With the beginning of a new year, many of us tend to not just review the past year, but to look ahead to what the coming year may bring. So, where is the state of California headed?
Even a casual follower of the news has noticed that a lot of companies are leaving the state, taking the jobs and tax revenues that they provide with them. Employers fleeing California cite ever-increasing taxes, a metastasizing regulatory bureaucracy, sky-high living costs, high crime, and a firmly ensconced "progressive" political establishment promising even higher taxes and more anti-business legislation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this outward flight, as both employers and employees realize that they can work remotely, and that states like Texas offer a much friendlier place to live and do business. Employers are attracted to the lower taxes and a supportive business climate, while employees find that they are now able to buy a house, can afford to put gas in their cars, and can avoid high sales taxes and state-mandated costs like electronics and mattress surcharges. They are eager to get their kids out of a deteriorating California school system emphasizing indoctrination and minimizing rigor, and in which educational failure is addressed by lowering standards and eliminating the objective measurements of learning. Many flee the famous California "catch and release" criminal justice system, for a safer environment.
Clearly, we are facing a future in which our tax base is shrinking, while our politicians continue to buy votes with more and more pricy programs and benefits, creating even more dependency.
The large urban areas of San Francisco and Los Angeles have fared the worst. In San Franciso, a town famous for housing scarcity and exorbitant rents, the rents are dropping, and yet around one-third of properties remain vacant. Both cities find themselves inundated with rapidly spreading homeless encampments, and the governmental efforts to address the problem only aggravate it. Large areas in each city now smell like an open sewer, and are littered with human waste and needles. Pedestrians gingerly navigate the sidewalks and parks like soldiers negotiating a minefield, and parents must keep their kids out of the playgrounds favored by junkies. Police no longer bother with property crimes like auto break-ins, and prosecutors refuse to prosecute all but the most grievous crimes. Merchants, prevented from physically stopping thieves, increasingly place their goods in locked cabinets to limit pilferage.
Obviously, many of the productive residents who had been drawn to the urban "energy" of these cities have had enough and are voting with their feet.
While Los Angeles has always been "challenging" even in the best of times, the descent of the once-charming city of San Francisco into a dystopian cityscape of homeless squalor, crime, and governmental corruption and dysfunction, has been more shocking. The homeless influx, and the flight of the law-abiding and productive, evokes a future rather like that forecast in the classic H.G. Wells movie, The Time Machine, in which humanity devolves into the Eloi and the Morlocks.
In my fevered nightmares, I foresee a future where San Francisco is populated by homeless Morlocks, the few remaining Eloi who were unable to unload their over-priced homes in time, and political warlords. These warlords shall rule their shabby domain from fortified citadels, venturing out into their fiefdoms only during the relatively safe daylight hours to engage in the governmental looting of any remaining wealth, deeming it "tax collection." Because the city is scenic, it will attract the bolder "extreme tourists," who will safari through the ruins in armored tour buses, finishing up their tours at copies of famous San Francisco restaurants and bars that have been re-created in safer San Mateo County. Ultimately, deprived of the tax revenues which currently feed and support the homeless, the city will descend into cannibalism as bands of hungry Morlocks pry the remaining Eloi out of their overpriced homes, much like oysters being shucked.
The boxed dinner "Rice-A-Roni," will change its jingle to become the "Texas Treat," avoiding any association with the cannibalistic carnage.
Can the future of the rest of California be any brighter? As our tax revenues plummet, state leaders will attempt to make up the shortfall by raising taxes still higher, perhaps imposing a wealth tax or revoking Proposition 13, sending still more of the "rich" and productive fleeing the state. Soon, the term "rich" shall include anyone with a job and a home. Eventually, the "rich" shall be anyone who has scavenged a full bag of aluminum recycling.
Meanwhile, leaders will find that the voters have grown fond of their expensive public benefits and are in no mood to give them up. Having created vast public dependency, the benefits will be untouchable and cost-cutting impossible.
Californians will find that, while our love of beating up on businesses and the rich may be satisfying and cathartic, it will give us a pyrrhic victory. Δ
John Donegan is a retired attorney in Pismo Beach who hopes that he is worm chow by the time that the whole wretched mess collapses. Send a response to firstname.lastname@example.org.