It would be neither profound nor unique to note that the California dream, immortalized by John and Michelle Phillips’ famed lyrics, ain’t what it used to be. It would be nothing more than a mere statement of a fact which is well-known but nevertheless denied by those who have taken the state backward.
More than a half-century after the song boosted California’s already booming fame, “the Golden State now exemplifies the nation’s lurch toward a new form of feudalism in which power and money are increasingly concentrated,” says a fresh study from Chapman University. California tops “the nation in the widest gap between middle and upper-middle income earners and has become progressively more unequal in recent years,” Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky, who co-authored the report, recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times.
“Our new report on the state of California’s middle class shows a lurch toward a society in which power and money are increasingly concentrated and where upward mobility is constrained, amid shocking levels of poverty.”
A disappearing middle class is fine as long as its erstwhile members are reappearing in the upper class. Ever ascending to a higher rung is the American and the California dream. But if the middle class is reappearing in other states, which is the trend, the future is in question.
The report reiterates what many of us have known for some time, that is “California policies, often steeped in good intentions, have had deeply deleterious consequences, especially on its middle and working-class families.” Poor public policies have produced a housing crisis that’s made living in California well beyond the means of many; a business climate that since 2008 “has created five times as many low wage jobs as high wage jobs”; and gas and electricity prices that are “among the highest in the nation,” which “have been devastating to the poorer” among us.
Lousy policies have also brought forth a disorder called “Poverty Among Plenty,” in which we find homelessness swelling in California even as it “has been reduced in much of the country.”
So, does California move past this wretched phase it has entered? Is there a way out?
“Unlocking California’s Potential,” the authors believe, requires rethinking the climate policies that drive up costs for working Californians, reforming the education system, and restoring housing affordability.
“In the end, California’s promise can only be restored by developing policies that empower, not suppress, the aspirations of the middle-class,” the authors conclude.
“Californians must counteract policies that have converted the state from an exemplar of opportunity and personal growth to a harbinger of a neo-feudalist society, dominated by a handful of wealthy people and a growing mass of serfs without hope of property ownership.”
Beyond Feudalism: A Strategy To Restore California’s Middle Class is an important report, an insightful guidebook that, if followed, would give the state a chance to reset its path. Of course, getting policymakers to act appropriately requires them to first admit there’s a problem. It feels as if we’re still a long way away from that in 2020.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.