The Envy of Peter Robinson

I am well aware that envy is one of the deadly sins. I am also aware that those who reside in the land of my birth — California — pay a heckuva price for it in terms of insane regulation and even more insane politics. There my sympathies end. In New Jerseystan, where I live, we have more or less the same problems California does scaled down for our population, and of course we have a better governor.

Here’s one difference. On Sunday night I had dinner with the Robinsons at their home on the Stanford campus. The beautiful Mrs. Robinson asked me if I should like lemon with my sparkling water. When I answered in the affirmative, she sent her son out to their garden in the back to pick one from their tree. 

Generally I am not a man who covets my neighbor’s anything. That lemon tree, however, really did it.

Yes, it’s just an anecdote. You wonder, tho: all this talk about California’s collapse, how bad can it really be? It doesn’t look bad, and I’ve been driving all over the state the last few days. Granted I do not see the difficulty a business has in dealing with some crazy environmental restriction, and I’ve been mostly along the coast, the more prosperous parts. And I don’t want to be George Bernard Shaw in the Ukraine, suggesting there could be no famine because he was certainly well fed.

Still, there’s nothing about what you see that suggests a place facing truly dire straits, unlike, say, Michigan or even New York which can look very run down, especially in its infrastructure. How can this be — the huge gap between what the numbers tell us and with the very pleasant appearance?

  1. Leslie Watkins

    The absence of winter?

  2. tabula rasa

    Coastline, especially nice warm coastline, covers a multitude of sins.

    Greece is a financial basket case, but it will always look great.

  3. Duane Oyen

    The guy in the McMansion down the street cruising into his fourth garage stall in the Lincoln navigator also looks great the day before the repo man gets there….

  4. Noesis Noeseos

    My guess is that the elites of California know how to take care of their own.  Almost all of Marin County, where I live but only because of an inheritance, still looks like paradise.  Even the potholes are quickly filled.  What’s the secret?  Policies one step away from no growth contribute, but perhaps it’s because Barbara Boxer resides here on the Palatine when she isn’t haunting the Senate chambers.  Mustn’t give oh-so-sensitive Babs anything to ruin the view, you know.

    The Stanford area abuts another such height.  Go visit VDH on his farm, however, and you will get quite a different scene.

  5. Nick Stuart

    Maybe you should visit Victor Davis Hanson in Selma before you draw any final conclusions.

  6. Paul A. Rahe
    C

    Lemon tree, very pretty/And the lemon flower is sweet/But the fruit of the poor lemon/Is impossible to eat.

  7. TheSophist

    Every single time I visit California, particularly Southern California, I am reminded of this young woman I knew in my youth.

    She was absolutely the most gorgeous, intelligent, fashionable and delightful person I had met in my twenty-some-odd years. Of course I fell in love instantly.

    But she had a boyfriend. Who turned out to be one of the nastiest human beings I’d ever met. He cheated on her constantly, treated her like crap in front of her friends, flew into jealous rages, and at least in one instance, gave her a black eye that she claimed came from a skiing accident.

    All of her friends told her repeatedly that she had to leave the jerk. She made all the usual excuses, said he promised the change, that things would be different, and so on and so forth. Last time I saw her, much of her beauty was marred by the semi-permanent frown she wore, her conversational ability suffered because she was suffering, and the spark that had made her so charming had seemed to have died.

    And that’s how I feel about California every time I visit. Every single time.

  8. tabula rasa
    Paul A. Rahe: Lemon tree, very pretty/And the lemon flower is sweet/But the fruit of the poor lemon/Is impossible to eat. · 1 minute ago

    Now there’s something I could never have predicted:  Professor Rahe channeling Trini Lopez, and making an incisive observation while doing so.

  9. James Gawron

    Bill,

    Check out VDH’s posts on California.  I think they will tell a very different story.

    China along the coast is growing rapidly and bringing in many changes and advancements.  However, inland the billion or so Chinese live much the same lives under a hideous tyranny.  The brutality of the regime will come out yet.  Troublemaker by Harry Wu is the book I have read on the subject.  It’s a little old but really hard hitting.  I doubt that for the billion in the interior much has changed.

    Regards,

    Jim

  10. Bill McGurn
    C
    Paul A. Rahe: Lemon tree, very pretty/And the lemon flower is sweet/But the fruit of the poor lemon/Is impossible to eat. · 17 minutes ago

    Aptly said. The difficulty is that what we know is so at odds with what we see, feel, and experience. 

  11. Ignatius J. Reilly

    It’s names are legion:

    Inductive Fallacy aka the Turkey Problem:  Every day the turkey thinks the farmer loves him, until one day he is separated from his head.

    Cliff risk:  The risk that the last in a series of adverse developments will eliminate the residual value of what was recently considered secure. Until that point, all parties assume the situation will auto-correct and that the principal will be paid in full. 

  12. Gus Marvinson

    Bill’s post reminds me of the heady days when I would pick from the lemon tree on my $450,000 Southern California property, on which I owed $245,000.

    My home is now worth $175,000 and I can barely see the sun for the water overhead. Great lemons, though.

  13. Bill McGurn
    C
    Gus Marvinson: Bill’s post reminds me of the heady days when I would pick from the lemon tree on my $450,000 Southern California property, on which I owed $245,000.

    It is now worth $175,000 and I can barely see the sun for the water overhead. Great lemons, though. · 1 minute ago

    Yikes. If it’s any consolation, Gus, in my own finances I too have adhered rigidly to a buy-high-sell-low philosophy my entire life. Heck the one time I was living in the Far East they had their largest financial crisis.

  14. Austin Murrey

    I’d say that one of the problems with California is that so many people have the appearance of prosperity they’ve allowed themselves to be lulled into a sense of security: if California’s government couldn’t spend more than it took in the whole state would look very different, and perhaps the voters would behave differently. 

    As it is, I’m very much afraid states like California will beggar the rest of us to keep that appearance of prosperity up.

  15. Gus Marvinson
    Bill McGurn

    Gus Marvinson: Bill’s post reminds me of the heady days when I would pick from the lemon tree on my $450,000 Southern California property, on which I owed $245,000.

    It is now worth $175,000 and I can barely see the sun for the water overhead. Great lemons, though. · 1 minute ago

    Yikes. If it’s any consolation, Gus, in my own finances I too have adhered rigidly to a buy-high-sell-low philosophy my entire life. Heck the one time I was living in the Far East they had their largest financial crisis. · 0 minutes ago

    Fortunately, my wife and I have the attitude that we bought a home to raise our family, not just to raise our investment portfolio.

    But still…

  16. Joseph Stanko
    Bill McGurn: You wonder, tho: all this talk about California’s collapse, how bad can it really be? 

    There’s very little talk of California’s collapse among anyone I know.  If our state is about to collapse, or already has, I’d say for the most part we are blissfully unaware of it.

  17. 2Evil4U

    I don’t have a lemon tree….

     

    Occupy Peter Robinson!

     

    ;-)

  18. tabula rasa
    Bill McGurn

    Yikes. If it’s any consolation, Gus, in my own finances I too have adhered rigidly to a buy-high-sell-low philosophy my entire life. Heck the one time I was living in the Far East they had their largest financial crisis. · 18 minutes ago

    Bill:  I too have been one of the essential buy-high/sell-low market participants.  Someone has to do it.

    The problem is that in today’s market, everyone is in a “buy-high” position.

  19. Joseph Stanko
    tabula rasa

    Bill:  I too have been one of the essential buy-high/sell-low market participants.  Someone has to do it.

    The problem is that in today’s market, everyone is in a “buy-high” position. · 22 minutes ago

    That’s why so far in my adult life in California I’ve stuck to a “rent-high” strategy…

  20. Robert Promm

    ahh… the land of milk and honey.  Yes, it is that.  We have lived here for 20 years and do not miss the Toronto deep freeze of winter nor the oppressive heat and humidity of the summers (do miss fall though).

    Property-wise we were pretty practical-wise.  When prices reached >3X what we had originally paid for our home, we did resist the urge to trade-up.  Still, with a 20-year perspective we are still above water LTV-wise so we are thankful.  Retirement looms large in a couple of years.  We’ll see if its still the case then.

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