Gov. Gavin Newsom, running for his political life, is right, not everything is grim in California. At the same time, a lot of damage has been done over the last 25 years. Don’t believe it? Take a look at any list that ranks the states for any reason and California is either dead last or in the bottom five in more than a few.
For instance, the Cato Institute’s 2021 Best and Worst States for Entrepreneurs report places California 48th, with only New Jersey and Connecticut keeping the state out of the basement. Excessive taxation, smothering regulations, a legal system overly accommodative to plaintiffs’ lawyers who eye businesses as treasure chests to plunder, and a briar patch of bureaucracy don’t exactly feed the fires of innovation and dynamism.
Not all are accepting of the ever-widening view that this state is a difficult place in which to do business. For instance, in a particularly combative interview with the McClatchy editorial writers on Aug. 8, Newsom rejected the notion that something is amiss and defended California’s entrepreneurial environment.
“Over 100 damn IPOs year-to-date in this state,” he said.
That’s one way to put it. Another is: Imagine how many more IPOs would have occurred if the state treated its entrepreneurs better.
California’s failings are well documented. The state is 48th in the Cato’s most recent Freedom In The 50 States, 48th in WalletHub’s taxpayer return on investment, and has been consistently buried at the bottom of Chief Executive magazine’s rankings of Best & Worst States for Business.
Last year, California’s state government was still the only one in the country that refused to open its books to independent auditors. Traffic on some of the worst streets and highways in the country remains miserable. Two years ago, another WalletHub list placed two Golden State cities – Oakland and San Francisco – among the seven worst-run municipalities in the country.
While digesting all of that, consider that California is buckling under the weight of the triple crises of unaffordable housing, homelessness, and crime; has the worst poverty in the country; and seems baffled that endless drought and wildfires don’t respond to political wishing.
It’s not hard to pile on California. Its self-inflicted bruises and cracks are obvious and many. Fixing the state, however, is no light task. The “California values” we’ve heard Newsom and others talk about need to be reassessed. Is this a true land of opportunity or a showcase for narcissistic blue state policies? Is it a hub of progress or a plaything for progressive politicians? Why is it a nightmare for so many while simultaneously a dream for so few?
There is a path back to greatness. “Saving California,” edited by Steven Greenhut, is a serious book in which current and former Californians who know their business present practical, not ideological, alternatives to the policies that have wounded the state. Think of it as a vaccine that will deliver California from the flu it’s been suffering from for far too long.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.