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Downside of California’s decade of boom

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Californians, being tougher than we look, have always found ways to survive our economic busts.

It’s the booms that bring us to our breaking point.

This essential truth is being missed in the way we talk about life in today’s California.

Right now, politicians and media alike are juxtaposing the hallmarks of California’s current boom with our deep problems — as if they represented a contradiction, and a puzzle. How can a place be so wealthy and innovative and progressive, they ask, and yet so poor and calamitous and ungenerous at the same time?

California Is Booming,” the New York Times asked in a recent headline, “Why Are So Many Californians Unhappy?”

The answer to that question is actually straightforward: So many of us are unhappy precisely because California is booming.

This is not a paradox, because our successes and our problems are intertwined. It is all our winning — in jobs, in innovation, in our quality of life — that produces so much defeat.

That’s why the 2010s, a California comeback that the Orange County Register has called “The Redemption Decade,” has made many things here worse.

It’s a truism that more economic activity is supposed to help more people rise, but that is no longer true here. California’s tendency to turn everything — from housing to health to housing — into an investment, full of speculation, has made everything, even our booms, volatile and risky.


© San Francisco Chronicle