California’s primary elections Tuesday underscored the Golden State’s liberal drift, but one of the candidates who lost the race for governor powerfully diagnosed “progressive” policies as the root of California’s snobbish inequality. He compared the state to the dystopian nightmare of “Elysium,” a 2013 film about a highly stratified society where the poor struggle to live on planet Earth while the rich enjoy a lavish life off planet.
“This is the story about a real-world ‘Elysium’ — a state which has the highest levels of poverty & inequality in the country but whose residents have convinced themselves that they are behaving ethically, protecting the environment, and fighting racism,” Mike Shellenberger, an environmental activist who ran for governor, tweeted.
When he lost the governor primary to Democrat Gavin Newsom, Shellenberger mocked the liberal candidate with a perfect encapsulation of what the Democratic Party in California stands for. “The people! United! Will maintain a deeply unfair & dysfunctional system for Millennials, renters, & working people!” he mockingly tweeted.
Thanks to Democrat policies, “life in California today differs in degree, not in kind, from [Elysium’s] dystopian vision,” the former candidate wrote in a powerful Forbes column.
Perhaps this explains why a full 46 percent of Bay Area residents said they want to move out of the area within the next few years.
Shellenberger noted that California is number one in poverty and inequality in the United States. Homeless encampments have popped up across the state. In Silicon Valley, 132 people died on the street in 2016 — up from 85 in 2015. In San Diego, 117 people died, up from 56. San Diego city workers nearly killed a homeless person by putting her in a trash compactor last year.
All this while affluent progressives “condemn the cruelty of the Trump administration toward the poor.” The former candidate admitted that California workers earn more than their counterparts nationally, but that does not make up for the extremely high mortgage payments and rent. In 2012, 56 percent of Californians could afford a middle-class home, but in the third quarter of last year, just 28 percent could.
It gets worse. From the 1930s to the 1970s, black families remained poorer than their white counterparts because they rented homes, rather than owning them. “Environmentalism is used to justify de facto racial segregation in California’s housing. Environmental lawsuits are a major reason for longer delays and higher costs of new housing,” Shellenberger added.
Liberals often lament that there aren’t enough “progressive” big government policies to solve the problem. The former governor candidate flipped this suggestion on its head: the problem isn’t too few “progressive” policies, but too many.
“In the name of helping the poor and protecting the environment, California has placed myriad restrictions and fees on building new housing units, driving up their prices,” while local governments “block even those housing projects that comply with zoning laws progressives had agreed to.” Furthermore, “the state’s progressive environmental law allows duplicative and anonymous lawsuits to block housing projects for often unethical and frivolous reasons.”
Legislation to encourage more housing density near transportation hubs was defeated last April.
Meanwhile, California liberals have presided over a significant decline in academic performance among black and Latino eighth graders relative to other states. Less than 40 percent of non-white and non-Asian students meet state education standards. Shellenberger noted that education reforms rewarding teachers for performance and replacing teachers who underperform have helped improve student performance in Washington, D.C., but California steadily rejected such reforms.
California’s high taxes also hurt the poor and exacerbate inequality. The state has the highest sales tax in the nation, and two-thirds of the tax relief from Proposition 13, the 1978 ballot initiative restricting property taxes, goes to homeowners with annual incomes above $120,000.
To make matters worse, the state has high energy prices and a high regulatory burden, sending high-paying manufacturing jobs elsewhere. Between 2011 and 2017, California’s electricity rates rose five times more than national rates.
Meanwhile, public employee unions award lavish retirement benefits, while one-third of the public have no retirement savings whatsoever. According to Shellenberger, “A person would need $2.6 million in savings in order to receive retirement benefits as large as those received by a California Highway Patrol officer.”
The liberal state’s environmental policies have actually allowed carbon emissions to rise, while increasing the cost of energy and harming manufacturing. It is the worst of all worlds, in the name of “progress.”
Shellenberger also attacked California’s liberal immigration laws, which have been good for the progressive elites, who benefit directly from the presence of low-skill immigrants, who keep wages for restaurant workers, cleaners, gardeners, and drivers low.
“The outcome of all of these supposedly progressive policies is the most racially unequal society in the whole of the United States,” the former candidate wrote.
Yet Californians are more than happy to have President Donald Trump as “an external enemy.” Shellenberger explained, “Trump was an opportunity for the state’s politicians and Democratic Party activists to escape their responsibility to seriously address widening inequality and the extreme poverty all around them.”
While an unequal dystopia surrounds them, liberals use Trump to launch “into a sanctimonious tribal rage against Republican racism.”
Changing the direction of California “starts with acknowledging that California’s tragic poverty and widening inequality aren’t the result of racist policies imposed from without but rather progressive policies embraced from within.”
This powerful epiphany is nowhere near reality among “progressives” at the moment, however. The success of Bernie Sanders-style socialism at the ballot box this year suggests that Democrats are only further entrenching themselves in this destructive ideology.
While Shellenberger lost the election on Tuesday, he promised to “make this the beginning, not the end.”
His transformative vision, focused on energy, prosperity, lower taxes, nuclear power, and education reform, is extremely important in California today. Even though Shellenberger is not heading to the governor’s mansion in 2019, his important ideas will still get a hearing across the state, thanks to his failed candidacy.