Economist US West Coast correspondent Andreas Kluth will speak at UCLA tonight, leading a special roundtable discussion on California governance, the challenges our state faces, solutions to those challenges, and the potential costs of failing to act. Tonight’s event comes on the heels of Mr. Kluth’s special report: The People’s Will on California’s promise, missteps, and reform hopes. Here is an excerpt from that article:
In the sweltering June of 1852, two years after California became a state and at the height of the Gold Rush, August Schuckman “came to the first sand desert” on the trail to the land of his dreams. It stretched for 41 miles. His wagon trek entered “at night and rode 19 hours in it”, Schuckman recorded in his journal. By the time they reached the next desert, the oxen died of thirst. “Thousands of cows, horses and mules were lying about dead,” Schuckman wrote. “The discarded wagons by the hundreds were driven together and burned.”
In his matter-of-fact tone, Schuckman, a German immigrant, described what many of the pioneers endured as they pursued the first incarnation of the California dream, a dream of El Dorado, of a Golden State. Hardship and risk-taking, hopes and crushing disappointments have been part of Californian lives ever since, through booms and busts, euphorias and depressions.
Indeed Mr Schuckman, one of hundreds of thousands who came to California during the Gold Rush, was so typical that he might have remained anonymous, had he not sired an impressive line of Californians. One of his grandsons was Pat Brown, governor from 1959 to 1967. Brown played a big part in defining that generation’s California dream—a vision of prosperous middle-class living—by building many of the freeways and aqueducts that today connect and irrigate the vast and dry state, and by turning its public universities into some of the world’s best factories for talent and innovation.
And one of Schuckman’s great-grandsons is Jerry Brown, Pat’s son. This Brown was one of California’s youngest governors between 1975 and 1983. This year he again became governor—at 72, California’s oldest. And, commencing his third term during one of the worst economic crises since the second world war, Mr Brown chose to quote from his immigrant ancestor’s journal in his inauguration address.
In doing so, Mr Brown wanted to remind Californians to keep dreaming and enduring as August Schuckman had once done, and to put today’s troubles in perspective. Yes, many Californians have lost their homes, jobs, health care and welfare services, Mr Brown implied. But they are not burning wagons and their lives will improve again, as Schuckman’s did.
It is striking that such a reminder should even be necessary in a state that once symbolised optimism. But such is the Californian state of mind today. Superficially, California might still resemble its old self. In becoming governor this year, Mr. Brown succeeded a former Hollywood star (Arnold Schwarzenegger), just as he did in 1975 (Ronald Reagan). The palm trees, surfers and redwoods are still there. So is Disneyland. But the state has, at least for the time being, ceased to be the world’s dream factory.
Instead, California is now called a “dysfunctional”, “ungovernable” and even “failed” state. When Mr Brown began his first stint as governor, California had an AAA credit rating, the best there is. Today its rating is A-, the worst among all 50 states and not much better than “junk”. The boss of JPMorgan Chase, America’s second-largest bank, last year told investors that he was more worried about California’s solvency than Greece’s. For three years and counting, California has been mired in a budget crisis. At its nadir, the state was paying its bills in IOUs instead of cash.
To read the full article, go to the Economist website.
Andreas Kluth is the Economist’s US West Coast Correspondent