Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Two Californias

Ah, California.

Victor Davis Hanson has a piece today in the National Review that should be read in its entirety, and chronicles exactly what's happening in the Golden State's Central Valley, once one of the premier farming areas in the nation:

I wanted to witness, even if superficially, what is happening to a state that has the highest sales and income taxes, the most lavish entitlements, the near-worst public schools (based on federal test scores), and the largest number of illegal aliens in the nation, along with an overregulated private sector, a stagnant and shrinking manufacturing base, and an elite environmental ethos that restricts commerce and productivity without curbing consumption. [...]

Here are some general observations about what I saw (other than that the rural roads of California are fast turning into rubble, poorly maintained and reverting to what I remember seeing long ago in the rural South). First, remember that these areas are the ground zero, so to speak, of 20 years of illegal immigration. There has been a general depression in farming — to such an extent that the 20- to-100-acre tree and vine farmer, the erstwhile backbone of the old rural California, for all practical purposes has ceased to exist.

On the western side of the Central Valley, the effects of arbitrary cutoffs in federal irrigation water have idled tens of thousands of acres of prime agricultural land, leaving thousands unemployed. Manufacturing plants in the towns in these areas — which used to make harvesters, hydraulic lifts, trailers, food-processing equipment — have largely shut down; their production has been shipped off overseas or south of the border. Agriculture itself — from almonds to raisins — has increasingly become corporatized and mechanized, cutting by half the number of farm workers needed. So unemployment runs somewhere between 15 and 20 percent.

Many of the rural trailer-house compounds I saw appear to the naked eye no different from what I have seen in the Third World. There is a Caribbean look to the junked cars, electric wires crisscrossing between various outbuildings, plastic tarps substituting for replacement shingles, lean-tos cobbled together as auxiliary housing, pit bulls unleashed, and geese, goats, and chickens roaming around the yards. The public hears about all sorts of tough California regulations that stymie business — rigid zoning laws, strict building codes, constant inspections — but apparently none of that applies out here.

It is almost as if the more California regulates, the more it does not regulate. Its public employees prefer to go after misdemeanors in the upscale areas to justify our expensive oversight industry, while ignoring the felonies in the downtrodden areas, which are becoming feral and beyond the ability of any inspector to do anything but feel irrelevant. But in the regulators’ defense, where would one get the money to redo an ad hoc trailer park with a spider web of illegal bare wires?

Many of the rented-out rural shacks and stationary Winnebagos are on former small farms — the vineyards overgrown with weeds, or torn out with the ground lying fallow. I pass on the cultural consequences to communities from the loss of thousands of small farming families.

This area, it should be mentioned in passing, is where Hanson grew up and still lives, so he's a good chronicler of the change that's occurred.

In my own part of Southern California I can literally see similar if less dramatic changes with my own eyes as the change Hanson writes about expands outwards. You can literally see roads and infrastructure crumbling as potholes remain unrepaired, day workers congregating on corners looking for work abound, vacant buildings that used to house long established buildings remain empty and gradually settle into disuse, and commercial and residential rentals stay vacant for months.

Hanson goes on to write about the environmental damage being done to the Central Valley:

California coastal elites may worry about the oxygen content of water available to a three-inch smelt in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta, but they seem to have no interest in the epidemic dumping of trash, furniture, and often toxic substances throughout California’s rural hinterland. Yesterday, for example, I rode my bike by a stopped van just as the occupants tossed seven plastic bags of raw refuse onto the side of the road. I rode up near their bumper and said in my broken Spanish not to throw garbage onto the public road. But there were three of them, and one of me. So I was lucky to be sworn at only. I note in passing that I would not drive into Mexico and, as a guest, dare to pull over and throw seven bags of trash into the environment of my host.

In fact, trash piles are commonplace out here — composed of everything from half-empty paint cans and children’s plastic toys to diapers and moldy food. I have never seen a rural sheriff cite a litterer, or witnessed state EPA workers cleaning up these unauthorized wastelands. So I would suggest to Bay Area scientists that the environment is taking a much harder beating down here in central California than it is in the Delta. Perhaps before we cut off more irrigation water to the west side of the valley, we might invest some green dollars into cleaning up the unsightly and sometimes dangerous garbage that now litters the outskirts of our rural communities.

Again, living close to the Angeles National Forest and the mountain trails as I do, I can echo some of Hanson's observations. Trash abounds, partly because there's no money or manpower to pick it up and partly because much of it is undoubtedly left by people who appear to have very different standards.

It reminds me of what I witnessed as a teenager on the non-touristy beaches, outskirts of towns and rural byways of Mexico as a teenager, with one further Mexico, because of the poverty of the locals, only the most unusable trash was left, and a lot of the cardboard, bottles and anything else that could conceivably be put to work was picked up and reused.

Because of California's entitlements, all provided on borrowed money, that isn't the case nowadays. As Hanson notes:

In two supermarkets 50 miles apart, I was the only one in line who did not pay with a social-service plastic card (gone are the days when “food stamps” were embarrassing bulky coupons). But I did not see any relationship between the use of the card and poverty as we once knew it: The electrical appurtenances owned by the user and the car into which the groceries were loaded were indistinguishable from those of the upper middle class.

By that I mean that most consumers drove late-model Camrys, Accords, or Tauruses, had iPhones, Bluetooths, or BlackBerries, and bought everything in the store with public-assistance credit. This seemed a world apart from the trailers I had just ridden by the day before. I don’t editorialize here on the logic or morality of any of this, but I note only that there are vast numbers of people who apparently are not working, are on public food assistance, and enjoy the technological veneer of the middle class. California has a consumer market surely, but often no apparent source of income. Does the $40 million a day supplement to unemployment benefits from Washington explain some of this?

It remains an open question how long this can continue. And to be fair, while unbridled illegal migration is a large part of the problem, the attitude and the reaction to what's going on by the state's elites and its political class have just as much to do with the coming debacle.Thousands of Californians have already fled the state, and the only reason the number isn't greater is because of the high incidence of government employment (that sector is doing just fine, thank you, especially if one managed to get into the system a decade or so earlier) and the inability of many people to unload their over mortgaged houses.

Again, Hanson puts the unsustainable nature of the situation quite well:

California does not care whether one broke the law to arrive here or continues to break it by staying. It asks nothing of the illegal immigrant — no proficiency in English, no acquaintance with American history and values, no proof of income, no record of education or skills. It does provide all the public assistance that it can afford (and more that it borrows for), and apparently waives enforcement of most of California’s burdensome regulations and civic statutes that increasingly have plagued productive citizens to the point of driving them out. How odd that we overregulate those who are citizens and have capital to the point of banishing them from the state, but do not regulate those who are aliens and without capital to the point of encouraging millions more to follow in their footsteps. How odd — to paraphrase what Critias once said of ancient Sparta — that California is at once both the nation’s most unfree and most free state, the most repressed and the wildest.

Hundreds of thousands sense all that and vote accordingly with their feet, both into and out of California — and the result is a sort of social, cultural, economic, and political time-bomb, whose ticks are getting louder.

please helps me write more gooder!


louielouie said...

well this is depressing as hell.
in an earlier essay i said ff was an unapologetic optimist, as opposed to my being a stick in the mud.
this is very unlike ff postings.
ff always says he doesn't want J/P to be an echo chamber, but with all due respect, this essay sucks.

Freedom Fighter said...

Hi Louie,
You have to take an honest look at a problem before you can solve it...and rest assured, this will be solved eventually.

For instance, the fallow farmlands? Rest assured that with rising food prices, California will eventually be forced to bring the water back to the Central Valley.

People naturally resist change in the status quo, but they're not naturally suicidal. At some point,they DEMAND change.

Remember that the draft act passed in Congress in 1940 by one vote,(!) and that a mere three years before the Battle of Britain, some of those pilots who saved England were voting with their Oxford fellow students on a resolution that they would under no circumstances 'fight for our King and country.'


Anonymous said...

18 years ago I was listening to a talk show on KGO out of San Francisco they were discussing taxes, population and where California was heading. A former Californian called in saying he had to move because California was so business unfriendly. He listed a handful of outrageous fines for minor things that the California EPA had dinged him for. The host was a liberal and pretty much said too bad and good riddance since in his opinion there were already too many people in California and he would be happy if even more left. The caller responded that what he didn't realize is it was the productive people leaving and illegal aliens and welfare people replacing them and that would sooner or later cause California to go bankrupt. The host laughed cluelessly and hung up on him. Now almost 20 years later the prediction is coming true.