CALIFORNIA’S PARADOX

This is an article from  Victor Davis Hansen, a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford  University …

The last three weeks I have traveled about, taking the pulse of the more  forgotten areas of central California. I wanted to witness, even if superficially, what is happening to a state that has the highest sales and income taxes, the most lavish entitlements, the near-worst public schools (based  on federal test scores), and the largest number of illegal aliens in the nation,  along with an over regulated private sector, a stagnant and shrinking  manufacturing base, and an elite environmental ethos that restricts commerce and  productivity without curbing consumption.

During  this unscientific experiment, three times a week I rode a bike on a 20-mile trip  over various rural roads in southwestern Fresno County .

I also drove my car  over to the coast to work, on various routes through towns like San Joaquin ,  Mendota, and Firebaugh. And near my home I have been driving, shopping, and  touring by intent the rather segregated and
impoverished areas of Caruthers,  Fowler, Laton, Orange Cove, Parlier, and Selma . My own farmhouse is now in an  area of abject poverty and almost no ethnic diversity; the closest elementary  school (my alma mater, two miles
away) is 94 percent Hispanic and 1 percent  white, and well below federal testing norms in math and English.

Here  are some general observations about what I saw (other than that the rural roads  of California are fast turning into rubble, poorly maintained and reverting to  what I remember seeing long ago in the rural South). First, remember that these  areas are the ground zero, so to speak, of 20 years of illegal immigration.  There has been a general depression in farming – to such an extent that the 20-  to-100-acre tree and vine farmer, the erstwhile backbone of the old rural  California , for all practical purposes has ceased to exist.

On the  western side of the Central Valley , the effects of arbitrary cutoffs in federal  irrigation water have idled tens of thousands of acres of prime agricultural  land, leaving thousands unemployed. Manufacturing plants in the towns in these  areas – which used to make harvesters, hydraulic lifts, trailers,  food-processing equipment – have largely shut down; their production has been  shipped off overseas or south of the border. Agriculture itself – from almonds  to raisins – has increasingly become corporatized and mechanized, cutting by  half the number of farm
workers needed. So unemployment runs somewhere between  15 and 20 percent.

Many of  the rural trailer-house compounds I saw appear to the naked eye no different  from what I have seen in the Third World . There is a Caribbean look to the  junked cars, electric wires crisscrossing between various outbuildings, plastic  tarps substituting for replacement shingles, lean-tos cobbled together as  auxiliary housing, pit bulls unleashed, and geese, goats, and chickens roaming  around the yards. The public hears about all sorts of tough California  regulations that stymie business – rigid zoning laws, strict building codes,  constant inspections – but apparently none of that applies out here.

It is  almost as if the more California regulates, the more it does not regulate. Its  public employees prefer to go after misdemeanors in the upscale areas to justify  our expensive oversight industry, while ignoring the felonies in the downtrodden  areas, which are becoming feral and beyond the ability of any inspector to do  anything but feel irrelevant. But in the regulators’ defense, where would one  get the money to redo an ad hoc trailer park with a spider web of illegal bare  wires?

Many of  the rented-out rural shacks and stationary Winnebagos are on former small farms  – the vineyards overgrown with weeds, or torn out with the ground lying fallow.  I pass on the cultural consequences to
communities from  the loss of  thousands of small farming families. I don’t think I can remember another time  when so many acres in the eastern part of the valley have gone out of  production, even though farm prices have recently rebounded. Apparently it is  simply not worth the gamble of investing $7,000 to $10,000 an acre in a new  orchard or vineyard. What an anomaly – with suddenly soaring farm prices, still  we have thousands of acres in the world’s richest agricultural belt, with  available water on the east side of the valley and plentiful labor, gone idle or  in disuse. Is credit frozen? Are there simply no more farmers? Are the schools  so bad as to scare away
potential agricultural entrepreneurs? Or are we all  terrified by the national debt and uncertain future?

California coastal elites may worry about the oxygen content of water available  to a three-inch smelt in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, but they seem  to have no interest in the epidemic dumping of trash,
furniture, and often toxic  substances throughout California ‘s rural hinterland. Yesterday, for example, I  rode my bike by a stopped van just as the occupants tossed seven plastic bags of  raw refuse onto the side of the
road. I rode up near their bumper and said in my  broken Spanish not to throw garbage onto the public road. But there were three  of them, and one of me. So I was lucky to be sworn at only. I note in passing  that I would
not drive into Mexico and, as a guest, dare to pull over and throw  seven bags of trash into the environment of my host.

In  fact, trash piles are commonplace out here – composed of everything from  half-empty paint cans and children’s plastic toys to diapers and moldy food. I  have never seen a rural sheriff cite a litterer, or witnessed state EPA workers  cleaning up these unauthorized wastelands. So I would suggest to Bay Area  scientists that the environment is taking a much harder beating down here in  central California than it is in the Delta. Perhaps before we cut off more  irrigation water to the west side of the valley, we might invest some green  dollars into cleaning up the unsightly and sometimes dangerous garbage that now  litters the outskirts of our rural communities.

We hear  about the tough small-business regulations that have driven residents out of the  state, at the rate of 2,000 to 3,000 a week. But from my unscientific  observations these past weeks, it seems rather easy to open
a small business in  California without any oversight at all, or at least what I might call a  “counter business.”  I counted eleven mobile hot-kitchen trucks that simply park  by the side of the road, spread about some plastic
chairs, pull down a tarp  canopy, and, presto, become mini-restaurants. There are no “facilities” such as  toilets or washrooms. But I do frequently see lard trails on the isolated roads  I bike on, where trucks apparently
have simply opened their draining tanks and  sped on, leaving a slick of cooking fats and oils. Crows and ground squirrels  love them; they can be seen from a distance mysteriously occupied in the middle  of the road.

At  crossroads, peddlers in a counter-California economy sell almost anything. Here  is what I noticed at an intersection on the west side last week: shovels, rakes,  hoes, gas pumps, lawnmowers, edgers, blowers, jackets, gloves, and caps. The  merchandise was all new. I doubt whether in high-tax California sales taxes or  income taxes were paid on any of these stop-and-go transactions.

In two  supermarkets 50 miles apart, I was the only one in line who did not pay with a  social-service plastic card (gone are the days when “food stamps” were  embarrassing bulky coupons). But I did not see any relationship between the use  of the card and poverty as we once knew it: The electrical appurtenances owned  by the user and the car into which the groceries were loaded were  indistinguishable from those of the upper middle class.

By that  I mean that most consumers drove late-model Camrys, Accords, or Tauruses, had  iPhones, Bluetooths, or BlackBerries, and bought everything in the store with  public-assistance credit. This seemed a world apart from
the trailers I had just  ridden by the day before. I don’t editorialize here on the logic or morality of  any of this, but I note only that there are vast numbers of people who  apparently are not working, are on public food assistance, and enjoy the  technological veneer of the middle class.
California has a consumer market  surely, but often no apparent source of income. Does the $40 million a day  supplement to unemployment benefits from Washington explain some of this?

Do  diversity concerns, as in lack of diversity, work both ways? Over a hundred-mile  stretch, when I stopped in San Joaquin for a bottled water, or drove through  Orange Cove, or got gas in Parlier, or went to a corner market in southwestern  Selma, my home town, I was the only non-Hispanic – there were no Asians, no  blacks, no other whites. We may speak of the richness of “diversity,” but those  who cherish that ideal simply have no idea that there are now countless inland  communities that have become near-apartheid societies, where Spanish is the  first language, the schools are not at all diverse, and the federal and state  governments are either the main employers or at least the chief sources of  income – whether through emergency rooms, rural health clinics, public schools,  or
social-service offices. An observer from Mars might conclude that our elites and masses have given up on the ideal of integration and assimilation, perhaps  in the wake of the arrival of 11 to 15 million illegal aliens.

Again,  I do not editorialize, but I note these vast transformations over the last 20  years that are the paradoxical wages of unchecked illegal immigration from  Mexico, a vast expansion of California’s entitlements and taxes, the flight of  the upper middle class out of state, the deliberate effort not to tap natural  resources, the downsizing in manufacturing and agriculture, and the departure of  whites, blacks, and Asians from many of these small towns to more racially  diverse and upscale areas of California.

Fresno  ‘s California State University campus is embroiled in controversy over the  student body president’s announcing that he is an illegal alien, with all the  requisite protests in favor of the DREAM Act.

I won’t comment on the legislation  per se, but again only note the anomaly.

I taught at CSUF for 21 years. I think  it fair to say that the predominant theme of the Chicano and Latin American  Studies program’s sizable curriculum was a fuzzy American culpability. By that I  mean that students in those classes heard of the sins of America more often than  its attractions. In my home town, Mexican flag decals on car windows are far more common than their American counterparts.

I note  this because hundreds of students here illegally are now terrified of being  deported to Mexico . I can understand that, given the chaos in Mexico and their  own long residency in the United States . But here is what still confuses me: If  one were to consider the classes that deal with Mexico at the university, or the  visible displays of national chauvinism, then one might conclude that Mexico is  a far more attractive and moral place than the United States.

So  there is a surreal nature to these protests: something like, “Please do not send  me back to the culture I nostalgically praise; please let me stay in the culture  that I ignore or deprecate.” I think the DREAM Act
protestors might have been  far more successful in winning public opinion had they stopped blaming the U.S.  for suggesting that they might have to leave at some point, and instead  explained why, in fact, they want to stay.
What it is about America that makes a  youth of 21 go on a hunger strike or demonstrate to be allowed to remain in this  country rather than return to the place of his birth?

I think  I know the answer to this paradox. Missing entirely in the above description is  the attitude of the host, which by any historical standard can only be termed  “indifferent.” California does not care whether one broke the law to arrive here  or continues to break it by staying. It asks nothing of the illegal immigrant –  no proficiency in English, no acquaintance with American history and values, no  proof of income, no record of education or skills. It does provide all the  public assistance that it can afford (and more that it borrows for), and  apparently waives
enforcement of most of California ‘s burdensome regulations  and civic statutes that increasingly have plagued productive citizens to the  point of driving them out. How odd that we over regulate those who are citizens  and
have capital to the point of banishing them from the state, but do not regulate those who are aliens and without capital to the point of encouraging  millions more to follow in their footsteps. How odd – to paraphrase what Critias  once said of ancient Sparta – that California is at once both the nation’s most  unfree and most free state, the most repressed and the wildest.

Hundreds of thousands sense all that and vote accordingly with their feet, both  into and out of California – and the result is a sort of social, cultural,  economic, and political time-bomb, whose ticks are getting louder.

Victor Davis Hanson is  a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the editor of Makers of Ancient  Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The  Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and
Modern.

Thanks to Marie in Gainesville, Texas for contributing this.

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