Zoe Strimpel in the Telegraph today has a scorching column setting out all the reasons that woke, authoritarian California has become a basket case state where no one (except illegal immigrants, who get showered with freebies) wants to live. Her tee-up is Nick Clegg’s decision to relocate from the Golden State to rainy Blighty.
Clegg’s Remainiac heart notwithstanding, he is one of thousands who no longer feels even remotely Californian. Rich and poor are calling time on the Golden State. Billionaires Larry Ellison, founder and chairman of Oracle, Joe Lonsdale, founder of Palantir, and Elon Musk of Tesla, have all relocated their companies to cheaper, friendlier states. Even Mark Zuckerberg’s main residence is Hawaii.
For everyone else, with remote work becoming mainstream in Covid lockdowns, net emigration has hit record highs. In 2021 the population of California fell by 117,500. People are fed up of soaring taxation, the high cost of living, groaning regulation, an authoritarian impulse on full show during Covid, and stagnating job growth. The heavy-handed state continually fails to solve the lethal social problems that are on permanent display, from mass shootings, which happen about every eight days (this is still lower than the national average), to spiralling homelessness. California’s dynamism and sense of possibility – where, despite high prices and social strains, those with hustle and good ideas could become fantastically successful – has been sucked dry. Why would you stay?
It is sobering to watch the state most associated with the miracles of American capitalist and creative glories become scorched earth – consumed with fires both real (this year has already seen whole settlements in northern California razed by flames) – and metaphorical.
The sad truth is that California is reaping what it has sown: not simply with its heavy-handed regulation, but in its deep and committed embrace of wokeness, which permeates from its courts via Hollywood to schools and hospitals. The ideological disintegration of the state was always going to hasten its economic decline and now, as the rest of the country descends into full-scale cultural war in the wake of the overturning of Roe v Wade and the ghastly normalisation of mass shootings, there is no wider structure to act as a bolster.
The Californian rot, long in place, became pronounced in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in 2020. Amid soaring crime rates, the mayors of both Los Angeles and San Francisco announced plans to defund the police, slashing hundreds of millions from budgets. It wasn’t the smartest plan: Los Angeles was experiencing a terrifying rise in homicides.