For many generations California was the land of promise, where people could earn fortunes, freely express themselves, and live easily with minimal interference from authorities. It was a well-deserved image. But the dream is now a mirage. California has become the central office of restrictions, obstructions, and coercion.
According to one observation, only two states, Hawaii and New York, offer less freedom than California. The erstwhile Golden State is ranked 48th on the Cato Institute’s most recent Freedom in the 50 States report. It’s been 48th every year since 2011.
The streak of landing two spots from the bottom has been a slight improvement, though. Before 2011, California was stuck in a rut of 49th-place finishes that go back to the turn of the millennium.
California’s ranking is a bit of a muddle. The state is dead last in only two of the Cato Institute’s measures — labor market and occupational freedom. Its overall ranking is dragged down because it is a bottom-five state in many other categories: regulatory freedom, economic freedom, land-use freedom, and gun rights.
The report, released earlier this month, calls California “one of the least free states in the country, largely because of its long-standing poor performance on economic freedom.” It is “the most cronyist state in the union” and “has long suffered from a wide disparity between its economic freedom and personal freedom ranking.”
California actually scored high in cable and telecom freedom (no. 1 for three straight years). But that ranking will tumble if the Legislature passes, and the governor signs, a state net neutrality law that is one of the hottest issues in the final week of the legislative session.
Meanwhile, California is “quite mediocre (23rd) on personal freedom.” But that, too, will surely fall in the next report if the governor signs legislation passed last week to outlaw restaurants from handing out plastic straws unless requested.
California is no stranger to being at the bottom of state rankings. It has the worst poverty in the nation, and its housing is among the most unaffordable in the U.S. It is the second-hottest Judicial Hellhole in the nation, and also next to last in the Institute for Justice’s License to Work list. U.S. News & World Report says it is only the 32nd “best states” ranking of “how well states are performing for their citizens,” while Education Week puts California education 10 spots from last place.
We could go on. But the point is made. California has fallen and the landing hasn’t been soft. It will never return to its lofty status, or even move out of the cellar, until Sacramento finally realizes that its progressive, appeal-to-emotion, politically correct, and identity-based treasures aren’t worth the cost.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.