Silicon Valley in the 1960s was the cradle of the digital revolution. It was there that computers went from something owned by a handful of hobbyists to the smartphone in your pocket. The Golden State saw social revolution, too. From same sex marriage to billion dollar tech start-ups, things that might be regarded as outlandish elsewhere began in California before going mainstream everywhere else. It was a magnet for talent, and one of the most dynamic places on the planet. Where California led, America – and the world – followed. Or at least aspired to.
Let us hope that this is no longer the case because, if California is indicative of where the rest of America is going, the US is heading towards disaster.
California has been catastrophically mismanaged by a succession of Leftist leaders. Its personal state income tax is now the highest in America. While southern states like my own Mississippi are planning to abolish income taxes entirely, Leftist politicians in California have drawn up plans for a new wealth tax.
Once full of freewheeling entrepreneurs, California is now the most regulated state in the country, according to the Mercatus Center. Permits and licensing are required for almost everything. It is not just big name entrepreneurs, like Elon Musk, who have had enough. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary people and businesses are fleeing, moving to Texas, Utah, Arizona and elsewhere. Last year, California’s population fell for the first time in recorded history.
Having served as an emblem of modernity, there is something almost pre-modern about the California that progressive politicians have created.
For a start, the lights sometimes go out. In pursuit of a renewable energy policy, California has not built enough power generating capacity. This has made energy prices among the most expensive in America. The supply is often so unreliable that the state government has been reduced to pleading with residents to switch off the power to avoid blackouts. (Boris, please take note).
Around one in ten Americans are Californian, yet the state has about a third of the country’s welfare recipients. San Francisco might be the richest post code in the country, but outnumbering the tech zillionaires is a growing army of low paid menial workers who can barely get by. The kind of wealth inequalities that exist in parts of California today are the kind you might have expected to see in Medici Florence or Tsarist Russia, not in a modern Western society.
Progressive politicians have managed to restrict the supply of new housing and at the same time imposed state-wide rent controls. The result is that California is now “home” to about a quarter of America’s homeless population. Iconic Venice beach has hundreds of people living in makeshift shelters.
California is also a warning of what happens when “woke” politicians are put in charge. Yes, they pursue policies that inhibit innovation and economic growth. Far worse is the effect they have on what it means to be American.
The United States was founded on the idea that each of us is defined as an individual in possession of what Thomas Jefferson called “inalienable rights”. Those that run California today would rather that we were defined instead by our immutable characteristics. Instead of being free individuals, equal before the law, Californians are increasingly governed by a woke elite that has an almost apartheid style obsession with not merely race, but gender and sexuality. The danger is that this will tear America apart.
“But why”, I hear you ask “if things are really that bad don’t Californians do something about it?”
Last week, Californians were given the opportunity to sack their current governor, Gavin Newsom, in a recall election. The motion to eject Newsom was not only defeated. Faced with a Trumpish Republican challenger to the incumbent, Californians elected to keep him by an overwhelming margin of two to one.
A Left-wing incumbent with a disastrous record was, it seems, preferred to a Trump-type alternative. If California shows us how Left-wing politicians can destroy a state, it also shows us how a certain type of conservatism can unwittingly let them get away with it.
Douglas Carswell is the president and chief executive of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, one of the leading free market advocacy organisations in the US.
This opinion piece originally appeared in The Telegraph