05 May

Just How Big Is California?

The political center of the nation is Washington D.C. The opinion center of the nation hovers between New York and Washington. But there’s no question but the cultural, economic and innovation center is California.

The national media overlooks just how much California dominates the nation. Politically, because California is now reliably Democratic, national politicians ignore the Golden State except for fundraising. The pundit class, if they reference California at all, typically do so only to proclaim that California is in decline. The “End of the California Dream” is a recurring theme with the national media. Let’s chalk it up to time and weather. How painful it must be, year after year, to watch Hollywood stars arrive in glorious sunshine for awards programs as the pundit class shivers while another gloomy, cold evening settles on the Midwest and East Coast.

So perhaps a reminder or two might be worthwhile. Just how big and important is California? The answer is really big and really important. California just dwarfs the other states.

Consider this nugget just for starters: California’s population is larger than all of the New England states (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut) plus New York. And then you can throw in Iowa, just to make it close.

California’s population is greater than the combined total population of the 22 smallest states – by over 2.4 million! Really, why does it ever matter what a politician from South Dakota or Kansas thinks?

Each one of these California cities – Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco – is larger than the population of each of the following states: Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota and Alaska. You have to ask yourself: How did those places become states anyway?

The City of Los Angeles by itself is larger than any of the 23 smallest states. Why should anyone think being governor of an itty-bitty state qualifies you for much more than being a city councilmember for a large California city?

And there’s more.

Los Angeles County is the biggest county in the nation. In fact, it’s larger than 43 of the 50 states. The state closest in size to LA County? That would be Michigan – which has 150,000 fewer people. This is one probably worth repeating: a single California county is larger than 43 of the 50 states.

Folks think Texas is big. Really? California’s population is 48% larger than that of Texas. Not 5% or 10% bigger; 48%! Even if you threw in Ohio (and Ohio is the 7th largest state in the nation), their combined population is still 571,000 less than California’s.

And it’s not just population.

Driving from the southern to the northern border of California is over 850 miles. That’s about the distance from Portland, Maine to Raleigh, North Carolina. And you’d be traveling through ten states to make that road trip.

Okay, enough with population and geography. Let’s talk about what really matters: money.

California’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is greater than the combined GDP of 24 states. California’s economy is not only the most diverse and the most innovative – it’s also the biggest, and by a lot. California is the single most important economic engine of the nation.

Just think of us as a county, and it all becomes so much clearer. California’s economy is the 8th-largest in the world. We’re larger than Italy, India and the Russian Federation (sorry, Vlad) and are closing in on Brazil and the United Kingdom.

California’s GDP is almost as large (97% as large) as the combined GDP of the Great Lake States – the “industrial heartland” states of Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Illinois. Those states have a combined population of 46,421,564, which is 25% larger than California’s, so California’s per capita GDP ($56,726) is 21% greater than the per capita GDP of those “big shoulder” states ($46,832). Conclusion: wine sipping, surf board riding, new age California has a far more productive economy (and workforce).

Think California is just movies and high tech? Bet you didn’t know that California is Numero One in milk! We produce 20% of the nation’s milk supply. We produce over 52% of the nation’s fruit and nuts. Really, what are those slacker states doing?

And we’re energy efficient! Only New York and Rhode Island use less energy per capita than California. Let’s pick on Wyoming again. It consumes 949 million BTUs per capita versus 201 million BTUs per capita for California – that’s 372% more per capita. Not only is Wyoming really, really small; it’s also an energy hog. And continuing our Wyoming bashing: which state is really “The Cowboy State”? California has almost 4 times as many cattle – 5,300,000 to 1,290,000 head– as Wyoming. Altogether now: Yippie-yi-yo-kayay.

And if all that isn’t enough, California tops every state in the federal governments measurement of the “best and worst counties to live in the United States from the standpoint of scenery and climate.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “natural amenities index measures climate, topography and water area that reflect qualities most people prefer.” How badly do we trounce the other states? Every single one of the ten highest-ranked counties is located in California. Every single one!

Despite its size and cultural and economic impact, California is always politically shortchanged.

California has two United States senators. There are 44 senators from the states whose combined population is less than California’s. Those states have 2,100% greater representation in the U.S. Senate than California. Talk about creating a system of fair representation; boy, those Founders nailed it.

Let’s hop into the Wayback Machine, when the Founders accepted the Great Compromise – the House to be apportioned by population but each state to have two senators regardless of size – to accommodate the smaller states. The nonslave population of the largest state (Virginia) was 455,000, compared to 57,100 for the smallest (Delaware). Virginia’s population was eight times larger than Delaware’s. This is ignoring the dreadful, awful, unforgivable 3/5ths provision.) But today, California’s population is 66 times greater than Wyoming’s (the smallest state). The discrepancy between the largest and the smallest state has increased 725% since 1887. And California still gets only gets two senators? Please. You would think this would give even diehard originalists pause.

A United States Senator from North Dakota represents 672, 591 people. A California senator represents 37,253,956 people. A California senator represents 55 times as many people. What do senators from the little states do with their time? Write hand written notes congratulating every T-ball player in their state? Are they really paid the same salary as California senators? Do they cash their paycheck and think: someday I will grow up and become a Senator from California!

Oh, let’s go back to population, just to drive the point home.

You could fit Vermont’s population into California 60 times. Repeat: it would take sixty Vermonts to equal California’s population. SIXTY! Granted, Vermont may lead us in wooden covered bridges. We’ll give them that.

Billings, with a population of 108,869, is the largest city in Montana. There are TWELVE cities in Los Angeles County ALONE that are larger than Billings. The city of El Monte is larger than Billings, Montana. Here’s to you, El Monte; if you were in Montana, you’d be the big cheese.

Fargo, with a population of 115,863, is the largest city in North Dakota (and the title of a great movie). There are 52 cities in California larger than Fargo. FIFTY-TWO! Come on, North Dakota! That’s all you’ve got? I mean, really.

And in closing . . .

We have more people, more brains, more technology and more economic impact – by far – than the other states. So here’s a suggestion for the producers of those television Sunday morning gab fests: If you want to talk to someone who comes from a place that actually matters, don’t call on a Governor or Senator from Nebraska or Utah or Mississippi. Talk to someone from California. Anyone.

And then let’s amend the Constitution to recognize that we live in the 21st Century. Either give California its fair share of representation – or make those itty-bitty states what they really are: counties.

Robert Swayze is a principal with Economic Development Results, LLC. He served as Manager of Economic Development and Cultural Affairs for Long Beach and Senior Vice President for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.