How important is California?

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Economist magazine coverPretty important, the Economist thinks. The May 1 cover of the London-based weekly is devoted to a big photo of a tight-lipped Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the headline Is California Back? Inside is a 16-page special report on the state's fortunes and a leader that argues the election of Schwarzenegger "no longer seems so weird." The report is informed by the reality that California is the world's sixth largest economy, just ahead of China. (Los Angeles County is 10th, ahead of Russia). The survey is up on the Economist website at the moment for non-subscribers, and the author, John Micklethwait, is interviewed on audio.

Snippets from the report:

Ever since an 1848 newspaper article alerted the world to nuggets of gold in a stream in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, the world has marvelled at the 800-mile-long sliver of land by the Pacific, and tried to get there. The first pioneers scrambled over the Sierra Nevada, leaving stragglers behind; the newer arrivals sneak across the desert border, paying coyote gangs to smuggle them in. After the gold came farming, then oil, movies, aerospace, computer chips, the PC, biotechnology, nanotechnology, topless shoeshines, chocolate zucchini cake, the Church of Scientology and much else besides...

The biggest differences in California are not geographical but social. For all its claims to first-names-please meritocracy, California is one of the most unequal states in the world's least equal developed country...

Calling in an action hero seems appropriate for California, because the state epitomises another Hollywood stereotype: the beautiful broad who never had to try—until now...

California's refusal to deal with its problems is typified by the submerged debate about race. Many whites worry that the state is becoming Mexifornia...In reality, there is every chance that in 50 years' time there will be fewer Californians speaking Spanish than there are now—provided the state schools can teach them decent English. But that, alas, raises a big question. The truth is that California's schools are not good enough...

In terms of party politics, the state has been in gridlock for some time. The Democrats, heavily reliant on the public-sector trade unions, will not consider reform. The Republicans, for their part, have clung on to the myth that disdain for government is a strength...

By failing to pay attention to government, California has not ended up with minimal government—just bad, needlessly big government...

Californian suburban life has been satirised to death by Hollywood, and it has long been deplored by environmentalists. But the plain fact is that a huge number of people seem to like it...


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