California, those funky Spenglerians the Red Hot Chili Peppers noted, is “the final location” of Western civilization. True, you can go no further west, but that hasn’t stopped California from going south. What happens after the golden decades of Californication?
Brazilification. This is not the title of a samba album or a depilation technique. Brazilification is a political condition, coined by Douglas Coupland in his 1991 novel, Generation X: “The widening gulf between the rich and the poor and the accompanying disappearance of the middle classes.”
If California were independent, it would be the world’s richest failed state. Its borders are porous, its roads potholed. Its schools are staffed by illiterate fanatics, its prisons are overflowing, and the murder rate is booming. Its government is depraved by corruption and political correctness, and its governor is a glassy-eyed puppet of Silicon Valley and the donor class. The state that used to mean a second chance in the biggest suburbs under the sun now has the nation’s third-highest income inequality, just behind New York and Louisiana.
The only way to make your vote count in California is with your feet. Joel Kotkin, aka “America’s uber-geographer,” reports that California’s population has suffered net outmigration every year this century. It has lost more people in each of the last two decades than any state except New York, and it is losing the wrong people.
When Kotkin crunched the IRS’s numbers, he found that California is not expelling “the old, bitter, and uneducated,” even if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi does spend much of her time in D.C. Between 2012 and 2019, roughly 77% of the increase in the number of net outmigrants were aged between 35 and 64, the “prime earning years.” Only 14% of the net increase earned less than $25,000 a year. High-income earners accounted for 82% of the increase, and 38% of them came from those earning over $100,000 a year.
While the middle class flees a predatory state, the rich barricade themselves in private enclaves with private security. The poor are excluded by geographical separation and militarized policing. The corporations own the politicians, and the media are in bed with both. The creaking ruin of a 20th-century bureaucracy is used as a patronage system, blocking all hope of democratic change. And though this is a multiracial and multiethnic society, the founding minority — in California’s case, non-Hispanic whites — remains in charge. In a banana republic, resistance is fruitless. The better-educated and higher-earning parts of the middle class leave, as Brazilians do for Miami or Boston and Californians do for Dallas or Denver.
In the '90s, Brazil was one of the BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) that, if they played by our economic rules, would ascend to Western-style prosperity. If, like Joe Biden, you are blessed with a strong memory, you may wonder if history is running backward. We were supposed to be Brazil’s future. Instead, America’s present looks like Brazil’s past, and America’s future like Brazil’s present. Our elites, as Christopher Lasch said, really are revolting. The novelty in a dynastic caudillo such as Donald Trump or a rotten placeholder such as Joe Biden or a playboy with his thumb in the pie such as Hunter Biden is that they tell their lies in English.
The Brazilian analyst Alex Hochuli calls his country “modern, but not modern enough.” Brazilians are “doomed forever to remain the country of the future” but increasingly unable to get there. This is America today: potential and paralysis, economic polarization and the privatization of politics. The slogans are still there, like “Order and Progress” on the Brazilian flag, but they cover nothing more than disorder and decay. California cannot even make the trains run on time. Its high-speed rail service was supposed to start operating in 2020. Gov. Gavin Newsom has set a new deadline of 2030, but the Democrats in the state legislature are blocking his request for more funds. Perhaps a President Kamala Harris will send the money.
California cannot be fixed: The fix is in until the system collapses entirely. But it can be outcompeted by booming red states such as Texas and Florida. Last December, Elon Musk moved Tesla's and SpaceX’s headquarters to Austin, Texas. In April, Jim Schwertner, CEO of Schwertner Farms, one of the largest livestock brokers in the country, offered Musk “100 acres for free” as a new base for Twitter. As they say in San Francisco, an earthquake is coming.
Dominic Green’s latest book is The Religious Revolution: The Birth of Modern Spirituality, 1848-1898.