The Golden State’s War on Itself

Appearing in:

The City Journal

California has long been a destination for those seeking a better place to live. For most of its history, the state enacted sensible policies that created one of the wealthiest and most innovative economies in human history. California realized the American dream but better, fostering a huge middle class that, for the most part, owned their homes, sent their kids to public schools, and found meaningful work connected to the state’s amazingly diverse, innovative economy. Read more

L.A.’s Economy Is Not Dead Yet

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

“This is the city,” ran the famous introduction to the popular crime drama Dragnet. “Los Angeles, Calif. I work here.” Of course, unlike Det. Sgt. Joe Friday, who spoke those words every episode, I am not a cop, but Los Angeles has been my home for over 35 years.

To Sgt. Friday, L.A. was a place full of opportunities to solve crimes, but for me Los Angeles has been an ideal barometer for the city of the future. For the better part of the last century, Los Angeles has been, as one architect once put it, “the original in the Xerox machine.” It largely invented the blueprint of the modern American city: the car-oriented suburban way of life, the multi-polar metropolis around a largely unremarkable downtown, the sprawling jumble of ethnic and cultural enclaves of a Latin- and Asian-flavored mestizo society.

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The Worst Cities For Jobs

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

In this least good year in decades, someone has to sit at the bottom. For the most part, the denizens are made up of “usual suspects” from the long-devastated rust belt region around the Great Lakes. But as in last year’s survey, there’s also a fair-sized contingent of former hot spots that now seem to resemble something closer to black holes.

Two sectors have particularly suffered worst from the recession, according to a recent study by the New America Foundation: construction, where employment has dropped by nearly 25%, and manufacturing, which has suffered a 15% decline. The decline in construction jobs has hit the Sunbelt states hardest; the manufacturing rollback has pummeled industrial areas such as the Great Lakes as well as large swaths of the more recently industrialized parts of the Southeast.
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Forced March To The Cities

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

California is in trouble: Unemployment is over 13%, the state is broke and hundreds of thousands of people, many of them middle-class families, are streaming for the exits. But to some politicians, like Sen. Alan Lowenthal, the real challenge for California “progressives” is not to fix the economy but to reengineer the way people live.

In Lowenthal’s case the clarion call is to take steps to ban free parking. This way, the Long Beach Democrat reasons, Californians would have to give up their cars and either take the bus or walk to their local shops. “Free parking has significant social, economic and environmental costs,” Lowenthal told the Los Angeles Times. “It increases congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.”

Scarily, his proposal actually passed the State Senate.

One would hope that the mania for changing how people live and work could be dismissed as just local Californian lunacy. Yet across the country, and within the Obama Administration, there is a growing predilection to endorse policies that steer the bulk of new development into our already most-crowded urban areas.

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Machiavelli Or Torquemada?

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

For more than one-third of a century Jerry Brown has proved one of the most interesting and original figures in American politics–and the 71-year-old former wunderkind might be back in office in 2010. If he indeed wins California’s gubernatorial election, the results could range from somewhat positive to positively disastrous.

Brown is a multi-faceted man, but in political terms he has a dual personality, split between two very different Catholic figures from the 15th century: Machiavelli and Tomas de Torquemada. For the sake of California, we better hope that he follows the pragmatism espoused by the Italian author more than the stern visage of the Grand Inquisitor.

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Welcome to Ecotopia

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

In this era of tea-partying revolutionary-era dress-ups, one usually associates secessionism with the far right. But if things turn sour for the present majority in Washington, you should expect a whole new wave of separatism to emerge on the greenish left coast.

In 1975 Ernest Callenbach, an author based in Berkeley, Calif., published a sci-fi novel about enviro-secessionists called Ecotopia; a prequel, Ecotopia Rising, came out in 1981. These two books, which have acquired something of a cult following, chronicle–largely approvingly–the emergence of a future green nation along the country’s northwest coast.

Aptly described by Callenbach as “an empire apart,” this region is, in real life, among the world’s most scenic and blessed by nature. Many in this part of America have long been more enthusiastic about their ties to Asia than those with the rest of the country. It is also home to many fervent ecological, cultural and political activists, who often feel at odds with the less enlightened country that lies beyond their soaring mountains.

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America’s Agricultural Angst

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

In this high-tech information age few look to the most basic industries as sources of national economic power. Yet no sector in America is better positioned for the future than agriculture–if we allow it to reach its potential.

Like manufacturers and homebuilders before them, farmers have found themselves in the crosshairs of urban aesthetes and green activists who hope to impose their own Utopian vision of agriculture. This vision includes shutting down large-scale scientifically run farms and replacing them with small organic homesteads and urban gardens.

Troublingly, the assault on mainstream farmers is moving into the policy arena. Read more

Boomer Economy Stunting Growth in Northern California

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

The road north across the Golden Gate leads to some of the prettiest counties in North America. Yet behind the lovely rolling hills, wineries, ranches and picturesque once-rural towns lies a demographic time bomb that neither political party is ready to address.

Paradise is having a problem with the evolving economy. A generational conflict is brewing, pitting the interests and predilections of well-heeled boomers against a growing, predominately Latino working class. And neither the emerging “progressive” politics nor laissez-faire conservatism is offering much in the way of a solution.

These northern California counties–which include Sonoma, Napa, Solano and Marin–have become beacons for middle- and upper-class residents from the Bay Area. These generally liberal people came in part to enjoy the lifestyle of this mild, bucolic region, and many have little interest in changing it.

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Purple Politics: Is California Moving to the Center?

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

You don’t have to be a genius, or a conservative, to recognize that California’s experiment with ultra-progressive politics has gone terribly wrong. Although much of the country has suffered during the recession, California’s decline has been particularly precipitous–and may have important political consequences.

Outside Michigan, California now suffers the highest rate of unemployment of all the major states, with a post-World War II record of 12.2%. This statistic does not really touch the depth of the pain being felt, particularly among the middle and working classes, many of whom have become discouraged and are no longer counted in the job market.

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California’s Golden Age

Appearing in:

Truthdig.com

California may yet be a civilization that is too young to have produced its Thucydides or Edward Gibbon, but if it has, the leading candidate would be Kevin Starr. His eight-part “Dream” series on the evolution of the Golden State stands alone as the basic comprehensive work on California. Nothing else comes remotely close.

His most recent volume, “Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963,” covers what might be seen as the state’s true Golden Age. To be sure, there is some intriguing history before—the evolution of Hollywood in the 1920s, the reaction to the Depression and the fevered buildup during the Second World War—but this was California’s great moment, its Periclean peak or Augustan age. Read more