on my web site. The last time someone e-mailed me asking if I'd consider working for them I replied, "Although what you're doing is more interesting and certainly more remunerative than what I'm doing, I can't bear the thought of moving back to California."

    The guy replied that he understood.

  • Aresen||

    (quote)
    the most beautiful state in the union.

    (end quote)

    Had me nodding my head until that point.

    As an outsider, I'd pick Washington, Colorado, Wyoming, Oregon and Hawaii ahead of California. (I'd put Alaska ahead for four months of the year as well.)

  • Brian D||

    The northern New England states are also quite beautiful, as are central Appalachian states like Tennessee and Kentucky. The west coast doesn't have a monopoly on beauty.

  • sarcasmic||

    The west coast doesn't have a monopoly on beauty.

    Where else will you find ocean and mountains and desert and temperate rain forest, all within driving distance of each other?

  • steve walsh||

    Don't care, not valuable to me.

  • Ed Zeppelin||

    All that means little when the place you describe is a nightmarish hellscape of government run amok

  • DonTaylor||

    WA

  • BarryD||

    Theoretical driving distance, anyway...

  • TheZeitgeist||

    I like how you pick all states in the west, west is indeed the best. But I'd still have to say California is prettiest state in the union.

    You can go from lowest place on the continent to base of one of its highest in about two hours in California. Gold rolls out of rivers down the hills, oil oozes from the ground, trees tall as skyscrapers - like no where else on earth - look out over elk wandering a wild beach.

    Its a testament to the Donkeys they can take a place made like a fairy tale (and just as intrinsically rich) and still make it broke.

    Its like what P.J. O'Rourke said about Communism in East Berlin: It takes real effort to make so many Germans poor.

  • Ed Zeppelin||

    >Gold rolls out of rivers down the hills, oil oozes from the ground, trees tall as skyscrapers - like no where else on earth - look out over elk wandering a wild beach.<<br />
    except it's illegal to pan the gold, extract the oil, harvest the trees, or walk on that beach

  • TheZeitgeist||

    ... extract the oil, harvest the trees, or walk on that beach

    For all freedom offers, I'd hope as a libertarian some rich guy bought those stands of trees thousands of years in the making - let people come and see them instead of cut them down.

    I would if I had the means, it's totally worth it to me, hope somebody who did have the means would agree in such a situation.

    Like not all but most people, those trees are worth far less dead than alive.

  • califernian||

    Utah is on the list.

    But California is certainly in the finals.

  • R C Dean||

    My personal favorite is northern New Mexico.

  • KPres||

    "As an outsider, I'd pick Washington, Colorado, Wyoming, Oregon and Hawaii"

    They're all just as Socialist as California.

    Of course, the place people are moving TO (Texas) is basically a fucking desert.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    Wyoming is socialist? Colorado is Saudi Arabia compared to Waxman's district in these parts.

  • Ed Zeppelin||

    It's obvious you know nothing about Colorado.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    Come to Waxman's district and let's compare notes - especially if you don't live in Boulder.

  • Spoonman.||

    Have you ever been to Houston? Definitely not a desert.

  • LarryA||

    West Texas is desert, but not as much so as eastern California, where you find Death Valley.

    South Texas is a coastal plain, complete with palm trees. East Texas features piney woods. The Hill Country grows everything from apples to lavender, including a burgeoning wine industry. The valley produces fruit. The panhandle is high plains farming territory. Then there's the Davis Mountains.

    Come visit sometime.

  • ||

    If you like being buried up to your asshole in snow 8 months of the year staring at dead pine trees and the four walls because there isn't shit to do, Washington is great. Eastern Washington anyway. Western Washington isn't as lifeless and rarely gets snow, if you can tolerate living in San Francisco's insecure kid brother with an inferiority complex. Oregon is pretty much an extension of Washington, or Washington is an extension of Oregon, so they really shouldn't even be considered separately. Then again, maybe one just gets more cynical towards a territory having lived there most of their life. But in terms of the diversity of landscape, climate, wildlife, people and (until it was all shut down) industry and natural resources, California is the land of milk and honey. It's certainly one of the most unique places on earth thought of in those terms.

  • The Bearded Hobbit||

    There's a reason that they call it "The Land of Enchantment"

    ... Hobbit

  • coma44||

    When you've lost the entrepreneurs, free-spirits, and dreamers, you've lost the Golden State.

    I think the Government figures it is winning.

  • Old Mexican||

    A cynic might say that California's liberal elites have ended the state's contentious battles over illegal immigration by destroying opportunities here.


    I would like to meet this A. Cynic and shake his hand to congratulate him on his insighfulness and wisdom.

  • Old Mexican||

    Gov. Jerry Brown points to economic growth in Silicon Valley as evidence of the success of his policies, but that area is an anomaly.


    It's also not something that sprung from his head like Athena. The guy is a louse.

    People fleeing California are small business owners, young families, and tax-producers.


    Count me in with that crowd. We left when the going was good.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    I used to laugh at L.A. when I'd drive by it. "SUCKERS!" I'd say as I skittered on through - Who is dumb enough to live here? always on my mind as I did. Now, here the fuck I am. Ugh.

  • H. Protagonist||

    I got here in 1995. I escaped for 4 years (2005-2009), but it sucked me right back in. It's amazing, however, how much crappier it got in those 4 years.

    I have to find a way out...

  • ant1sthenes||

    Make your own way out. Start up a FOQNE chain.

  • Chupacabra||

    We're about to move to LA this summer (my wife's job), and I'm dreading it. We're moving from the Bay Area, though, so I'm used to idiot leftists.

  • Leaving soon.||

    My condolences. You're moving from an open-air urinal to a graffiti infested dump.

  • juris imprudent||

    I'm a SoCal native and I was never so disappointed in my life as when I moved to the Bay Area. That said, LA sucks and you have my sympathies.

    My last employer asked me what I thought about relocating our west coast office to LA - I told him (the president of the company) that he didn't have enough money to make me move there.

  • Leaving soon.||

    Yup, I'm leaving also. In about 18 months tops. Sooner if I can.

  • LarryA||

    We left when the going was good.

    We did too. 1960.

  • Tim||

    All the leaves are (Jerry) Brown,and the sky is gray (Davis).

  • Leaving soon.||

    Good one !!

  • 16th amendment||

    I like this article, but can we expand more on why Silicon Valley is doing well? We have the top companies like Facebook, Google, Oracle, Yelp, etc, etc. So we (whether that means government officials or private industry) are doing something right. There's still lots of innovation here.

    Maybe it's momentum left over from the old days in the sense that this is a tech hub and will remain that way for some time because venture capitalists, software engineers, etc are here. But perhaps that momentum is getting less.

    So let's talk about this.

  • Sevo||

    "Maybe it's momentum left over from the old days in the sense that this is a tech hub and will remain that way for some time because venture capitalists, software engineers, etc are here. But perhaps that momentum is getting less."

    There is an 'installed base' of talent and capital for such activity, probably more so than anywhere else, so it's no surprise that such businesses start in the valley.
    But you'll notice plants requiring skills other than those represented by that base rapidly go elsewhere. Plus, (re: Apple), a lot of the income is shielded from CA and even US taxes.
    There's a lot or ruin in companies making that sort of return.

  • KPres||

    Plus, (re: Apple), a lot of the income is shielded from CA and even US taxes. There's a lot or ruin in companies making that sort of return.

    Yep. Google too. Their home base is in Ireland. Apparently, the only businesses California can keep are multinationals that can keep their cash elsewhere so they don't have to pay for any of that socialist bullshit. For all government purposes, they're just visiting California for the weather.

  • 16th amendment||

    Yeah, but they hire lots of engineers, VP's, etc in CA. And these people pay lots of personal income state CA tax. Then there's other taxes paid by the company's vast offices in CA, payroll tax (SF has one), business taxes.

  • Sevo||

    16th amendment|4.27.12 @ 5:28PM|#
    "Yeah, but they hire lots of engineers, VP's, etc in CA. And these people pay lots of personal income state CA tax. Then there's other taxes paid by the company's vast offices in CA, payroll tax (SF has one), business taxes."

    Yes, and?
    Are you suggesting that the socialist government hasn't yet entirely emptied the place?
    Agreed; give 'em time.

  • Sevo||

    Try another example:
    There's an SF Chomical columnist (Jon Carroll, no surprise; a lefty) who griped four or five years ago that when gas prices rose, people didn't immediately drive their SUVs into the bay.
    I responded by (attempting) to explain marginal utility, such that some folks at the margins of finding SUVs valuable would now find them less so, others not so much; I got no response....
    Six months later, when you couldn't give an SUV away, I reminded him of the economic progression of marginal utility; I got banned....
    Are you familiar with marginal utility? You should be.

  • Harvard||

    It's expensive to move. The bigger you are the more expensive it is. What do you think kept the Big 3 in Michigan for so long, the weather?
    Wait until the plant and equipment becomes dated.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Stop referring to statism as liberalism.

  • Brian from Texas||

    I love the constant use of the Dead Kennedys single cover when California is discussed. I wonder if Jello Biafra is going to be one the list of Presidential candidates at the Green Party convention since Ralph Nader's not running.

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    Ya know, I have recently started listening to a bunch of Bad Religion. Those bastards play some awesome songs that have killer hooks but damn if they aren't the most Rousseauian fucksteaks. The libertarian in me says NOOO, but the punk rock fan in me says YEAH!

  • Zingotooo||

    Sometimes you just gotta scream Whos your Daddy lol.

    www.Gotta-Be-Anon.tk

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    Oh anonobot, you so crazzzzzy!

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    "California's elected officials have been doing as little planning as possible, unless one counts planning to spend tens of billions of dollars the state doesn't have on a high-speed rail line that will partially replicate what the airlines already do now."

    But, here in Central California, the UNelected officials of my regional transportation commission (unelected in the sense that nobody voted for them to serve on the commission -- most are concurrently elected to other local government offices) is making plans all the way to 2035. I know this for a fact because I attended one of their transportation workshops a couple of weeks ago. Their plans include goals, policy recommendations, and measurable targets. I learned what a "traffic calming measure" was and also that the "vehicle" in the transpo geek's buzzword, "vehicle miles traveled," refers to a privately-owned personal conveyance -- usually a personal car. Later, as I increased my own vehicle miles traveled on the way home, my shuffle-play mp3 device offered up Randy Travis' version of the Beatles' "Nowhere Man." It hadn't played that one for me in a long time. Does the thing have a mind-reading circuit?

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    By the way, I ran into difficulty, while trying to post the above. I had cut-and-pasted the quote from the article into my post, and this included the original, "curly" apostrophes in the words, "California's" and "doesn't." Reason.com's censor robot rejected the post on the basis that it included a word that was "too long" (over 50 characters). I almost fell out of my chair, laughing at that. But because I had invested a few minutes of my life in writing the thing, I revised and resubmitted a time or two, testing out theories about what might be the culprit, until I zeroed in on the article quote and its "accent aigu" apostrophes. It seems as if the censor 'bot counts all the characters between such apostrophes as single words.

    So Reason, mend your censor 'bot. Better yet, don't mend it, end it. This buggy, prissy, ridiculous automatic censor is something that seems more appropriate for a government website than for a site that proclaims "free minds, free markets."

  • Leaving soon.||

    It is the ultimate irony that Brown lauds Silicon Valley as 'proof' that California is vibrant while ignoring the fact that many of these same Silicon Valley firms have publicly announced they'll no longer expand in California. Intel, CISCO, etc. Even Apple, the darling of the Democrats, just opened a huge new facility in TEXAS of all places !! It employs 3,600 people. That's 3,600 jobs NOT in California. When even the last industry remaining in the state is heading for the exits, it shows the complete moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the Democrats in this state.

  • caseym54||

    It doesn't help that California Republicans, when they get any attention at all, make social conservative issues their focus. There is no sane opposition to the Democrats, it seems.

  • shamalam||

    Yeah, you have to admit Republicans are pretty much a bunch of morons. They get all worked up about issues that have essentially no bearing on prosperity, and expand the scope of the "government they like": who is having sex with whom, whether "intelligent design" should be taught in public schools, the "homosexual agenda", etc.

    All the while the Dems are pimping the "war on women", while they are busy fattening the version of government they like: more free shit, man; tax the rich, so we can have more free shit, man, etc.

    We are fucking doomed.

  • LarryA||

    Who do you think is left after all the sane California Republicans moved east?

    I keep remembering the CA Republican convention, where the two dozen attendees were wondering why no one showed up. Then Ron Paul crashed with a bunch of enthusiastic young people. The RP showed him the door.

    If they can't see the solution when their noses are rubbed in it, they're pretty much hopeless.

  • fearsomepirate||

    When a government's policies get so bad that they lose a critical mass of sane voters, the area is doomed. Detroit is a sterling example. Anyone with an ounce of sense left Detroit long ago, which has reduced the probability of them ever getting a decent government to about 0%. Detroit can't turn around. It is politically and demographically impossible. And neither can California.

  • jason||

    There is a report that the local californian are moving to the other states because of high taxes and costly life and in place of these peoples immigrants are helping here to grow california economy.

  • vivian||

    it is a good idea,learn from this article,thanks very much.lacoste pas cher

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement