One Bloomberg report from October predicts that California will become the world's fourth-largest economy, a likely improvement of one spot from its current ranking. That's an impressive accomplishment for a single state let alone a nation—although it's unclear whether California's economy will overtake Germany anytime soon given the recent collapse in Bay Area tech stocks.
Such rankings are purely about bragging rights. Gov. Gavin Newsom and his Democratic colleagues never miss a chance to brag about any economic success in the still-Golden State, so you'll hear about it if we pass that threshold. Oddly, they credit their own tax-and-regulatory policies for the success but fail to understand that California's economy is growing despite these policies, not because of them.
This week, I read another good-news story about California. The company SmartAsset analyzed quality-of-life and personal-financial metrics and developed a list of America's "happiest" cities. As KTLA reported, "California dominated the list with 17 cities among the top 50—six landed in the top 10."
One needn't rely on news stories for more California validation. As freezing cold and deadly blizzards slammed most of the country, Californians enjoyed characteristically warm weather. Just as it ought to do, the white stuff accumulated only in the proper locales: on the ski slopes, not in our cities.
Yet as the New Year arrives, few of us believe California is headed in the right direction. The above-mentioned good news stories are, of course, subjective and speculative. If you want to look at the real state of affairs, ignore them and the governor's forthcoming State of the State address—and look at hard data coming from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The news about California is alarming. Our nation's population growth has increased post-COVID, but the distribution has been uneven. Texas gained an astounding 471,000 people last year and Florida gained 417,000, while California lost 114,000. This is the third year in a row that California—with its can't quite reach 40-million population—has lost people. This isn't slowing growth, but actual losses (although the rate of decline slowed this year).
Those Census net domestic migration numbers show that 343,000 Californians left for other states. Immigration and births made up for most of the losses. People always are going to have babies and flee impoverished nations, but the true indicator of success or failure involves people voting with their feet—or their U-Hauls. Californians aren't fleeing our weather or economy, but our bad public policy.
Let's quickly recap the many ways California's progressive-dominated government is failing California residents: endless regulations, punitive tax rates, untouchable public-sector unions that are ransacking budgets and opposing reforms, shoddy school systems and decrepit (but pricey) public services, traffic congestion, absurd housing prices, growing crime rates, failing efforts to provide basic infrastructure and a sprawling homelessness crisis.
Don't count me among those who describe California as a dystopia. It's far from it, but because of a lack of political competition this presumably innovative and free-thinking state is remarkably immune to new ideas. We endure the same tired rut: "Here's a problem. Hey, why don't we raise taxes and create a new agency?" Did I mention that no one ever holds old agencies accountable?
Certainly, taxing and spending have been the calling card of politicians at least since the New Deal, but California's progressives have added a twist. Traditionally, businesses and workers have just rolled their eyes, paid the extra taxes, and filled out the additional nonsensical forms. Now our leaders are intent on "saving" the world. They are pushing policies that pose an existential threat to our livelihoods.
For instance, they've banned the use of gas-powered yard equipment, which limits our ability to do yard work (or forces us to buy pricey new mowers and blowers). That's a relatively small inconvenience, but they've approved a "technology-forcing" ban on the sale of new internal-combustion-engine vehicles of any type in a mere 13 years.
They banned independent contracting—a measure that wiped out tens of thousands of middle-class jobs (until the Legislature retreated). They forbade landlords from evicting non-paying renters, thus forcing property owners to foot the bill for their heavy-handed pandemic policies. They still want to replace your healthcare with a single-payer government system. Is it surprising many Californians are leaving?
How can we make California golden again? I often detail substantive policy approaches. This really isn't brain surgery. For starters, lawmakers need to focus on the nuts-and-bolts of government. But there's zero chance the current leadership will do so given their embrace of an ideology that views most of us as impediments to their broader social-engineering and climate-change goals.
Last week, I was optimistic about our wonderful lives. I remain so. But California will not slow the outward-bound moving trucks until lawmakers realize that California's future is more dependent on their policies than economic rankings and happiness surveys.
This column was first published in The Orange County Register.