Ventura County is a great place to live, if you can afford its housing, scenery and the big sunlamp in the sky.
Christopher Ingraham gushed: “Ventura County is the absolute most desirable place to live in America” (Washington Post, 2015, “Every County in America, Ranked by Scenery and Climate”). He referred to the index devised by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This “natural amenities index” is intended as “a measure of the physical characteristics of a county area that enhance the location as a place to live.” Hawaii was excluded.
The top 10 counties were all located in California. Republicans should remember this when they criticize it. If you believe conservative fairy stories about low taxes creating a paradise, please move to economically collapsing Kansas. Wisely-spent taxes create utility. The Romans understood that roads, aqueducts, armies and civilization were not created by fairies in the night.
It is true that some highly-paid jobs have been moved to lower-taxed places. But most have stayed. Silicon Valley did not grow in California due to silicon. It was due to its educated workforce. Not surprisingly, Haas Automation, America’s second-largest manufacturer of machine tools, has chosen to remain in the county.
Nonetheless, Ventura County does have its problems. The latest State of the Region report by the Ventura County Civic Alliance drew attention to its slow job growth and expensive housing. Strict planning controls, to prevent the county from becoming an overbuilt mess, have limited housing supply (though this former farm laborer loves all that farmland). Little encouragement has been given to mixed-use development (e.g., residential apartments above retail stores).
Housing costs are a problem for many due to their low wages. Many workers must commute long distances to better-paid jobs or leave altogether. Only 30 percent of households can afford the median-priced home. So is our housing problem due to some sort of failure specific to Ventura County?
Perhaps, but there is a better question. Remember, America has the greatest inequality in the industrialized world. Keep in mind the obvious: Ventura County is in California; California is in America. Ask instead: What factors common to America influence Ventura County’s economy?
Nationally, wages have been flat for 40 years even though workers’ productivity has steadily increased. This large-scale economic theft is due to Reaganomics, free trade agreements negotiated to benefit the top 1 percent, policies that encourage the outsourcing of jobs, and automation. Note, this did not happen elsewhere. Europeans’ wages increased as their productivity increased.
Efforts to get debates going on wages and inequality have failed. In 2014 it seemed that Thomas Piketty’s sensational book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, would get it going. But it was drowned out by the farcical Republican primaries, the stifling of Bernie Sanders and the election coverage by the brainless media.
Will the topic take off now? It could. Democrats are showing signs of intelligent life. Tom Perez, Democratic National Committee chair, recently toured eight Red States with Bernie. And Perez got a useful education at the recent state Party convention in Sacramento. Even Republicans are showing signs of intelligent life. They stand to lose Obamacare — and die. Dirt-poor Republicans are sick of being cheated to benefit ultra-rich Republicans. They are giving their representatives hell at town hall meetings.
The Economic Policy Institute calculated the extent to which workers have been cheated. It stated that “had all workers’ wages risen in line with productivity, as they did in the three decades following World War II, an American earning around $50,000 today would instead be making close to $75,000,” i.e., $25,000 per annum more, on average. Local wages being higher than the national average, let us say the shortfall is $28,000. Ventura County’s housing would be more affordable if its workers were paid an extra $28-grand a year. The percentage of income spent on housing would fall.
The reason this has not happened is, indeed, linked to “some sort of failure specific to Ventura County.” It is the Reagan Library in Simi Valley. This is the temple to the man who destroyed the American Dream with his ideology. Republicans have never, ever produced the slightest evidence as to the success of Reaganomics. When running for president, George Bush Senior called it “voodoo economics.” The research of French economist Thomas Piketty proved him right.
Piketty concluded: “The figures on growth show that Britain and the U.S. have not grown any more rapidly since 1980 than Germany, France, Japan, Denmark or Sweden. In other words, the reduction of top marginal tax rates and the rise of top incomes do not seem to have stimulated productivity (contrary to the predictions of supply-side theory).”
Ventura County is stuck with the Reagan Library. But it is high time Reagan’s legacy was killed with a wooden stake through its heart.