Democratic Dreams; Republican Opportunity

Luke Phillips
Research Associate for the Center for Opportunity Urbanism and Senior Correspondent at Glimpse From the Globe

There are at least three reasons for California Democrats to be proud of themselves this week.

First- guess what? Turns out California has a GREAT business climate, after all! All this doom and gloom about environmental regulations and business taxes is for naught. What’s Joel Kotkin even talking about?

Second- in Paris, our leaders are spreading our ecotopian values around the world to fight climate change! Our state is leading on reducing emissions while still maintaining a top-notch economy and a sky-high GDP. People need only emulate us.

Third- a bill in Congress that would’ve fought The Drought with funding for desalination and storage capacity projects has been killed for the year, precluding those troglodyte build-stuff Republicans from further despoiling our state’s environment!

Taken at face value, all these stories suggest that the Jerry Brown formula for environmental issues- focus on nice, clean, tech/finance growth, reduce fossil fuel usage and encourage green energy, use less water- is working to both save the environment and keep the economy humming in an ecologically acceptable fashion. Pats on the back all around, Sacramento and the Bay Area!

Of course, not all is well in the Golden (greening?) West. The above articles contain quietly-mentioned nuggets of dark forebodings.

The Next10/Beacon Economics report on California’s sunny business climate noted that, while things are good for the middle class, they sure aren’t so nice for the working class:

“California has seen a net positive domestic migration of individuals who earn over $50,000 annually. Most residents leaving California, on the other hand, earn less than $50,000.”

The Sacramento Bee’s nicely-balanced article on Californians in Paris hints that, as the Golden State has recovered from the Great Recession, the state has made less “progress” on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, presumably because boosting the economy presupposes increased energy use.

“Greenhouse gas emissions in California declined from a peak in 2001 to 2013… But progress on emissions slowed as the economy improved and people returned to work.”

And the Fresno Bee’s piece on federal drought legislation? Why, it’s quite simple- the state will continue to work on its own, without federal support, to prepare for the next dry season, and Senator Boxer doesn’t seem to mind. Better to avoid “the [environmental regulatory] courthouse door” than to pass problem-solving legislation in your constituents’ interests.

“If Republicans want to know who is to blame for the stalemate on water, they only have to look in the mirror,” Boxer said Thursday night, “because all they do is keeping pitting one stakeholder against another, which will only lead to the courthouse door.”

All this suggests something- does the California political elite, dominated as it is by blue-and-green Democrats, care more for “the environment” than they do for working-and-middle-class Californians’ economic prospects, and their “pursuit of happiness?” It sure seems like it.

But none of this elite preference for environmental “progress” over broad-based growth and opportunity should surprise anyone. Jerry Brown himself made that clear in recent statements that could have literally come out of a satirical piece at The Onion:

“Brown urged a small crowd to “never underestimate the coercive power of the central state in the service of good.”

“You can be sure California is going to keep innovating, keep regulating,” the Democratic governor said. “And, shall I say, keep taxing.””

Beyond this naked paternalism bordering on arbitrary regulatory tyranny, Brown made some bizarre statements regarding his underlying (illiberal) political philosophy: 

 “Instead of being a burden, it’s really an opportunity to live lighter on the planet,” he said during one event. “Friendship, beauty, art has to take the place of this heavy commodification of our entire existence.”…

For the world to reduce its carbon output, he continued, “we’re talking about a different kind of life, a life not based on oil, and a life not based on so much emphasis on the individual as opposed to the common good.””

What country are we living in? No, what hemisphere, and what epoch? Are we really at a point in our liberal democracy where the ideological whims of a technocratic elite dictate public policy, where philosopher-kings determine “the good” for a free people?

This is what happens in single-party states- the elite grows decadent and whimsical, unfit to rule because it has not struggled for the throne and answered to the voice of the people. That’s what’s at stake in California in 2016, 2018, and beyond- the perpetuation of the green-and-blue elite, with its penchant for sacrificing the working and middle classes at the altar of Gaia, or the rise of a new, populist, pro-growth Republican elite, capable of both stewarding our precious environment and opening up opportunity for the citizens of California. The California Republicans have a very important mission on their hands- they should not squander it.

One last note- while the CAGOP should clearly put the interests of California’s workers and entrepreneurs above those of some green goddess in the Dems’ heads, it should not rush to the opposite end of the spectrum and embrace a “Screw-the-Earth!” mentality a la what some populists on the right seem to endorse. Conservation and conservatism share more than the Latin root conservare– they share a fundamental mentality of preservation and stewardship, and both are compatible with enterprise and innovation. It is essential, then, that Republicans protect the environment pragmatically- for example, acknowledging climate change and arguing that natural gas use helps curb carbon emissions, or supporting desalination as a drought solution to provide California with water while preserving our rivers.

As the green-and-blue elite grows more decadent and out of touch, opportunities will open up for Republicans to lead.

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