Labor

Starving the Future in California

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The California Dream in 1941.

When Joel Kotkin asks "Where did California go wrong?" it's like when Jerry Lewis sings "You'll Never Walk Alone." You've heard it done before, and you know the lyric pretty well. But you still have to hear the man sing the song he was born to sing.

For a précis of what's eating the land of the nuts and the fruits, I recommend Kotkin's latest, "The Golden State's War On Itself." Starting from the premise that Cali flourished under the mobility-and-business progressives of the mid-20th century, Kotkin charts the decline:

Between 2003 and 2007, California state and local government spending grew 31 percent, even as the state's population grew just 5 percent. The overall tax burden as a percentage of state income, once middling among the states, has risen to the sixth-highest in the nation, says the Tax Foundation. Since 1990, according to an analysis by California Lutheran University, the state's share of overall U.S. employment has dropped a remarkable 10 percent. When the state economy has done well, it has usually been the result of asset inflation—first during the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s, and then during the housing boom, which was responsible for nearly half of all jobs created earlier in this decade.

Since the financial crisis began in 2008, the state has fared even worse. Last year, California personal income fell 2.5 percent, the first such fall since the Great Depression and well below the 1.7 percent drop for the rest of the country. Unemployment may be starting to ebb nationwide, but not in California, where it approaches 13 percent, among the highest rates in the nation. Between 2008 and 2009, not one of California's biggest cities outperformed such traditional laggards as New York, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia in employment growth, and four cities—Los Angeles, Oakland, Santa Ana, and San Bernardino–Riverside—sit very close to the bottom among the nation's largest metro areas, just slightly ahead of basket cases like Detroit. Long a global exemplar, California is in danger of becoming, as historian Kevin Starr has warned, a "failed state."

What went so wrong? The answer lies in a change in the nature of progressive politics in California. During the second half of the twentieth century, the state shifted from an older progressivism, which emphasized infrastructure investment and business growth, to a newer version, which views the private sector much the way the Huns viewed a city—as something to be sacked and plundered. The result is two separate California realities: a lucrative one for the wealthy and for government workers, who are largely insulated from economic decline; and a grim one for the private-sector middle and working classes, who are fleeing the state.

The diagnosis here is a lethal and self-perpetuating mix of anti-growth policies, taxes and fees, identity politics and massive public-sector commitments. That's familiar territory, but Kotkin takes a special interest in the way the progressive dream seems to exclude everybody except the super-rich. California is, as you have probably heard, extremely difficult for normal people to live in.

That can't end well, as (thanks to the increasing fluidity of high-paying tech and brain-economy jobs) it's even getting harder to be super-rich in California. It's also bad democracy. One of the cool things about California is that it's still a place where you see cars on cinderblocks and chicken coops in yards. I suspect what motivates the New Urbanists is not some jones to take light rail to strolling malls with high-end retail. It's something more basic: aesthetic revulsion at the unsightliness of their neighbors. If you apply that premise to progressives more broadly, many perplexing behaviors—socialists living in gated communities, hostility to small business, even L.A.'s racist one-cock-per-person regulation—begin to make sense.

Take it away, Jerry:

NEXT: From the Dept. of Ultimate Corrections, Slate Edition

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  1. Sooooo the problem is…revenue shortfall?

    1. Fucking Proposition 13…

      1. If only the schools had more money.

      2. Paul|8.9.10 @ 7:35PM|#
        “Fucking Proposition 13…”

        Only a good start…

    2. California is broken.

  2. L.A.’s racist one-cock-per-person regulation

    I had no idea that higher ratios were possible.

    1. Well, you need to have a detachable one so that you can put different ones on at different times.

      1. Or even a rocket attachment. (Maybe NSFW)

      2. Thats the 2nd time this video has been posted in the past month or so. It works every time.

        1. Is it king missile? Could it be anything else?

          1. Maybe its also the solution to Prop 8.

  3. socialists living in gated communities

    Socialism is a gated community.

    1. It’s just a matter of which side the barbed wire is pointed.

      1. That Tatu video is super-hot.

  4. I told you cosmotarian animal rights fucks.Cockfighting bans will be the death of liberty and civilization.

  5. Oh, and thanks for the article, Tim. I now know where Washington will be in ten years.

    1. Paul, you’re so pessimistic. We’ll just have a state income tax, a still ridiculously high sales tax, and probably a still state-controlled liquor supply, amongst other things.

      1. And they’ll still be arguing over the Bellevue light rail route.

        1. And the light rail still won’t go all the way to Sea-Tac.

          1. I should have stayed in Bellingham.

      2. Thanks E-Man! I usually hate knowing that I live in OH…

        Our (state) sales tax is (only?) 6% –(local shit makes it 6.75%), and I can now even buy my liquor at Giant Eagle on a Sunday (at a state mandated “minimum” price) here in Groove City.

        Then again, “Teh people” raised my property taxes by $450/yr last November (for the teacher’s unions children!)… and “starting salary” for a local “police sargeant” is now $80k/yr (with almost another $40K annually in healthcare/pension costs…).

        I haven’t seen Warren lately, so I fell obligated to say…

        DOOOOOOOM!

  6. And how do you Californian’s feel about your next governor: Jerry Brown?

    1. Same way I felt about him the first time. (Yes! I’ve lived in both CA and WA!)

    2. I’m sure that his tenure will be marginally more pleasant than driving a railroad tie through my nutsack.

      1. Don’t knock it till you tried it!

        1. Don’t be so sure that Jerry Brown will be the next Governor. There’s always the chance that the CEO who ruined HP could spend her way in. Of course, once she’s in, I can only assume she’ll be about as effect as the Governator in instituting reform.

          1. Nutmeg or moonbeam? Some choice eh?

          2. There’s always the chance that the CEO who ruined HP could spend her way in.

            That only happens in Hollywood movies. Otherwise, our last presidents would have been Steve Forbes and Ross Perot.

            1. Of course, Washington did get Maria Cantwell as Senator… so…

          3. Programs! Programs! Can’t tell the politicians without a Program! Getcher programs here!

            Meg (gubernatorial candidate) = eBay
            Carly (senatorial candidate) = HP

            Brown had his chance to screw up California and he did his best. Been there, done that. Next! How could anyone vote for him, who has listened to him cap on California politicians — including himself when he was Governor? You could only do that if the alternative was worse. Cue Whitman.

            As usual, I’ll almost certainly be voting for the Libertarian: Dale Ogden, this year. See http://www.daleogden.org/

          4. Aren’t you talking about Fiorina, who is running for Boxer’s seat?

            Whitman is going against Brown Governor, and she ran eBay.

            And, if she wins, she probably won’t be very effective in getting any reform done, she’d just steer the state over a cliff less slowly than Brown would.

            As I’ve just moved here for school, it’s all I can hope for.

          5. Don’t forget – she did great things for Lucent too!

    3. Pretty great. He demonstrated fiscal restraint and general pragmatics the first time around and is obviously dedicated to public service.

    4. Pretty great. He demonstrated fiscal restraint and general pragmatics the first time around and is obviously dedicated to public service.

  7. In some parts of the Golden State – San Diego, San Fran – some people are still willing to be fleeced for the privilege of living with great weather, beautiful vistas and refined cultural resources. But outside of those redoubts, the sheep are catching on.

    It’s a shame, really, seeing California devoured by cannibals. It was such a nice place.

  8. even L.A.’s racist one-cock-per-person regulation

    huh?

    how is that racist?

    1. You are a racist for even asking that question.

    2. Your avianphobia sickens me.

    3. My guess is that it’s racist because it’s targeted towards Latins, specifically poor ones. Having lived in central San Jose, two houses down from a poor Mexican family with corn plants (!) growing in the front yard, and being woken up by their rooster every morning, I see why the ordinance may have started. Evidently, poor Latins raise chickens much more than other poor ethnic groups in L.A. Still, it’s their property and until it becomes a common-law nuisance, raise as many chickens as you want.

      Or, as SIV noted, it’s probably an anti-cockfighting measure.

  9. Please be gentle on my state.

  10. who the fuck am i supposed to vote for in november? I think I’m just going to leave all the positions blank while voting no on all the propositions, as usual.

    1. What about Prop 19? Legalize pot and maybe lighten up on the devastating drug war? Stop filling prisons with non-violent offenders? Sounds like a great idea to me.

      1. okay yeah I’ll vote yes on that. my default is to vote NO just because almost all propositions raise taxes or spend my money in worse and worse ways.

    2. Vote against united government. Vote against the lifelong politician who’s a son of a politician. Vote against the candidate who helped create the current mess when he was Governor.

      Whitman is not wonderful on policy. But so what? Voting in someone who went 28 years without voting is at least a big middle finger to the people who consider government the end-all and be-all of society.

  11. Why can’t Reason hire this hard hitting SOB? http://www.cspan.org/Watch/Med…..grity.aspx
    Have a drink on me.

  12. He hits it on the head:

    “a lethal and self-perpetuating mix of anti-growth policies, taxes and fees, identity politics and massive public-sector commitments.”

    If it wern’t for the movie industry, L.A. would be a third world city.

    1. As Burt Reynolds says in Hustle: “Look at this city. It’s Guatemala with color TV.”

    2. um no. If it wasn’t for inport/export and the garment industry LA would be a …

      the movie industry is a distant third.

  13. What went so wrong? The answer lies in a change in the nature of progressive politics in California.

    Hey, don’t forget about climate change!

  14. When Joel Kotkin asks “Where did California go wrong?” it’s like when Jerry Lewis sings “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” You’ve heard it done before, and you know the lyric pretty well. But you still have to hear the man sing the song he was born to sing.

    Ga-a-ag! Did you at least lube up and offer a reach around before torturing that analogy, Tim?

  15. Kotkin’s article seems to posit that there is a “good” kind of progressive.

    He’s so fucking wrong. There are really bad ones, and then the ones who are worse.

    1. To win converts, you must tell the sheep what they want to hear.

  16. Glimpses of California (1946)

    I love the old Traveltalks shorts. I can’t remember if it’s the one above or Around the World in California, but in one of them, James FitzPatrick has the wonderful line, “Los Angeles has a population of several thousand Mexicans.” And then there are the bike tours through Beverly Hills with no traffic on the streets….

  17. > One of the cool things about California is that it’s still a
    > place where you see cars on cinderblocks and chicken coops in
    > yards. I suspect what motivates the New Urbanists is not some jones
    > to take light rail to strolling malls with high-end retail. It’s
    > something more basic: aesthetic revulsion at the unsightliness of
    > their neighbors
    . If you apply that premise to progressives more
    > broadly, many perplexing behaviors — socialists living in gated
    > communities
    , hostility to small business, even L.A.’s racist
    > one-cock-per-person regulation — begin to make sense.

    Once all housing is under the control of privatize corporate governments, which is idealized by the libertarians at Cato, those unsightly neighbors and their cars on cinderblocks and their chicken coops will be forced out of your neighborhood.

    The libertarian “Houston Lawyer” posted at Volokh.com, “Why the ragging on HOAs? I have found that they are far more responsive than city government. My one phone call to the HOA stopped a neighbor from parking a Ford Excursion in his front yard.” It’s not only the liberals who experience “aesthetic revulsion at the unsightliness of their neighbors,” and are willing to trade liberty for the (false) promise of protected property values.

    Given the tyranny by, collectivist nature of, and the lack of individual private property rights in HOAs — which is why I refer to them as privatized corporate communism — the idea of “socialists living in gated communities” should not be seen as “perplexing.”

    As an anonymous “Southern California professional woman” quoted by Robert Nelson said “I thought I’d never live in a planned unit development but then I realized I wanted a single-family detached home with some control over my neighbors” (“Collective Ownership of American Housing: A Social Revolution in Local Governance” July 2000).

    I understand that libertarians believe that gated communities (and HOAs in general) are manifestations of the free market, not socialism. It’s a position I disagree with, but that’s what libertarians keep telling me. See, for example, John McClaughry’s defense of gated communities in the August/September 1995 issue of Reason (article title: “Private Idahoes”). Or Robert Nelson’s “Privatizing the Neighborhood” (1999). Or “Free-Market Alternatives to Zoning” (Independence Institute, 2003). Perhaps they’re just a bunch of closet communists?

    Of course, anyone familiar with the issue knows that HOAs are the result of municipal mandates and incentives that create massive distortions in the housing markets, leaving consumers with less — and sometimes no — choice. But every libertarian I’ve argued with this about, including here at Hit & Run, is unfamiliar with the thesis presented by Steve Siegal in “The Public Role in Establishing Private Residential Communities: Towards a New Formulation of Local Government Land Use Polices That Eliminates The Legal Requirements To Privatize New Communities In The United States” (Urban Lawyer. Fall 2006).

    1. I don’t think you can read. Kotkin was simply mentioning one example, out of several, of the kind of hypocrisies the liberal gentry in California engage in frequently. If you want to join a gated community, that’s your choice.

      1. > I don’t think you can read. Kotkin was simply mentioning one example,
        > out of several, of the kind of hypocrisies the liberal gentry in
        > California engage in frequently.

        I was commenting about what Cavanaugh wrote, re the motive of the New Urbanists and their desire to impose their aesthetic preferences on other homeowners. See the section I quoted above.

        I was not commenting about what Kotkin wrote.

    2. Once all housing is under the control of privatize corporate governments, which is idealized by the libertarians at Cato, those unsightly neighbors and their cars on cinderblocks and their chicken coops will be forced out of your neighborhood.

      Yeah, total control, that is what we libertarians are about, and you communist are against.

      [eyes rolling like slot machine digits]

      1. > Yeah, total control, that is what we libertarians are about,
        > and you communist are against.

        Serious question: Why do you believe I’m a communist?

      2. If you are going to go to these extreme and convoluted lengths to make an anti-libertarian argument that it only makes sense within your headspace, why the Hell do you think I owe you the benefit of the doubt wasting my time parcing the minuscule differences between Marxist, Social Democrats, progressives, and liberals when you all deserve to be put up against the same wall and shot?

        1. > that it only makes sense within your headspace

          If I keep the ideas only in my headspace, then nobody can help me find the flaws with them.

      1. > Hyperbolize much?

        Absolutely never.

        Although you might want to ask the guy who called me a communist.

        Let me know which part you found to be hyperbolzing, and I’ll do my best to defend it.

        1. Let me know which part you found to be hyperbolzing, and I’ll do my best to defend it.

          In case you are really serious about this question perhaps this: I understand that libertarians believe that gated communities (and HOAs in general) are manifestations of the free market, not socialism. It’s a position I disagree with

          So you are saying that voluntary purchase of property in a HOA=Socialism. Apparently, socialism doesn’t mean what you think it does.

          Socialism is imposed by the government with the threat of actual force. No one is forced to buy property in a HOA. At any time they are free to sell their property, also. Libertarians believe in free association without coercion. No one is coerced into buying a property in a HOA.

          “But I want to buy property there and not follow the rules” isn’t libertarian, it is libertine.

        2. Let me know which part you found to be hyperbolzing, and I’ll do my best to defend it.

          Let’s see. Let’s start with the opening of your very first sentence: “Once all housing is under the control of privatize corporate governments…”

          Why would all housing end up following this pattern, instead of the usual diversity of products that one sees in a free market?

          1. (1) Steven Siegal, in “The Public Role in Establishing Private Residential Communities: Towards a New Formulation of Local Government Land Use Polices That Eliminates The Legal Requirements To Privatize New Communities In The United States” (Urban Lawyer. Fall 2006), writes that for over a decade municipalities have been requiring that almost all new housing be built under the control of some type of HOA corporation.

            This has created a massive distortion in the housing market, leaving consumers with less — in some areas little or no — choice.

            Currently 20% of the population lives under some form of HOA corporate government, with the continued rapid growth being more supply driven (by governments and developers) than demand driven.

            (2) The libertarian poster boy for privatizing neighborhood government, Robert Nelson, is a proponent of imposing HOAs on neighborhoods where they don’t currently exist.

            This article proposes that a new legal instrument be enacted to permit existing neighborhoods to establish collective private property right regimes of their own. Neighborhood property owners could vote — a supermajority but not unanimity would be required — to create a private “neighborhood association” to regulate land use and perform other service functions in their area.This article proposes that a new legal instrument be enacted to permit existing neighborhoods to establish collective private property right regimes of their own. Neighborhood property owners could vote — a supermajority but not unanimity would be required — to create a private “neighborhood association” to regulate land use and perform other service functions in their area.
            (Robert Nelson. “Privatizing the Neighborhood” 1999)

            Nelson’s vision of libertopia is currently the situation in Texas, which as one of the most repressive HOA regimes in the country — or at least media that reports on them. This may be in large part due to the efforts of state senator John Carona (Republican – Dallas), who owns HOA management companies and vendors, and obviously crafts the laws in favor of his industry.

            If there is any other libertarian literature on HOAs, please point me to it. I can’t find much. When I was an activist in the gun rights movement back in the 1990s, during the Clinton administration, one of the great things about that experience was that there was an explosion of scholarship being produced to support the individual rights view of the second amendment and the utilitarian notion that guns deter instead of cause crime.

            Contrast the abundance of libertarian writing about gun ownership with the dearth of writing about HOAs. Although libertarians are proponents of individual private property ownership and rights, they have ignored the effects of, and the governments’ role in, one of the fastest growing forms of housing in America today.

            And what very little they have written is definitely pro-HOA (which is a partial answer to your other question below). But like the useful idiots with their romantic notions of communism, libertarians have ignored the real world results of their theories of privatized government.

            One of the fundamental problems with HOAs is that they have the power of small governments, but are shielded as corporations. While they have the power to tax and fine, they are not required to respect the rights of their “members” (HOA corporate speak for homeowners). There is no such thing as a Bill of Rights, only contract law — and the contract can be amended by one party without the consent of the other. In the absences of a Bill of Rights, there is nothing to prevent an HOA corporation from, say, giving itself the right to enter your home (such as the case of Bill Elliot and Mary Ann Frye).

            Nor are there market incentives for HOA corporations to treat homeowners as customers. rather as a food source to be farmed out to the professional property managers and parasitic tort lawyers.

            As George Orwell said, “The central problem — how to prevent power from being abused — remains unsolved…’If men would behave decently the world would be decent’ is not such a platitude as it sounds.” As the reality, not theory, of HOA corporations demonstrate, libertarians haven’t solved this problem any better than the Marxists.

            If HOAs are the result of the free market, as libertarians believe (but I don’t), then something is seriously wrong with the free market. I think you understand that, like any socio-political-economic theory, libertarianism is full of holes (eg, should you be allowed to contract yourself into slavery?).

            Since I have to get ready to go to work, I’ll just finish for now by saying, long story short (since I have to go to work soon), HOA adhesion contracts — which are often deed restrictions “publicly” posted in some filing cabinet at the county courthouse — fail the basic requirements of Rational Choice Theory (eg, informed consent, fully mobile consumer/voters, etc.) I don’t think anybody knowingly agrees to be abused by petty tyrants, or have their homes be forever collateral to whatever debts and liabilities the HOA corporation may create.

            If I don’t have time to continue this later, check out Evan McKenzie’s new book (working title: Private Governments, Local Communities) when it’s published later this year, since much of it deals with rebutting the libertarian arguments in favor of HOA corporations.

        3. Now let’s going on to the next phrase: “which is idealized by the libertarians at Cato”.

          The link take one to an article by two professors or perhaps grad students (presumably) at George Mason. How is that “idealized by the libertarians at Cato”, rather than “an article by a couple of people that someone at Cato thought was worth reading”.

    3. IMO, HOAs are one of the primary reasons that mainstream middle-class suburbs are places of such notoriously boring uniformity.

      It’s got nothing to do with capitalism, or commercialism, or the media, or consumer culture. It’s the fact that the HOAs literally impose conformity on their residents.

      Knowing your neighbors might result in block parties or lawn care disputes or something, so everyone stays indoors, keeps their identical lawn, and avoids notice.

      1. Yup. I lived in a condo complex for a few years. Thought having a HOA was annoying until I was elected to the HOA board. I really started to resent the existence of HOA when I had to hear about all my neighbor’s petty complaints about their neighbors. Wasn’t aware I was participating in a socialist regime at the time, though.

        1. > Wasn’t aware I was participating in
          > a socialist regime at the time, though.

          Even with the emphasis on collectivism over individual rights, and the lack of individual private property rights, that’s so prevalent in the HOA industry?

          An anonymous “Southern California professional woman” quoted by Robert Nelson said “I thought I’d never live in a planned unit development but then I realized I wanted a single-family detached home with some control over my neighbors” (“Collective Private Ownership of American Housing: A Social Revolution in Local Governance” July 2000). Nelson’s article is supposed to be a libertarian argument in favor of HOAs?!

          HOAs are so communistic in nature, I’m having a hard time figuring out why conservatives and libertarians love them so much (except for John Carona; his motives are obvious).

  18. Stop hating on the New Urbanists. Some of their biggest policy prescriptions ? eliminating the mandate that developers build parking lots and eliminating zoning that precludes dense development ? are distinctly libertarian, even if they (and apparently you, Reason) don’t realize it.

    1. Except that they aren’t eliminating mandates and zoning, they’re simply rewriting them to favor the dense developments they like.

    2. New Urbanists are useful idiots who provide cover for people trying to produce artificial scarcity. Ask anyone who votes for a “Smart Growth” plan. Smart Growth means no growth.

  19. Wonder what Joni Mitchell has to say these days after this?:

    Sitting in a park in Paris, France
    Reading the news and it sure looks bad
    They won’t give peace a chance
    That was just a dream some of us had
    Still a lot of lands to see
    But I wouldn’t want to stay here
    It’s too old and cold and settled in it’s ways here
    Oh, but California
    California I’m coming home
    I’m going to see the folks I dig
    I’ll even kiss a Sunset pig
    California I’m coming home.

  20. To write an article about California’s perilous financial state and not make a single mention of Prop 13 indicates you are not really serious about this conversation. That proposition wrecked the state’s long-term fiscal ability by attacking property taxes and the ability of the legislature to raise state taxes without a supermajority. Thirty years after Prop 13 passed, we’re seeing the consequences. I’m only sorry Howard Jarvis is dead so we can’t march on his house with pitchforks and torches.

  21. Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.

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