The U.S. Chamber blog recently highlighted a piece by Joel Kotkin of NewGeography.com (and contributor to Forbes) in which the writer attempts to come to terms with just who is to blame for the epic fiscal spiral that is California. He makes some interesting observations, some of which will hopefully serve as red flags for the Hoosier State. Here are his five suspects:
1. Arnold Schwarzenegger
…Arnold quickly discovered his feminine side, becoming a kinder, ultra-green terminator…Yet over the past few years there’s been more destruction than creation. Employment in high-tech fields has stagnated…while there have been huge setbacks in the construction, manufacturing, warehousing and agricultural sectors. Driven away by strict regulations, businesses take their jobs outside California even in relatively good times. Indeed, according to a recent Milken Institute report, between 2000 and 2007 California lost nearly 400,000 manufacturing jobs. All that time, industrial employment was growing in major competitive rivals like Texas and Arizona….
2. The Public Sector
Who needs an economy when you have fat pensions and almost unlimited political power? That’s the mentality of California’s 356,000 workers and their unions, who make up the best-organized, best-funded and most powerful interest group in the state. State government continued to expand in size even when anyone with a room-temperature IQ knew California was headed for a massive financial meltdown. Scattered layoffs and the short-term salary givebacks now being considered won’t cure the core problem: an overgenerous retirement system. The unfunded liabilities for these employees’ generous pensions are now estimated at over $200 billion.
3. The Environment
Obama holds up California’s environmental policy as a model for the nation. May God protect the rest of the country. California’s environmental activists once did an enviable job protecting our coasts and mountains, expanding public lands and working to improve water and air resources. But now, like sailors who have taken possession of a distillery, they have gotten drunk on power and now rampage through every part of the economy.
In California today, everyone who makes a buck in the private sector–from developers and manufacturers to energy producers and farmers–cringes in fear of draconian regulations in the name of protecting the environment. The activists don’t much care, since they get their money from trust-funders and their nonprofits. The losers are California’s middle and working classes, the people who drive trucks, who work in factories and warehouses or who have white-collar jobs tied to these industries.
4. The Business Community
This insanity has been enabled by a lack of strong opposition to it. One potential source–California’s business leadership–has become progressively more feeble over the past generation…"The business community is so afraid they are keeping their heads down," observes Ross DeVol, director of regional economics at the Milken Institute. "I feel they if they keep this up much longer, they won’t have heads."
At some point Californians–the ones paying the bills and getting little in return–need to rouse themselves. The problem could be demographic. Over the past few years much of our middle class has fled the state, including a growing number to "dust bowl" states like Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas from which so many Californians trace their roots…The last hope lies with those of us still enamored with California. We have allowed ourselves to be ruled by a motley alliance of self-righteous zealots, fools and cowards; now we must do something….We should, however, be very cautious about handing more power to the state’s leaders. With our acquiescence, they have led this most blessed state toward utter ruin…