CALIFORNIA’S PARADOX

This is an article written by Victor Davis Hansen, a Senior
Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

He is also the editor of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From
the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The
Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.
Read it and weep, but read it you must.

The last three weeks I have traveled about, taking the
pulse of the more forgotten areas of central
California. I wanted to witness, even if superficially,
what is happening to a state that has the highest sales
and income taxes, the most lavish entitlements, the
near-worst public schools (based on federal test
scores), and the largest number of illegal aliens in
the nation, along with an overregulated private sector,
a stagnant and shrinking manufacturing base, and an
elite environmental ethos that restricts commerce and
productivity without curbing consumption.

During this unscientific experiment, three times a week
I rode a bike on a 20-mile trip over various rural roads
in southwestern Fresno County. I also drove my car over
to the coast to work, on various routes through towns
like San Joaquin , Mendota, and Firebaugh. And near my
home I have been driving, shopping, and touring by
intent the rather segregated and impoverished areas of
Caruthers, Fowler, Laton, Orange Cove, Parlier, and
Selma . My own farmhouse is now in an area of abject
poverty and almost no ethnic diversity; the closest
elementary school (my alma mater, two miles away) is 94
percent Hispanic and 1 percent white, and well below
federal testing norms in math and English.

Here are some general observations about what I saw
(other than that the rural roads of California are fast
turning into rubble, poorly maintained and reverting to
what I remember seeing long ago in the rural South).
First, remember that these areas are the ground zero, so
to speak, of 20 years of illegal immigration. There has
been a general depression in farming – to such an extent
that the 20- to-100-acre tree and vine farmer, the
erstwhile backbone of the old rural California , for all
practical purposes has ceased to exist.

On the western side of the Central Valley, the effects
of arbitrary cutoffs in federal irrigation water have
idled tens of thousands of acres of prime agricultural
land, leaving thousands unemployed. Manufacturing plants
in the towns in these areas – which used to make
harvesters, hydraulic lifts, trailers, food-processing
equipment – have largely shut down; their production has
been shipped off overseas or south of the border.
Agriculture itself – from almonds to raisins – has
increasingly become corporatized and mechanized, cutting
by half the number of farm workers needed. So
unemployment runs somewhere between 15 and 20 percent.

Many of the rural trailer-house compounds I saw appear
to the naked eye no different from what I have seen in
the Third World . There is a Caribbean look to the
junked cars, electric wires crisscrossing between
various outbuildings, plastic tarps substituting for
replacement shingles, lean-tos cobbled together as
auxiliary housing, pit bulls unleashed, and geese,
goats, and chickens roaming around the yards. The public
hears about all sorts of tough California regulations
that stymie business – rigid zoning laws, strict
building codes, constant inspections – but apparently
none of that applies out here.

It is almost as if the more California regulates, the
more it does not regulate. Its public employees prefer
to go after misdemeanors in the upscale areas to justify
our expensive oversight industry, while ignoring the
felonies in the downtrodden areas, which are becoming
feral and beyond the ability of any inspector to do
anything but feel irrelevant. But in the regulators’
defense, where would one get the money to redo an ad hoc
trailer park with a spider web of illegal bare wires?

Many of the rented-out rural shacks and stationary
Winnebagos are on former small farms – the vineyards
overgrown with weeds, or torn out with the ground lying
fallow. I pass on the cultural consequences to
communities from  the loss of thousands of small farming
families. I don’t think I can remember another time when
so many acres in the eastern part of the valley have
gone out of production, even though farm prices have
recently rebounded. Apparently it is simply not worth
the gamble of investing $7,000 to $10,000 an acre in a
new orchard or vineyard. What an anomaly – with suddenly
soaring farm prices, still we have thousands of acres in
the world’s richest agricultural belt, with available
water on the east side of the valley and plentiful
labor, gone idle or in disuse. Is credit frozen? Are
there simply no more farmers? Are the schools so bad as
to scare away potential agricultural entrepreneurs? Or
are we all terrified by the national debt and uncertain
future?

California coastal elites may worry about the oxygen
content of water available to a three-inch smelt in the
Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, but they seem to
have no interest in the epidemic dumping of trash,
furniture, and often toxic substances throughout
California ‘s rural hinterland. Yesterday, for example,
I rode my bike by a stopped van just as the occupants
tossed seven plastic bags of raw refuse onto the side of
the road. I rode up near their bumper and said in my
broken Spanish not to throw garbage onto the public
road. But there were three of them, and one of me. So I
was lucky to be sworn at only. I note in passing that I
would not drive into Mexico and, as a guest, dare to
pull over and throw seven bags of trash into the
environment of my host.

In fact, trash piles are commonplace out here – composed
of everything from half-empty paint cans and children’s
plastic toys to diapers and moldy food. I have never
seen a rural sheriff cite a litterer, or witnessed state
EPA workers cleaning up these unauthorized wastelands.
So I would suggest to Bay Area scientists that the
environment is taking a much harder beating down here in
central California than it is in the Delta. Perhaps
before we cut off more irrigation water to the west side
of the valley, we might invest some green dollars into
cleaning up the unsightly and sometimes dangerous
garbage that now litters the outskirts of our rural
communities.

We hear about the tough small-business regulations that
have driven residents out of the state, at the rate of
2,000 to 3,000 a week. But from my unscientific
observations these past weeks, it seems rather easy to
open a small business in California without any
oversight at all, or at least what I might call a
“counter business.” I counted eleven mobile hot-kitchen
trucks that simply park by the side of the road, spread
about some plastic chairs, pull down a tarp canopy, and,
presto, become mini-restaurants. There are no
“facilities” such as toilets or washrooms. But I do
frequently see lard trails on the isolated roads I bike
on, where trucks apparently have simply opened their
draining tanks and sped on, leaving a slick of cooking
fats and oils. Crows and ground squirrels love them;
they can be seen from a distance mysteriously occupied
in the middle of the road.

At crossroads, peddlers in a counter-California economy
sell almost anything. Here is what I noticed at an
intersection on the west side last week: shovels, rakes,
hoes, gas pumps, lawnmowers, edgers, blowers, jackets,
gloves, and caps. The merchandise was all new. I doubt
whether in high-tax California sales taxes or income
taxes were paid on any of these stop-and-go
transactions.

In two supermarkets 50 miles apart, I was the only one
in line who did not pay with a social-service plastic
card (gone are the days when “food stamps” were
embarrassing bulky coupons). But I did not see any
relationship between the use of the card and poverty as
we once knew it: The electrical appurtenances owned by
the user and the car into which the groceries were
loaded were indistinguishable from those of the upper
middle class.

By that I mean that most consumers drove late-model
Camrys, Accords, or Tauruses, had iPhones, Bluetooths,
or BlackBerries, and bought everything in the store with
public-assistance credit. This seemed a world apart from
the trailers I had just ridden by the day before. I
don’t editorialize here on the logic or morality of any
of this, but I note only that there are vast numbers of
people who apparently are not working, are on public
food assistance, and enjoy the technological veneer of
the middle class. California has a consumer market
surely, but often no apparent source of income. Does the
$40 million a day supplement to unemployment benefits
from Washington explain some of this?

Do diversity concerns, as in lack of diversity, work
both ways? Over a hundred-mile stretch, when I stopped
in San Joaquin for a bottled water, or drove through
Orange Cove, or got gas in Parlier, or went to a corner
market in southwestern Selma, my home town, I was the
only non-Hispanic – there were no Asians, no blacks, no
other whites. We may speak of the richness of
“diversity,” but those who cherish that ideal simply
have no idea that there are now countless inland
communities that have become near-apartheid societies,
where Spanish is the first language, the schools are not
at all diverse, and the federal and state governments
are either the main employers or at least the chief
sources of income – whether through emergency rooms,
rural health clinics, public schools, or social-service
offices. An observer from Mars might conclude that our
elites and masses have given up on the ideal of
integration and assimilation, perhaps in the wake of the
arrival of 11 to 15 million illegal aliens. 

Again, I do not editorialize, but I note these vast
transformations over the last 20 years that are the
paradoxical wages of unchecked illegal immigration from
Mexico, a vast expansion of California’s entitlements
and taxes, the flight of the upper middle class out of
state, the deliberate effort not to tap natural
resources, the downsizing in manufacturing and
agriculture, and the departure of whites, blacks, and
Asians from many of these small towns to more racially
diverse and upscale areas of California.

Fresno ‘s California State University campus is
embroiled in controversy over the student body
president’s announcing that he is an illegal alien, with
all the requisite protests in favor of the DREAM Act. I
won’t comment on the legislation per se, but again only
note the anomaly. I taught at CSUF for 21 years. I think
it fair to say that the predominant theme of the Chicano
and Latin American Studies program’s sizable curriculum
was a fuzzy American culpability. By that I mean that
students in those classes heard of the sins of America
more often than its attractions. In my home town,
Mexican flag decals on car windows are far more common
than their American counterparts.

I note this because hundreds of students here illegally
are now terrified of being deported to Mexico . I can
understand that, given the chaos in Mexico and their own
long residency in the United States . But here is what
still confuses me: If one were to consider the classes
that deal with Mexico at the university, or the visible
displays of national chauvinism, then one might conclude
that Mexico is a far more attractive and moral place
than the United States.

So there is a surreal nature to these protests:
something like, “Please do not send me back to the
culture I nostalgically praise; please let me stay in
the culture that I ignore or deprecate.” I think the
DREAM Act protestors might have been far more successful
in winning public opinion had they stopped blaming the
U.S. for suggesting that they might have to leave at
some point, and instead explained why, in fact, they
want to stay. What it is about America that makes a
youth of 21 go on a hunger strike or demonstrate to be
allowed to remain in this country rather than return to
the place of his birth?

I think I know the answer to this paradox. Missing
entirely in the above description is the attitude of the
host, which by any historical standard can only be
termed “indifferent.” California does not care whether
one broke the law to arrive here or continues to break
it by staying. It asks nothing of the illegal immigrant
– no proficiency in English, no acquaintance with
American history and values, no proof of income, no
record of education or skills. It does provide all the
public assistance that it can afford (and more that it
borrows for), and apparently waives enforcement of most
of California ‘s burdensome regulations and civic
statutes that increasingly have plagued productive
citizens to the point of driving them out. How odd that
we overregulate those who are citizens and have capital
to the point of banishing them from the state, but do
not regulate those who are aliens and without capital to
the point of encouraging millions more to follow in
their footsteps. How odd – to paraphrase what Critias
once said of ancient Sparta – that California is at once
both the nation’s most unfree and most free state, the
most repressed and the wildest.

Hundreds of thousands sense all that and vote
accordingly with their feet, both into and out of
California – and the result is a sort of social,
cultural, economic, and political time-bomb, whose ticks
are getting louder.

In God We Trust!

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