Growing up in California in the 1960s, it was impossible not to believe you lived in the greatest place on earth.
California had spectacular coastlines and mountains, luxuriant valleys and stretches of perfect weather that carried on unbroken for months at a time. Natives who ventured from the state -- to other parts of the country or the world -- invariably returned to say it was a mistake to ever leave.
In that not-so-long-ago era, a pioneering culture still gripped the Golden State. People came to California not take things from government, but to make things of themselves.
The first European settlers to arrive in California were Franciscan priests from Spain, who traveled to the far edge of the world as they knew it not to enslave native peoples, but to bring them Christianity. They were followed by hardy souls who crossed an entire continent to reach the Pacific. When these pioneers arrived, they built magnificent things. The Franciscans built churches. The gold-seekers ended up building the city of San Francisco around one of those churches.
Because it almost never rained during the growing season in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys, where the soil would grow almost anything, the people built massive dams in the Sierras and directed water from there to channels that crossed and irrigated farmlands that otherwise would have been summertime deserts.
A group of California counties collaborated in raising private money to build a bridge across the Golden Gate -- and they did not build just any bridge, they built the most beautiful bridge in the world. Then they paid off its construction costs with tolls assessed only on people who crossed the bridge.
Not a single taxpayer in Massachusetts or Montana every paid a penny for the Golden Gate Bridge -- unless he freely crossed it and paid the fare.
As America's population grew and prospered in the 20th century, California outpaced its sister states.
From 1900 to 1910, her population grew by an astounding 60.1 percent, according to the Census Bureau. In the remaining decades of the 20th century, it grew by 44.1 percent, 65.7 percent, 21.7 percent, 53.3 percent, 48.5 percent. 27.0 percent, 18.6 percent, 25.7 percent and 13.8 percent.
After each Census, California won additional seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and gained greater influence over the nation's political destiny.
Then came the population count of 2010. Last week, the Census Bureau announced that for the first time since California became a state in 1850, it would gain no additional seats in the House.
Over the past decade, it turns out, next-door Nevada enjoyed the largest percentage population gain of any state, growing by 35 percent -- perhaps because it is the nearest place Californians can flee.
Who killed the California dream? Politicians did -- specifically, politicians who pushed a vision of big government that called for redistributing wealth and rewarding indigence while penalizing the hard work and calculated risk-taking that marked Californians of generations past.
In October, the Tax Foundation rated all 50 states by how their tax climate treated business. California ranked 49th. Only New York rated worst. The foundation also judged that California had the 48th worst individual income tax system and the 49th worst sales tax system.
With established businesses fleeing and new entrepreneurs choosing to go elsewhere, unemployment has been trending up in California for four straight years. It is now at 12.4 percent -- tied with Rust Belt Michigan for the second highest unemployment rate of any state.
The Census Bureau's 2010 Statistical Abstract says that from 2000 to 2008, 1,378,706 "domestic" migrants left California for other parts of the country. That was balanced by 1,825,697 "international" migrants (the Census Bureau does not distinguish between legal and illegal) who moved to California from other countries.
The Pew Hispanic Center, meanwhile, reported in September that 23 percent of the illegal immigrants in the United States -- or about 2,550,000 illegal aliens -- live in California and make up 9.3 percent of the state's workforce.
Unlike previous generations that migrated to California, these immigrants are not coming to a frontier, but to a welfare state. Whether they replace indigenous workers by taking their jobs or increase the burden of government on those workers by going on the dole, the illegal immigrant population is helping to build California's welfare state -- as are pensioned state-government employees and native-born Americans who have grown accustomed to government dependency.
In November, California's state Legislative Analyst's Office issued a budget report estimating that the state's government will face a deficit of about $20 billion per year for the next six years.
At the same time, it estimates that Medi-Cal (the state's version of Medicaid) will cost an average of about $20 billion per year (rising from $17.6 billion next year to about $24 billion in 2016). Currently, 7 million of California's 37 million people are enrolled in Medi-Cal.
There are now only 11 states, according to the 2010 Census, that are populated by more people than California has populating its socialized medicine system.
California's Legislative Analyst's Office assumed in its budget report that in the coming years California will continue to have a net outflow of "domestic" migrants. That was wise.