Southern California, once the center of one of the world's most vibrant business communities, has seen its economic leadership become largely rudderless. Business interests have been losing power for decades, as organized labor, ethnic politicians, green activists, intrusive planners, crony developers and local NIMBYs have slowly supplanted the leaders of major corporations and industries, whose postures have become, at best, defensive.
Perhaps no issue looms over American politics more than worsening inequality and the stunting of the road to upward mobility. However, inequality varies widely across America.
Los Angeles is unique among the big, world-class American cities. Unlike New York, Boston, or Chicago, L.A. lacks a clearly defined core. It is instead a sprawling region made up of numerous poly-ethnic neighborhoods, few exhibiting the style and grace of a Paris arrondissement, Greenwich Village, or southwest London. In the 1920s, the region’s huge dispersion was contemptuously described—in a quotation alternately attributed to Dorothy Parker, Aldous Huxley, or H. L. Mencken—as “72 suburbs in search of a city.” Los Angeles’s lack of urbane charm led William Faulkner to dub it “the plastic asshole of the world.” But to those of us who inhabit this expansive and varied place, the lack of conventional urbanity is exactly what makes Los Angeles so interesting.
To some, the $19 billion paid by Facebook for the Silicon Valley start-up What's App represents the ultimate confirmation of the capitalist dream. After all, these riches are going first and foremost to plucky engineers whose goals are simply to make life better for the public. Got a problem with that?
If anything positive can be said for the current tepid economic recovery, it has been very good to those who invest in the stock market or own real estate.
Property owners have been able to reap higher rents and sale prices, and the stock market has soared while the overall economy has registered only modest gains. However, only a precious few have benefited from the bull market on Wall Street.
Third-generation venture capitalist Tim Draper believes he has a solution for California's problems that will make the Silicon Valley safe for its wealthy: secession. In a recent interview, Draper suggested that California be divided into six states, including one dominated by the Valley and its urban annex, San Francisco.
As all the Californians who celebrated the deluge of rain that fell the week before last know, it did not do much to ameliorate the state’s deep drought. We are likely to enter our traditionally dry spring, summer and fall in a crisis likely to exacerbate the ever greater estrangement between the state’s squabbling regions and classes.
The recent decision by Occidental Petroleum to move its headquarters to Houston from Los Angeles, where it was founded over a half-century ago, confirms the futility and delusion embodied in California's ultragreen energy policies. By embracing solar and wind as preferred sources of generating power, the state promotes an ever-widening gap between its declining middle- and working-class populations and a smaller, self-satisfied group of environmental campaigners and their corporate backers.
Ever since the Great Recession ripped through the economies of the Sunbelt, America’s coastal pundit class has been giddily predicting its demise. Strangled by high-energy prices, cooked by global warming, rejected by a new generation of urban-centric millennials, this vast southern region was doomed to become, in the words of the Atlantic, where the “American dream” has gone to die. If the doomsayers are right, Americans must be the ultimate masochists. After a brief hiatus, people seem to, once again, be streaming towards the expanse of warm-weather states extending from the southeastern seaboard to Phoenix.
In an era of high unemployment and limited opportunity, more Americans are taking matters into their own hands and going to work for themselves out of their homes.
Oregon is a beautiful place, and, for many of the state's well-heeled residents, including many refugees from equally beautiful but overpriced California, economic growth not only is unimportant but is even a negative. Rather than create opportunity, the real issue, according to Gov. John Kitzhaber, is making sure the state ranks high on “the happiness index.” Forget sweating the hard stuff, and cozy up with a hot soy latte.
Last week’s conviction of former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin on 20 charges of bribery and fraud marks the end of a tumultuous era in the city’s history, and perhaps also the beginning of a new era in American urban politics. Perhaps most remarkable was the almost total lack of protest in New Orleans over the downfall of Nagin, who had relied heavily on polarizing racial politics in his last five years in office.
This is the executive summary from a new report Sustaining Prosperity: A Long Term Vision for the New Orleans Region, authored by Joel Kotkin for Greater New Orleans, Inc. Download the full report from GNO, Inc. here: gnoinc.org/sustainingprosperity
The recovery of greater New Orleans represents one of the great urban achievements of our era. After decades of slow economic, political and social decline, hurricane Katrina seemed a kind of coup de grâce, smothering the last embers of the region’s vitality.
Back in the 1960s, and for well into the 1980s, California stood at the cutting edge of youth culture, the place where trends started and young people clustered. “The California teen, a white, middle-class version of the American dream” raised in a world of “suburbs, cars, and beaches,” notes historian Kirse Granat May, literally shaped the national image of youth, from the Beach Boys and Barbie to Gidget.
The biggest issue facing the American economy, and our political system, is the gradual descent of the middle class into proletarian status. This process, which has been going on intermittently since the 1970s, has worsened considerably over the past five years, and threatens to turn this century into one marked by downward mobility.
The decline has less to do with the power of the “one percent” per se than with the drying up of opportunity amid what is seen on Wall Street and in the White House as a sustained recovery. Despite President Obama’s rhetorical devotion to reducing inequality, it has widened significantly under his watch.