This article first appeared at The Orange County Register.
With Congress on what appears to be a permanent hold, the search for a workable political model now shifts increasingly to states and localities. Today America’s divergent geographies resemble separate planets, with policy agendas from immigration and climate change that vary wildly from place to place.
The greatest divide lies between the deep blue states, notably California, and progressive America’s network of large urban centers and the generally less dense, more suburban-dominated red states. Their policy prescriptions may vary, but, if allowed to continue, the differing jurisdictions could end up serving as what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called “laboratories of democracy.”
So, the critical question remains what policies work best. The answers may not be as simple as ideologues on the left and right might claim, but instead suggest, as President Bill Clinton once did, that our stunning diversity cannot easily follow a single political script.
California and the blue state model
Democrats may be at a historic low in terms of control of states and local jurisdictions, but they boast almost total domination in many of the richest, most influential and powerful locales. New York, California, Connecticut, Illinois and New Jersey are all tilting left with policies driven by powerful public employees, greens, urban real estate speculators as well as ethnic and gender activists.
To be sure, kowtowing to these interests has landed these states among the worst fiscal situations in the nation. Yet some blue regions also have grown economically well above the national average since 2010, largely driven by asset inflation, particularly real estate and stocks, and technology. California’s robust growth, although now slowing, and its world-dominating tech sector has made it a creditable role model for similarly minded states.
But what has been good in the aggregate has not worked so well for most Californians. Despite all the constant complaining about inequality and racial injustice, California, notes progressive economist James Galbraith, has also become among the most economically unequal parts of the country, topped only by Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. Particularly damaged have been the prospects for the young and minorities, particularly in terms of achieving homeownership.
Read the entire piece at The Orange County Register.