Thursday, January 10, 2013

Not every problem is caused by our bêtes noires.

Mark Shea flags an article in the Wall St. Journal about a dearth of children in the Golden State. He attributes this to the libertinism of Californian culture. Mr. Shea gets no argument from me that the libertinism of Californian culture is a disgrace to man and a sorrow to God. But his correlation doesn’t seem to track causation. Consider that in recent years, the birthrate in South Dakota has declined, while that in North Dakota has increased. Are South Dakotans a bunch of SWPL libertines, while North Dakotans still cling to the Lutheran values of their frontier forebears?

Nonsense: North Dakota is booming with Bakken Shale jobs, and South Dakota isn’t.

Similarly, I think the specific problem of California is reduced migration. From the WSJ article, with my emphases:
Declining migration and falling birthrates have led to a drop in the number of children in California just as baby boomers reach retirement, creating an economic and demographic challenge for the nation's most populous state....

Ever since the Gold Rush, the majority of Californians has been born elsewhere. That pattern began to change in the 1990s, when migrants were attracted by the lower cost of living and rapid growth in other Western and Southern states. Then, the housing bust and 2008 financial crisis hit California harder than most states. By 2010, more than half of all adults 25 to 34 years old were born in California

The crippling of CA’s ability to adequately fund state government due to a ballot measure passed decades ago requiring a super-majority in the state legislature to raise property taxes that the Democrats have only just now acquired has been a long-term drag on the state’s desirability to domestic migration from others of these United States. So, too, has the spike in income taxes to replace the foregone property tax revenue. The final nail in the coffin for domestic migration has been that the housing bubble was centered in part in California. Also unhelpful, on a smaller scale, has been the difficulty of affording homes in the actually booming Silicon Valley part of the state, not least due to restrictive NIMBY zoning at the local level that thwarts development.

The fall-off in domestic migration has historically been supplemented by migration of young families from Mexico. However, with improvements in Mexican standards of living dovetailing with the Great Recession in the U.S., that flow of young workers and families from Mexico has crashed. Stepped-up immigration enforcement (a continuing social justice scandal, btw) on the CA border in particular has diverted what little remains of Mexican migration elsewhere in the Southwest.

So the SWPL obsession of the chattering classes in Hollywood and Sacramento and the Bay Area with all things libertine is unfortunate. Really unfortunate, I agree! But I don’t think, strictly as a factual matter, that it’s the driver here. So while I agree with the point Mr. Shea is trying to score, I don’t think his post succeeds in scoring it.

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