The Denialists vs. the Declinists: A California Economy Debate

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"Declinists." It's the all-purpose insult that Gov. Jerry Brown and his backers have adopted to describe those who oppose his program.

The governor would have you believe that the state has "declinists" who run down California and ignore economic and other data showing the state's strength.

ThIs "declinist" business hasn't gotten much attention because no one has been pushing back.

Most Californians, including those who write about it, want to think positively about the future of the state. And the state does have a number of strengths in various eras -- from Silicon Valley's health to the state's diversity -- that would seem to suggest California has great potential for future success.

But the leader of the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, Bill Watkins, has opened up a debate with Those Who Would Accuse Critics of Being Declinists.

In a piece at, he calls out Brown and those in his employ -- an economist at the California Department of Finance -- for illogical happy talk about California's supposed economic streak.

There's also quite a bit of cherrypicking of data -- on venture capital and in some job sector -- to make it seem as though California is doing better than it is.

The hard truth, says Watkins, is that the state is lagging in job growth. California is, on a percentage base, further behind the nations in jobs than it was at its pre-recession peak (we're down nearly one million jobs, Watkins says). Watkins goes on to say:

"California has also seen slower-than-US job gains over the past year. It is worse than that, though. California has lost jobs in durable manufacturing, non-durable manufacturing, and in the other services category, labeled as Personal, Repair, & Maintenance Services in the table. By contrast, the US only saw job losses in one sector over the past year, the information and technology sector.

"The very recent news is worse. In March, the most recent month for which we have data, California lost jobs while the nation gained."

Watkins labels those who refuse to reckon with the difficult economic reality in California "denialists."

So now we have an insult to match the insult. Are you a "declinist" or a "denialist'? Let the debate begin.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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