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Lessons from the Golden State

Fraser Nelson at the Spectator has an interesting column at the moment about how Britain’s Tories have been influenced by the culture of California, specifically, the northern part of that great state. I think his analysis is fine but I would add some caution, given that the state is, or is about to go, bankrupt. Here is what I wrote in a comment over at the Coffee House blog:

For a while, the political culture of California, both the northern, Silicon Valley/Napa/San Francisco and the southern, Hollywood bit, had been libertarian: or to put it in US politicsspeak: conservative on economics, liberal on social issues.

More recently, as the near-bankruptcy of the state shows, the culture of the state has become socialist. Spending is out of control; the Green movement has stymied developments such as new electrric power plants. Many of its best entrepreneurs are fleeing to nearby Nevada, or further afield. California has an economy the size of France and is exhibiting France-like dirigisme.

I would urge the Tories to draw the right conclusions from this state, not to get too dazzled by the admittedly superb economic success of Google and the tecchies.

One of the things that I liked about northern California when I used to visit a good friend of mine in Steve Jobs’ back yard of Cupertino was that you might be sitting in a bar, drinking a coffee next to some pony-tailed dude in a Grateful Dead T-Shirt, and that the latter would be tapping away on his laptop about his latest round of venture capital funding before heading off down the gun range to fire in his new Glock.

A good historian of California is Kevin Starr. Check this out.

38 comments to Lessons from the Golden State

  • joe costa

    How much of that pony tail dude is fantasy?

  • My worry in all this British Conservative talk about California is that Californian culture, which is good, can’t be just transferred from there to here by politicians, but Californian politics (which I hear is rather bad just now) can. To say nothing of the weather, also non-transferable.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    How much of that pony tail dude is fantasy?

    Nothing is fantasy. In Santa Clara, for instance, where i was a few years ago, I met loads of such people. I met guys working for computer games firms who were contractors, gun owners, rock fans.

  • Joe: stereotyping can be helpful, but it can also backfire.

  • Gabriel

    Californian culture good? To quote (well paraphrase) Tony Soprano: “no, we’re not having any of that San Francisco Berkeley bullshit around here.”

    Culture is inseparable from politics; if you have a socially liberal, permissive population, you will inevitably get a massive welfare state. I could go into the reasons why this is a case, starting with the fact that modern selfish secular lifestyles are usually only sustainable when subsidised by the state and ending with the fact that a general decline in moral standards tends to inure people to the obvious wickedness of redistribution of wealth. However, what’s the point? You would have thought it was obvious just by looking out the window.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Gabriel, what a bore you are.

  • Dude

    Perhaps they like the fact that in some quarters they call it nannyfornia? The Tories love to nudge…..

  • Kevin B

    Reading the comments at Coffee House, I rather thought porkbelly’s little rant summed it up quite well.

    By the time this recession plays out, the Tories might be better off importing their political culture from Singapore rather than California.

    (Though I have heard that the New Zealand government has got this strange idea that cutting taxes and easing regulations on business is the best way to cope with the current situation)

  • Kevin B

    A reference for that crazy NZ approach to the meltdown.

    “It’s a million to one shot, but it might just work!”

  • RAB

    Oh bollocks Gabriel.
    My oldest friend lives in La Honda, about an hours drive from San Francisco.
    It is where Ken Kesey used to live and the Merry Pranksters conducted their Acid tests.
    I call him the Luddite Hippie because, until recently he was out of the loop in the area of computers and the Net, but he is now catching up fast!
    All his friends and neighbours may be liberal minded old hippies, but none of them are on benefits or Welfare, they are mainly programmers or other types of IT professionals, and doing very nicely.
    Talking of the Grateful Dead, they were always on the cutting edge of technology. They had the finest sound system I ever heard! Designed by Stanley Owsley the 3rd. A goddam genius!

  • RAB

    Er, that’s Owsley Stanley. I always seem to get his name the wrong way round. Like Billy Connelly, I have difficulty with people who have a christian name for a surname.

  • James

    All his friends and neighbours may be liberal minded old hippies, but none of them are on benefits or Welfare, they are mainly programmers or other types of IT professionals, and doing very nicely.

    This is a variant of the classic “my best mate’s done drugs since he was a teenager, but still ended up successful” ‘argument’ for legalising drugs.

    Gabriel’s right.

  • buwaya

    25-year California resident here.

    There were never a lot of those libertarian hippies, and there are fewer now. The VC business is dead. Whatever political power those people had is gone.

    California is now run by the public-sector unions and the ethnic politicians who only have to worry about anyone else because of the budget supermajority requirements.

    We are doomed. The whole state is going to become a sunny Detroit.

  • Laird

    The whole state is going to become a sunny Detroit.

    Probably true, but at least it does have sun. The Southern California climate is too nice to go unused forever; sooner or later its economy will come back. Not true for Detroit; there is absolutely no reason for anyone to live there. They should just quietly turn off the lights and leave.

  • James,
    Nay, nay and thrice nay! Because you see the argument does hold water. Huge numbers of people use drugs and are in no way badly affected. In fact if they were legal and you could trust what you got they would do less harm. Not to mention nixing all the organised and freelance crime crime associated with criminalisation.

    Gabriel is not right. He’s just being a Grumplestiltskin.

  • RAB

    Oh for fucks sake James.
    My arguements for legalising drugs were fully enunciated on an earlier thread or two or five…

    My point of view is basically that whatever you want to put into your body is a matter for you. not the State.

    Gabriels point on this thread is the connection between “Liberal” values and the growth of a welfare State. Which of personal experience of the hippie dippy, but really quite prosperous folk of La Honda, I refute.
    They may be out to lunch some of the time, but they are American Capitalists to a man!

    Everything is a drug sunshine. Everything including oxygen is bad for you!

    I remember some poor sad health freak some years ago, who thought Carrot Juice the way to eternity.
    It was.
    He drank so much of it, he turned bright orange and died of Carotine poisoning.

    Get a life, and leave me and mine to live ours!
    Whatever we may choose to do to ourselves is our choice, and we pay our way, not expect others to pay for us.
    Now I have a rugby game to watch. A clash of the two finest Anthems in the World. Some beer may be drunk.
    Perfectly legal you understand!But a drug nevertheless.
    I fully expect Wales to kick France into the Seine!

  • Kevin B

    RAB, I saw your bit about the anthems and thought to myself, “I’m sure Italy aren’t playing France this weekend.”

    Then you said Wales v France.

    Now I’ll grant you that Fratelli d’Italia is not the best singalong tune in the world, with that twiddly bit in the middle, but it sure beats the repetitive dirge of “Wales, Wales, bloody great fishes are Wales.”

  • RAB

    Kick off in five mins Kevin B, and will be back to kick your arse and enlighten you to the nature and point of Anthems in 80.
    The Italian one sounds like something Verdi dropped down the back of a sofa an forgot about for instance.

  • Sunfish

    How much of that pony tail dude is fantasy?

    They exist. However, they’ve all moved to Oregon and Colorado. This explains NorCal perfectly. Why yes, yes, I have been to San Francisco. No, I did not wear flowers in my hair.

    May a thousand infirm dromedaries urinate upon that place from a substantial height. Mexico can have it back. Calling it ‘Detroit’ is a kindness that I’ll not extend.

    Kevin B:

    but it sure beats the repetitive dirge of “Wales, Wales, bloody great fishes are Wales.”

    Which is actually written as “Wyllyn Yrrn Llyr” and pronounced about the same.

    (Of course, there are a few hundred people in Guatemala who think that Denis Leary’s “Asshole” is the US national anthem. I had nothing to do with it and anybody who tells you different is yanking your chain. I was framed, I tells ya!)

  • Northern Californian libertarian here: all I gotta say is “Amen”.

    (disclaimer: no pony tail & prefer HK P7 to Glock)

  • Ah c’mon RAB the Welsh anthem is a dirge.

    Oddly enough… apparently (according to Mastermind on the BBC) the tune of the “Star Spangled Banner” is based upon an old drinking song.

    But I fear we are getting woefully OT.

  • Kevin B

    Too stay woefully off-topic, no way was the Star Spangled Banner a drinking song. I’m not a musician by any means and I struggle to carry a tune, but IMHO ‘Banner’ requires a professional singer to do it justice.

    Slightly back on topic with regard to California.

    Three words.

    Feinstein, Boxer and Pelosi.

  • Midwesterner

    A little of each, Kevin B. The Anacreontic Song.

  • buwaya

    Sure it was a drinking song – well, sort of –

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anacreontic_Song

    This is common knowledge in the US.

    As for California, Feinstein, Boxer and Pelosi themselves had a rather peripheral responsibility for these troubles, as none of them were influential leaders in the State government. They didn’t create the policies that got us into it, they are just products of our depraved politics.

    Blame should begin with local governments across the coastal cities who locked down development and inflated the cost of housing, driving up the cost of everything in CA, starting the fiscal and economic troubles. It was of course the voters who drove them to it, prompted by the “activists” and other busybodies. Its the NIMBY’s that started this. The real villains in all this are nearly anonymous, which isn’t very satisfying, but thats the truth.

  • RAB

    Bugger!
    Well done France!
    Well I do have a foot in both camps I suppose, having had two French aunts, both dead now alas.
    As far as a game of Rugby goes, that was as good as it gets. France raised their game from the abysmal to the magnificent in a couple of weeks. Playing against the people who taught them how to play the game in the first place.
    Now National Anthems.
    I’m wearing my music critic hat here now, not my patriot one.
    An Anthem is supposed to choke you up and swell you with pride, and have a good tune to boot. The Welsh, French and German ones certainly do that. If you think that the Welsh one is a dirge Nick, lovely cuddly friend of mine as you are, then you are getting more hard of hearing than I am, and I’m 20 years older than you.
    I will take you to task over your preference for Kylie as a singer, rather than a tasty piece of ass, and your love of the very dirgable tones of Johnny Cash (like him though I do) if you are not careful. ;-)
    As to you English, well I’m with Billy Connolly again on this one. Swap it for the theme from the Archers (it is so drear that the Games havent started yet and Britain are already getting lapped!).
    And yes to be getting back on topic, the LH of LH is thinking of moving to Oregon or Colerado too. Please dont arrest him Sunfish. He means well and is no trouble to anyone really!

  • Eric

    I live in the San Fancisco Bay area. Yeah, the guy with the pony tail is more than a fantasy, but the dot com bust thinned out the herd quite a bit.

    The boom and bust cycle has been playing out in silicon valley for decades. I remember when everyone was getting rich of making chips and PC (that is, printed circuit) boards. Then it was software, leading up to the dot com boom. But the fuel for this high-powered financial rocketry was always VC money, and I’m not sure how much of that is still around.

    The socialism may be an outgrowth of the boom-bust cycle. There are a lot of people for whom the lesson of all this turmoil is “there’s no skill to it – getting rich is all luck”, and It’s a lot easier to spend other peoples’ money when you think they just lucked into it.

  • Kevin B

    Mid

    If you could sing a stanza of the notoriously difficult melody and stay on key, you were sober enough for another round.

    I’d have a much healthier liver if that rule had been around in my youth. My drinking songs were more on the lines of “Four and twenty virgins”, “Ten green bottles” and “Swing low sweet chariot”.

    buwaya, I picked those fine ladies as a symptom rather than a cause of California’s troubles.

    RAB

    Commiserations. It was a good game, but like much International rugby these days, it was brutal at times.

    As for anthems, I agree that “God Save the Queen” is a bit plodding, though in my youth it could bring a tear to my eye. Pretty soon, though, I was racing to get out of the Cinema before it started. Yes, in those days we would stand for the anthem. Perhaps at the England v Scotland game they could sing the fourth verse to liven things up. It would be interesting to see how Princess One reacted in the Royal Box.

  • SovereignJim

    Drugs must be decriminalized not lealized.

    You must also insist that each drug taker MUST bear responsibility for all consequences while under the influnce. No tempory insanity or other excuses.

    You must allow employers to have any rule they desire about employee use of drugs including testing.

    You must also allow landlords any rule they desire about renter and visitor drug use.

    Yes, freedom to use but without unpunished harm to me and mine.

  • Midwesterner

    Kevin,

    Yeah, I saw that and thought “By that test I haven’t been sober a day in my life. Well, except for the time my feet slipped off of the bike pedals. I think I could have hit ‘rocket’s red glare’ for a few moments at least.”

    As for the Californication of the Tories, they both have a long history of placing image over substance. The Republicans have been doing that for long enough to reap its fruits.

  • Nick E

    I’m one of those entrepreneurs who fled California for a chance at actually making my business work. All you need to know about California and its “libertarian” culture is that nearly everyone there believes it’s someone else’s responsibility to take care of them; in Orange County and San Diego they want the same thing, they just want someone else to pay the taxes to support it. You don’t move to California or stay there unless you truly believe that you’re entitled to live every day as though you’re on vacation. THAT’S what the political culture reflects.

  • RAB

    Thanks Kevin B.
    But you have no idea of the expectation and introspection that Wales has about Rugby.
    Look here!
    http://www.walesonline.co.uk/rugbynation/rugby-news/
    God alone knows what it will be like tomorrow.

    I live in Bristol, England. And take my Welshness very tongue in cheek, as many of the regulars will know.

    As to where to flee to?
    Um Northern Cyprus, Sri Lanka? Splott!

  • SovereignJim,

    Fair enough. Apart from the employer bit. An employer is an employer and the employees are not serfs. What you do on your own time is your business. If it impinges upon your work then fine – sack ‘em. But then so could idleness, incompetence or all sorts of other things.

    You are falling into the culture we have that someone needs to do something specifically verboten in order to be sacked. This is a problem because the corollary of it is that you can’t sack someone just because they are inept. When I was at school half the teachers were terminally inept (non-substance abuse related) but they couldn’t be sacked for love or money in the state sector.

    Strictly speaking an employer ought to be able to employ under any terms they want but by the same token if they discriminate on ludicrous grounds such as race*, sex*, or having the odd toke then they are twats and I reserve the right to call ‘em on it.

    *I mean that for most jobs. I mean if I was casting Shakespeare I’d want a black man to play Othello. There is a hoo-hah in Edinburgh (generated by the council – natch) over a play – “The Al Johnson Story” in which the leading man is a white guy who blacks-up. Horrors! Twats.

  • Trofim

    The most salient fact about California at this moment, for me, is that they are facing water rationing. There can be such a thing as too much sun:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/7916218.stm

  • No Trofim. The problem is too many arseholes, not too much sun.

  • Paul Marks

    It is true that some people in influential roles in the Conservative party were supportive by the fashionable homosexuality of California (at least that tiny bit of California that they had any contact with).

    But how far this culture went in the mainstream of the Conservative party is debateable – for example I remember the exleader of the Conservative group on Kettering Council faithfully reading out the latest propaganda briefing from Central Office on how we must all welcome “alternative lifestyles”.

    But it was clear he had not got a clue what “alternative lifestyles” was code for.

    As for “economically conservative” – when was that? The first big spending Governor of California got elected in 1938 (when the New Dealers finally started to have an impact on California) – and he had solid support in the north (in Orange County and so on the name of F.D.R. was mud).

    The leading lights of progressive California were not supporters of Ronald Reagan (and he was much more moderate than most people think anyway).

    Reagan won because the then Conservative parts of the State like Orange County and San Diego County(south) voted for him huge numbers – the San Fran people got swamped (just as the folks down in Organge County and San Diego county have later got hit by the Mexican reconquest).

    These southern Californians (and nothern Californians in small towns away from the big cities) may have like open necked shirts and had relaxed manners – but they were not progressives.

    They were not big fans of abortion (at most they were people who felt that the laws against it could not be enforced) and they were not fans of homosexuality either – they were tolerant not “celebratory”.

  • Paul Marks

    Interestingly enough even the “Economist” seems to think that California has gone too far.

    High government spending in a rich State has been replaced by a high PROPORTION of government spending.

    It was O.K. (ish) when California spent X times more per person on whatever than (say) Alabama, but had more than X times more income per head (so really it was spending less as a proportion of income).

    But when government (State and local) spends more money per person AS A PROPORTION OF INCOME than almost any other State (perhaps more than any other State) there is a problem that even the moderate corporate left (such as the Economist) can not ignore. Now the RINO Governor the Democrat State Legislature have agreed on the highest taxes in the nation – and they are still borrowing money (and getting bailed out by the Federal taxpayer) on a vast scale.

    Although, of course, the Economist left then spoil their insight by calling upon Barack Obama (who is way to the left of most of even the Californian Democrats) to act as a safeguard against the “Californianization” of the Democrats.

    “Oh please Mr Lenin – protect us from these socialists”.

  • Paul Marks

    Interestingly enough even the “Economist” seems to think that California has gone too far.

    High government spending in a rich State has been replaced by a high PROPORTION of government spending.

    It was O.K. (ish) when California spent X times more per person on whatever than (say) Alabama, but had more than X times more income per head (so really it was spending less as a proportion of income).

    But when government (State and local) spends more money per person AS A PROPORTION OF INCOME than almost any other State (perhaps more than any other State) there is a problem that even the moderate corporate left (such as the Economist) can not ignore. Now the RINO Governor the Democrat State Legislature have agreed on the highest taxes in the nation – and they are still borrowing money (and getting bailed out by the Federal taxpayer) on a vast scale.

    Although, of course, the Economist left then spoil their insight by calling upon Barack Obama (who is way to the left of most of even the Californian Democrats) to act as a safeguard against the “Californianization” of the Democrats.

    “Oh please Mr Lenin – protect us from these socialists”.

  • Sunfish

    A lesson from the Golden State: this is why I love the CO taxpayer’s bill of rights so much, especially in light of the stunts that the current crop of evil bastards in Denver are trying to pull.

    “But it has a ratchet effect that stops us from growing when we have to expand our services!” -EXACTLY THE POINT. Relatively speaking[1], this is not a high-tax full-service state. And so CO can continue to do the things that they did in good years, because they don’t do so many of them. Certainly not compared to the domestic third-world kleptocracy of my childhood.

    [1] ‘Relatively’ means that we’re second place in the Special Olympics. We still tax more and do more at the state level than I think we should.