California Plague: Blue Locusts | The American Conservative
What is California?
It seems like such a simple question with an obvious answer, but it really isn’t – anymore.
California is nominally 31stst and largest (by population; Alaska and Texas exceed its area) state, home to sunny beaches, beautiful mountains, chic wineries, Hollywood and Silicon Valley, and the next President of the United States. It is also, if not the bluest state in the nation, certainly the bluest major state and the largest blue state, the anchor of democratic dominance in the national popular and increasingly also in the elections and a model for “progressive” governance, its most recent Enthusiasm tends to spread across the country.
All of this is true, but it still doesn’t quite capture what has become of California. I don’t just mean its self-image as a special place. According to Kevin Starr, the state’s most prolific (and truly the only) historian, the idea of the “California Dream” began to complement (or replace) the American Dream almost as soon as the Yankees got their hands on San Francisco. The original understanding of the former was to get rich quicker as opposed to bourgeois life for all.
But in the decades after the Second World War it became something like the latter, but better: the American Dream with more cars, a larger house, superior infrastructure, first-class amenities, better weather – and the indescribable but immediately recognizable “cool” “-Factor. Californians of a certain age once got used to being asked where they were from by someone from Ohio or Indiana or Georgia or Pennsylvania or New York (if not Manhattan) or even Europe and answered “California” half impressed: half jealous “Oh!”
You don’t hear that much these days. Or rather, you get a different answer depending on who is asking the question. Only blues, and only a few of them, are still impressed. Red ones can provide comfort or eye you suspiciously.
As they should. Because it is perhaps best to think of modern California as some sort of arbitrage scheme; or, for those unfamiliar with financial jargon, a parasite. Its host is Red America, including the red parts of California.
Because you have to understand that when we say “California” what we really mean, a thin, rarely more than 80 miles wide and mostly much narrower strip of land from north of the Marin Headlands to south of the Coronado Bridge, plus a few outposts like Napa , Tahoe and Palm Springs. The rest – the parts with all the ranches and farms, oil wells and railroad hubs, warehouses and meth labs – might as well not exist.
But they exist and are an integral part of modern California, just as galley slaves were an integral part of the ancient triremes, but best not to be recognized and unseen.
One topic of conversation that has been on the lips of California governors and other boosters since high school is, “California is the N-largest economy in the world.” The number only goes up: it was the eighth the first time I remember hearing the sentence and – as Gavin Newsom reminds us endlessly – the fifth today. Another recent phrase is that California is a “nation state”.
Both are always said as bragging rights and also with a hint of pretension. We are so important and do so much that we earn more: more power, more money, more honor. But a closer look at the phrases reveals self-contradiction, self-deception and an important admission.
Of the 50 states, California may have the strongest geographic nationality claim. It is self-contained, with natural barriers on all sides. It would be difficult to penetrate against a semi-competent military (although the Americans have easily enough stolen it from the poorly understaffed Mexicans). It has almost all the resources needed to sustain life and feed a large population. It has at least three excellent natural harbors, including arguably the most beautiful in the world. Ecologically, it owns, in Starr’s words, “all the topography, climate and life zones of the planet (with the exception of tropical ones), from the coast to the desert, from the Great Central Valley in its center to the snow-capped Sierra Peaks guarding its eastern flank.” a different population, a competent leadership and – above all – a different business model would do quite well on its own.
But in reality California is in no way a “nation”: a united people with a common ancestry, language, and history. On the contrary, it was deliberately “diversified” in order to become a nation as little as possible. To the extent that it has any common culture at all, it is in contrast to the rest of the United States, especially the red parts. When Newsom and other Golden State Babbitts describe California as a “nation state” they just mean “big” and “rich”.
California’s true business model is hinted at in the first sentence. California is first and foremost an economy. No nation, culture or society, let alone civilization – certainly not part of a larger whole. As we shall see, this self-image is more of a self-delusion, but it is nevertheless very powerful.
It is significant that Apple stamps its products with the phrase “Designed by Apple in California”. In the collective consciousness of this company, the headquarters are not in the “USA” or “America”, but in “California”. Apple makes this distinction for three reasons that can easily be extended to the rest of the tech industry and all of Haute California. First, the Californian oligarchs want to distance themselves from the idea that they are part of a country or that they feel they belong to a country. They are above such trifles, beyond – and in many ways more powerful than – the nation state.
Second, they want to distance themselves from everything that the elite and world opinion think is bad about America: racism, sexism, Bible hammering, guns and so on. Third, they don’t want to conjure up California as an American state, but as an idea: the Golden State, paradise, the future.
In this way they combine the first two meanings of the California Dream with a third. It’s still a place to get fabulously rich very quickly, only you don’t wash for gold in the American River, but in Sand Hill Road. It’s still very cool – especially if you manage to get rich. And it is “progressive” in every way, the most important of which is that the rich not only enjoy their wealth without guilt, but are praised for it.
* * *
The implicit deal I made the “San Francisco Compromise“Is that, first, the left does nothing that directly threatens the wealth or power of the oligarchs. It can tax and spend whatever it wants, as long as those taxes from California’s grandees are easily bearable – and as far as possible legally avoidable. And as long as the other policies that increase oligarchic wealth are never questioned, so at the end of the day it almost doesn’t matter what California tax rates are; Whatever they are, the rulers can afford them. The left also agree to use their considerable rhetorical power to gloss over and glorify the oligarchs.
For their part, the oligarchs base their passionate convictions on leftists who do not directly threaten wealth or power, and spend part of their profits on left-wing institutions and jobs.
It works very well for the oligarchs, who, like all elites, are outnumbered and need defense and justification for their privileges. And it works very well for the left, who are otherwise mostly unemployed – certainly not in a profitable industry that pays well enough to live on the California coast.
What about everyone else? Yes, there is the catch. Most of them don’t have it so well. In my book 2020 The stakes, I describe modern California as crowded, expensive, overcrowded, crumbling, incompetent, dirty, dangerous, greedy, wasteful, suffocating, prejudiced, theocratic, pathologically altruistic, Balkanized and feudal. Those interested in the details can read the first chapter where I try to demonstrate each of these claims.
Only four types of people can endure all this: those who can buy their way out of pathology; those for whom California, with all its problems, still feels better than where they came from; those with deep roots in the state who can’t stand the thought of leaving; and those who believe there is nowhere else to go.
In essence, modern California has been redesigned to cater to the needs and interests of the first two groups and kidding everyone else. So it’s no wonder tens of thousands leave. The next year California loses a seat in Congress for the first time since its founding in 1850. Which falsely suggests that the state’s population problems are more recent than they really are. In fact, California has been exporting Native Americans for decades, a decline masked by sky-high immigration.
California may be geographically a paradise and politically a utopia (at least worth striving for), but if so, it gives away its advantages very selectively and exclusively. That is the main reason why so many oligarchs still live there and are even moving there. On the other hand, subsidized poverty in California is heaven compared to southern Mexico or Central America. As dire as California’s crime, infrastructure, and dysfunction are by historical American standards, they are all still orders of magnitude better than the prevailing conditions in the south.
These two realities explain why no one cares about bullet trains, dumping valuable water into the ocean during drought, homeless camps, pooping on the sidewalks, or the wild west of rural central California, where laws against immigrants are simply not enforced. Both high and low – the only demographics that matter – have it too good.
What California is, or wants to be, ultimately, is a new kind of regime. Who really rules is not entirely clear – which, in my opinion, is intended. California has rejected the Aristotelian formalism, in which the regime is public, the rulers known, ruled on their own behalf, and replaced with Machiavellian indirect government.
As Curtis Yarvin put it in a similar context, America’s true rulers are Harvard and the New York Times. I think to make that statement fully one has to add BlackRock and Google (or Goldman and Twitter; same difference). California’s true rulers are then Stanford, the Los Angeles times, and Facebook. Modern California is partly oligarchic in the sense that a few rich people have oversized power – remember, Big Tech silences Trump ad unno tratto. Theocratic, in a looser sense, is for ideas to rule more than people, unless we want to say that the priestly class that formulates the ideas actually rules.
Corporations vie with governments for different forms of power. Lines of authority are mixed up. Nobody really knows who’s in charge and who never does. In a sense nobody is responsible: teaching is responsible. Ruling class officials, from technology CEOs to lifestyle bloggers, learn what to believe in the seminar (universities and now even elementary and secondary schools) they all attend together. Once out, they all play their assigned roles, some of which are immensely rewarding, most of which are not, but all work toward the same goal.
This is how I put it six years ago:
[Dianne] Feinstein – Daniel Patrick Moynihan of the West Coast – illustrates the point. At first glance, the comparison seems inappropriate. She was born to be rich; he grew up in a Hell’s Kitchen saloon. He has written 16 books; it is nobody’s idea of an intellectual. Still, they share a reflexive conservatism, though Moynihan’s study and experience was the product while Feinstein’s ran in the blood. But both quickly suspected that they had to adapt to the new rules in order to stay in the constantly changing game. Hence, the quoting conservative Moynihan – “Define Downward Deviation,” etc. – has been a reliable voice for the left throughout his Senate career. Likewise the primitive, matronly, sensible and “business-friendly” DiFi. The senior California senator could return to the grandeur of Pacific Heights, far from the filthy ground zero of progressive activism in Mission. But the residents of the latter have a right of veto over what they think and how they vote.
Formally, modern California is “democratic” in that people vote, but they always vote for the same things or for a set of interchangeable hacks, all of which believe and do the same thing. Elections mean nothing in the sense that the real rulers can never lose. Votes only offer the appearance of legitimacy.
California’s true rulers do not exercise their power like the old oligarchs, not even like machine bosses. Rather, it is about using their complete control over all channels of information – from high schools to prestige and social media – to tell only a cramped, constrained “story”.
AAll of this is guaranteed by the massive vote banks of California’s cities that ensure one-party rule in Sacramento and the judiciary, as well as a one-sided left-wing congressional delegation. Even today, after decades of middle class exodus, millions of Californians still harbor Red State habits and political leanings. But their preferences – like their voices – do not matter because such people are demographically overwhelmed. Stay and pay, suffer and be ignored. Or leave. Either way, you don’t vote on it. That is the message that Haute California hurls at the dwindling Red California.
The corporations and their leaders tell the government what to do and get rid of their mandates. Apple is based in Cupertino, but mostly manufactures in China and until recently paid its taxes in Ireland. But even the notoriously low corporate tax rates on the Emerald Isle – Apple’s effective tax rate in 2014 was 0.005 percent – became too much, and the company moved its legendary heap of cash, which it refuses to return to investors in the form of dividends, to the Isle of Jersey, which has no taxes at all. Not only is Sacramento not trying to stop that; it leaves it to Cupertino in every important matter. Who is the real sovereign?
We know why the factories are in China (cheap labor) and the money in Jersey (no taxes), but why is the mothership still in Cupertino? Jersey has ocean views, but no good restaurants. Tech oligarchs envy Chinese despotism and censorship, but don’t want to live there – and wouldn’t even if they were in charge.
In part, it is similar to the reason why, according to Tom Wolfe’s statement, “many chief executive officers kept their headquarters in New York long after the last rational reason for it disappeared … because of the indescribable experience of being CEO and having lunch for five days” . a week in Manhattan. “
Haute California has become one of those clean, pristine space stations to which elites escape a devastated earth in science fiction films. The only people you will see are people like you – or really respectful people who work for you. to live in La Jolla, Montecito, Carmel, Palo Alto, Woodside and Napa have never been better. The natural beauty of the state is so profound that even the worst of human mismanagement can hardly scratch it. When you have millions of dollars and don’t mind taxes, isolate yourself from poisonous California and enjoy the weather, natural beauty, and expensive world-class amenities.
* * *
Four overlapping causes made California from the ultimate middle-class paradise to an awakened, feudal dystopia in hardly a generation.
The first was (is) the huge influx of poor immigrants from Latin America that began in the 1970s and then exploded after President Reagan’s 1986 amnesty. This amnesty was supposed to go hand in hand with strict enforcement of borders and jobs, but Hollywood liberals, Central Valley land barons, and the rising tech elite helped keep those regulations never going into effect. After that, voters made an attempt to get the problem under control, Prop 187, but it was immediately closed. Federal agencies insisted that only they had the power to secure the border and then (and since) steadfastly refused to do so. This was exactly the result that California’s elite wanted. The resulting mass arrivals have irreversibly upset the political balance of the state and caused a snowball effect. More immigration makes the state bluer – and the bluer it gets, the more it becomes for immigration, legal and illegal, culminating in California declaring itself a “sanctuary state” with policies that effectively remove illegal aliens from the law except.
Second is the awakened anti-assimilationism, the demonization of the “melting pot” and its replacement with the “salad bowl” or (to borrow David Dinkins) the “beautiful mosaic”. Assimilation was no longer encouraged, let alone insisted, and instead came (and remains) under furious onslaught.
Third was the infusion of more than $ 4 trillion (on paper, at least) into Silicon Valley and San Francisco that spawned the world’s richest elite who enjoy advocating for psychologically pleasurable bromides and are sure they are away from the effects the real world, which only fall on distant others. California can be a very traditional society for the very rich who can and do isolate themselves from the dysfunction they cause, living in closed communities and sending their children to private schools. Such families, of course, employ all Hispanic helpers – gardeners, maids, cooks, nannies – and therefore have both financial and conscientious reasons to advocate illegal immigration: this is a public display of nobility that helps legitimize their privileges . This new wealth, and the way its owners spend it, only strengthened the hard left of the state as the elites voted for increasingly radical politicians and electoral initiatives – and, better said, funded them.
The most important consequence of this turning point was the cleansing of the state from its old middle class. The people who elected Republicans six out of eight presidential elections and Republican governors six out of eight have been chased away by high taxes, expensive homes, terrible schools, indifferent law enforcement, suffocating bureaucracy, lousy services, and broken infrastructure. Many in the coastal corridor have been fortunate to own homes that have been spectacularly valued during their lifetime, that they could sell and reap a godsend – and then live like kings in low-tax states while escaping California’s vengeful utopia, tax penalties and cratering life for all but the very rich.
And it wasn’t just the Republicans – although they were the first to see the writing on the wall – but also the old Workers Democrats who dragged their party in a more moderate direction. By the mid-2000s, almost all of the western half of San Francisco was populated by old-style unionized Democrats. They related each other to the exact part of town they lived in and could assume that everyone they told knew exactly where they meant. These people are all gone, of course, which is not surprising. What is perhaps a little surprising is that nobody in town today knows they’ve ever been there. It is as if these mostly Irish, Italian and Polish Catholics who worked in construction, on the docks and in the police and fire departments never existed, were never part of the scene. In the self-image of modern San Francisco there were the Native Americans, from whom the land was taken from under their feet, then some Mexicans who were at least “Hispanic” (but also unsettlingly Catholic and white), then quickly forward to the hippies, the gays, the hipsters, the tech freaks and the oligarchs. American California isn’t just gone; it never was.
Of these four, three were clearly causes and the fourth an effect. The interesting question is to what extent were the three causes intentional?
The first two were definitely. Non-enforcement of immigration law was and is a policy, even if it was never formally enacted. Anti-Americanism and anti-assimilationism in schools and other institutions for sure were enact.
But the fortunes … they were certainly wanted. Nobody becomes an entrepreneur to get poor. But does anyone have any idea how large this fortune would turn out? Or how momentous are the companies and technologies that spawned them?
I grew up near Silicon Valley but not Silicon Valley and don’t remember back in the 1970s or 80s – not even in 1985 when the Stanford Super Bowl was played the 49ers won it and Steve Jobs had his famous one “Premiered 1984” commercial – the kind of messianic talk that was heard in the late 1990s and has since become a roar. My feeling is that back then no one had any idea how much and how quickly the tech industry would change the state of affairs. Not that they stopped or slowed down if they knew. Indeed, the more they realized the implications of their creations and activities, the more messianic they became. It is tempting to say that they acted like people who, in adulthood, realized they had superpowers and began treating those around them not like a benevolent Kal-El but more like a malicious Lex Luthor.
* * *
That’s what I mean when I say California has become a parasite. Its social structure is somewhat similar to ancient times – if not the Greek. Rather as we know it from various despotic empires such as Egypt or Persia, in which the great, overwhelming majority struggle to support only a few in spectacular luxury.
It is parasitic in four ways. First, it is parasitic on itself. California as it now exists can only exist on the foundation of old American California: its physical infrastructure, the remnants of its elderly population, its culture, and its institutional habits.
But the infrastructure is crumbling; the state is too incompetent, too ideological and too broke to fix any of it. Despite its apparent wealth, California has the highest poverty rate in the country. And when it comes time to spend all the money the state is sucking up in tax revenue, its “progressive” politicians always insist on betting it on utopian fantasies rather than everything necessary. As Californian historian Victor Davis Hanson lamented of his birthplace and home, “societies in decline fixate on impossible postmodern dreams in order to mask their inability to address premodern problems.”
The state’s demographic change is real and known, but to some extent it obscures the reality that California’s remaining functioning institutions – the better schools, hospitals, police and fire departments – are disproportionately populated with what we might call “heritage.” Californians “, people with (by Californian standards) deep roots in the state. Often times, a secure government job combined with an inherited home (and an inherited Prop 13 tax bill) is the only way you can afford to stay.
The oligarchy is constantly maneuvering to make the state more and more expensive (taxes, regulation, environmental laws, building restrictions, endless opportunities for anyone – anyone – to say “no” to everything). This is certainly to protect their paradises, but one wonders whether it is not also a deliberate harassment of a class that despises them. In any case, this class continues to dwindle, and I suspect that in a generation or less it will be completely and definitively gone. We’ll see how well California works when they are.
Because they will not only take their skills with them, but also their behaviors, customs and habits – in short, their Americanism. In a way, Apple’s self-declaration is truthful in advertising, as California has not been American to speak of in a long time and it is getting less and less every day. This is denied and praised at the same time, depending on who says it – another example of a phenomenon that I call “celebration parallax”. When a grandee from Silicon Valley or a Hollywood mogul talks about the transformation of the state into an international Mecca, he is praised for his visionary leadership. If a dirt farmer from the Central Valley says he doesn’t know his hometown anymore, he’s being labeled a racist.
In any case, the more diverse California becomes, the less socially coherent and the more trust it gets. Functional disorders of all kinds are much higher than they were a few decades and even years ago. The half-life of these ancient virtues persists, but is waning, keeping the state going to an extent that its current rulers do not understand or appreciate.
In the same way, California is parasitic on the rest of America, particularly Red America. Californians tell themselves – and us – we’re lucky to have them. They pay far more federal taxes than they get back, their world’s best industries power the economy and financial markets, their cultural products define America for the world.
May be. But they’re also lucky enough to have us. In many ways, what the Californians do not recognize, their feudal way of life is being held back by American power. In some ways in the truest sense of the word. Despite being one of the largest energy producing states in the country, and despite the mild climate to keep utility bills down (homes in much of Northern California don’t even have air conditioning), the state is a net importer of electricity. As the green mandates pile up, this proportion will only increase outside the state. The Californians look in the other direction when importing dirty kilowatts from overflight states, even if their congress delegation works tirelessly to make these watts more difficult and more expensive.
More fundamentally, Californians can assume that the US military, the Federal Reserve and – until the events of spring and summer 2020 called this into question – federal police officers and federal prisons will support them and cover up their mistakes. It’s hard to imagine California without a reserve currency backed (if only weakly) by hard assets and a military disproportionately occupied by Red Americans.
Assuming the Californians admitted this (they wouldn’t), they would still say, “But we give so much back.” “Really?” What? The products are admittedly great, although we would all be better off paying more to have them grown and picked by American citizens. With a few exceptions, the wines have become hot oak fruit bombs. The manufacturing sector was dismantled. Hollywood produces anti-American, anti-white hate propaganda. Do I need to explain what’s wrong with big tech?
California’s most important export today is people. Da sich verärgerte ehemalige Golden Staters wie blaue Heuschrecken im ganzen Land ausbreiten, um unberührte Ernten zu konsumieren, ist es fair zu fragen, ob andere Staaten einen von ihnen begrüßen sollten. Sie haben die üble Angewohnheit, in ihrem neuen Zuhause genau die Politik voranzutreiben, die sie dazu veranlasst hat, aus ihrem alten zu fliehen. Ich empfehle jedem rechten Milliardär, der dies liest, der den Charakter seines Roten Staates bewahren will, riesige Werbetafeln mit einem Wort: „JESUS“. Knoblauch für Vampire.
Diese vierte Form des kalifornischen Parasitismus ist letztendlich nicht nachhaltig, wie die Art und Weise, wie die Teeparty des Verrückten Hutmachers ein Gedeck bewegt, nachdem sie das Geschirr schmutzig gemacht haben. Irgendwann wird ihnen der Tisch ausgehen. So what?
Zumindest in den letzten 30 Jahren hat Kalifornien einen technischen Rückenwind geritten, der die Ausgabenorgie des Staates und den verrückten Utopismus untermauert hat. Kalifornien hat buchstäblich die gesamte Existenz seines „neuen Regimes“ darauf gewettet, dass dieser Wind anhält. Wird es? Wenn und wenn die Oligarchie die Vereinigten Staaten als Ganzes subsumiert, wartet dann ein neuer hochbezahlter, hochprofitabler und margenstarker Wirtschaftssektor in den Startlöchern, um das ganze Land in die Höhe zu tragen?
Doch Californication ist das, was die breitere Linke für Amerika will. Joe Biden selbst hat das gesagt. Der Rest von uns hat nicht den Luxus, aus einem kalifornischen Amerika zu fliehen. Wo sollen wir hin?
Michael Anton ist Dozent für Politik und Research Fellow am Kirby Center des Hillsdale College in Washington, D.C.