Ed Driscoll

Leaving The Parentheses

As this AP article notes, 2008 was “the fourth consecutive year that more residents decamped from California for other states than arrived here from within the U.S.”:

The number of people leaving California for another state outstripped the number moving in from another state during the year ending on July 1, 2008. California lost a net total of 144,000 people during that period–more than any other state, according to census estimates. That is about equal to the population of Syracuse, N.Y.

The state with the next-highest net loss through migration between states was New York, which lost about 125,000 residents.

California’s loss is extremely small in a state of 38 million. And, in fact, the state’s population continues to increase overall because of births and immigration, legal and illegal. But it is the fourth consecutive year that more residents decamped from California for other states than arrived here from within the U.S.

A losing streak that long hasn’t happened in California since the recession of the early 1990s, when departures outstripped arrivals from other states by 362,000 in 1994 alone.

In part because of the boom in population in other Western states, California could lose a congressional seat for the first time in its history.

Why are so many looking for an exit?

Among other things: California’s unemployment rate hit 8.4 percent in November, the third-highest in the nation, and it is expected to get worse. A record 236,000 foreclosures are projected for 2008, more than the prior nine years combined, according to research firm MDA DataQuick. Personal income was about flat last year.

With state government facing a $41.6 billion budget hole over 18 months, residents are bracing for higher taxes, cuts in education and postponed tax rebates. A multibillion-dollar plan to remake downtown Los Angeles has stalled, and office vacancy rates there and in San Diego and San Jose surpass the 10.2 percent national average.

Median housing prices have nose-dived one-third from a 2006 peak, but many homes are still out of reach for middle-class families. Some small towns are on the brink of bankruptcy. Normally recession-proof Hollywood has been hit by layoffs.

“You see wages go down and the cost of living go up,” Reilly says. His property taxes will be $1,300 in Colorado, down from $4,300 on his three-bedroom house in Nipomo, about 80 miles up the coast from Santa Barbara.

California’s obituary has been written before–“California: The Endangered Dream” was the title of a 1991 Time magazine cover story. The Golden State and its huge economy–by itself, the eighth-largest in the world–have shown resilience, weathering the aerospace bust, the dot-com crash and an energy crunch in recent years.

But this time, the news just keeps getting worse.

As the AP article noted, “The state with the next-highest net loss through migration between states was New York, which lost about 125,000 residents.”

New York’s governor got a sense of his state’s outward migration patterns when he took office last year:

Paterson cited a number of personal friends, all former New Yorkers, who have contacted him from out of state since his ascent to the governorship. “A friend from primary school, Randy San Antonio, told me he moved to Dallas 20 years ago,” Paterson began. “Another friend, Randy Watts, had moved to Reno. A friend from Syracuse, Marvin Lee Simons, said he’s working in Lower Manhattan. I said we should get together . . . and he said, ‘Well, I don’t live in New York. I live in western Pennsylvania.’ Jeff and Stacey Stackhouse wanted to start a business on Long Island. They moved two years ago–they’re trying to start their business in Charlotte, North Carolina. They couldn’t pay the taxes here.”

Shannon Love (H/T: IP) writes that California is following “the grim path of the Great Lakes states”:

Those states where once the industrial dynamo for the entire Earth, yet they destroyed that enormous economic dominance by political policies hostile to economic creativity. Likewise, California had a golden era as an economic and cultural dynamo. Well up until the late 1980s California was the place to go to make it big. People moved from other states to California. Now, internal migration has reversed. California looks less like a dreamland and more like basket case waiting to happen.

It seems that in post-New Deal America, economic and civil success sow their own seeds of destruction. When things are going good, socialist experimentation seems harmless. A booming economy can pay for increased government spending and an ever-increasing scope of government power. Eventually, however, socialism strangles the economic engine and destroys civil society.

I think Texas may be the next boom state and I hope we escape this trap. One would think that socialism would not gain a foothold in independent minded Texas, but California was once a land of rugged individualists too.

Can’t say I blame people for wanting to decamp to redder ground. Or as Glenn Reynolds wrote yesterday, “It’s like the whole high-tax, high-regulation thing isn’t working for them.”

Theodore Dalrymple is currently enraging his fellow MDs by writing that “addicts do not need any medical assistance to stop taking heroin.”But to challenge Sacramento and Albany’s addictions, a cultural sea change is needed–one that I can’t imagine arriving to either of what Tom Wolfe once dubbed “the Parentheses States” anytime soon.