While still trying to process the unwelcome news that we’re going to have to grind through yet another year of drought, California energy officials told us to also be ready for the power to go out when the days grow long and warm.
“The managers of California’s electricity system,” the Sacramento Bee reported May 5, “can’t promise they’ll be able to keep the lights on this summer.”
Though officials insist “they’ve fortified the power grid against more outages,” they at the same time concede “that another extraordinary surge in temperatures could spell trouble.”
Sounds more like an implicit warning than a mere observation of what might be possible in the extreme.
This is only one of several contemporary California afflictions. A drought “watch” began in early April with reports the state had arrived on the “edge of another protracted drought.” Then we were told the Bay Area had landed “in the ‘extreme’ drought category,” and that conditions across the state “have gone from bad to worse in scarcely a month.” By the second Monday of May, Gov. Gavin Newsom had included an additional 39 counties in his drought emergency declaration, only days after the U.S. Drought Monitor indicated that nearly 93% of the state was experiencing either severe, extreme, or exceptional dry conditions.
But there has to be some good news, right? Somewhere there is. But a quick look at the headlines beyond blackouts and drought tell us deadly crimes in the state’s largest cities are on the rise, homelessness continues to grow, and the wildfire season, which is “already off to a fast start,” “could quickly become the worst on record.”
This is progress?
California is arguably the most politically “progressive” state in the country. So why can’t it make progress in eradicating problems that don’t fit its image as an innovative, forward-looking, ever-advancing state?
The answer starts with a lesson: Never confuse “progressive” politics with human and civilizational progress.
Because progressivism channels the ancient human urge to coerce others, it robotically falls back on the long-ago-exhausted more-government-is-needed responses when problems arise. (Relying on programs and bureaucracy has only exacerbated California’s homelessness troubles, for instance.)
Progressive politics also seek the social and economic engineering that we’re constantly told will yield improvement but never does. (Renewable energy diktats and unnecessary climate policies are the primary contributors to the blackouts and wildfires; efforts to decriminalize behaviors that are harmful to others breeds criminal activity; and the build-absolutely-nothing-anywhere-near-anyone mindset has given us perpetual man-made drought and a housing crisis).
Evidence over the millennia clearly shows that the more control a government authority in any form has, the worse the outcomes. Mankind’s progress, its ability to flourish, is directly proportional to the degree of freedom a society is allowed.
Yet progressives continue to assert, as political scientist Charles Murray has pointed out, that an “activist federal government is a force for good,” and remain “enthusiastic about an unrestrained regulatory state, who think it’s just fine to subordinate the interests of individuals to large social projects.”
Maybe it’s because they don’t see the damage they do. Progressives tend to have the luxury of avoiding much of the consequences of their policies, leaving the working class to bear a disproportionate load.
In an essay headlined “California’s Progressive Betrayal,” Chapman University professor Joel Kotkin has identified a number of current California policies that are particularly hard on the middle and lower classes, including the elimination of fossil fuels, which will “result in California’s immiseration, especially for workers in the state’s energy-production sector” as well as higher energy costs; limits on housing growth that produce prices unaffordable to many; and higher taxes on everyday goods.
The longer this continues, the more the state will polarize into two distinct classes, the extremely rich and the hopeless poor. This is a hallmark of Third World nations – along with frequent energy shortages, high crime rates, an inability to cope with natural disasters, and political tribalism.
Progressivism began as “a reform that was supposed to help the people reduce the power of wealthy special interests,” according to San Jose State University history professor Glen Gendzel, but “has fallen prey to what scholars now call the ‘populist paradox.’” It’s now “a tool of those interests, which they use for distinctly un-progressive purposes.”
It could have happened no other way. “For the people” revolutions have a history of driving nations into Third World misery. When government becomes a tool for a movement, even when its intentions are thought noble, freedoms are inevitably lost. And without freedom, there is no progress.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.