California Dreamin’

My one-legged grandpa, who met a fair number of movie stars when he was a student at UCLA and taught drama to a few movie stars later on, and his wife of 70 years my grandma (who had a movie star’s cheekbones and a very un-movie star big heart and mind), lived in around a dozen states in all corners of the country, around all types of people, but they never stopped talking about the Depression-era paradise of their youth, Southern California of the 20s and 30s, all orange trees and peach trees and beaches and no traffic and no money.

As California goes, so goes the nation, the old saying goes. At least online, I notice more skepticism of diversity and immigration from Californians these days,who have a lot of each, than from people in less integrated or populous parts of the country. Mencius Moldbug and Steve Sailer are both Californians, for example, as is (I believe) Education Realist. Those Californians who don’t express skepticism with the changes in their state are often forced into somewhat bizarre intellectual poses; read this  thoughtful and insightful but totally nuts essay about “Nature in LA,”and watch the author try to convince herself that ugliness is a form of moral purification, for those willing to stare unblinking at the concrete that covers the land.

California still thrives, of course, in its own way, but why and for whom are uncertain questions. California’s enviable climate and the fact that it houses both of America’s two remaining world-beating industries allows it to accommodate much that would undo a less fortunately-situated state.

An interesting profile of Donald Trump’s idea man and warm-up act, Steve Miller, includes the following aside:

How did Stephen Miller come to occupy such an extreme position on immigration? Strangely, it was his experience coming of age in a liberal Jewish family in liberal Santa Monica, the Berkeley of Southern California. “I think it was growing up in California, he saw the role that mass migration played turning a red state blue,” says one former Senate colleague. “He was fearful that that would happen to the rest of the country.”

Of course, “turning a red state blue” sounds like a great idea, from the other side of the aisle. If you had a one-sentence description of the Diversity Creed, it might be something like this, from President Obama’s DNC address:

And most of all, I see Americans of every party, every background, every faith who believe that we are stronger together — black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American; young, old; gay, straight; men, women, folks with disabilities, all pledging allegiance, under the same proud flag, to this big, bold country that we love. (Applause.) That’s what I see. That’s the America I know! (Applause.)

Meanwhile, as California’s demographics have shifted, along with becoming a one-party state, its school performance has changed in tandem: California, which was famous in the 50s and 60s for its public schools along with its state universities, is now much closer in standardized test performance to Alabama and Mississippi than to the rest of the West Coast, let alone the Northeast.


My own personal and professional life are in some ways attempts to say “yes” to that great California philosopher’s question, “Can we all get along?” I believe that striving for a functional multiracial democracy is a moral challenge given unto the American people. But it is just that: a challenge, before which we may likely fail.

And yet, discussions of Diversity are often presented as all-or-nothing questions- is more always better or is more always worse?

The consensus position appears to be that the failure of our society to achieve racial equity can only be rectified by a no-holds-barred attack on conscious and unconscious bias, by aggressive federal enforcement of disparate impact legislation, and by an all-hands-on-deck attempt to mold media images of race and to ensure that prominent figures in every field are representative of every important racial group. In other words, we should double down on everything we have done on race for the last fifty years, while also assuming that continued demographic transformation will largely solve these problems for us, by making there no longer be a majority against which minority status will be penalized.

But doesn’t California show us what that would look like? Does California demonstrate that in the absence of a dominant majority (non-Hispanic whites are no longer even a plurality in the state), racial gaps in achievement will dissipate, and affirmative action will no longer be required, for example, to ameliorate differences in pre-college preparation?




Recently San Francisco schools responded to high failure rates and racial gaps in achievement in its “Algebra for All” initiative (tracking all middle school students to take Algebra 1 by the end of 8th grade) by replacing it with “Algebra for None.” Just a few days ago, the head of the San Francisco school board called for schools named after George Washington to be renamed, since Washington was a slave owner.

As the song goes: California, Here we Come, right back where we started from.

When Governor Jerry Brown, in a moment of lucidity, argued earlier this year that the achievement gap was unlikely to disappear and should not be the main measure of the efficacy of education policy, a consortium of civil rights groups immediately joined together to force him to walk back his remarks.

In economics, it is often assumed that costs increase linearly with inputs while benefits have diminishing marginal returns. Different convex production functions, and different relative costs, produce different optimal bundles of inputs to produce a given good.




But political power, in both democratic and undemocratic systems, does not follow a path of diminishing returns. Having complete control is much, much better than merely having a lot of control.

Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that admitting the existence of diminishing marginal returns, in many different areas of life, appears to be an increasingly difficult intellectual feat.

6 thoughts on “California Dreamin’

  1. I can’t remember whether you have kids, you might come to view “multiracial democracy as a moral challenge” in a much darker light when you see your own kids called derogatory names in spanish. Or you see they can’t get jobs because of various ethnic networks they are not a part of (Mexican, persian, chinese, you name it). You can’t make a multiracial democracy when the only group where even a few people have that aim are white. Latinos are for latino racial supremacy (really Mexican – the groups don’t get along that well). Koreans are for Korean supremacy. And as far as I can tell it doesn’t even occur to Chinese to ever question their own racial/cultural supremacy. From Los Angeles- this isn’t going to work at all, you are all alone in your moral challenge.


    1. Latinos, Koreans, and the Chinese–especially those who have been here for several generations–are for Americanism. Similar to “outsiders”–the Irish, the Italians–who were deemed “unfit” by nativists in the 1800’s, these groups and the ones I listed eventually became part and parcel to the majority culture.


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