More than half a century ago, California was the gold standard for achieving the American dream of home ownership, a modest but prosperous lifestyle, the best education system in the nation, virtually the best of everything. When I first sojourned into the state at the age of 13, California was a beacon for everything that was better, a land where every dream was a real possibility. Sadly, California has precipitously dropped off the economic scale quite deliberately and with forethought.
The state is working hard to create two economies, one of servants and those to be served. No longer is California a beacon for the nation's working and middle classes as current regulatory policies shove the working class under the bus and the middle class out the door.
Working class families are being closed out of the economic boom as their jobs are systematically eliminated by the new elites. These are comprised of wealthy urbanites and those dedicated to creating a political utopia devoid of those "unpleasant people" with their noisy trucks, cars, and outdated values. The Central Valley has been on the receiving end of these policies for several decades as water paid for by farmers is systematically denied and the land returns to desert. Communities dry up as jobs evaporate and breadlines proliferate. Scenes reminiscent of Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath are commonplace in 21st century California, except this time it's a result of deliberate state policy.
The state's economy was once a manufacturing juggernaut, especially in the aerospace, shipping, and energy industries. The former has become extinct and the latter is under siege. California holds a bonanza of oil both on and offshore, but the state's elites are determined to destroy it regardless of the consequences for its citizens. The chimera of a "fossil-fuel free" economy is endlessly promoted and now it's legislated to be imposed on the state's electricity generation by the year 2045 regardless of the cost, whether economic or via personal hardship. Some spokesmen for this "vision" proclaim that by 2050, it will be illegal to own or drive an individual car in California, as well it might. This would come about via regulatory fiat, passing legislation prohibiting the DMV from registering vehicles powered by internal combustion engines by a certain date.
Fossil fuels provide more than 80 percent of the nation's energy and 97 percent of California's transportation energy. Replacing this fuel with alternatives in the near term is a financial impossibility for 90 percent of the state's population who cannot afford what are toys for the affluent. Most cost more than a down-payment on a median-priced home. Home energy is equally at risk. South Australia's experience with 100 percent alternative energy saw electric prices triple with analysts reporting some energy costs 10 times higher than when using fossil fuels. (Wall Street Journal, "100% Certifiable California," Sept. 10, 2018)
A symptom of the decline of middle-class purchasing power is the aging of conventionally powered vehicles. The average age of a conventional vehicle is now 10 years instead of the five years normal a generation ago. Most Californians are in no financial position to participate in alternative energy fantasies. Talk of mass transit replacing the family car is unrealistic as the state built its economy and infrastructure around the convenience of the private car. Places of work are scattered in an economy where two incomes are required to survive and shortened hours mean holding more than one job in distant locations. Bus services with fixed schedules and routes don't cut it in an economy that requires maximum flexibility for middle class workers to commute between home and jobs. Add children and school schedules, and you've created a Gordian knot for parents struggling to cope.
The state's war on the energy industry is doing a massive disservice to the working class who flinch at every dime's increase in energy cost. Elimination of the private sector industrial jobs and the tax base they provide not only displaces a worker earning a head-of-household income but creates social disruption on a massive scale. Loss of the primary source of income for a family is a disaster. It means loss of a home, dislocation to a lower income area, loss of social contacts for children, especially those in school, and often abuse of substances. The latter occurs when self-esteem is destroyed in a population that defines itself by "what do you do?" That in turn leads to increased domestic turmoil and societal disruption with its attendant costs, the worst being loss of hope.
For the peripheral employers (contractors, vendors and small businesses) that depend upon a larger entity, loss of economic activity can be multiplied dozens of times resulting in empty store fronts and declining communities. Schools lose substantial tax revenue, which inevitably leads to teacher layoffs, larger classes but a smaller student population.
This week San Francisco is hosting a Global Climate Action Summit, a gathering of the anointed who strive to create a utopian world devoid of the fossil fuel industry. Their fervor is religious, as indeed for some the environment is their religion. As true believers, whatever pain is inflicted upon their neighbors is justifiable to "save the Earth." Wouldn't it be nice if they also valued their neighbors? Δ
Al Fonzi is an Army lieutenant colonel of military intelligence who had a 35-year military career, serving in both the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Send comments through the editor firstname.lastname@example.org.