Making America California

As the Biden administration settles in and begins to formulate its agenda, progressive pundits, politicians, and activists point to California as a role model for national policy. If the administration listens to them, it would prove a disaster for America’s already-beleaguered middle and working classes.

Biden, suggests an ecstatic account in the Los Angeles Times, seeks to “make America California again,” and he will have plenty of help. Californians will run Health and Human Services, the Treasury, Homeland Security, and Energy. Former California senator Kamala Harris is vice president, and San Francisco’s Nancy Pelosi rules the House of Representatives. Progressives like Laura Tyson and Lenny Mendonca see the shift as embracing “California’s distinctive approach to market capitalism.” The Golden State, they insist, can “show the way forward” toward a more socially just future.

As a California resident for nearly half a century, I wonder if these worthies see the same state I do. California has its wonderful spots, great neighborhoods, beautiful vistas, amazing entrepreneurs, and great amenities, but it makes a poor advertisement for social democracy. It suffers the nation’s highest poverty rate and presents the widest gap between middle- and upper-middle income earners of any state. Minorities—notably African-Americans and Latinos—do worse in California’s metros than elsewhere in the country, according to a recent study that we conducted at the Urban Reform Institute. In Atlanta, African-American median incomes, adjusted for costs, are almost double those in San Francisco and Los Angeles; Latinos earn $20,000 more in midwestern and southern cities than in the enlightened metros along the California coast.

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