Dominic Sandbrook

Twilight in the West

Time to Start Thinking: America and the Spectre of Decline

By

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Fifty years ago, California was the place to be. A laboratory for new ways of living, bathed in glorious sunshine, the state of Berkeley and the Beach Boys offered a glimpse of the future, all suntanned faces, gleaming cars and spanking new universities. But how times have changed. Half a century on, suffocated by smog and mired in debt, the Golden State has become a metaphor for everything that seems wrong with the United States of America. Almost incredibly, notes the Financial Times’s Washington bureau chief Edward Luce, California now spends less than $8,000 annually on each child in the state school system, yet spends $47,000 on every prisoner in its notoriously overcrowded penitentiaries. State politics has become a carnival of perennial plebiscites, while, as Luce sees it, ‘Sacramento’s role is to preside over a slow disintegration of the assets the state built up in the 1950s and 60s, the world-class infrastructure and public education that helped make California the place of the future.’

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