America’s Cycles of Change

California Dreaming or California’s Dilemma?

Wed, 18 November 2015

Extracted from Cycles of Change: The Three Great Cycles of American History & the Coming Crisis That Will Lead to the Fourth by Martin Sieff, available on

California was a leading state in the Sixth Era of U.S. History from Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan through George W. Bush.. The two most important and defining Republican presidents of this 40 year (1968-2008) era came from there. Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon each won two presidential elections  California presidents ruled the United States for 14 years in the Sixth Era. Texas presidents won three presidential elections and ruled for another 12 years. Bill Clinton, the two-term anomalous Democrat president, came from Arkansas. It was another Southwest state. In all California and Southwest presidents ruled for 34 of the 40 years of the Sixth Era.

California therefore can be expected to suffer hard in the coming crisis as well. In 2009-10, it was hit hard by the financial crisis. It was the biggest state in serious financial difficulties.  For 100 years, Los Angeles and Southern California grew at exponential rates. They did so by appropriating water and other resources from the politically far weaker Rocky Mountain West states. In the Seventh Era, here too, it may be payback time.

California has also been paralyzed by what Garreau called the two conflicting “nations” that eternally war within the state. They are the Ecotopia environmental utopians of the coastal strip and the north, against the free market, “Tex-Mex” culture of Los Angeles and California’s south. There is another way to analyze the contradictions of popular policies in California: Californians of right and left alike thought they could have their cake –  cheap energy and conservation without dirty development – and eat it.

The coming crises at the end of the Sixth Era will end such dreams. The coming political leaders of the Seventh Era will have to grapple with these problems in radical new ways. But whatever happens, the economic disruption for California will be extreme. Working answers are likely to be found, but it will take years of economic and political upheaval for them to become clear.

That is because California is such a complex state economically, demographically, politically and socially. It is likely to enter into a period of intense political conflict with the rising interests of the West that will control the scarce energy and water resources that California will need with increasing desperation. If the Federal Union does indeed weaken, the power of California’s state government and its willingness to pressure smaller and weaker neighboring states is likely to grow.

In the Third and Fourth Eras, California state and business interests flexed their muscle to make sure Los Angeles had first call on the water resources of the Colorado River. Western interests were not remotely strong enough to stand in their way. But in the Seventh Era, Denver may supplant Houston as the energy capital of the United States. Then California and the West could find themselves in a particularly intense struggle for economic as well as political clout.

In the Sixth Era, California and the Southwest Sunbelt prospered from high tech “clean” industries. But they will be particularly vulnerable in the coming crises. California and the Southwest needed cheap energy to provide easily affordable air conditioning in every home. But in the Seventh Era, even domestically produced energy won’t be cheap.

Competition for electrical energy and water in the Southwest will be exacerbated by global climate change. By 2010, it was clear the Heartland and the Southwest were caught in a climate scissors. Summers were far longer and drier. In the first decade of the 21st century, the Heartland suffered its worst drought since the 1930s. But winters got far colder too.

In the Reagan and Clinton boom years, California and Southwest business, political and intellectual leaders confidently claimed there were no limits to growth. Their arrogant over-confidence echoed Herbert Hoover’s certainty in 1928 that boom times would continue forever. They also echoed Lyndon Johnson’s certainty in the 1960s that he could eradicate all poverty in the United States forever. In the Seventh Era, the Southwest and California will likely pay for that hubris.