California: A Liberal Utopia

I’m surprised this piece by Joel Kotkin about the new feudalism of California made it into the Daily Beast. Thanks to decades of rule by Democrats, California is a shining example of what liberalism (or progressivism, socialism, or whatever you want to call it) brings to the masses. A once prosperous state, now California is a state where the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the middle class flees. This is the future for all of America if people don’t wise up, and do it soon.

California has been the source of much innovation, from agribusiness and oil to fashion and the digital world. Historically much richer than the rest of the country, it was also the birthplace, along with Levittown, of the mass-produced suburb, freeways, much of our modern entrepreneurial culture, and of course mass entertainment. For most of a century, for both better and worse, California has defined progress, not only for America but for the world.

As late as the 80s, California was democratic in a fundamental sense, a place for outsiders and, increasingly, immigrants—roughly 60 percent of the population was considered middle class. Now, instead of a land of opportunity, California has become increasingly feudal. According to recent census estimates, the state suffers some of the highest levels of inequality in the country. By some estimates, the state’s level of inequality compares with that of such global models as the Dominican Republic, Gambia, and the Republic of the Congo.

At the same time, the Golden State now suffers the highest level of poverty in the country—23.5 percent compared to 16 percent nationally—worse than long-term hard luck cases like Mississippi. It is also now home to roughly one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients, almost three times its proportion of the nation’s population.

Like medieval serfs, increasing numbers of Californians are downwardly mobile, and doing worse than their parents: native born Latinos actually have shorter lifespans than their parents, according to one recent report. Nor are things expected to get better any time soon.

So, what happened?

The state’s digital oligarchy, surely without intention, is increasingly driving the state’s lurch towards feudalism. Silicon Valley’s wealth reflects the fortunes of a handful of companies that dominate an information economy that itself is increasingly oligopolistic.  In contrast to the traditionally conservative or libertarian ethos of the entrepreneurial class, the oligarchy is increasingly allied with the nominally populist Democratic Party and its regulatory agenda. Along with the public sector, Hollywood, and their media claque, they present California as “the spiritual inspiration” for modern “progressives” across the country.

Through their embrace of and financial support for the state’s regulatory regime, the oligarchs have made job creation in non tech-businesses—manufacturing, energy, agriculture—increasingly difficult through “green energy” initiatives that are also sure to boost already high utility costs. One critic, state Democratic Senator Roderick Wright from heavily minority Inglewood, compares the state’s regulatory regime to the “vig” or high interest charged by the Mafia, calling it a major reason for disinvestment in many industries.

Read the whole thing, it’s interesting and informative. It’s also sad, because the coalition of the elites and the “serfs” who benefit from the welfare state might be enough to keep the progressive Democrats in power for quite a long time.