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Mike Shellenberger @ShellenbergerMD
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1. This is the story about a real-world "Elysium" — a state which has the highest levels of poverty & inequality in the country but whose residents have convinced themselves that they are behaving ethically, protecting the environment, and fighting racism.
2. Everyone believes California is our most progressive state. And why not? It imposes the highest tax on the richest one percent. It is aggressively implementing Obamacare. And it is standing up to President Donald Trump on everything from immigration to the environment.
3. And yet the Golden State is also number one in poverty & inequality. How can this be? Around the world, progressive nations like Sweden and France, which redistribute wealth through high taxes and generous social welfare policies, boast of less inequality than other nations.
4. What gives? And how does California maintain its reputation as a progressive leader given the reality on the ground? To answer those questions, let’s take a closer look at what might be considered a present-day Elysium.
5. In the 2013 science fiction film “Elysium,” the rich have fled to a luxury satellite orbiting Earth while the poor toil in dangerous conditions below.

Life in California today differs in degree, not in kind, from that dystopian vision.
6. Homeless encampments with hundreds of people have cropped up in the last two years. Occasionally, they are ravaged by hepatitis A, which in 2017 killed 20 people. In Silicon Valley, 132 people died — up from 85. In San Diego, 117 people died, up from 56.
7. Last year, San Diego city workers nearly killed a homeless person after accidentally throwing her and the tent she was sleeping in into the back of garbage truck. She escaped just seconds before being crushed by the trash compactor.
8. Meanwhile, inside comfortable homes perched atop Berkeley and Beverly Hills, affluent progressives condemn the cruelty of the Trump administration toward the poor.
9. It’s true that workers in California earn 11 percent more than their counterparts nationally. But that amount is not enough to make up for mortgage payments and rents that are 44 percent and 37 percent higher (respectively) than the national average.
10. Where 56 percent of Californians could afford a middle-class home in 2012, in the third quarter of 2017, just 28 percent could.
11. This matters. Homeownership has been the traditional route for the working class to join the middle-class, notes Chapman University demographer Joel Kotkin, who has been ringing the alarm about the crisis for years.
12. One fact says it all: homeowners have a net worth that is whopping 36 to 45 times higher than that of renters.
13. California’s elected officials make serious-sounding pronouncements about the problem but back them up with only symbolic actions.
14. Last September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed housing legislation that will raise $250 million per year to subsidize housing. But that’s just enough to subsidize 1,824 units annually at a time when 100,000 to 200,000 new units are needed.
15. Is the problem too few progressive policies — or too many?


— In the name of helping the poor and protecting the environment, California has placed myriad restrictions and fees on building new housing units, driving up their price;
16. Progressive local governments like San Francisco & Santa Monica block even those housing projects that comply with zoning laws progressives had agreed to;
17. And the state’s progressive environmental law allows duplicative and anonymous lawsuits to block housing projects for often unethical and frivolous reasons.
18. Why haven’t lawmakers changed those laws?

Because the progressive residents of Elysium don’t want them to.

Legislation that would have encouraged more housing density was snuffed out last April, garnering support from less than one-third of legislative committee members.
19. “Progressive organizing,” lamented Benjamin Ross in the left-wing magazine Dissent, “evolves stealthily into a defense of the residential status quo. It is a status quo that Beverly Hills is happy to preserve.”

20. As progressives denounce Republicans as racist, they have presided over a significant decline in the performance of black & Latino eighth graders relative to counterparts in other states.

Less than 40% of non-white and non-Asian students meet state educational standards.
21. The reason is a combination of factors, including lack of funding, lack of accountability, and a high rate of non-English speakers. When the cost of living is taken into account, California spends less on K-12 education than all but four other states.
22. A decade-long reform effort in Washington, D.C. showed that student performance can be improved significantly by rewarding teachers for performance and replacing underperforming teachers.
23. But California has rejected similar reforms. Progressives won’t even allow delaying teacher tenure from two to three years to ensure high-quality teachers.
24. What about the state’s much ballyhooed criminal justice reform?

California did indeed reduce the total number of prisoners by 12 percent between 2011 and 2015. But that’s because it had to: barbaric overcrowding resulted in a federal court order that the state to take action
25. The amount California spends on prisons actually increased by a half billion dollars thanks to the influence of the state’s corrupt prison guards union.
26. As a consequence, California today spends more per prisoner than any other state — $65,000 annually — which happens to be the same amount it costs to send a high school graduate to Stanford University for a year.
27. While housing is the main factor behind the high cost of living, California’s unfair taxes contribute significantly to poverty and inequality.

While the state has the highest income tax rate for the richest 1%, it also has the highest sales tax, which is famously regressive.
28. Meanwhile, two-thirds of the tax relief from Proposition 13, the 1978 ballot initiative that restricted property taxes, goes to homeowners with incomes above $120,000 annually.
29. How do progressive residents of Elysium protect their wealth across the generations? By allowing homeowners to pass along their low property tax rates to their children.
30. California’s high energy prices and regulatory burden result in the state having fewer high-paying manufacturing jobs relative to other states.
31. Between 2011 and 2017, California’s electricity rates rose an astonishing five times more than nationally, undermining the ability of the state to compete for manufacturing jobs which pay $96,711 per year on average — $40,000 more than the state’s average non-farm income
32. Progressive public employee unions reward themselves with benefits far beyond those of ordinary workers. Over 200,000 government workers collect retirement pensions at the age of 55 at a cost of $5.4 billion/year — an astonishing 30 times more than was paid out before 2000
33. Back on Earth, one-third of the public has no retirement savings whatsoever. The median savings of the rest is just $111,000. A person would need $2.6 million in savings in order to receive retirement benefits as large as those received by a California Highway Patrol officer.
34. The biggest difference between “Elysium” the movie and present-day California is that in the real-world version, Elysium’s residents believe they are progressive.
35. How do they maintain that fiction, which is more detached from reality than “Elysium” the movie? By living in a fantasy world where California is leading the world in saving the environment and fighting racism.
36. But in saving the environment, California progressives increased electricity rates, hurt manufacturing, and allowed carbon emissions to rise even while they declined in the rest of the U.S.
37. And in vigorously protecting the right of their low-wage foreign servant class to remain in California while denying everybody, including them, affordable shelter, progressives aren’t being generous, they’re being selfish.
38. Nobody wants to talk about it, but California’s liberal immigration laws have been good for the progressive residents of Elysium.

They benefit directly from the downward pressure that low-skill immigrants put on the wages for cooks, cleaners, gardeners, & drivers.
39. What results is the most racially unequal society in the U.S. After decades of Californians congratulating themselves on their anti-racism, it is low-wage workers — disproportionately people of color — who suffer the brunt of the state's housing, tax, and regulatory policies.
40. What Donald Trump offers Elysium progressives is an external enemy. Trump was an opportunity for the state’s politicians and Democratic Party activists to escape their responsibility for seriously addressing widening inequality and the extreme poverty all around them.
41. Trump gives progressives a way to channel whatever guilt they might have — from preventing homebuilding and benefitting from unfair taxes or pensions to depriving black and Latino students the teacher quality and school funding they need — into a sanctimonious tribal rage.
42. If racism is more than just saying nasty things — if it is, as scholars like James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Michelle Alexander & others have described, embedded into socioeconomic structures — then California isn’t just the least progressive state. It’s also the most racist
43. What will it take for the progressive bubble to burst? Another recession, perhaps. California’s tax revenues are deeply lopsided toward income and especially toward the richest one percent whose income is dependent on the fortunes of the stock market.
44. Already the state’s top accountants are predicting a $55 billion shortfall over the next three years. And that amount is dwarfed by the much larger $366 billion debt taxpayers owe in pension and health care benefits to public employees.
45. But there will always an external enemy upon which “progressive” residents of Elysium can displace their guilt.

As such, if California is ever to live up to its ideals, change must come from within — not just from within Elysium, but from within the progressive movement.
46. And that starts with acknowledging that California's tragic poverty and widening inequality aren’t the result of racist policies imposed from without but rather progressive policies embraced from within.

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