econscius

Joel Kotkin on the Decline of California

In Economy on July 9, 2012 at 1:09 am

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An interview about the sad decline of once great California with demographer Joel Kotkin is linked below. [1]  Excerpts follow:

‘California is God’s best moment,” says Joel Kotkin. “It’s the best place in the world to live.” Or at least it used to be.

Mr. Kotkin, one of the nation’s premier demographers, left his native New York City in 1971 to enroll at the University of California, Berkeley. The state was a far-out paradise for hipsters who had grown up listening to the Mamas & the Papas’ iconic “California Dreamin'” and the Beach Boys’ “California Girls.” But it also attracted young, ambitious people “who had a lot of dreams, wanted to build big companies.” Think Intel, Apple and Hewlett-Packard.

Now, however, the Golden State’s fastest-growing entity is government and its biggest product is red tape. The first thing that comes to many American minds when you mention California isn’t Hollywood or tanned girls on a beach, but Greece. Many progressives in California take that as a compliment since Greeks are ostensibly happier. But as Mr. Kotkin notes, Californians are increasingly pursuing happiness elsewhere.

Nearly four million more people have left the Golden State in the last two decades than have come from other states. This is a sharp reversal from the 1980s, when 100,000 more Americans were settling in California each year than were leaving. According to Mr. Kotkin, most of those leaving are between the ages of 5 and 14 or 34 to 45. In other words, young families.

….

Mr. Kotkin describes himself as an old-fashioned Truman Democrat. In fact, he voted for Mr. Brown—who previously served as governor, secretary of state and attorney general—because he believed Mr. Brown “was interesting and thought outside the box.”

But “Jerry’s been a big disappointment,” Mr. Kotkin says. “I’ve known Jerry for 35 years, and he’s smart, but he just can’t seem to be a paradigm breaker. And of course, it’s because he really believes in this green stuff.”

In the governor’s dreams, green jobs will replace all of the “tangible jobs” that the state’s losing in agriculture, manufacturing, warehousing and construction. But “green energy doesn’t create enough energy!” Mr. Kotkin exclaims. “And it drives up the price of energy, which then drives out other things.” Notwithstanding all of the subsidies the state lavishes on renewables, green jobs only make up about 2% of California’s private-sector work force—no more than they do in Texas.

 ….

California used to be more like Texas—a jobs magnet. What happened? For one, says the demographer, Californians are now voting more based on social issues and less on fiscal ones than they did when Ronald Reagan was governor 40 years ago. Environmentalists are also more powerful than they used to be. And Mr. Brown facilitated the public-union takeover of the statehouse by allowing state workers to collectively bargain during his first stint as governor in 1977.

….

So if California’s no longer the Golden land of opportunity for middle-class dreamers, what is?

Mr. Kotkin lists four “growth corridors”: the Gulf Coast, the Great Plains, the Intermountain West, and the Southeast. All of these regions have lower costs of living, lower taxes, relatively relaxed regulatory environments, and critical natural resources such as oil and natural gas.

Take Salt Lake City. “Almost all of the major tech companies have moved stuff to Salt Lake City.” That includes Twitter, Adobe, eBay and Oracle.

Then there’s Texas, which is on a mission to steal California’s tech hegemony. Apple just announced that it’s building a $304 million campus and adding 3,600 jobs in Austin. Facebook established operations there last year, and eBay plans to add 1,000 new jobs there too.

[1] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304444604577340531861056966.html

Pictures from Wikipedia Commons.

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