As I read and watched the news coverage about Southern California’s poor grades in a recently released "report card" of the region’s economy and quality of life, I thought about Lew Rockwell’s recent column, "And the Word Was Made Web." Here was a stellar example of what Rockwell was writing about.
The report card issued by the Southern California Association of Governments — as its name implies, this is the official association of local governments charged with developing region-wide government plans — gave the six-county region (Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura and Imperial) Ds in traffic, education and housing, Cs in income and air quality, and Bs in jobs and crime. SCAG — don’t you love the acronym? — painted a bleak picture of a region losing ground in the key "quality of life" areas. Only the weather and the glorious terrain seem to survive the region’s apparent downward spiral.
News reports did one of two things.
The first approach: They trumpeted the bleak news, providing pictures of smog-covered cities, congested freeways, and overcrowded and crumbling schools. The information was quite interesting, especially news that the average payroll per job in the SCAG region fell to the lowest among all metropolitan areas, even below the bleak metropolises of Detroit and Philadelphia. (In some ways it’s hard to believe, given the ostentatious wealth on display all around us, but the report was based on reasonable and consistent standards. Despite SCAG being an arm of government, it is well respected at pinpointing problems, even if its solutions invariably are wrong.)
The second approach: News reports downplayed the findings, arguing that everything here is pretty good, despite the news. The Los Angeles Times article on Feb. 6, the day after the study was released, was titled: "Good Vibes Overcome Bad News." It interviewed local officials who said how great Southern California really is, and none of these problems are beyond what government can fix. One mayor called for building a high-speed train system to fix the transportation mess and reduce air pollution and create jobs. That is a bogus solution to problems caused by government, but this response was typical.
Now, I, too, had mixed feelings about the report. California, despite everything, is a lovely place to live. It is not nearly as bad as the report implied. But I do know that the problems discussed are real, although I also know that SCAG has a vested interest in making the problems seem as horrendous as possible so that its member agencies can whine for more tax dollars.
Nevertheless, I was shocked by the lack of coverage of one particular aspect of the SCAG report buried in the findings. In fact, it wasn’t even really buried. On the first page of SCAG’s executive summary is this news: "Economic and demographic driving forces were the primary reasons for u2018losing ground’ in our region. Specifically, during the early 1990s, the region went through the most severe recession since the Great Depression, losing half a million jobs and suffering an 8 percent decline in its real personal income per capita between 1990 and 1993. Many of the jobs lost were in the high-wage defense aerospace manufacturing. As a result, Southern California experienced a 1.5-million net domestic out-migration during the last decade, the largest in our region’s history. During the same period, the region added 1.5 million foreign immigrants."
Now here’s the key point: "When compared with the domestic out-migrants and the general population, recent immigrants are, on average, less educated, earn lower incomes, live in larger households and rely significantly on rental housing."
The story of declining wages, more congested transportation systems, overcrowded schools, insufficient housing stock, dropping income and worsening air quality is at least in part a story about the effects of escalating Third World immigration. Pay careful attention, I wrote "in part." It’s probably a large part. But I am not — I have to say this loud and clear for those readers who are dense — blaming all of Southern California’s or America’s problems on immigrants.
But what explains the general failure to even mention immigration in the context of the SCAG report card? I didn’t read every news report on the matter in every California newspaper, but none of the articles I saw even mentioned immigration in passing. If the second paragraph in the executive summary blamed insufficient government spending for the problems, or blamed tax-limiting Prop. 13, you could bet your life that would have made it into virtually every lead sentence and headline in every newspaper in California.
Realistically, the problems of immigration are generally taboo in the mainstream media. On the Internet, by contrast, these issues can be debated freely. In his article, Rockwell was writing about the chasm between the information provided in the mainstream media and the more forthright ideas presented on the Internet. In the past, we had to rely on the newspapers and TV news programs, and at best glean some truth between the lines in the politically correct reports. These days we turn to the Internet to learn what the media mavens won’t tell us.
As he wrote, not everything on the Internet is wise or good. But there is a far different standard of forthrightness that rules on the Web. No one could have gotten away with ignoring the immigration issue in Web-based discussions about the SCAG report or Southern California’s quality of life. Unfortunately, most of the great policy stuff on the Web is nationally oriented, so I didn’t see any great Web-based reports on SCAG, either. But it won’t be long before local coverage changes also.
There’s a second story from the SCAG report that is not discussed much in the California media, at least outside my newspaper’s editorial page. Most of the bad grades are grades that belong to government agencies. A D— in traffic is not the fault of commuters. It is the fault of the transportation agencies that spend most of their money on light-rail lines and HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes rather than roads and freeways. In Orange County, the agency is run by transit rather than transportation officials. They are convinced that light rail is the future of this suburban region. That is the main focus of everything the agency does. The roads worsen because the officials waste our tax dollars on boutique rail systems.
California has dramatically increased the amount of per-pupil spending in the past few years and the results only get worse. Housing prices are soaring because governments increasingly implement slow-growth policies that make it nearly impossible to build adequate supply to meet demand. Air quality stinks despite bazillions of dollars thrown at government air-quality programs. Jobs and income are falling in part because of the high taxes and regulations imposed by a state government with a quasi-Marxist view of life.
And then there’s the fact about immigration. The low-income people who come here use an excess of government "services." Roads become more clogged even in denser urban areas as families double up and triple up in single-family homes. In many areas in Southern California, the children of illegal immigrants make up one-third to one-half of the school population. The lack of English-language skills accounts for dropping test scores. The influx of cheap labor explains, in part, dropping wages. The rapid increase in population has led to overcrowded apartments and such high demand for them that rents keep going up.
This is a real issue, regardless of one’s views of immigration. But when the mainstream media ignores that and other issues, people will turn to places where crucial issues are not ignored. That’s why the future is bright for the Internet.
Steven Greenhut (send him mail) is a senior editorial writer and columnist for the Orange County Register.