Beautifully Medieval California

The middle is still shrinking. They are mostly the over three million who have left California for no-tax Nevada or Texas, or crime-free Idaho, or sane Wyoming and Utah. High-paying jobs in manufacturing, construction, and energy are disappearing. The aristocracy, whose religion is the green government, believes that to extend the conditions of its own privilege to millions of less well-educated and less correct-thinking others (e.g., build new affordable condos alongside interstate 280, open up the Malibu hills to low-income development, start drilling for oil and gas in the Monterey Shale formation, build some more dams to ensure irrigation water, widen the 99 and 101 to three lanes from northern to southern California) is to destroy the hallowed lord-serf system altogether.

The aristocracy sails in the summer, not powerboats. In winter, it tends to ski, not use snowmobiles. Its SUVs are Volvo and Mercedes, not second-hand Tahoes and Yukons. Ideally, its kids go to UC, Stanford, or USC, not to CSU campuses in Turlock, Fresno, or Bakersfield. The aristocracy believes in noblesse oblige, but it is a funny sort of one: shutting down a quarter-million acres of farmland is good for all of us, especially for a three-inch bait fish, and even for the farmworkers and managers who must lose their jobs for a just cause. Keeping derricks out of the coastal panorama is wonderful for rich and poor -- and really, who would want a smelly job anyway out on a nauseous oil platform? To paraphrase Steven Chu, European-priced gas is the goal: $10 a gallon would thin out the traffic, keep the right people on the roads, clean up the air, and make high-speed rail economical.

The disappearing middle-class worker in California, who is not connected to the aristocracy or part of the clergy, gets up to work in places like insolvent Stockton, Modesto, or San Bernardino. He drives on substandard roads to a job that does not quite pay for his once overpriced but now underwater house, or the most expensive and highly taxed gas in the nation. Yet he shrugs that he cannot so easily leave a state, with a house without equity, and yet cannot quite stay either -- when the nation’s highest sales and income taxes lead to the nation’s nearly worst schools and infrastructure.

If he whines, he is told that he is lucky to live in California with its climate, weather, and culture -- and so must pay a premium in taxes, regulations, and high costs, despite receiving very little in return in the form of state services. So without a vibrant middle class, the medieval world thrives.

In medieval California, the elderly and retired sometimes head to the foothills, a poorer man’s coast, where there is less crime and less worry over what California has become. I never quite fathomed fully why a classical Greece of city-states on the plains became an Ottoman Greece of villages perched on mountain slopes. I knew, of course, in the abstract that Greeks fled Turks to escape the taxman, conversion to Islam, and the Janissaries, but I can now appreciate that maybe such a sense of impending dread is real in interior California, as valley towns become darker at night from lights that no longer work, and streets that are no longer safe and assumptions that are no longer familiar. Even the most liberal retired professor seems to head for the hills once his thirty years at CSU are up.

The peasantry -- one third of the nation’s welfare recipients, in a state in which almost a quarter of the population is officially “poor” -- lives mostly in the central interior, or in the vast Los Angeles basin, or in small-service enclaves along the coasts -- a Redwood City or Seaside, where they tend to the aristocracy’s daily needs. The aristocracy makes enough not to mind high taxes, and takes care of the tax-freed peasantry by offering the nation’s highest public benefits, including generous EBD and WIC cards, Section 8 housing, daycare help, education supplements, legal assistance, and cash grants.