Chapter 2

The Fall, Rise, and Slow Crash of California, 1981–2010

Baby Boomers who remember the 1950s and 1960s think of California as an Arcadia. The twin mobilizations of World War II and the Cold War brought hundreds of billions of dollars in defense spending to the aerospace cluster of Los Angeles County and the web of military bases that included the Bay Area and San Diego. All that money attracted migrants by the millions, making California the nation’s largest state by the early 1960s (surpassing New York). It also paid for a wave of investment in public infrastructure: highways, universities, and a water system that made the desert bloom.

A generation later, California’s population was more than double what it had been in the early ...

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