Victor Davis Hanson

California Gov. Jerry Brown must rapidly close a $25 billion budgetary shortfall. But right now it seems almost a hopeless task since the state's disastrous budget is a symptom, not the cause, of California's much larger nightmare.

Take unemployment. It currently runs 12.6 percent in California, the nation's second-highest rate. Take livability. A recent Forbes magazine survey listing the most miserable 20 cities in the nation ranked four California municipalities among the index's five worst places to live.

Take education. California public schools test near rock bottom in national math and science scores. Take the business climate. A recent survey conducted among CEOs ranked California dead last for jobs and business growth.

Take taxes. California has the highest gasoline tax in the nation, and its combined sales and local/state income tax rates are among the nation's steepest. California incarcerates the highest number of prisoners in the nation. It costs nearly $50,000 per year to house each one, near the highest per-capita cost in the country.

I could go on, but you get the picture that the newly inaugurated Brown has problems well beyond even a massive budget shortfall..

Perhaps the state's problems are not of its own making, but arise from a deficit of natural riches? Hardly. California has the most fertile soil and most conducive farming climate in the country. Tourists flock to see the beauty of Yosemite, Death Valley and a 1,000-mile coastline. San Diego and San Francisco Bay are among the most naturally endowed harbors in the world. The state is rich in gas, oil, minerals and timber. It has the largest population in the nation at 37 million residents.

OK, but maybe prior generations failed to develop such natural bounty? Again, no. At one time California educators ensured that their tripartite system of higher education was the envy of the world. The Golden Gate and Oakland Bay bridges, along with the Los Angeles freeway system and the complex network of state dams and canals, were once considered engineering marvels far ahead of their time. Visionaries made Napa Valley the world's premier wine-producing center. California's farmers found a way to produce 400 crops and half the nation's fruits, nuts and vegetables, and created the richest food region in the nation. Silicon Valley and Hollywood are still the global leaders in computer innovation and entertainment, respectively.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.