Opinion: ‘Declinists’ rise again, forecasting demise

They’re at it again, the many folks ex-Gov. Jerry Brown derisively called “declinists.”


They have some ammunition. It’s been more than a decade since California lost its status as America’s fastest growing state. One new consequence of that is that the state this fall will lose a little of its congressional representation for the first time in more than a century.


It’s not because this state has lost population, other than during the pandemic, which has killed more than 92,000 Californians so far.


Today’s declinists are at least as mistaken as Curt Gentry was in the late 1960s, in his classically wrongheaded book, “The Last Days of the Late, Great State of California.”


Gentry wrote alarmingly of a great earthquake splitting California away from North America. He foresaw industry deserting, along with population. Wrong, wrong and wrong – at least so far, about 54 years after his publication date.


But except for the earthquake bit, today’s denigrators of California see the same impending disasters. They see the ongoing departures of the headquarters of the software making Oracle Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Enterprises, a remnant of the once-dominant computer and accessory firm with the eponymous name, as just the latest disastrous departure, with many more to follow. They also decry the fact industrialist Elon Musk became a Texas resident to evade state income tax, while leaving Tesla’s headquarters and principal factory right where they were, in California.


And they ignore the fact that other giants of Silicon Valley, outfits like Google, Facebook, Mozilla, Netflix, Adobe, eBay and more, are not only staying but expanding their local footprints.


That’s largely because universities like Stanford and UC Berkeley are not going anywhere, continuing to churn out the most inventive minds in America and the world. That’s why California endeavors last year received more than half of all American venture capital investment.


Then there’s the effect of the pandemic on housing: By sending much of California’s white collar workforce to home offices, the virus changed some conditions and caused population growth to slow.


That’s visible in San Francisco more than anywhere else in the state. While real estate prices and rents elsewhere in California rose or at least remained stable in most places, they are down from two years ago in San Francisco, which has seen many workers opt to live farther from work, moving to more countrified spots, some in other states.


Development is slowing in the hyper-crowded city. Many already-permitted new developments there won’t be able to get the capital they need to proceed at least until next year, report some analysts.


If high rents have been a cause of slower California growth, perhaps San Francisco’s newly lower prices will start some recovery from that malady once the coronavirus threat is gone. It would be silly to expect much growth here while that plague remains significant.


Meanwhile, the departure of more than 135,000 Californians (about .0034 percent, not even half a hundredth of 1 percent) over the last year has already made things a bit more pleasant, leading to fewer traffic jams and lighter loads on medical facilities that operated at or beyond capacity for most of the last two years. Also, there may be less need for heavy investments in new power supplies and a lessened housing shortage.


In short, losing a little population might not be such a bad thing.


For sure, while Texas draws headlines for attracting businesses by promising no state or local taxes for a decade or more, California continues turning out a far larger gross domestic product; $2.8 trillion to $1.8 trillion was the margin for the first three quarters of 2021.


Declinists, of course, are nothing new. Some of the leading ones of the last decade were folks in the relocation business, whose public pessimism about California was largely designed to grow their own bankrolls. But that’s not new: as far back as the 1840s, Horace Greeley, the New York newspaper publisher who advised youths to “Go West,” was bemoaning the “deplorable confusion and uncertainty” of some aspects of California.


Like Gentry’s, his criticisms proved irrelevant. So yes, California has seen slower growth. But that may not be such a bad thing and it may not last long, either.


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Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to www.californiafocus.net.