Thanks to the blessings of decentralization, life can vary greatly in America depending on where you sit. Those differences are growing into a chasm of philosophical and practical contrasts between two basic models for the American future. Call them the California way and the Florida way.
On many critical questions facing our culture, our economy and our society, California and Florida offer radically different answers.
Should lots of new housing be built in the interest of affordability? California says no, Florida says yes. Should homeless people be allowed to turn public spaces into tent cities? California says yes, Florida says no. Should public elementary schools teach critical race theory? California says yes, Florida says no. Should gas be $4 a gallon? California says yes, Florida says no. Should biological males be allowed to dominate girls’ sports? Florida says no. California not only says yes, but it is trolling Florida by forbidding its employees to take state-funded trips to Florida, as well as 16 other states.
California fancies itself imposing its cultural values on other states and tackling global warming independently; Florida has a more modest view of what a state government does. People are voting on all of this with their U-Hauls. California’s population in 2020 shrank for the first time ever, by 180,000 people, whereas Florida had the second-highest increase in population, after Texas.
During the pandemic, California introduced some of the harshest lockdown measures in the country, crashing its economy, while Florida was among the first states to begin reopening, way back in May of 2020, and has been almost entirely open since September. Disney World reopened in July of 2020; Disneyland reopened at the end of April 2021. One survey found that Florida had the second-fewest coronavirus restrictions; California ranked 45th by the same measure.
Though Florida has the second-highest percentage of old people of any state, the death tolls look like they will come out about even. Florida stands 26th in COVID-19 fatalities (1,769 deaths per million) while California is 34th (1,614). Yet California’s economy is still suffering, its unemployment rate standing at 7.9 percent in May, the most recent survey. Florida hasn’t seen such a high jobless rate since last August; its unemployment has stood below 5 percent throughout 2021.
Whether lockdowns are effective remains an open question, but there is no question that they bring economic calamity.
As for the psychological and emotional effects of locking children out of schools, we may never be able to measure the harm California did to its youngest citizens. The data firm Burbio, which has been tracking school reopenings, ranks California dead last on its index of in-person learning, with four out of five students learning remotely on average. Florida scored 95 percent in-person learning, third-best in the nation.
Relative to Florida’s Ron DeSantis (a Republican), California Gov. Gavin Newsom (a Democrat) seems to have gotten very little in exchange for this devastatingly high price. Widespread disgust with his leadership means he will be forced to present himself to voters in a recall vote to be held on Sept. 14, although polling suggests he will probably hang on to the office to which he was elected in 2018 with a 62 percent majority.
Newsom’s state has a horseshoe economy built to serve two classes of people: the rich and the poor. The middle-class sags, neglected, in the middle. Ordinary working families are all but being invited to go find another state.
Tightly restricted housing policies, high taxes and punishing, traffic-clogged commutes make California increasingly untenable for average earners as wealthy progressives buttress themselves behind high gates, go to work on glistening corporate campuses, and shrug at tax hikes, knowing their property values will continue to zoom upward because it’s so hard to get anything built.
On the other end of the income scale, a chilling phrase has entered common usage in the Golden State: “sanctioned encampments.” California has a colossal problem in homelessness, and it is determined to take steps to make it worse. “Sanctioned encampments” is a euphemism for taxpayer-funded Skid Rows, and Democrats who run California think they’re a great idea. California is mocking its middle class by simply removing grassy lawns, sidewalks and other public spaces that ought to be usable by the middle class and giving them to its underclass. (Great news, though: some areas of the camps are socially distanced. So, no worries about diseases spreading through these places.)
Democratic Party activists and progressives keep pushing the state and its cities to be ever more indulgent toward the homeless.
Tent cities have popped up in both Northern and Southern California, public defecation is the norm in some areas and the progressive mindset says: Put out the welcome mat. Do so, and people will arrive on your doorstep: Despite having only 12 percent of American’s population, California has one-quarter of the country’s homeless. The more hospitable it becomes to hobos, the more of them it will attract.
In Los Angeles, the city is spending such a mind-boggling amount of money on tents — $2,700 each, per month, or more than the average one-bedroom apartment costs — to make the homeless comfy that even NPR was taken aback.
Nonprofit agencies calling themselves “advocates for the homeless” are the middle men lining their pockets in this boondoggle, seeking and getting lavish government contracts to take care of things like providing portable toilets. The San Jose City Council keeps pushing, reports KPIX in San Francisco, to “formalize the hands-off approach to some encampments which meet certain criteria such as not being near a school, not blocking streets or sidewalks and not being in a waterway. The city would also include hygiene and supportive services. It’s already doing some of that by paying unhoused people to pick up trash in their encampments, and by providing porta-potties and wash stations.”
Near the San Jose Airport, in the largest city in Northern California, hundreds of homeless people are squatting on a nearly mile-long stretch of territory as local and state officials shrug; only the FAA is complaining.
Middle-class Californians scratch their heads, glance at gasoline prices that are more than a dollar above the national average, and think: Seriously? This is what my tax dollars go to? Paying homeless people to pick up their own garbage? Paying homeless advocates $2,700 a month to install a tent in a parking lot?
With all of this wasted public expenditure, it’s no surprise that California is second only to New York in the category of highest marginal income tax rate. In overall tax burden, it ranks 10th highest in the nation, according to one survey that ranks Florida as the fifth lowest. Florida’s budget is $102 billion; California’s is $262 billion. (California’s population is less than double that of Florida, 40 million to 22.)
Each year, more bad decisions get made on where to direct California’s billions. The “defund the police” movement led to a reduction of funding of $150 million for the Los Angeles police, while San Francisco lawmakers stripped $80 million from the cops’ budget while proposing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to bolster the tent cities that look like social rust to everyone not trained in elite thinking.
The combined effects of a 2014 statewide referendum to reduce thefts valued at less than $950 to misdemeanors and a vow by San Francisco’s leftist district attorney, Chesa Boudin, not to prosecute minor crimes is being taken as an engraved invitation by San Francisco shoplifters; the middle class suffers as favorite retailers such as Walgreens and Target say they are forced to close their doors.
Disorder has a way of feeding on itself. San Francisco has become “the nation’s leader in property crime,” and statewide murders were up 31 percent last year. (They were up 15 percent in Florida.)
Any visitor to Florida can tell you the state simply looks orderly. Florida municipalities use a variety of measures to discourage loitering on the streets, including arresting for trespassing, and it largely works: When was the last time you read about an epidemic of homelessness in Fort Lauderdale?
As a society, we shouldn’t want people sleeping on the streets. If the police stop them from doing so, they’ll either find someone to stay with or report to a shelter. It is an insult to the public for its government to simply ignore concerns about orderly streets out of fear that some advocacy group hoping for a fat payout will denounce its agents as “mean” for denying people the right to set up camp on the streets.
Maintaining basic order and the rule of law is the first duty of government; a healthy society depends on people feeling secure. Secure people are free to pursue their dreams.
‘Florida in 2020 feels reminiscent of California in the 1950s,” writes Jacksonville resident Charles C.W. Cooke in National Review, calling it “a place to which ordinary people are flocking in order to take advantage of the nice weather, good economy, open spaces and explosive construction.”
California may be a dynamic and diverse state, but Florida is no slouch in either department, a place where you’re equally likely to meet refugees from socialist Venezuela or socialist New York.
Florida is America’s freest state, according to a Cato Institute survey: No. 1 in fiscal freedom, No. 1 in educational freedom. Cato dubs California one of the least free states and flat out dubs it “the most cronyist state in the union,” meaning government and its chosen allies work to milk the public purse for all they can.
Somehow Florida’s lean government even manages to operate efficiently. British emigre Cooke writes that “when I moved here from Connecticut, I walked in without an appointment and, within 18 minutes, I had two new license plates and two new driver’s licenses, and my wife had registered to vote. This was typical.”
Even the famous “Florida Man” news items of hilariously eccentric doings are a sign of healthy government: Due to sunshine laws, criminal proceedings and virtually everything else related to government are accessible on demand. Other states give us less to laugh at because they are less transparent.
A 2016 survey gave Florida a grade of “A” for providing online access to how it spends its taxpayer dollars; California got an “F” and was the worst-scoring state.
It wasn’t long ago that America looked to California for guidance; even Ronald Reagan implicitly promised to spread the California way across the nation. Now California is a model only for dysfunction, and if Newsom attempts to follow Reagan’s path to the White House, he’ll be as much of a punchline as his predecessor, Jerry Brown, the man who first started to steer California on its present heartbreaking path.
No one from Florida has ever become president, nor has any Italian-American. The success of DeSantis as governor of America’s model state suggests he could be the man to shatter both of those molds.