Joel Kotkin over the The Daily Beast has scribbled out the millionth version of the “California is Dying” article–a genre of conservative wishful thinking that turns out to be hilariously wrong every time it is written. For years the story was that California would become the next Greece: hopelessly in debt, unable to pay its bills, with an exodus of taxpayers. That turned out to be bunk, of course: all the state needed was a 2/3 Democratic supermajority and a Democratic governor, and the state’s fiscal situation was rectified almost immediately.
The new opportunity to concern-troll California with big business propaganda comes with the drought. The drought has become the platform from which the conservative complaint machine hits all its favorite targets: Silicon Valley and Hollywood elites, environmentalists, immigrants, and public works (especially transportation.) Republicans who wish they could turn California into Texas want the state to divert rail funding into building more freeways, drain the wetlands to support oil fracking and big agriculture, and close down the borders so that racist whites will feel a little less uncomfortable. They also want to build lots and lots of desalination plants, and blame progressive policy for the widening income inequality gap that sets the wealthy coast apart from the poorer interior.
Fortunately, however, California isn’t Texas. We’re smarter and more patient than that.
We know that without addressing climate change, nothing we do in the short-term to alleviate drought issues is going to matter all that much. The droughts will get harsher and more severe, which will eventually flip the conversation from an annoyance about giving up almonds and front lawns to an existential question about whether parts of the state are even habitable. The only way to handle it is to lead the nation on climate change abatement, setting a gold standard as the nation’s most prosperous and most populous state.
We also know that no matter how much we spend on freeways, the state’s population and projected growth is such that we need alternatives, including but not limited to high-speed trains. The need for and efficacy of high-speed rail isn’t theoretical. Anyone who has been to Europe, China or Japan has seen that their rail services are heavily used and light years beyond anything we have in the states. There may come a day when self-driving cars provide greater efficiency and safety to freeway commutes, and when hydrogen and electric vehicles reduce the carbon emissions of all that freeway traffic. But that day is not today, and alternatives will be necessary regardless.
Fortunately for us, Californians are also aware that draining all of our natural resources and killing all of our wildlife is not a good plan for the future. Permanently destroying our wetlands and driving species to extinction so that frackers, golfers and almond farmers can continue to abuse exorbitant amounts of water is not the answer. It’s not just public policy makers that understand this, but the majority of California voters: much of the wetlands restoration is enshrined into California’s state constitution via the initiative process.
As for desalination, it is certainly on the table–many communities are already implementing desalination plans. But desalination can only do so much, and it is very costly and energy intensive. Much more can be done in the short term through reasonable efforts at conservation, a challenge that Californians in our wisdom are more than prepared to meet.
Finally, with respect to income inequality, conservatives have this bizarre fantasy about liberalism and feudalism. There they engage in classic psychological projection: it is progressive policy that protects the public from feudalism. It is conservative economic policy that is the guaranteed destruction of the middle class and harbinger of feudalism. Income inequality is growing everywhere, largely as a result of Reaganite and Thatcherite public policy, but also due to economic forces like automation. Those effects are most obvious where there is the greatest prosperity and economic activity–places like California and New York that drive most of the economic engine of America and pay more taxes to the federal government than they get back, so that states like Alabama and Kansas can have the road signs whose costs their own economies are too feeble to cover.
California, as usual, will survive just fine. The drought will eventually end; our forward-thinking climate policies will do much to reduce the severity of future droughts; a combination of wise planning and conservation will protect the public and the environment; our progressive transportation policies will ensure multi-modal options even as California-based entrepreneurs like Google and Elon Musk work to make car travel smarter and more sustainable; our immigration policies will continue to make our diversity one of our greatest strengths; and our economic policies will continue do much to mitigate the ill effects of wealth and income inequality exacerbated by conservative economic policy by providing education, healthcare and decent safety net to all.
And the California model will continue to roll forward, superior to the immoral, inhuman and unsustainable Texas model, while still covering the tab for all the federal infrastructure most of the red states can’t figure out how to pay for themselves.