Economics/Class Relations

The Lawyers Who Ate California: Epilogue

By Matt Taibbi

Regulatory controversies help explain corporate flight in part, but why else is California struggling?

Washington [D.C.] is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting, and the morals are deplorable. Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.

— New-York Daily Tribune, July 13, 1865

Horace Greeley’s famous injunction held up for a long time. Across parts of three centuries, people flocked to California by wagon, boat, train, car, even on foot, buzzing with dreams of living in a paradise of plenty, free of the “disgusting” dust and “high” rents of the industrial east.

Through the heydays of Hollywood, the Bay Area shipyards, and Silicon Valley, California symbolized freedom, innovation, and the second chance. Here the gangster on the run, the actress with a past, and the crackpot preacher, refugee family, and oft-fired inventor were all able to remake themselves, in this unique place where fame and respectability were somehow the same thing. If you could make it here, you could call yourself whatever you wanted. The Great Gatsby could never have been set in California, a state that agreed with Fitzgerald’s doomed hero, whose belief that “of course you can” repeat the past made him a tragic figure back East.

Thanks to its status at the forefront of everything in our culture, California began decades ago to develop problems other states hadn’t yet. Its entrepreneurial tradition began to cross-pollinate with its hyper-progressive politics, and along with building highways and skyscrapers it began to specialize in growing simple well-meaning laws into vast, ungovernable bureaucracies. As of last year the state boasted an astonishing 396,000 regulations, 100,000 more than its closest competitor, New York.

That number is one bigger thanks to Josiah Zayner, the controversial CEO of a small biotech firm called The Odin. Zayner was amazed to watch the state legislature take the time three years ago to pass a law prohibiting the sale of do-it-yourself genetic engineering kits, a rule that could only possibly apply to his firm.


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