Interview: Heather Mac Donald on California in Decline


In his introduction to The Beholden State: California’s Lost Promise and How to Recapture It, Brian Anderson, the editor of City Journal magazine, writes:

A generation ago, California was widely expected to be the dynamo of the twenty-first-century American economy — “California, Inc.,” as Joel Kotkin and Paul Grabowicz called it in a book published in the early 1980s. The Golden State had everything going for it: a famously sunny, temperate climate; a culture of innovation and entrepreneurialism; a growing population that easily found work in a diverse economy; good public schools that prepared students for success, and an even better state university system; sturdy infrastructure; and geographical proximity to increasingly prosperous Asian nations. The future was Californian.

Today, few would describe California as dynamic. Signs of decline are everywhere. In 2012, the state’s economy seemed to be recovering, at last, from the Great Recession — but that was long after the national recovery had gotten under way. In fact, California’s unemployment rate has remained above the nation’s for years now, climbing to a frightening 13 percent in 2010 and still hovering around 10 percent. In parts of the state, the numbers are worse still. New business investment, both from within California and from without, has vaporized. The public schools, once near the top in national rankings, have sunk to the bottom. Roads and bridges creak and crumble as infrastructure spending dwindles. State and municipal budgets have reeled from crisis to crisis, with several cities falling into bankruptcy. People and firms are leaving the state in record numbers.

What caused this reversal? In the broadest terms, the answer is misguided policy, rooted in a political culture too often disconnected from reality.

Heather Mac Donald, a contributing editor of City Journal magazine and the John M. Olin Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, who contributed several articles on California's woes to The Beholden State (along with PJ Media's own Andrew Klavan and Victor Davis Hanson), believes that while there's much to still enjoy about the formerly Golden State, there's much that's gone wrong as well. As she told me at the start of our recent interview:

I think it's the most beautiful state in the country; as a native, I'm obviously a little prejudiced, but I think it is a exemplar of identity politics, for one thing.  There's too many institutions that are convinced that the most important thing about its residents is their racial or ethnic national origin identity and -- and increasingly, of course, gender and sexual identity.  And we see that playing out in university admissions, in ideas about crime and policing and immigration policy, and I think that's a betrayal of what California used to mean, which was a real meritocratic ideal, that anybody who came, through hard work could really move ahead and the -- the state welcomed talent and achievement and did not worry about disparate impact or racial proportionality.

That's no longer true of course; during our 25-minute long interview, Heather will discuss why, along with her thoughts on:

● The Golden State's seemingly unending Mobius Loop and inability to change its death spiral.

● The role that bilingual education plays in California's woes.

● California's bifurcated higher education system.

● Radical graffiti chic.

● Can California be saved before it's too late?

And much more. Click here to listen:

(25 minutes and 23 seconds long; 23.2 MB file size. Want to download instead of streaming? Right click here to download this interview to your hard drive. Or right click here to download the 4.35 MB lo-fi edition.)

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Transcript of our interview begins on the following page; for our many previous podcasts, start here and keep scrolling.