Conservatives are downright bitter about California’s jobs success since Gov. Jerry Brown took office. That success includes the creation of 2 million jobs and the state’s unemployment rate being cut in half. It includes California leading the nation in job growth, accounting for one in every six jobs created nationally during the recovery. California accomplished this comeback while passing some of the strongest bills in the country to protect working people, and increasing taxes on the very wealthy to fund our schools and invest in the future.
Yet still, conservatives can’t admit they were wrong. Case in point, a recent Orange County Register column in which two conservative economists do their level best to propagate the myth that California’s economy really isn’t doing well.
California retains enormous physical and human assets that decades of mismanagement have not yet managed to squander. But even the most advantaged places cannot long thrive if their policy makers feed themselves largely on delusions.
The “delusions” Kotkin and Watkins refer to is that states like California that have regulations in place to protect workers and that have the audacity to ask rich folks to pay their fair share of taxes aren’t really better off when it comes to growth.
Really? Maybe Kotkin and Watkins should have taken a closer look at Kansas.
Kansas and California have taken polar opposite approaches since 2010. While California is focused on raising wages, protecting workers and taxing the rich to fund public services, Kansas instituted massive tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations under Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. The result was disastrous.
California’s economy grew by 4.1 percent in 2015, according to new numbers from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, tying it with Oregon for the fastest state growth of the year. That was up from 3.1 percent growth for the Golden State in 2014, which was near the top of the national pack.
The Kansas economy, on the other hand, grew 0.2 percent in 2015. That’s down from 1.2 percent in 2014, and below neighboring states such as Nebraska (2.1 percent) and Missouri (1.2 percent). Kansas ended the year with two consecutive quarters of negative growth — a shrinking economy. By a common definition of the term, the state entered 2016 in recession.
How can that be? Pretty simple actually. The delusional myth is that economies grow as a result of failed trickle-down economic theories. They don’t. And the California-Kansas comparison is just one example in a vast catalogue of data that shows when you rig the economy to benefit the wealthy few at the expense of everyone else, inequality grows, budget deficits expand and the middle class suffers. That’s the enduring lesson here. And it’s a lesson that California is heeding.
That’s not to say everything is perfect in the Golden State. Housing costs are too high. Wage growth is too slow. And poverty is too widespread. But the antidote isn’t to resort to the failed policies of the past ala Kansas. It’s to focus more on rebuilding California from the bottom up by investing in our communities with Prop. 55. Increase access to education and vocational training. Put people to work by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. Level the playing field for working people by passing laws that support wage growth and the ability to stand together with co-workers to negotiate with employers.
California’s economic growth is no accident. The California comeback didn’t happen in spite of worker protections and taxes on the rich. In fact, a growing body of evidence suggests the comeback happened because of those things.