Friday, October 3, 2008

Inferiority Complex - California

While I have no hard evidence of this beyond anecdotal, I feel that like most Michigan residents, I suffer from an inferiority complex when I mentally compare the way that people perceive a place like Michigan and a place like, say, California. There are many reasons for this - the weather, proximity to ocean, technology sector stability and growth, large cities in which people have a strong desire to live, and abundance of cheap and questionably legal labor. I work with some brilliant and kind men who live in California, but I always feel (whether true or not) that they cast pity on me because I can not possibly understand the glory, wonder, and perfection of living in California. On top of all this, the state rubs itself in my face by putting "Come Live and Play in California" advertisements on television during Michigan football games. Hey, look at all those celebrities who lives in California - I should go there! Man I hate those commercials (perhaps a future topic for the Things I Hate series).

A couple weeks ago, I ranted a bit about the artificial inequity that Michigan has in competing to attract or retain employee talent in the battle against companies in other states - the finance industry in New York in particular. My dad reminded me of similar feelings I have regarding the technology industry in California. In the 90s, California exploded as the leader in technological innovation and internet business. Companies and employees clustered in this area because this was where funding could be easily acquired and some important technological companies were already well established (like Yahoo!). Companies were flush with venture capital funding, stock options to grant prospective employees, and the possibility of riches beyond imagination in the event of success. As we all know, there was quite a major bust in the early 2000s and the possibility of vast wealth turned out to be much more of an illusion than reality (with many notable exceptions, of course). From this evolution of events, entrepreneurs, technological leaders and innovators, and other talented employees have now grouped together in California, and they aren't going anywhere. Would you, surrounded by talent, professional opportunities, good weather, and entrepreneurs founding businesses at an astounding rate? Again, the thing that pains me most about this is that this aggregation of the technologically inclined was driven and motivated from a place of perceived and (as it turned out) mostly artificial wealth.

It is easy to look back and complain about the way that things are now and how it is unfair, and in relation to my inferiority complex, it sometimes makes me feel just a little bit better. It helps me to understand and contextualize how Californians have gotten to the point where they feel superior to me and that we are somehow worthy of their pity. California didn't get to the place it is now because it is inherently better, but rather it is the continued beneficiary of a mirage from 10-15 years ago. In this instance, the mirage begot reality, and many currently profitable companies are an outgrowth of this mirage. Some may argue that Michigan and the automobile industry from 5o years ago is no different from my California example - but I completely disagree. Speculative wealth with no proven business model can not be compared to selling product X for an agreed upon amount.

This is why, in my own Michigan self-serving way, I feel California might finally be coming back down to earth when I read that California is struggling from financial difficulties like the rest of us. The Governator claims that because of the credit freeze, California requires an emergency $7B loan to pay for their teachers, police, and everything else that is state funded. Part of this is that the state is so huge and populated that their budget outstrips much of the free world. Another big part, though, is a decline in tax revenue. In the next several months, perhaps all states will suffer from declining taxes and corresponding budgetary shortfalls resulting from job loss, and that is sad for every state (including California) and the country as a whole.

California is a beautiful state and has many things to offer a wide array of people, but the grass isn't always greener, and California is not as perfect as it would have you believe.


Dan A. said...

Regarding the first bit; I see plenty of commercials here during local (Chicago) games and such. Who knows, maybe there are even some in California.

Ken said...

Agree and disagree. There is a primary point of differentiation between the California commercials and the Michigan commercials. Specifically, the Michigan commercials are tourism based. In fact their website header states "Pure Michigan Travel - State of Michigan Tourism Information". The California commercials, on the other hand, are largely based on convincing people to move to California so that you can play and work there while living there. The "Upper Hand" Michigan commercials try to convince people to consider locating some business operations in Michigan.

My main point is that a Michigan commercial in California will result in scoffing and the sentiment of "why would I want to go there", whereas a California commercial in Michigan might make people think "Wow, things are awesome in California." Perception drives reality.

Patrick Guarino said...

Ken, I've been out here in California for about 2 and a half years now, both in LA and San Francisco, and I can relate to the inferiority complex idea. There is that perception here of the country as "California, New York, and everything else that happens to be in-between".

The interesting thing you run into, however, is that because so many people move to California for jobs, there is a large population of 'outsiders' who get to bitch about what parts of California aren't as good as Michigan, or Florida, or Oregon, etc. I've been stuck in traffic dozens of times thinking "Hey, 1-75 really wasn't that bad!" And late last year my house was about a dozen miles away from that great Malibu fire that took out half the coast. Dealing with the constant possibility of your state being on-fire is just another California reality.

So yeah, I agree that the idea of a "perfect" California is just a really well maintained illusion. Still, not having to scrape ice off of my car is one nice added perk.