The left coast is bleeding businesses and residents. What is driving them out?

Downtown Los Angeles. March 30, 2021. (photo: Russ Allison Loar)

“If a liberal is a conservative who has been arrested, a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged,” opined the seminal writer and NYT journalist Tom Wolfe- long before anyone had heard of Amazon, to say nothing of Tesla.

There is little question that the politics of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Tesla mastermind Elon Musk run towards the progressive end of the spectrum. On social issues, the two influential job creators are likely in lockstep with the Democratic Party.

There is little possibility either will find common cause with the socially conservative wing of the Republican Party. But there is another breed of conservative in the Republican Party, one far more numerous, though unfortunately not as vociferous; the socially liberal fiscal conservative.

Musk and Amazon may be learning that you can agree with Democrats on every social and cultural issue, including but not limited to abortion, open borders, and universal public income and still think they do a poor job managing the economy or passing pro-business, pro-growth legislation.

In fact, the “GOP is Now Viewed as Better Party for Security, Prosperity,” according to recent polls by Gallup. But no one, outside the echo chamber of Twitter that is, really needed a Gallup poll; the most recent census spelled it out better than any polling or political consulting agency ever could or indeed would.

California, for the first time in its history, lost residents- and a Congressional seat. Were it not for the tireless efforts of certain California political action groups, the state would have lost two seats.

Texas and Florida, while progressive Democrats claim to hate their politics, gained people in spite of all that.

Nor is it hard to see why businesses and residents are fleeing the West Coast. From Portland to San Francisco, West Coast residents have had plenty to complain about in recent years; astronomically high taxes getting higher all the time, a burgeoning homelessness and drug addiction crisis, a serious energy crisis on track to get worse, forestry mismanagement resulting in bigger and more dangerous wildfires.

And have voters ever been complaining. The most famous complaint to date has been California Governor Gavin Newsom’s recent fight for his political life. Newsom survived his recall, as well he should in a state 24% Republican, but it took a massive amount of money- many times more than was spent to unseat him- a concerted effort by the entire Democratic Party, and the eager help of an LA Times willing to wield racist tropes against Newsom’s Black conservative challenger Larry Elder.

Less famous is the fact that Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler is similarly embattled and suffering under the weight of his own recall at the moment. Worse for Wheeler, worse even than the fact that “protestors” forced him to move after they tried to set fire to his apartment complex, is the fact that he can hardly go out in public anymore without being accosted.

He has been struck, has had to mace someone, and frequently encounters hostile individuals eager to do as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Maxine Waters, perhaps unwisely, instructed them to do.

“Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up,” Waters shouted to a crowd of supporters in June of 2018. “And if you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere!”

“So you have to be ready to take a punch,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the DNC in 2020. “You gotta be ready to take a punch and therefore you have to be ready to throw a punch, for the children.”

“Throw a punch for the children,” she finished.

Now that Democratic voters aren’t happy with Democratic politicians on the West Coast, and elsewhere, Pelosi and Waters may be somewhat less enthusiastic advocates for this more-aggressive brand of political engagement.

To be fair, most voters aren’t overly impressed with any incumbent politician at the moment, Republican or Democrat. And all this was before a spike in murder and violent crime nationwide that has hit California, Seattle and Portland particularly hard. In many places, property crime too has become such a problem, businesses are having trouble finding and affording commercial insurance coverage.

Even for large corporations like Walgreens and Target, losses in crime-blighted areas are proving impossible to overcome and locations are shuttering.

For companies like Amazon, Tesla, and Citadel in Chicago, the ability to attract and retain top talent is even more important to the bottom line than business-friendly tax policies.

“It’s becoming ever more difficult to have this as our global headquarters, a city which has so much violence,” Citadel founder Ken Griffin told the Chicago Economic Club this week. “Chicago is like Afghanistan on a good day. And that’s a problem.”

“There is nowhere where you can feel safe today, walking home at 9:30 at night, and you worry about your kids going to and from school,” Griffin added. “That’s no way for our city to exist. And it’s really hard to recruit people to Chicago, when they read the headlines.”

Chicago may soon be saying goodbye to Citadel, which might come as something of a surprise.

That Amazon is saying goodbye to Seattle isn’t much of a surprise at all; running the retail giant out of town has been the stated goal of Seattle’s local government for years. Amazon, it would seem, is finally giving progressive lawmakers in Seattle exactly what they claim to have wanted.

How Seattle will recoup the tax revenues lost from losing a cornerstone company like Amazon, to say nothing of all the state and local taxes employees of Amazon paid into governmental coffers and pumped into the local economy, is unknown.

It is also not surprising that Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, is making good on his threats to leave California for the tax and business-friendlier climes of Texas.

“If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me,” Elon Musk told local authorities defiantly during the height of the pandemic shut downs, when Musk was determined to keep his operation open.

California lawmakers didn’t exactly beg Musk to stay, either: “‘California lawmaker tweets ‘F*ck Elon Musk’ after threat to leave state,’” sums it up.

None of the news for businesses coming out of Washington has been good lately. Everything the government has done over the last 19 months, ostensibly to combat COVID-19, has been extremely hard on vulnerable areas, small businesses and minority communities in particular. The jobs market, if the last two months numbers are any indication, is not recovering apace.

Small businesses, in spite of America’s reputation as a corporate proving ground, are still the lifeblood of the American economy. Small and mid-size businesses employ a great many people in the U.S.

What’s more, they are often more essential to local economies and communities than large corporations who are usually headquartered in or near major metropolitan areas.

When your neighborhood, or small town only had one grocery store, a Mom and Pop which didn’t survive the COVID-19 shutdowns, it costs more than just residents having to travel farther for food. People have to travel farther for work, too. Other businesses suffer.

Is it any wonder savvy companies interested in growth like Tesla and Amazon are loathe to languish under a high-tax, low-return government model?

In California, the average home price is now $850,000- well out of reach for the vast majority of Americans and more than twice the national average. In Texas, a dollar goes a great deal farther.

Texas lawmakers, Republican and Democrat, are determined to do all they can to make their state fiscally attractive to businesses and new residents; and it’s obviously working.

Musk, Griffin and Amazon executives no longer trust their state and local governments to allow them to run their business and make a profit. Is it any wonder?

Your local GameStop is closed-the small, locally owned business was deemed non-essential.

The people who would have otherwise shopped at GameStop almost certainly bought video games to play during the lock-downs. Only they spent their money at Amazon, instead.

The lock-downs may have mitigated the spread of COVID-19. What they certainly did was enrich massive corporations at the expense of Main Street and already economically disadvantaged areas- two places that could least afford it and may not ever fully recover.

Deciding who was and wasn’t essential put small business owners out of business.

Because it wasn’t just GameStop. The would-be shoppers of GameStop would have eaten at one of the nearby restaurants, gotten a coffee, filled up their tank.

Entrepreneurs risk a great deal going into business; location, location, location is very important. That so many are looking in askance at progressive policy makers in Democratic strongholds should be making the Democratic Party very nervous indeed.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)