VICTOR DAVIS HANSON — Wealth, Poverty And Flight: California In A Death Spiral

Insulated coastal elites, impoverished immigrants, and a fleeing middle class

California ranks first among the states in the percentage of residents over 25 who have never finished the ninth grade— 9.7 percent of California residents, or about 4 million Californians. It also rates 49th in the number of state residents who never graduated from high school — or about 18 percent of the current population.

In other words, about 7 million Californians do not possess a high-school diploma, about equal to the size of the nine counties of California’s Bay Area, roughly from Napa to Silicon Valley. In some sense, inside California, there is a shadow state consisting of high-school dropouts that’s larger than 38 other U.S. states.

Yet California also is home to some of the most highly educated municipalities in the United States. In fact, Palo Alto claims that 40 percent of its city population has an M.A, degree or higher, making it No. 1 among American cities with a population above 50,000.

In the same ranking of wealthiest communities, two other California municipalities, nearby Cupertino and Mountain View, were also in the top ten. How can a single state be calibrated as both so educated and so uneducated?

In many global ratings of world research universities, California has four universities (Cal Tech, Stanford, UC Berkeley, and UCLA) in the top 20 — more than any other single nation except the United States itself. Yet the 23-campus California State University system — the largest university in the world — has a student body in which about 20 percent are not proficient in English. The remediation rate (unable to meet minimum college admittance standards in math and English) of incoming freshmen was about 35 percent — at least until such gradations, along with required remedial education, were recently considered archaic, offensive, or worse, and thus scrapped.

To fathom California’s near medieval asymmetry, ask how a state with such high taxes can offer such poor services. The top California income-tax rate is 13.3 percent (the nation’s highest). The state’s average sales tax is (conservatively) about 8.5 percent (ninth in the nation). California’s bewildering combined array of gasoline taxes are about 55 cents per gallon and rising (second-highest in the nation).

In exchange, California public-school test scores rank between 44th and 46th in the nation. Its roads and infrastructure are rated in various surveys between 42nd and 45th. Driving from the state’s interior to the coast on roads mostly unchanged from 45 years ago takes about twice the time as in the past — if carefully planned at particular times and days of the week.

One no longer just drives on any two-hour or longer journey in California. Instead, he navigates, with the planning, apprehension, and wariness of a 16th-century galleon captain sailing to the New World.

What is going on?

Three concurrent — and yet antithetical — trends explain the malaise, though they’re rarely talked about. Indeed, one of the landmarks of the new California mentality is denial and self-righteousness that assume it is illiberal to notice that a quarter of the nation’s homeless population sleeps on California streets, or that violent crime is 20 percent higher in California than the national median, or that San Francisco ranks No. 1 in per capita property crime rates of all the nation’s largest cities.

The Keep

First, lots of highly educated people have congregated in California’s coastal corridor of some 30 million from La Jolla to the Napa Valley. Google, Apple, Facebook, and assorted appendages enjoy market capitalization in aggregate well over $3 trillion dollars. The coast of California faces a booming Asia of China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, not a tired and shrinking Europe mired in European Union bureaucratic suicide. The California coast is where steel, plastic toys, and Hondas arrive and everything from California almonds to airplane parts leave. Three of the top five ports in the country are in California — the top two in Long Beach and Los Angeles.

No wonder that communities such as Atherton, Hillsborough, Brentwood, and Los Altos Hills rank near the top of the nation’s richest municipalities as measured by average household income. California has more billionaires than any other state. The state’s elite universities (Cal Tech, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, USC, UC San Diego) are on the coastal corridors, as are most of its UC campuses and private elite undergraduate colleges. The corporate headquarters of Silver Lake, Disney, Oracle, Gap, Intel, and Kaiser Permanente are too.

So there is a separate state of Coastal California, a manor of prosperity. And it is probably the richest urban area in the world, or rather in the history of civilization — drawing on its geostrategic location, long coastline, weather, climate, blue-chip universities, and high-tech industries. Residents have the disposable income and leisure to live the life of aristocrats — and do so if gauged by their lifestyle choices, travel, hired servants, and appurtenances.

California residents buy far more Lexuses and Mercedes than people buy in any other state; 16 percent of all in-state car sales are luxury brands. The reigning ideology of aristocratic wealth, however, is neither conservatism nor blue-stocking Republicanism, but a strange blend of capitalism and socialism.

Or, rather, it’s explained best in the medieval terms of absolution and penance: a Gallic-like psychological syndrome of wanting lots of money in the concrete but in the abstract justifying such retrograde appetites by promoting cultural progressivism, with the caveat that the wages of entitlements, high taxes, illegal immigration, radical environmentalism, soaring home prices, multiculturalism, and diversity do not really affect those in Palo Verdes, Malibu, Healdsburg, or Menlo Park.

In other words, the costly effects of green mandates on power and gasoline, the rising bloated diversity bureaucracy in the public schools and colleges, the release to the ocean of millions of acre feet of precious stored water in reservoirs, and the $100 billion high-speed-rail debacle under way in Fresno and Kings County are simply the psychological atonements for living the life in a cloistered Versailles.