What if the earth is dry and barren
What if the morning sun is mean to us for
This is a state of mind we live in
We want it green and so it’s green to us for
When you have wonderful plans for tomorrow
Somehow even today looks fine so
What if it’s rock and dust and sand,
For this lovely land is mine
– “Milk and Honey”
Where does California get the brass to call itself the “Golden State”?
Don’t the facts seem to indicate otherwise? Despite our constantly increasing population (38 million served), we’re bleeding wealth-producing industries.
In 2009, only 59 companies left California, but in 2010, 204 left; and in 2011, 254 left. This year Toyota, a staple in California since 1982, announced it’s moving to Texas. These companies are taking with them jobs, tax revenue, families, and worse, our international reputation as the country’s Camelot on the sea.
“Golden State?” pundits are sneering. “More like the Folding State.”
Are they right? Has California become the punch-drunk fighter slumped on the corner stool, slurring tales of past glories to anyone who will listen?
Actually, it’s the opposite. California is entering a Renaissance period, during which we will lead the rest of the country in social, cultural, political and artistic achievements. The country will see us as bold safari guides fearlessly leading all other states into a brave new future. We won’t be just the Golden State, we’ll be the Goldenest (though maybe not the grammarest) State.
Before examining the evidence of my grandiose claim, let’s take inventory of the damage. Clearly, California has taken some heavy body blows, just like the rest of the country, and the better we assess how many cracked ribs we have, the better we can get on with the healing processes.
Mostly, it’s about money. A 2013 article in The Economist names California as having the highest level of poverty in the country (22 percent, with 27 percent of people in Los Angeles County living in poverty. At 8.7 percent, we have the fifth-worst unemployment rate in the country. One third of the country’s welfare recipients live in California. Trying to figure out the exact amount of state debt is like trying to pinch Jell-O. Let’s just say it’s double-digit billions.
Sounds bad, huh?
Well, the good news is that the bad news is also the good news.
History has taught us that greatness is forged in adversity. California managed to surf some pretty calm waters for a few decades, growing and prospering just because we were in the right place at the right time. We were like the only girl at a “Star Trek” convention. Of course, we were popular.
Then came the plagues of nearly biblical proportions: drought, debt, unemployment, lost industries and severe cutbacks in education and social services. Even Hollywood has been cheating on us with Canada, filming such shows as “Arrow,” “Psyche,” “Supernatural” and “Once Upon a Time” in her cheap, over-perfumed arms. That’s about a billion dollars a year left in Canada’s bedspread.
And California is still standing. But it’s not the same California. It’s a leaner, wiser, more compassionate California. It reminds me of Orson Welles’ classic speech in “The Third Man”:
“You know what the fellow said: In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock.”
While the historical facts may be a bit askew (Germany, not Switzerland, made cuckoo clocks), the sentiment is true. Adversity has made us combat-hardened and forced us to re-examine our priorities, to put aside some of the partisan bickering, and to re-define ourselves and our goals.