California’s Doomsday Clock Getting Closer to Midnight

Kerry Jackson
Kerry Jackson is a senior fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

In 1947 a group of scientists unveiled the Doomsday Clock to show how near civilization was to a man-made catastrophic end. Maybe California should have its own doomsday clock, since it seems headed for a wreck.

Today’s official Doomsday Clock reads 11:58 pm, two minutes before disaster. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which manages the clock, cited “the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change” as the reason for the shortness of time.

By coincidence, Jerry Brown, who governed California for 16 years, is now that organization’s executive chairman. In taking the job, he quoted Manhattan Project director Robert Oppenheimer, who said “the whole world is going to hell.” 

Some would argue that the world will have to wait because California is going to arrive first. They have a point. California long ago lost its way.

For instance, this state, once an epicenter of enterprise, continues to bleed businesses. Relocation specialist Joe Vranich figures about 13,000 businesses fled California from 2008 to 2016, and he expects the flight to pick up speed rather than slow.

California is losing people, as well, by the millions. Many who haven’t left yet are just waiting for an opening. A 2017 University of California-Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll found that 56 percent across the state have considered moving because of intolerable housing costs. One in four of those says “that if they did decide to move, they would most likely relocate out of state.”

Meanwhile, the state is a chosen destination for the wealthier and better-educated, according to a December Los Angeles Times report, even as millions of middle-class residents flee California’s high taxes, suffocating regulations, unaffordable housing costs, and some of the worst traffic (and roads) on Earth.

Attracting the bright and the affluent is certainly to California’s advantage. They arrive with capital, innovative thinking, experience, and the energy that helped them amass their wealth. But losing middle-class residents, including large numbers of young professionals, to other states, leaving California with only the extremely rich and the extremely poor, foretells a shaky future.

If California was losing its middle class to the upper class rather than to other states, this, too, would be an advantage. As former Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Janet Yellen – and many others – has said, upward mobility “promotes a healthier economy.” But simply pulling out is a loss. Middle-class Californians who leave take with them their work ethic, their investment and consumption dollars, their inventive business ideas, and their human capital.

Of course the entire middle class isn’t trying to ditch California. Certainly not members of the state’s public-employee unions. It’s in their best interest to stay until they can start collecting their generous pensions, which, we might add, have multiplied the tax burden that’s obliging the middle class to seek refuge in other states.

Escaping California is a rational choice. It has arguably the heaviest tax burden in the country, and is constantly increasing it. Businesses are regulated as if they were subsidiaries of the state.

Accelerating the exodus is an intractable housing crisis. Prices are so high that many middle-class earners can’t afford to buy homes. In Los Angeles County, where more than one in four Californians lives, 92 percent of all homes, “are unaffordable to the average person.” Those who rent rather than purchase have to dedicate one-third to nearly one-half of their income to housing, depending on where they live.

Even so, they probably consider themselves fortunate. Many in California don’t even have a home. While the state makes up only 12 percent of the national population, 25 percent to 30 percent of the country’s homeless live here.

There are dozens of other California conventions that annoy, antagonize, confound, enrage, inconvenience, and eventually drive out, the “subjects” of California. To name a few, there’s the wholly unnecessary single-use plastic bag prohibition, a coming fossil fuel ban to serve a political agenda, and a spiteful disregard for federal immigration law. There’s also the man-made drought,punishing gasoline prices, the menace of a future single-payer health care system, the political indoctrination taking place in public school classrooms, and a crusade to outlaw gasoline and diesel vehicles, to name a few more.

Is California “on the verge of becoming,” as Richard Colman has suggested, “a failed state” that’s “on the brink of collapse”? While the state’s doomsday clock rapidly approaches midnight, we haven’t run out of time yet. It is, however, getting late.

 

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