California: America’s First Third-World State

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A man who said he is homeless stands outside his makeshift home near a housing construction project in San Francisco, Calif., in 2015. (Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

Medieval diseases, gangs, corruption, crime, crumbling infrastructure, out-of-touch wealthy elites …

‘Third World” is now an anachronistic geographical term of the old Cold War. But after 1989, “Third World” was reinvented from a political noun into an adjective to mean more than just Asian, African, and Latin American nations nonaligned with either the West or the Soviet bloc.

Rather, the current modifier “Third World” has come to transcend geography, politics, and ethnicity. It simply denotes poor failed states all over the globe of all races and religions.

Third World symptomologies are predictably corrupt government, unequal or nonexistent applicability of the law, two rather than three classes, and the return of medieval diseases. Third World nations suffer from high taxes and poor social services, premodern infrastructure and utilities, poor transportation, tribalism, gangs, and lack of security.

Another chief characteristic of a Third World society is the official denial of all of the above, and a vindictive, almost hysterical state response to anyone who points out those obvious tragedies. Another is massive out-migration. Residents prefer almost any country other than their own. Think Somalia, Venezuela, Cuba, Libya, or Guatemala.

Does 21st-century California increasingly fit that definition — despite having the nation’s most amenable climate and most beautiful and diverse geography, with major natural ports facing the dynamic Asian economies, and being naturally rich in timber, agriculture, mining, and energy, and blessed with a prior century’s inheritance of effective local and state government?

 

The California Manor

By many criteria, 21st-century California is both the poorest and the richest state in the union. Almost a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. Another fifth is categorized as near the poverty level — facts not true during the latter 20th century. A third of the nation’s welfare recipients now live in California. The state has the highest homeless population in the nation (135,000). About 22 percent of the nation’s total homeless population reside in the state — whose economy is the largest in the U.S., fueling the greatest numbers of American billionaires and high-income zip codes.

But by some indicators, the California middle class is shrinking — because of massive regulation, high taxation, green zoning, and accompanying high housing prices. Out-migration from the state remains largely a phenomenon of the middle and upper-middle classes. Millions have left California in the past 30 years, replaced by indigent and often illegal immigrants, often along with the young, affluent, and single.

If someone predicted half a century ago that a Los Angeles police station or indeed L.A. City Hall would be in danger of periodic, flea-borne infectious typhus outbreaks, he would have been considered unhinged. After all, the city that gave us the modern freeway system is not supposed to resemble Justinian’s sixth-century Constantinople. Yet typhus, along with outbreaks of infectious hepatitis A, are in the news on California streets. The sidewalks of the state’s major cities are homes to piles of used needles, feces, and refuse. Hygienists warn that permissive municipal governments are setting the stage — through spiking populations of history’s banes of fleas, lice, and rats — for possible dark-age outbreaks of plague or worse.

High tech does its part not to clean the streets but to create defecation apps that electronically warn tourists and hoi polloi how to avoid walking blindly into piles of sidewalk excrement. In Californian logic, public defecation butts up against progressive tolerance, so it is exempt from the law. Yet for a suburbanite to build a patio without a permit, for example, costs one dearly in fines. Indeed, a new patio without a permit can be deemed more dangerous to the public health than piles of excrement in the public workplace.

One out of three Californians who enters a hospital for any cause is now found to be suffering from either diabetes or pre-diabetes, an epidemic that hits the Hispanic community especially hard but for a variety of reasons has not led to effective public-health efforts and sufficient publicity. State-run dialysis clinics now dot the towns and communities of the Central Valley — a tragic symptom of dietary culture, massive illegal immigration, and poor public-health education.

 

Infrastructure Is for the Unwoke

California’s transportation system, to be honest, remains in near ruins. Despite the highest gas taxes in the nation, none of its major trans-state freeways — not the 99, not I-5, not the 101 — after 70 years off use, are yet completed with six lanes, resulting in dangerous bottlenecks and wrecks. Driving the 99 south of Visalia, or the 101 near Paso Robles, or the 5 north of Coalinga is right out of Road Warrior — but not as dangerous as the fossilized two-line feeder lines such as 152 into Gilroy, or the 41 west of Kettleman City. The unspoken transportation credo of Jerry Brown’s aggregate 16 years as governor apparently was “If you don’t build it, maybe they won’t need it.”

Meanwhile the concrete carcass of the recently cancelled multibillion-dollar high-speed rail system dots the skyline over Fresno. Bureaucrats now insist that more billions must be spent to ensure that a short segment of the least traveled route will be finished, though they obviously do not anticipate spurring a new tourist or commercial corridor between Merced and Bakersfield.

High-speed-rail gurus insist on salvaging something of the boondoggle not because they have an economic rationale justifying more dollars — they would be far better invested in improving freeways, airports, and rails — but largely out of pride and shame that demand some small token rescued from a very bad pipe dream.

In 1973, when I first visited and lived in Greece, the roads were medieval. The old Hellinikon

Airport was dysfunctional, if not creepy. Highway rest stops were filthy. I have lived in or visited Greece in the ensuing 45 years since, including occasionally after the 2008 meltdown and European Union standoff. And yet today, the freeways, chief airport, and rest stops of relatively poor Greece are in far better shape than are California’s. LAX’s poor road access, traffic, uncleanness, crowds, and chaos seem premodern compared with the current Athenian airport.

It is an eerie experience to see America’s once premier state, currently at its supposed acme, now resemble Greece of the colonels a half-century ago, while 2019 Greece seems more like a functioning 1973 California. Athens and Thessaloniki are still dirty in a few places, and there are homeless and illegal immigrants. But one does not see needless and feces on the sidewalks, and it is safe to walk in the evening. Greek public restrooms, once notorious, are far more sanitary than those at rest stops in Fresno, San Francisco, or Los Angeles.

Power outrages are characteristic of Third World countries. Here in California we are advised to brace for lots of them, given that our antiquated grid apparently contributes to brush fires on hot days. As a native, I do not remember a single instance of our 20th-century state utilities shutting down service in the manner that they now routinely promise.

 

California for Others

Crime the last three years has increased. It is epidemic in local jails. San Francisco has the highest property-crime rate per capita of any major city. The California prison system is a mess, and sanctuary cities ensure that illegal aliens charged with crimes will not be deported. Pick up a McClatchy paper and you’ll see that the day’s fare of Central Valley criminality, even after sanitization and editorialization, is mind-boggling.

California’s cycles of wet boom years and dry bust years continue because the state refuses to build three or four additional large reservoirs that have been planned for more than a half-century, and that would store enough water to keep California functional through even the worst drought. The rationale is either that it is more sophisticated to allow millions of acre-feet of melted snow to run into the sea, or it is better to have a high-speed-rail line from Merced to Bakersfield than an additional 10 million acre-feet of water storage, or droughts ensure more state control through rationing and green social-policy remedies.

Twenty-seven percent of Californians were not born in the United States, a large minority of them residing in the United States illegally. Yet California’s universities and popular culture are at the forefront of salad-bowl and identity-politics policies that obstruct assimilation, integration, and intermarriage — the historical remedies for the natural tensions that arise within multiracial and multiethnic societies. In this perfect storm, at the very moment the world’s poorest citizens from Oaxaca and Central America flooded into America, de facto rejecting the protocols of their home, their hosts’ messaging to them was that they should lodge complaints about the social injustice of their new home and romanticize the culture that they had just forsaken for good cause.

California schools are usually in the bottom decile of national rankings. No one in polite conversation asks why that is so, given that the state’s K–12 schools used to be among the most competitive in the United States.

Yet, again in medieval fashion, the professional schools and science and technology departments of California’s premier research universities — Cal Tech, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, USC — are…



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